I did at one point promise to try to explain the Eccentric to you all. I just remarked to one of my other friends that he picks up dance partners like the BDSM people pick up play partners. Might as well start there.

In kinkster terms, a "play partner" is someone you get together with and act out your fantasy BDSM scenarios. The relationship is not considered romantic; it's not that kind of intertwined partnership. But to be effective play partners, you do have to click really hard, and be pretty good friends, or your weird little hobby isn't going to work right.

There is an established etiquette for picking up play partners. You have to be respectful, but also very, very straightforward about what you're looking for. You are negotiating unusual boundaries around things that most people find emotionally sensitive. If you have a romantic partner, it is also considered important to be up front about that and be willing to introduce your prospective play partners to your life partner, or otherwise provide proof that they are okay with you having play-friends. There are people in "don't ask don't tell" arrangements, and there are a lot of people who refuse to play with them, countering with the old CIA motto, "trust but verify".

All of this comes off as weirdly transactional to people who are accustomed to performing their social activities by unspoken trial and error. Stating your wants outright is taken as a demand rather than a proposal or negotiation -- or, honestly, they figure you're lying to them, or to yourself, and you're trying to sidewind your way into a more conventional affair.

I don't know if the Eccentric borrowed this from the kinksters or worked it out for himself over a lifetime of misunderstanding, but there is a reason he has transplanted the above paradigm into his own context. One of the dance instructors was holding forth the other day on the idea of "performative vs spiritual dance". Performative dance is what most people take lessons for. It's meant to connect the audience to the dancer in a way that sends a message outward to those watching. In media theory, it would be described as a "one-to-many" broadcast.

Spiritual dance is a much more internal experience. Its purpose is to give the dancer the feeling they are connected with something, be it an explicitly religious or spiritual tradition, the music, the other dancers in the group, or their own movements. This is the dance of drum circles, of voodoo rituals, and even of the crowds at a festival or a rave. It doesn't really matter what you look like, as long as you have "caught the flow".

While the Eccentric does love the hell out of his performative dance, that's not what he's after when he's picking people to invite out to the salsa club. He's after the "spiritual dance" experience of connection. Except he's doing Latin ballroom, which means it's one-on-one, and with me at least, it's mostly bachata, which means we spend a solid four minutes pretty much standing on each other's shoes. While what he wants is not sexual in nature, it involves a kind of intimacy that many people conflate with sexuality, and in particular, that most people expect straight men to conflate with sexuality. He's effectively got the inverse of the 'play partner' problem when picking dance partners: Rather than worrying that sex will become something emotionally messy, he has to worry that his emotional thing will get misconstrued as a come-on.

I am satisfied that he means exactly what he says, and I am frankly quite pleased with the results. An awful lot of people think that as a friendship goes on longer and gets closer, eventually you will reach some critical mass of liking each other and want to have sex. Not everyone operates this way, but a lot of people do, and most of them are also conditioned to believe this process is natural, inevitable, and so vehemently unspoken that a lack of discussion on the topic is itself a sign that it's happening. These people also find it hard to grasp the idea of, "If I want to bone you, I'll say so," so I have to be paranoid about it all the goddamn time. The Eccentric's utter lack of ambiguity here, while definitely unusual, is refreshing. If nothing else, it means I can get used to the idea of casually hugging someone without worrying that they'll make it weird.


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