optical tango

i looked into the windows of 17 souls last night.

they belonged to strangers with whom i had no prior contact other than the handshake and nervous exchange of names seconds before we sat down and looked into each others’ eyes. the clanging of a cocktail shaker indicated the end of 60 seconds of quiet gazing and, after a burst of inevitable laughter, the line moved right onto an encounter with another pair of unfamiliar eyes.

it was an exercise tyra banks would certainly approve of. 17 attempts to get smizing down pat and perhaps mesmerize someone enough to come back and strike up a conversation outside the awkward non-staring and irresistible face-making. that’s the premise of eye-gazing, a silent speed-dating concept that first emerged a couple of years ago in – where else? – new york.

i had the privilege of attending the very first one in kl last night, organised by a couple of guys who seem to enjoy putting together unconventional parties at hip joints in the city. it wasn’t something i would normally go for, especially since i don’t already know any of the participants or even the hosts for that matter, but i’m in the midst of renovating a couple aspects of my life and what could be more un-lishun-like than an evening of optical tango?

optical tango. good lord. i’ve run out of alternative ways to describe eye-gazing. gonna stop consulting the thesaurus before things become any more cheesy.

so. eye-gazing. it was harder and alot more exhausting than i imagined it would be. first of all, we’re generally not a culture that embraces eye-contact or any form of body language, much less in a setting that’s supposed to be aimed at encouraging attraction.

secondly, and most disturbingly, i had trouble deciding what to do with everything from the eyes downwards. do i smile? how can i smile for a minute without it turning into a snarl (which, unfortunately, my smiles tend to go)? do i keep my lips pursed? should i show teeth? if i swallow will it be mistaken for…something else? what if i yawn? do i sit forward? relax towards the back? put my hands out? cross my legs? uncross my legs? what?

the gazing did eventually become easier. while the initial minutes felt like an eternity, the last ones went by rather pleasantly and i guess everyone was surprised by how much more relaxed we became after a few. gazes. after a few gazes and a few of everything else too, i’m sure!

it became pretty obvious by the end of the night that most of the participants were, like me, there out of curiosity and not in the pursuit of love. at the end of the second round of gazing, i felt as though i was participating in a team-building activity at the company retreat. perhaps one or two guys were actively out to pull, but everyone else seemed content with just making it through the whole experience and gaining a few new contacts in the process.

so would i do it again? yes, but to be completely honest the next time it would be on the context of actually hoping to meet someone special there. it’s much too tiring an exercise for casual socialising. there’s no way to look right into a person’s eyes without investing a little into the gaze and to come away with merely an experience feels like being shortchanged.

there’s almost certainly going to be an episode two to this eye-gazing party thing. the post-event questionnaire sounds like there’s another one in the planning and already a colleague of mine has indicated his interest in taking part.

looks like optical tango is here to stay!

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One response to “optical tango

  1. Optical tango? Wow… Was there alcohol involved? How does one just stare into a strangers eyes for a minute? Kind of reminds me of that art installation by Marina Abramovic where she would just look into people’s eyes for however long they sat there for. Lots of different reactions, some people cried, others had to look away. But I guess it definitely beats speed dating….

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