What would happen if people behaved in real life as they interact on dating apps?
Even before actually starting using a dating app, this is something I’d been thinking about quite a lot. I’ve always found the way people approach, chat, and get to know each other on dating apps incredibly fascinating. How do you even start a conversation? Which side of yourself is it safer to reveal first? When do you drop in more “serious” topics? How do you know if the other person is actually into you? Admittedly, this applies to relationships and dates in general, but online dating adds the extra factor of getting to know someone in a virtual world, and only through photos and texts, before having the chance to see them in real life.
I had been flirting (no pun intended) with the idea of trying a dating app for a while, half to actually see what the fuss was about and for genuine millennial FOMO, and half to see if what the market was like over there. The perfect (and most unusual) excuse came when my brilliant friend Marlene, a dancer I had performed with in a dance show a couple of years ago, approached me with a crazy idea: putting together a socio-critical take on dating apps through a dance piece. My immediate reaction was “Well, that sounds fun! Let’s do it!”. So off I went, thinking about what could go into the show, but also diligently creating a profile on Hinge, for “research purposes”.
It didn’t take me long to realise that dating apps are a universe, and one of a kind. There are unwritten rules, repeated patterns, complex codes of actions. There are specific photos and buzz-words people would use to attract attention. As you browse through, it’s hilarious to come across the same things over and over again: stereotypes like climbing, brunch, big cats, investment banking, slow walkers (everyone seems to hate them), spontaneous trips to South America or South-East Asia (everyone seems to love them), David Attenborough, Louis Theroux, pineapple on pizza, the Labour party, and so on. All of this might lead you to construct your profile in such a way as to appeal to your peers, making sure you mention the right things and tick the right, “cool” boxes. Nobody cares if you’re into bird-watching or country music (way too niche man), but make sure you do say that you love your wine, cheese, live music and cycling, because that’s what people like. For me, browsing through dating app profiles is more than anything an anthropological carousel of human types, showing what sort of people our society, and my generation, is made up of.
Actual snippet from a conversation on Hinge. Photo credit Anna Zanetti
While continuing my keen exploration on Hinge, plans for the show started to draw more and more concrete. Our idea was to bring on stage the absurdity, awkwardness and hilariousness of online interactions, through the medium of dance. It was great fun to meet up with Marlene and discuss what the show should look like. There was so much material we agreed was relevant and worth including in our piece. Integral part of dating apps are paradoxically intimate encounters with complete strangers, the over-thinking attitudes that society imposes on us when we interact with other people, and the eternal truth that “the one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person” (Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters). We wanted our show to develop as a series of semi-narrative scenes and features collective sequences, routines in small groups and intimate duets.
We envisaged a show with several dancers, but easily scalable to any number of performers, mainly to make sure we were flexible enough to take our show to a variety of venues. Technique-wise, we thought contemporary dance was the best medium, with elements inspired by Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater, to capitalise on the humorous nature of the piece. Somewhat ambitiously, our take-away message is that the issue isn’t with dating apps themselves, it’s with how we use them. Dating is “not a match”, it’s not a competition. In our piece, we want to advocate a more genuine way to engage with others, and the simplicity of just being who you are (or ask yourself the question).
The cast of Not A Match! in rehearsals. Photo credit Giovanni Facci
After a few months of planning, workshops and rehearsals (with a wonderfully committed group of dancers), it was brilliant to have the chance to perform an extract from the show at I.D Night at The Courtyard (Hereford) on Friday 1st November 2019. Funded by the Arts Council and organised by 2Faced Dance Company, I.D Night champions the work of emerging performing artists, who are invited to come and showcase new scratch work to a new audience. The event was a sell-out, and Not A Match! was very well received, hailed as “the best thing about these events – across the lineup you’re going to have something for all flavour-profiles.” in The Shire. It was a great way to get the show out there for the first time, and see what it meant to perform in front of a real audience.
Equally (if not more) exciting is to be bringing Not A Match! to London, as we will be performing the same extract of the show in LUCKY DIP at the Canal Café Theatre (Paddington) on Wednesday 27th November. A brand new variety scratch night, LUCKY DIP features six acts in sixty minutes, showcasing innovative work of some of London’s shiniest most exciting artists. The night will feature dance, theatre, comedy, music, drag, and anything in-between – including our show.
I’m incredibly thrilled to be showing a snippet of the piece to friends, colleagues, fellow dancers (and whoever will be willing to come!), crowning the dream of mine to produce a dance show and perform it in London. And of course, I can’t wait to see where Not A Match! will take us next.