By Eric V. Copage
“It’s a back approach!” Michael McFadden shouted over the thumping music. “I’m not approaching someone from the back!”
It was after 1 a.m. on Saturday and Mr. McFadden, 34, was standing behind three blond women who looked to be in their 20s. One of his companions had just urged him to talk to them. But in Mr. McFadden’s experience, one did not go up to a woman whose back was turned.
He and about a dozen other men were at the Park, a club in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, to learn the finer points of attracting women.
They were among 60 men who had gathered for the weekend in what has become known as a pickup community, a movement, formerly secret, that is making its presence known. There was a miniature convention, featuring expert pickup artists, in New York over Memorial Day weekend. And over the last few years there has been a wave of books, CDs, DVDs and Web sites as well as a satellite radio show on the subject.
The gathering that ended on Sunday, 2010 Dating Conference, was held mostly in a photography studio on Fifth Avenue near 14th Street; it was organized by Christopher Luna, the president of Craft of Charisma, a date coaching business.
The students paid $377 each (drinks at the clubs were extra) to hear from about 20 dating experts, many of whom do not use surnames or even first names.
Glenn P., for instance, offers on his fliers to help men attract “quality women during the day.” And D.J. Fuji advertises “flirting and getting out of the platonic zone.”
After lectures and videos, Mr. Luna took a group of students “infield” to get a sampling of his methods in the early hours of Saturday morning.
For about two and a half hours, starting about 12:30 a.m., Mr. Luna, 29, and three assistant coaches pointed their charges to groups of women, instructed them to introduce themselves, then watched the interactions.
Jerry Kim, 27, who lives in Washington, was told to approach four women standing near a table. They seemed cool to his presence at first. Soon, however, they were laughing.
“One of the four was really unfriendly, and I told her she was the mother hen of the group, and that got her laughing,” Mr. Kim said.
Still, Mr. Luna saw room for improvement.
“He hasn’t touched one of them,” he said, though acknowledging that it was impressive for a novice to approach a group of four women. Still, Mr. Luna said, “If he never touches them, he’ll end up in the friend zone.”
Mr. Luna, like the many dating coaches, suggests that men begin touching a woman more or less immediately, but appropriately.
“The beginning of physical touch is usually platonic — you shake someone’s hand,” he said. “You touch their shoulder, you touch their elbow.”
“The next step,” he said, “is doing something you’d do with a friend — you put your arm around them, you high five them. Then you might high-five them, but interlace your fingers in theirs and leave them intertwined for a few seconds, which builds up sexual tension.
“Some guys touch way too much in inappropriate ways,” he added. “Other guys don’t touch at all.”
Mr. Luna turned his attention to Matt Guingona, 26, and told him to begin a conversation with a pair of women on a couch, which he did.
Watching the interaction that followed, Mr. Luna noted that Mr. Guingona stood too long at the couch, towering over the women, which probably made them uncomfortable. When he finally sat down, he positioned himself so that he had to talk past one woman to converse with the other the end of the couch. “He should have moved them to another location in the club,” Mr. Luna said.
The next day at the studio, the students from the previous night’s jaunt listened to Mr. Luna’s critique of their techniques. He said he had acquired his knowledge by reading psychology and sociology books, and observing human behavior He led the group through a series of exercises meant to help them, among other things, sound more confident, shake hands with both gentleness and authority, mirror a woman’s body language to increase rapport, before arranging to reconvene at 11 p.m. at another club, 230 Fifth.
On the rooftop lounge at the club, Mr. Luna reminded everyone that they should have memorized an opening phrase or question that they were supposed to have come up with earlier.
It was a rough night. Midway through it, Mr. McFadden, who also lives in Washington, took a break from the fray. After taking a deep drag from a cigarette, he admitted to having “approach anxiety” after failing at five or six attempts.
Standing with the rest of the group outside the club, Mr. Guingona, who lives in Virginia, said he was not looking to establish a harem; he just wanted to be more selective.
“Before, when it came to having girlfriends, I took what fell in my lap from being in the right place and the right time,” he said. “Now I’m looking to be proactive and choosing the right time.”
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