Season 18 of ABC's Dancing with the Stars ended this week with the mirror-ball trophies going to ice-dancing Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis and professional dancer Maksim ("Maks") Chmerkovskiy. The two experienced a growing friendship throughout the season, causing many fans to speculate about a future romance.
It all culminated in episode six when Maks was stalling under pressure to choreograph a dance that would impress both Meryl and the judges. Meryl stopped him and helped calm him down. How, you ask? She asked to hold his hand.
The simple gesture totally disarmed Maks and helped him overcome the roadblock. After that week, in addition to growing closer in friendship, the pair performed their most successful dance yet, receiving all 10s from the judges.
Later Meryl described how the act of holding hands enabled the two to "lean on the friendship we had built" to get through the tough time. "Making you hold my hand," she told Maks, helped them to step away from the current stressor, "reconnect and reach back to the dynamic we had built over so many weeks."
And there's research to back it up. Hand-holding has been scientifically proven to reduce feelings of fear, loneliness, and even physical pain. University of Virginia professor of psychology and neuroscience Dr. James Coan conducted a study on the impact of human touch, looking at how it affects the neural response to threatening situations. Coan "found that holding the hand of really anyone, it made your brain work a little less hard in coping.” The key, Coan says, is that the act of hand-holding relaxes the body. “Humans hold hands for a lot of reasons, but the primary one is to communicate affection, availability, and trustworthiness,” he explains.
Perhaps what made Meryl and Maks' hand-holding so striking to viewers was that, for being such a simple act, it was powerfully intimate. It is somewhat hilarious that Maks, the tall and fit Russian considered the "sexy stallion" of Dancing with the Stars, found Meryl's request to hold hands so special.
This may be because, as NYU sociologist Dalton Conley toldTheNew York Times, “hand-holding is the one aspect that’s not been affected by the sexual revolution . . . It’s less about sex than about a public demonstration about coupledom.” A college student described it further this way: “It is a lot more intimate to hold hands nowadays than to kiss." Perhaps that explains why Meryl and Maks' interpersonal dynamic was more compelling to the voting TV viewers than the partnership of fourth-place winners James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd, who in addition to playing the sex appeal card all season, actually choreographed a kiss into their dance for effect.
The fact is, holding hands is powerful.
Even at the end of the season, in the pre-show Road to the Finals, Maks is still affected by that day. "Do you alw-," he begins to ask Meryl, then stops to rephrase himself. "How many people have you asked to hold hands before?"
"I've never asked anyone to hold my hand before," she replies.
"That was the first time . . . really?" Maks, overcome by warm fuzzies, melts all over again. "You can hold my hand anytime."