How to be everyone's favorite partner.
Every social dancer, everywhere has a story they will never forget - an experience in which they were injured/embarrassed/confused/ or offended on the dance floor. A lot of times, it's the reason people come to us for lessons in the first place - a bad situation finally convinced them that maybe it was time to learn how to navigate a dance floor. Unfortunately, these instances can happen with experienced dancers too, even on a floor where everyone knows how to dance. So how do we avoid being injured/embarrassed/ or confused - and more importantly how do we avoid inflicting those feelings on a fellow dancer? How can we be everyone's favorite partner?
1. Check your ego at the door.
Nearly all dancers come to a studio in the first place to learn how to SOCIAL dance. Over time, some may dabble in competitive dancing, showcases, etc - but it's important to remember that social dancers are the baseline, and a practice party is a social gathering, not a competitive one. On a weeknight, in your home studio, there are no champion judges. No one is scoring you. You don't get points for flare or tricks or arm styling. The goal of the social dance is to fine-tune your leading and following skills and create a pleasant experience for every partner, every dance. There is no room for ego in a place where everyone is still a student.
2. Dance With Everyone.
Whether you are a Beginner or a competitive Gold student - dance with every single person you possibly can. Don't limit your partners to those in your own level - branch out! For Beginners, don't be afraid to dance with higher-level partners. In general, people are really just happy to be dancing - it doesn't matter how many basic steps you do in a row. Experienced dancers, don't be snobs. At any level, we can learn something from every single partner, and in many ways, dancing with someone of a lower level will teach you a LOT about your own lead and follow skills.
3. Be A Good Leader.
The quality of a Leader is not related to the number or difficulty of their patterns. A good Leader is measured by the happiness and confidence of their partner at the end of the dance. A very easy way to embarrass/confuse your partner is to lead them in a bunch of patterns they don't know. Be mindful of what you lead and what level your partner is. There is a foolproof way to test the limits of your partner without upsetting them. Go in order of the syllabus. Take Waltz for example. Start with a box. Now rotate it. Now travel it. Now lead an underarm turn. Now try to travel and rotate at the same time. Now do that with turns..... and so on. If your partner missteps at any point, they will say one of two things: "Oh darn it, I do know that one - try it again" or they will say "Oh I don't know that one". Now you know where their limit is, and now you know not to step over that line again. Don't try to trick them, don't try to impress them, and by all means don't EVER try to teach them something on the spot. Try to make their dancing experience as positive as possible. You are the leader, and like it or not, with great power comes great responsibility.
4. Be A Good Follower.
Accept dances with everyone unless you have a very good reason, or are legitimately uncomfortable. (IE: Them being a newer dancer is not a good enough excuse.) Part of accepting dances is to be readily available to do so. A lot of women tend to stand in circles and talk. Next thing you know, an hour has gone by and you haven't danced a single dance. Well, whose fault is it really? Look at it from the Leader's perspective. How many men do you know that would feel comfortable approaching five women and asking only one to dance? Who do they choose without offending the others? It's intimidating! By all means, socialize - but keep your eyes on the floor, and when the music changes, be open and easily approachable. Chances are, a Leader will ask the next closest Lady to dance the next dance - if you really want to practice, make sure that's you! As for dancing with Beginner Leaders - be gracious - after all, any new Leader is a gain for everyone, as dance classes are usually skewed towards far more women. Sure, they may lead easy patterns you've done a million times. But it's also the perfect opportunity for you to focus on your following skills, technique, frame, etc. Make sure they feel
5. Mind The Line of Dance
There are designated lanes on a social dance floor - specifically for smooth dances, (Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz). Newer dancers, or those that don't utilize many traveling patterns should stay towards the center of the floor. Dancers who travel a decent amount, but aren't yet using continuity footwork should dance counter clockwise around the line of dance, yet closer to the center of the room. The outmost lane is for the most experienced dancers. Make sure that you dance in the appropriate place for your partnership, not your individual level. Watch out the best you can for dancers in front of you, or further along the line of dance. Drop your frame to a more social hold when moving closely around another couple.
6. Be Respectful of Personal Space
You should utilize what we call a "studio hold" when dancing in a social setting. This means that all the technical aspects of your frame are correct, but you aren't in full out competitive dancing mode. When you take your initial hold, the Lady is the one that determines the amount of space between you. Once that space is established, neither partner should violate it under any circumstances. Be aware of your gaze - a lot of people tend to stare when they are thinking, not realizing where they are looking. In smooth dances, the safest bet is for both partners to look to the left of their partner's head. In rhythm, you can always focus on where you are going to next. A good rule is to dance with every new partner as if they were your sibling.
7. Personal Hygiene
This one really just boils down to being self-aware. If you had onions for lunch - maybe pop a few mints or some strong gum before you dance your first dance. If you tend to sweat a lot, bring a small gym towel or excuse yourself to the restroom to wipe off every few dances. Dance is an athletic activity - so there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing a gym back with deodorant, a change of clothes, a towel, etc if you require it.
8. Be A Good Partner.
It takes two to Tango. And Swing. And Rumba. And Foxtrot. And so on. The heart of the idiom is that two people are responsible for the experience. If something goes wrong. If you run into another couple. If someone's feet get stepped on. If there is a misstep - it's no one person's fault. Both dancers should simply apologize, laugh it off, and move on. At the end of each dance, be sure to sincerely thank your partner and find something to compliment about their dancing. Simple niceties go a really long way!