One of the most valuable classes I ever took at Stanford... was Dance 46: Social Dance I. After a lifetime of feeling totally awkward and weird on the dance floor, I can now look forward to feeling comfortable -- and even skilled -- on any dance floor. For the rest of my life.
The formal course description says that Richard Powers' (who happens to be the best dance teacher in the history of mankind -- and who teaches a few classes that are open to the public every year) class is "an introduction to non-competitive social ballroom dance. The partner dances found in today's popular culture include 3 kinds of swing, 3 forms of waltz, tango, salsa, cha-cha and nightclub two-step. The course also includes tips for great partnering, enhancing creativity, developing personal style, stress reduction, musicality, and the ability to adapt to changing situations. The emphasis on comfort, partnering and flexibility enables students to dance with partners whose experience comes from any dance tradition."
A very apt description -- especially when it comes to "tips for great partnering."
Richard Powers goes into all kinds of fantastic "unwritten rules" of partner dancing -- for example, "If the lead is doing a great job, people will comment on how amazing the follow is," and, "It is never the follow's fault."
But two of my favorite unwritten rules of social dance go hand-in-hand with one another to ensure that everyone has fun while at a dance event.
The first rule helps new dancers improve their skills and get integrated in the community -- because, believe me. Dancers can definitely be super clique-y. It can make it hard for newcomers to feel included, as well as to improve.
This can be especially tricky for men/leads, because follows are kind of limited by what their lead can do, so it's in their best interest to dance with experienced leads.
(However, over time, follows typically learn how to "reverse lead" their partners -- at this point, I can pull off some pretty cool moves with guys who don't even know the basic footwork. Like this one, which I did with a total beginner:)
I always feel kind of weird mentioning this rule, because I'm pretty big on enthusiastic consent (you might even say I'm extreme on that front -- but I also believe that adult women are capable of exercising sexual agency) and saying "you have to say yes" feels inconsistent with that belief.
However, we're talking about a three-minute dance, here. Not a sexual encounter.
THAT SAID. When you dance, you must respect your partner's boundaries -- and, if at any time you feel disrespected, you must feel free to say, "You're holding me too close," "That felt really uncomfortable," or, "Stop doing that." You are free to walk away at any moment if the person is an asshole.
Remember: consent matters way more than politeness. And there are definitely some gross creeps in the dance community. (And, sadly, every community.)
The second rule ("You should only ask someone to dance with you ONCE") ensures that no one imposes on anyone else’s time.
If you’re a new dancer, you might only have three minutes of interesting material — that’s about one dance.
And, yeah, we all want you to keep dancing and keep improving... but not at the expense of our entire night! It's impolite to subject someone to the same sequence of dance moves over and over. Find a new partner and practice the moves with her -- trying the same moves with different people will help you improve faster, anyway, because every dancer is different.
But say you're incredibly experienced and have, like, two hours' worth of moves. Even so... maybe I'm here with a date or a group of friends, and I want to dance with them next. Or maybe I'm here hunting for a boyfriend, and want to meet as many guys as possible. You don't know.
Long story short, it's rude to usurp someone's time. If you totally liked the person, or if there aren't a ton of other people to dance with, ask her to dance again later. But not right now. (Confused or offended? Check out: You'd Get Invited to More Parties and Events if You Would Mingle, Instead of Cling.)
Follow these rules, and there's no reason you can't have a blast dancing with anyone. Here's me, with one of my favorite dance partners of all time. (Even though I'm a modern and chivalrous woman (:P), I totally appreciated that he would always ask the man I was with if he could ask me to dance.)
Two last pieces of advice, for absolute beginners:
Follows: Follow where the lead’s hand goes.
If his hand goes to the outside, that means he is leading an outside turn — so you will turn to your right. If his hand goes inside (between your faces), he is leading an inside turn — so you follow his hand and turn to your left.
If you can't tell which way he is trying to lead you, either he's incompetent, or you have noodle arms. Stiffen up that frame.
Leads: You’re not whipping the girl around. You are making a halo around her head.
Dance is all about momentum, so some beginners think they need to whip the girl around. That’s a good way to hurt someone. Experienced leads know that a turn should be like a halo, not a whip.
The momentum in dance is more about balance and energy conservation than exerting force.
Remember: she is an angel, and should be treated as such.
Or, in this case, a yodel champion angel. See also: Fear and yodeling at Mountain View Oktoberfest.
Dancers: what written or unwritten rules have improved your dance experience? Share the in the comments!
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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