How to Recruit a Practice Partner

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Are you dying to try new techniques you’ve been learning on a partner?

Struggling to find dancers in your area who want to practice?

Need to find the words to approach partners and suggest practicing?

We got you!

Our students are always asking us this, because they are super excited to use all their new skills now in social dancing, but they quickly realize that if they really want to optimize their progress, social dancing isn’t enough - they need dedicated partner practice sessions to apply, negotiate, and refine their skills before getting to the social dance floor.

But finding a partner sometimes can feel like a harder task than learning the new dance skills! So in this article, I explain what kind of partner you need, who to invite, and how to ask.

Plus, I've got some EXAMPLE SCRIPTS you can use to make it easier to figure out what to say!

Please prioritize your own health and the health of your dance community by managing your own personal COVID risk. But once you have decided that you are ready to expand your bubble and cautiously include others for social dance practice, use this article to proceed forward with your mission.

What kind of partner do you need?

First, understand that you do not need partner monogamy! You might be putting too much pressure on yourself and your partner by assuming you would need to be exclusive to each other like you would if you were doing a routine. Remember this is social dancing, not dating - just as you expect to mix at social dance parties, you can expect to mix in practice sessions too. 

Don't be afraid to invite dancers to practice who already seem to be "taken". Just because you know that some people like to practice together, doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t practice with anyone else.

You want to aim for multiple practice partners, so you can diversify your pool of “habits” you dance with and build your adaptability. Which means it’s preferable to practice with partners of a variety of different levels.

The mistake a lot of dancers make is habitually practicing with someone they consider to be equal with in terms of skill level. Usually this is because they have an imagined limitation of status that dictates they should only practice or dance with someone they “qualify for”. 

THIS IS RIDICULOUS.

You are good enough to dance or practice with anyone and anyone is good enough to dance and practice with you. Why? Because:

every partner offers something that you can work on.

When our Advanced students need a partner for their lesson and the only person available is Novice, no problem! We have a whole assortment of topics that we can work on at the advanced level that only need a Novice level partner: connection isolation, authentic leading, compensation skills, invitation requests, the list goes on! 

Let's do the math: If you have a dance community with 50 people in it, how many of them would you consider to be exactly at your level? Maybe 10? Half leaders, half followers, which means now the field is now down to 5.

Think about it - if you restrict yourself to only practicing with those 5 partners, how are you supposed to improve your skills at dancing with the other 45???

I know you might be thinking, “but I want to practice for competition, with partners in my division who can challenge me?” Competitions are still primarily social dancing, which means you are using mostly the same skillset.

Remember - every partner is challenging in different ways. You find it challenging to cope with some dancers’ bad habits or missing skills, right? That IS the challenge you need in order to build adaptability.

If you avoid these challenges, you will only be proficient when your partner is. That means you’ll only be a conditionally good dancer.

You don’t need to practice 100% with a same-division partner! As long as you can practice at least 25% of the time with a partner in your division, you will not be at a disadvantage. That other 75% is making you wiser, more versatile, and more resilient.

So now, consider all partners in your dance community to be available (or at least all those who fall within your boundaries of personal COVID risk.) Now you can pick and choose from a much bigger pool. Now’s let’s talk about who to target:

Who to invite

You could practice one-on-one, or in a small group. This article is mostly talking about the one-on-one practices. But if you are curious about starting a practice group, be sure to read to the end for a separate article on this!

While you technically can practice with anyone, it’s a good idea to avoid setting up a one-on-one practice with anyone who is so far away from your level that you slip into a teacher-student dynamic. Even if neither of you is a teacher, this can happen unintentionally when one partner always seems to be the one explaining things to the partner who doesn’t know it yet.

But that’s for practices. If you have a private lesson with a pro and need a partner, it’s a good idea to invite a Newcomer or Novice dancer so the teacher can coach you on how to compensate for their habits & missing skills.

On the flip side, if you are a Newcomer or Novice dancer, feel free to invite a higher-level dancer to partner you - they are more likely to be interested when there’s obvious value for them, and smart advanced dancers are hungry for any coaching they can get.

What’s holding you back

I know the prospect of asking someone to practice can cause as much anxiety as asking someone to go on a date, because there might be fear of rejection lurking in the shadows. I get that.

But the trick is, as I mentioned earlier, to disassociate practicing from the expectations of dating. When and if someone says no to practicing, it could be for a whole variety of reasons - they’re under a deadline at work, they are commuting from too far away, they are injured and trying to rest, they don’t have anything they think they need to practice right now… notice how none of these reasons have anything to do with judging you as a dancer or as a person? 

So this means that if you get a negative response, don’t take it personally - just move on! If you keep getting declines, you might want to ask you teacher for feedback - they might be able to help you adjust your approach.

Them replying to your message is still a gesture of courtesy, so be gracious about it - thank them anyway and wish them happy dancing, or leave the door open so they can let you know when they change their mind.

Besides legitimately being too busy, the most common reason potential practice partners decline an invitation is because they don’t actually understand how to practice.

This is because most WCS classes and workshops are the practice and don’t include instructions or training on how to practice outside of class and social dancing. This means that potential partners may be intimidated by the idea of practicing because they don’t know what to practice outside of a class, or how to structure a one-on-one practice effectively.

Side note: "How to practice effectively" is something we train our Swing Literacy students in explicitly inside our Bootcamps and Momentum membership, so they have a very effective formula for exactly what to practice and how, by focusing on skill development and feedback exchange, not just jumping into patterns and social dancing.

So when you invite someone to practice, you’ll need to ease this concern right away to eliminate this obstacle. Explain what goals you have that you are working on, and what practice might look like, so they can get a better idea of what you expect from them.

Depending on who you are inviting, you might also need to address any concern about flirtation. Be upfront and crystal clear about your intentions: Be sure to proofread any messages to make sure nothing you say could be misconstrued as flirting or an invitation for anything more than practicing. 

So let’s look at some examples of what you can say to invite a potential practice partner:

How to ask

The goal of your invitation is to open a conversation to discuss more details about a practice arrangement, either one-time or ongoing. You don’t need to describe all the details in the initial message - this could be overwhelming. You just want them to reply with interest so you can talk more.

Personal invitations usually work better than just broadcast posting to everyone. Everyone likes to be personally invited to things. Try to send personal messages via email or social media.

Here’s a formula for personal invitations:

  1.  Say hi and mention their name
  2. Relevant small talk to make it personal
  3. Explain what kind of training you’ve been doing (sharing this builds their respect because you are working on your dance)
  4. Explain that you are looking for partners to practice with (make sure you make this plural so it takes the pressure off)
  5. Explain that you already have a working practice structure, but that you are open to ideas (again relieves some pressure, but indicates they will have some say in it)
  6. Mention some more benefits they would get out of practicing (in general) with you (in particular)
  7. Invite them for what you want them to do (partner for a private, group practice, partner practice, etc)
  8. Briefly mention your risk tolerance but save the details for the next conversation.
  9. State how/when you would like them to contact you

Examples (feel free to copy and edit!)

Remember to replace the [TEXT IN CAPITALS]

HI John,
So great that we are finally able to dance again! It was great seeing you on Friday.
I’m reaching out with a specific question: I’ve been working with Myles & Tessa in their Swing Literacy training program all pandemic and am so excited about the progress i’m making, but now I am looking to expand my practice to include partners so I can really apply all the connection skills I’ve been working on.
I was thinking you might be interested in practicing together - I’ve always enjoyed your [CONNECTION/ATTITUDE/ENERGY] and you seem like someone who would appreciate all the invaluable drills I have been getting from this program.
I already have a practice structure that has been working great, but I am always open to new ideas and would love to chat more about this with you.
I’m hoping to schedule some dedicated practice time with one or more [MASKED, VACCINATED, OR OTHER CRITERIA] partners in the next few weeks.
Let me know what you think?

Hi Jane,
Thanks for being my partner in the International Rally! Hey, even though it’s over, I’m wondering how you would feel about continuing to practice together, but just to work on our social dancing?
As I may have mentioned, I’ve been working on my dance this year with Myles & Tessa and there is so much from their Swing Literacy program that I’ve been dying to work on (safely) with a partner because I tried a few things already and they work brilliantly, but I am really looking for some partners to practice with regularly. The program already has provided a structure we can follow and a ton of drills that I think you would love, but I’m also open to any other ideas.
I have access to the flex space in my complex, so I’m wondering if you would like to discuss scheduling a practice session in the next few weeks?
Looking forward to hearing from you!

Hi Cam,
Hey, a few of us have been chatting about getting together to practice and we’re wondering if you’d like to join in?
We’ve been working on some of the drills we got from Myles & Tessa’s Swing Literacy program, and are just loving how well they are working for us. So we want to set up some kind of practice group with people who are interested in working on their dance. I’ve always appreciated your [CONNECTION/ATTITUDE/ENERGY] so ] I think you would really love the connection drills and strategies we can use in our social dancing.
We’re probably going to set up a [MASKED, VACCINATED, OR OTHER CRITERIA] weekend practice time in the next few weeks. Do you want me to include you in the group?

Hi Sam,
Thanks for that awesome dance last night! I’ve been working on some things in my dance lately,, and I was really excited that they seemed to work really well with you!
I was wondering... I have a private lesson coming up with [TEACHERS’ NAME] next week and I was wondering if you might be interested and available to be my partner for the lesson? We’ll be talking about leading and following turns, so even though the lesson is for me, there are likely going to be some gold nuggets for you too. The space is open for 30 min afterward, so if you want we could also practice for a bit after the lesson if you want.
Let me know if Thursday 6pm works for you? Otherwise, I can see if [TEACHER] has more times available.

Broadcast posting:

If you aren’t having any luck with personal messages, you might want to broadcast to a wider audience, especially if you are willing to travel a little.

Here’s a formula for broadcast invitations:

  1. Add a photo of you having fun dancing (this shows your personality they can expect)
  2. Start with an attention-getting question
  3. State your invitation
  4. Explain what kind of training you’ve been doing (sharing this builds their respect because you are working on your dance)
  5. Explain that you are looking for partners to practice with (make sure you make this plural so it takes the pressure off)
  6. Explain that you already have a working practice structure, but that you are open to ideas (again relieves some pressure, but indicates they will have some say in it)
  7. Mention some more benefits they would get out of practicing (in general) with you (in particular)
  8. Invite them for what you want them to do (private dummy, group practice, partner practice, etc) and only briefly mention your intended COVID precautions.
  9. State how/when you would like them to contact you

Examples: (Feel free to copy and edit)

Hey Followers in the Metropolis area!
Are you wanting to dance more and have a patient partner to work on all the juicy stuff we’ve been learning?
I’m here for you! I’m seeking a few practice partners who are wanting to (safely) work on connection skills, musicality, invitation leads, and whatever else we can think of.
When we all social dance, it seems like there’s no time to discuss and experiment and try things again. Which is why I’m excited about having (safe) dedicated practices! I think this is really the missing link that’s going to help us retain more and feel more confident with the new material we are learning.
I’ve been working with Myles & Tessa in their Swing Literacy program so I have a basic practice structure and a ton of drills I think you’ll love, but I’m also open to your ideas.
If this inspires you, message me here and let’s discuss details!

Hey Leaders in the Metropolitian area!
Do you wish you could dance more? Brainstorm ideas with a partner? Spend more time getting new moves in your body?
Do you consider yourself to be someone who takes care of their partner, has a growth mindset, and is interested in #alwayslearning?
Me too! We should practice together! 
I'm looking for a few casual partners to (safely) practice with to work on things like connection, musicality, invitation leads, and new material from classes and workshops.
I've already got a basic practice structure and a ton of juicy drills, but I'm always open to ideas.
If this sounds inspiring, message me here and let's discuss details!

Finally, once you have a response, be ready to negotiate:

  • try to predict objections they might have so you have think about how you want to respond in advance
  • expect that they might have criteria of their own
  • explain that you hope the practice arrangement can be mutually beneficial
  • prepare to explain a mini-resume for yourself: what kind of training you have been doing that makes you a more advantageous partner to practice with, so they understand what they can get out of it too.
  • be prepared with a few options for space, scheduling, etc.

Hopefully this makes you feel more empowered to go get a partner and get practicing!


Have you successfully recruited practice partners? Share what strategies and messages that worked for you below!

63RUTH2010Ever wondered what physiotherapist’s take on West Coast Swing would be? It’s not easy to find one that really understands the nature of social dancing and the specific actions involved in WCS. But we’ve got one! Meet Ruth Norgaard, our WCS student for the past 3 years, who treats us when we are broken. We asked Ruth some questions about common WCS errors that lead to injury and how to avoid them. It was such a great resource, this interview is now also a chapter in one of the lessons in our Swing Literacy Development Method teacher training program.

Please note this is a long article, and it is not intended to be prescriptive nor instructional. For personal treatment advice, please visit your health practitioner. For instruction, please refer to the SLDM.

M&T: Let’s start by getting to know you. What is your profession and background?

Ruth: I am a Physiotherapist in private practice in Vancouver BC, I obtained my BScPT from the University of British Columbia in 2004 and then pursued post graduate studies in manual therapy from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, Mulligan and Mckenzie techniques, Neurodynamic approaches and the Integrated Systems Approach (Lee & Lee) and Thoracic Ring Series “Connect Therapy” Part 4 TM (LjLee.). I don’t think the list will ever end! Like dance, Physiotherapy is a life long journey.

ruthPrior to Physiotherapy I was a professional ballet dancer. I had my first professional contract with Santa Barbara Ballet, then moved to Seattle for intensive training with First Chamber Dance Company and Pacific Northwest Ballet, then moved back to Canada and joined Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal Quebec. I also worked with Ballet Ouest and did television and theatre productions. While my primary technique was ballet, my movement and the demands upon me were from classic jazz, contemporary “modern” or “lyrical”, tap, flamenco, ballroom and latin movement. Part of my career was also as a rehearsal director, coach and teacher.

Describe your WCS experience?

I had stopped dancing for close to a decade for many reasons (education, injury etc.) and then returned, at first to ballroom classes, it was fun but…when I found West Coast Swing I fell in love with it. I started with one studio but then made a conscious decision to embrace as many resources as I could. I am so glad I did! 

A bicycle injury in 2004 left me with a with a spinal cord injury, nerve damage of my lumbar spine and a myriad of other dysfunctions that I am still working on. I cannot express my thanks enough to my Physiotherapist!! I am finding my body again through physiotherapy and dance. It is a humbling yet fulfilling experience.

I have to admit there were a few injuries sustained in my return to dance that I cannot attribute to the bicycle injury. Social dancing is just that, no harm right? Not so, dancing that involves another person also carries the responsibility of being mindful of the person on the end of your arm. On two occasions I have seriously considered quitting social dancing because of dangerous and impactful dances.

ruth2My current game plan….I take lessons and consciously try to apply what I have learned in my dance. I stretch and practice some yoga, pilates, ballet inspired movements to grow and maintain my physical vocabulary as often as my schedule will allow. The gym, walking, tennis and swimming – cross training and eating healthy also helps! AND …I go to the health care provider who supports and makes a positive difference to my physical experience!!…in my case a Physiotherapist. I also pace myself at dances, while I appreciate a goofy fun late night dance, I know my limits.

I usually dance around 3 or 4 times a week. I have a healthy balance of learning: My private lessons are ongoing depending on my and my pro’s schedules, I take advantage of visiting professional’s workshops, some privates or workshops at conventions, attend conventions when I can afford it. I am now an Intermediate WCS dancer averaging 4 -5 conventions a year. I also compete in Masters where I can tell you I have had fantastic experiences!

In the big picture, what types of injuries are WCS dancers prone to?

In my experience, WCS dancers tend to have wrist tendonitis or tendonopathies (incorrect grip and arm tension), shoulder strains of the biceps or rotator cuff (unexpected weight support moves, “cranking” through turns, flaccid frame), knee strains or meniscal injuries (twisting in sticky shoes, squatting for dips), ankle strains (these can be serious and take months to years to recover), foot problems such as Morton’s neuromas (way too much pounding of feet without strengthening), plantar fasciaitis, hallux valgus- big toe going sideways!! (these can be painfree or require surgery), males tend to have more back injuries (often poor posture), and women can easily aggravate their hips (hitting too hard!!) I know there is a longer list and perhaps some thoracic drivers in there…I could go on…

But whole system is intensely integrated, isn’t it? One incorrect alignment can have a ripple effect on several joints.

Absolutely!!! You think it’s just your ankle? Hah! Think of how much you have done to your body in your life besides dance. Car accident? Trip on the stairs? Slam into a snow bank?  Sit like a pretzel for 20 years? Martial arts, gym, hike, swim? Awkward body positions repetitively?

Just because it doesn’t hurt doesn’t make it healthy or fully functional! Ask yourself why you can turn to the right but not the left? That list goes on and on. If you imagine a puppet with clear strings, it moves freely, now twist the strings. Doesn’t work so well: the human body is not that different. The body is fabulously integrated and is capable of beautiful things like dancing. You need all of you, so take care of it.

Many of the fundamental movement techniques recommended in our Swing Literacy Development Method are designed to establish proper alignment and function right from day 1. Unfortunately, many are either misunderstood by students, or are either neglected or recklessly taught by teachers. Can we tackle some of these?

You are right, it takes people a while to embrace the simple yet crucial details of dancing, IF they ever do. Everyone wants to rush through their beginner phase because it seems so simple and they think, “I’ve got it”. Being introduced to something is a far cry from integrating it, which is a far cry from mastering it. Here’s a few of my notes on these massive topics.

The following commentary is not intended to be instructional. For actual comprehensive instructions on how best to learn, develop, and teach these skills, please refer to the Swing Literacy Development Method materials.

Posture

This is a huge concept very often poorly described and I suspect this is why many give up on it, as the application of the description is onerous.

I am going to use a couple of technical terms and then try to make it easier.

When static (not moving), your sternum (breast bone) should be in line with your pubic symphyisis (crotch bone). I like people to think of lifting the sternum as if to show off your favourite necklace. What I don’t agree with is the abused phrase, “squeeze your lats”: pinching your shoulder blades together and pulling them down, guaranteed issues further down the line if it becomes a habit. This locks down the shoulder girdle on the thorax preventing dissociation of the upper extremities (arms) from the body and therefore interrupting the flow we all strive for. Posture is a lengthy topic and because we all may need different cues or perhaps treatment to achieve good posture it can be a challenge for the dancer and for the dance teacher. Unless they are Physiotherapists or other accredited health professionals, dance teachers cannot offer treatment. They can guide and give cues, but the decision and responsibility to find treatment lays with the student or dancer. There may be an injury or muscle imbalance that prevents the attainment of a nice posture. Try changing your cues and sharing ideas with others, if someone has a fabulous posture, study it.

Frame

In my Ballroom and WCS experience, I have heard some dance teachers misguidedly teach that “frame” is a rigid position, involving “pulling down the lats”, to be maintained at all times. This is not only inaccurate, it’s counterproductive and can be dangerous. It’s simply not functional for WCS. Being rigid is counterintuitive to WCS’s elasticity, which means frame is only really used for steering. But even steering frame needs to be adaptable.

Appropriate physical freedom within posture make for a happy body and a happier dancer. Frame, is not rigid but held with awareness and has the ability to adapt and change in response to the demands of the dance. Adaptation skills are GOLD! Adaptation also means moving in and out of “states of rigidity” there are instances that accessing a more rigid core or frame is of value, single foot spins, drops, lifts are examples. 

It is not that the “lats” or latissimus dorsi muscles aren’t engaged in obtaining frame but they do not work in isolation, and they certainly aren’t the star of the frame show! Steering involves the integration of other trunk core musculature and the rotator cuff tissues (the core of your shoulder). But in contrast, to be technical, the “lats” take the humerus (upper arm bone), and extend it (draw it behind the body), adduct it (bring it down toward the body) and medially rotate it (rotate it toward the body). Examples of the “lats” in action would be raising the body during climbing or getting out of a pool. This is a powerful muscle, so while awareness and engagement is valuable over-emphasizing it is counterproductive to dance.

Foot rolling

This is also a difficult concept for many, because most people do not have strong feet (who goes to the gym to work on their feet?) and because learning to roll feels awkward at first, most bail. Overly ambitious dedicated students can easily overdo this so it needs to be explained that this is a gradual skill development process and to grow as a dancer this skill should be embraced not pounded into your body! Yes, there are better ways to roll your feet than others, and yes there are exercises you can do to appropriately build your foot strength. The texture and control this skill can bring to your dance is worth the work. 

Your feet are an extension of your leg and can make or break a line, help mark the music, communicate your intention to your partner, soften a landing, move you, push you, carry you, and if ignored or injured, break that wonderful flow, affect your balance and make you unable to follow or lead clearly and freely.

An injured ankle or foot can lead to other injuries. I recently treated a fellow whose complaint was that even after a year of “some” treatment and waiting time to fix his ankle strain he was still unable to run. I assessed him and discovered it was actually his hip mobility and fascial restrictions that were preventing his recovery. After my treatment schedule, he now runs! My point: don’t ignore injuries.

Pitch.

Pitch is an element of posture and frame that prepares you to move, to dance. It changes with the speed and texture of the music. If you look at a tennis player their “ready stance or pitch” is pretty obvious. As WCS dancers our pitch is subtle but just as important for our “game”. I would invite you to view (like you haven’t already) You Tube videos of the Pro’s and instead of checking the dance out for cool moves examine their flow and the body position that allows it. Slightly forward from the hips, more on the balls of their feet, freedom of the upper extremities (arms) to move and adjust. Now go to mirror or get a buddy to video you. Huge learning curve!

Common WCS errors that lead to injuries

Teachers that ignore technique in their teaching. “Tips” are just tips; technique is a library of information that allows safety and promotes solid growth as a dancer.

Dancers, both followers and leaders, trying to “HIT!” the breaks and poses and positions too big, too hard, without proper control or technique.

No warm up or stretching, throwing on the dance shoes and just going for it.

Leaders neglecting to learn about leading technique: collecting patterns without learning the technique that allows the action to evolve organically and effectively, leading to injuries for both partners. Foundation building is essential!

Dancers learning patterns or moves from YouTube, without having the skills to execute it. One must first do the work to prepare the body for the demands of that move. This is as dangerous as going to the gym and trying to bench press the same weight that the bodybuilder before you did.

Dancers taking a few series of basic beginner classes, thinking they’ve learned the dance “well enough”, then stopping learning and just going to dance parties. WCS, or dancing in general, is not an activity you can just check off your shopping list. It’s a skill that needs development, monitoring, feedback, nurturing and practice. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and if you use it incorrectly, you’ll run into frustration and injury of yourself or perhaps your partner.

Ignoring injuries and dancing through them. – your body will learn maladaptive movement patterns that imbed your injury but ultimately interrupt your ability to have flow and freedom in your movement.

What types of activities do you recommend dancers add to their lifestyle in order to compliment or support their dance practice?

WCS is not a symmetrical dance. It is easy not to know if you are imbalanced. Unfortunately an asymmetrical repeated pattern of movement like WCS can also contribute to imbalances that can lead to injury, even though it is fun!  So consider either a home, gym, pilates, yoga, exercise maintenance program to support you through your dance. Some other dance training like jazz or ballet can also support this lofty goal! Need to work on footwork? Try ballet or Tap!

Self check: Do you have freedom of the right arm versus the left? Can your ribs move? (lateral shift, body roll), can you balance on right leg the same as the left? Can you turn well to the right and the left? Can you turn your head to the right and the left? Can you rise on your toes on the right and the left? Are you free to move? If you or your students are finding you lack the ability to freely move after a self check, your plans may include: symmetrical training, focusing your attention to gaining more freedom in the problem area (conscious specific drills or exercise), or finding that ever helpful health care provider.

I will also urge everyone to consider nutrition and sleep, dancers depend on their bodies and we should be nice to it. OK we all know WCS conventions like to push the late night hours, but if you observe more closely, people take breaks, leave the ballroom for a nap, sleep later…depends on the schedule but pace yourself and try to give your self “body care” time.

One further thought for consideration. Not all health care providers have the same training or interests so choosing someone and finding “your team” may take a while. Your team and choices may not be the same as others. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, expect positive yet realistic results, and understand it may take a while to heal or achieve your goals. I believe a healthcare provider has the responsibility to educate as well as treat .You have the responsibility to use what you learn and be “an informed consumer” knowledge is power.

What to read next:

This is Part 2 of a series to help you transition back to dance. Click here to go to Part 1: How to Survive the Awkward Phase as we Return to Dance Many places in the world still have COVID restrictions preventing large classes, but we’re hearing from many dancers right now that they would prefer

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