How to survive the awkward phase as we return to dance

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The moment we’ve been waiting for is finally arriving - getting to dance with partners again!

At first, it’s going to be glorious!

Then it’s going to be awkward...

We'll eventually get our mojo back, but for now we all need to relearn and get reoriented to these skills that have been hibernating for 16 months. 

So here are 10 practical ways you can prepare yourself and work through this unavoidable awkward phase so you can emerge stronger than ever and recapture your joy of this blissful hobby!

Plus I added one bonus one which is a biggie that I'm going to expand on in next week's article, so stay tuned...

Prepare mentally by managing expectations

When friends are finally able to reunite, hug, and practice again, you can count on there being a honeymoon effect, which is the "high" phase you experience at the beginning of a new relationship, new job, new house, etc. before reality sets in.

Here's what that's going to look like as we reunite.

We'll have selective memories of the good features of social dancing:

  • The elasticity of WCS and how it felt to effortlessly move fluidly with any partner
  • Those musical moments where you hit that accent or break so satisfyingly
  • The exciting spins and dips and tricks that spiked your adrenaline
  • The bliss of sharing a brain with another human and moving as one to your favourite song

But thanks to a cognitive bias called the Rosy Retrospection effect, it will be very easy to remember the past as having been better than it really was.

You might experience a hard reminder about a bunch of less-than-ideal aspects about social dancing:

  • Oh right... that personal hygiene thing...
  • I have to actually ask people to dance and they might say no
  • I can’t "keep up" with some more advanced partners
  • I can’t cope with some partners’ bad social or technical habits

Plus, it's important to be realistic about the effect that the pandemic has had on your body, especially if you haven't been practicing all year:

  • You might get out of breath after dancing to a full song so you need to pace yourself
  • Your connection muscles are likely out of shape so they will be stiff after dancing and more prone to injury
  • Your reaction time is likely going to be slower, so you will miss musicality moments and cues from your partner
  • You might feel overwhelmed with social and technical skills that you suddenly need to consciously focus on now
  • You'll have forgotten a ton of the patterns and pathways you used to know.

This might squash your honeymoon high pretty quickly if you are not prepared.

So, how can you and your community support each other through the awkward phase?

10 Solutions to survive the awkward phase

#1 Detach your self from this awkward phase.

Remember that the pandemic itself was a phase we all went through - life sucked in certain ways for a while. But does that mean that you suck? No, of course not. A phase that you are going through does not mean anything about who you are as a person. So dancing is going to suck a little bit for a little while. This does not mean you suck from now on.

#2 Remind yourself that this is temporary

Give yourself a break! You've had a forced "off-season" for 16 months - of course you're going to be rusty! The key is to push through this awkward phase and don't let it stop you. It won’t take you long to “get it all back”, but it will take some effort and you know that the emotional and physical rewards of sticking with it are worth it.

#3 Lean into the awkward

Own it and love it like a weird dog you are dog-sitting: it’s temporary, you can’t change it, you just need to accept it and ride it out. Prepare in advance a few concise answers to questions like, "How has your year been?", just to get you through the light small talk - then you can play it by ear and consciously choose the deeper conversations you are ready for later. Let yourself be silly, frame your mistakes as part of the cleaning process, let go of needing to “get it right” in order to have fun.

#4 Know that you are not alone.

EVERYONE is experiencing some version of this. You are not the only one. Everyone is just as self-conscious as you, almost everyone has deteriorated skills* and everyone is as concerned about giving their partner a good dance.

Want proof? Ask your friends. Want more proof? Here’s a poll we took in the Train WCS Smarter Facebook group:

*Most of the dancers who participated in our Swing Literacy programs through the pandemic have not deteriorated their skills at all and have actually experienced noticeable upgrades in their dance. But, this doesn't mean they are not feeling anxious about social dancing still.

#5 Find ways to refresh, warmup, & upgrade

Don't jump back in cold - give yourself time to prepare your body so you can avoid injury and burnout. Take some general fitness classes, maybe look into some primal movement and agility-based training in addition to supporting local studios reopening. It's a smart idea to put yourself back in a Beginner class to give yourself a fresh restart. Stay tuned for our next Swing Literacy Bootcamp that was a game changer for so many dancers this year.

#6 Ask for consent more often

Don't assume everyone is ok with the way things used to be. We've all had a chance this year to think about our past behaviour, our boundaries, and our preferences. So before jumping to the conclusion that everyone will be excited to (for example) hug again, be sensitive to others' comfort level. Make a habit of asking first:

  • Would you like a hug?
  • Wanna hug it out? Can we hug?
  • Can I get a high-five?
  • Would you like to dance?
  • Are you ok with me dipping you?
    • Is this ok with you?
    • Do you mind if I ask you...?
    • Would you mind if I asked you for something? (referring to offering feedback)
    • Would you like a drink?

    Then, listen to their response first before charging ahead. Don't assume consent.

    Keep in mind that consent isn't always verbal, so be observant of body language cues that indicate someone is uncomfortable and adjust your behaviour accordingly.

    Consent is a tiny gesture that speaks volumes of respect, so it's a good idea to just make it a habit, especially during this sensitive, awkward phase.

    #7 Give your partners grace

    They need your patience and empathy now more than ever.

    • Forgive them for forgetting to smile because they have been under a mask for so long. 
    • Forgive them for being a little off balance as they are not used to partnering with elasticity or being spun.
    • Forgive them for missing phrase change changes while all their bandwidth is being dedicated to staying on beat.
    • Forgive them for making awkward comments or questions, because they might be still getting used to new social norms. 

    Everyone has a lot on their mental, emotional, and physical plate right now, so be happy and grateful if they manage to give you a reasonably fun dance with their reduced capacity. Now, more than ever, aim for fun, not perfection.

    #8 Consider circling back to dance with partners for a second time later in the party.

    The first dance with anyone is likely to be a bit rough around the edges, so having a do-over once you are more warmed up and have your head more in the game can ease some social anxiety because you’ll have a chance to re-write your impression of each other and leave in a more positive frame of mind.

    #9 Find joy in the "survival" challenge

    I watch renovation shows on TV, not because I own a house to remodel, but because I love the game of creative problem solving. Take joy in the challenge of trying to elevate every partner and surviving the best you can given you and your partner's combined unique collection of messy, rusty, awkward dancing. Cooperating and problem solving is the game. Enjoying every dance safely is the prize.

    #10 Don’t rush into competitions - they are NOT a high priority right now.

    If you haven’t already, give yourself some time to reflect on what is really important to you in WCS. You might find that your highest priorities have nothing to do with points. If you focus on these priorities, you will likely find that by the time you do compete, you will be more successful because you will be in a better place, and you will enjoy the experience more than you used to.

    And one more biggie....

    Start collaborating for small group practices

    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 to practice with a small group first until they get more comfortable with large social dances.

    This sounds like a great idea, especially since this can help support small dance business and rebuild the community at the grassroots level.

    But how? This is a format you might not be used to, and the last thing you want to do is waste time and frustrate each other, right?


    Problem solved!

    Check out this next article for how to practice effectively with a small group of peers, which also includes a free, thorough, specific, how-to guide on setting up and running an effective Peer Practica. Click here to go to the article


    In the meantime, consider your community - since everyone will be experiencing some form of this, everyone could use the advice in this article, so please share it!

    Do you live in a community where there’s not a lot of dance resources? (dancers/dance parties/instructors)

    Are you afraid of losing your improvement momentum because of it?

    Are you starving for feedback to know that you are on the right track?

    You don’t need to wait for the next big convention, or think that you can’t grow your WCS until a high-level dancer moves near you. You have the resources right in your backyard to improve your dance and grow the level of dancers in your community.

    A Peer Practica – if organized efficiently – can give you the feedback, practice, and momentum you are craving, in your own hometown.

    In this article, I’m going to explain how feedback from peers is essential and peer practice can be quite valuable, if guided properly. I’ll also provide some personal stories from our own experiences and some pitfalls to avoid.

    Be sure to read till the end to get a free, thorough, specific, how-to guide on setting up and running a Peer Practica.

     

    Your solution: The Peer Practica

    Peer Practica are group practice sessions that are not instructed by a teacher. A small group of 3-20 local dancers assembles to work on “homework” they received previously from their teachers.

    In the absence of a teacher, one or two people need to act as Practica Leaders, which usually tends to default to the most advanced dancer in the group, but it doesn’t have to. The Practica Leader could be simply the most enthusiastic dancer. 

    The dancers participate in a variety of activities, drills, exercises, and social dance practice while exchanging feedback in a safe environment.

    It’s an extremely effective tool to focus your practice and get the feedback you need, only IF that feedback is accurate and appropriate. Peer Practica can serve to fill in the gaps between your private lessons or conventions, and maintain your momentum of growth.

    We have taken advantage of Peer Practica at several stages in our dance development. As we were coming up through the ranks, we had a group of peers from all over the US that would gather at conventions, usually during the midnight breakfast buffet. We learned a ton by exchanging ideas from dancers at our own level but from different backgrounds and regions. This was great for us, because we never had peers at our level in our city to practice with.

    We took this idea home and started hosting “Peer Jams” in Vancouver. The local dancers loved it, as there was no outlet for this kind of discussion and exchange. The only obstruction to its continuation was the planning and organization end of things. One memorable activity we did was brainstorm a wish list for followers by leaders and vice versa. It was a very enlightening experience for both sides, building both empathy and self-awareness.

     

    Of course, you could name it whatever you like: Peer Practica, Peer Jam, Group Practica, Practice Group, etc.

     

    Why we recommend a Peer Practica

    You can take all the lessons you want, but they don’t produce results until you can practice them with a partner “out in the wild”.

    You can watch all the You Tube clips you want, but they won’t teach you connection and technique.

    In both cases, the missing link is feedback: the simple knowledge of the results of your efforts, no matter how small. Getting feedback is seeing where on the target the arrow landed, watching someone’s facial reaction as you tell them news, or pain when you twist your arm too far behind your back. You know you need feedback to grow. Feedback can be visual, verbal, or physical. Without feedback, you’re sailing in the dark.

    You can get feedback from instructors, of course, but group lessons can get busy and private lessons, while ideal, might be too expensive to take on a regular basis.

    You can definitely get feedback from your social dance partners, but the quality of that feedback will depend on how skilled they are at analyzing your movement, or how good you are at asking the right questions.

    What you need is a safe, structured environment where you can exchange quality feedback regularly with peers who are as equally invested as you are in their own dance progress.

    Participating in a Peer Practica requires an understanding of equality and mutual respect. In the interest of learning, we need to take advantage of this closed environment to be vulnerable and open to feedback. While it is socially unacceptable to offer feedback on the social dance floor, the Peer Practica is designed to be a safe place to exchange feedback, so long as we follow some guidelines, as shown here:  How to Request, Give, and Receive Feedback

    But peer feedback has its limitations, so how can you avoid pitfalls and increase the effectiveness of the Peer Practica?

     

    One time, the Peer Jam was an epic fail. We were tired, hungry, and cranky and neglected to designate a moderator. As you could probably predict – too many cooks in the kitchen made for confusion and drama. We learned our lesson after wasting most of the time on tangential arguments, people got their backs up about silly misinterpretations and there was no one there to take leadership to keep us on course. Always designate a Practica Leader! And consider offering snacks… Learn more key tips to running a successful Peer Practica in our free guide. Read on!

     

    2 quick tips to make your Peer Practica effective

    Avoid “the blind leading the blind”

    Myles “judging” in a post-intensive blindfolded Pro-Am contest

    It is risky to depend on uneducated feedback exclusively.

    There are so many teachers out there teaching various techniques, tactics, and strategies, that most dancers are confused about which pieces of advice are correct/incorrect.

    There is a lot of great advice out there, but not all of it is a good fit for you. Here’s why:

    Skills are learned in stages.

    Let’s take pirouettes (one-footed spins) as an example.

    You may be currently at stage 2 of this 10-stage pirouette skill.

    Your peer (who is doing this skill at stage 7) probably has loads of tips to share, but he doesn’t know which tips you need to get from stage 2 to stage 7.  So he offers you great feedback and tips from stage 5, but you still can’t get it to work properly and now you are even more confused and frustrated.

    The advice he gave you wasn’t bad, but since you weren’t ready for it, it was useless or even counterproductive.

    You need filtered and curated feedback designed for your needs and goals. (That’s what we train teachers to do with the Swing Literacy Teacher Development Program.)

    So how do you improve the quality of the feedback you and your partners are sharing with each other?

     

    2. Use Guided Practice to stay on track

    In elementary school, one of the most effective ways of developing literacy is an activity called Guided Reading. This involves splitting the class into groups based on reading skill level. Then each group gets a turn with the teacher, to work on a variety of drills, activities, and discussions appropriate for their skill level, with the teacher guiding the process to keep them on track.

    Myles coaching students to help each other using tools to provide unbiased feedback

    This is an ideal format for learning that also applies to adult dance training. Unfortunately, this is not a common product offered by teachers and studios, but good teachers are open to it. If you wrangle a group of interested dancers and request a small group private lesson (2-5 couples) with your preferred teacher, they usually will be happy to accommodate you.

     

    In this setting, the format would look like:

    • This is a deck of 52 cards, each with a vetted drill you can use to work on your WCS without needing a partner. This is a great tool to use in a Peer Practica.

      the group would present their common goals to the teacher in advance (maybe based on notes collected in prior practica)

    • the teacher would prepare drills and activities to address these goals
    • while each partnership is working independently on the exercises, the teacher circulates, giving feedback to each couple at a time and moving to the next topic when the group is ready
    • the feedback from the teacher can be immediately practiced and verified by partners who heard the same message.

     

    Benefits:

    • You get more one on one attention than you would in a group class.
    • You get to hear advice that is appropriate and tailored for the stage you are at.
    • You get feedback from multiple partners who are working on the same skills at the same time.
    • The feedback is more accurate, since it is inline with the teacher’s advice in the moment.
    • You get time to practice immediately without the pressure of a group class agenda.
    • The pace and flow is dictated by the group, not by the teacher, which allows for more flexibility and natural skill progressions, which is both effective and relaxing.
    Once we ended up having a Peer Jam in Cheesecake Factory – why not be productive while you’re waiting for your table? We ended up coming up with a crazy awesome pattern combo that was just challenging enough that we placed a wager on who could execute it the best that night in the comps. The winner got the cheesecake dessert we bought before we left. (Guess who won? 😉 )

     

    Of course, there are several more tips to help ensure your Peer Practica is fun, successful, and inspiring….

     


    Want our free step-by-step guide on how to organize a successful Peer Practica?

    This project might seem overwhelming… it’s important to set it up correctly right from the start, so you can maintain momentum, commitment, and enthusiasm.

    We want to help you avoid common mistakes and succeed in setting up your Peer Practica, so we have taken out the guesswork and created this free guide for you!

    Peer Practica Step-by-Step Guide

    includes:

    Step-by-step
    instructions

    We’ve outlined 17 steps to show you exactly what to do to set up and manage a Peer Practica so even if you have no organizing experience, you can take this initiative and start today.

    Practice Activities
    Menu

    Wondering what you would do without a teacher to guide you? This menu gives you loads of drills, games, and activities to keep the group busy and engaged and working toward their goals.

    Expectations & Agreements

    The Peer Practica is an unusual environment that can get confusing if ground rules and expectations are not set from the beginning. Use this list to create your own group agreement. 

    Enter your email to get a free Peer Practica Step-by-Step Guide:
    everything you need to start and run a successful Peer Practica

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    Final Thoughts

    Don’t forget to check in with a coach

    While Peer Practica are great on their own, the occasional guided group private lesson with a high-level coach would help keep everyone from infecting each other with confusion and bad habits.

    For example, you might organize a group that practices every other week. Every other month, you bring in a coach to give you feedback and assign more “homework”. If there is an international pro visiting, take advantage of the opportunity to book them while they are in town.

    This would also be a great way to initiate your first Peer Practica: have an instructor come in to give structure to the sessions, as a model to follow when they are not there. This could be live, or done via Skype. Inquire about hiring us to coach your group, live or online

     

    Make it a part of your balanced WCS diet

    Caveat: Peer Practica should not become your sole source of training and practice!

    We observed a community that tried to run a Peer Practica, and it was successful for a while, but  it ultimately failed for 2 reasons: 1. There were too many cooks in the kitchen: they rotated Practice Leaders too often, and egos got involved. 2. They never once hired in a high-level coach to guide them. Their practices were disorganized and lacking direction. They argued over conflicting advice they collected from various workshops and videos, but had no mentor to turn to to help mediate issues or clarify questions. These are critical mistakes that caused a cycle of apathy in their community instead of growth. Get the guide so you can avoid mistakes like this!

    The Peer Practica is an excellent way to augment your learning, inside of a balanced diet of instruction that includes:

    • Group Classes
    • Workshop Weekends
    • Private Lessons
    • Instructional Videos (NOT You Tube clips!)
    • Convention Workshops
    • Social Dancing

    All of these resources work together to train every aspect of improving your social dancing, regardless of your skill level or competition level.

    So what are you waiting for? Wrangle the troops and start a Peer Practica in your community!

     

    Did you do it? Did you start a Peer Practica? We’d love to hear your story! Post in the comments below.

    Like this article? Pass it on, leave a comment, or like our Facebook page where we post this content regularly!

     

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