Asking a pro to dance can be as nerve-wracking as asking someone out on a date. Your ego is on the line, you hope not to come across creepy, yet you’re willing to risk it for the payoff of an awesome dance with someone you admire. We applaud your courage, as long as you keep in mind a few social norms.
First, note that many of these tips apply to asking ANY human to social dance!
Second, every Pro is a unique individual. It is unfair to assume that all Pros have the same philosophy about their own social dancing. I’ll explain a few aspects of my own, and many will share my views, as they are pretty common, but they can’t be applied universally to all Pros.
Consider their energy level
My social dancing time varies between events. Sometimes I just have a workshop and a few privates during the day. Some events I have more work to do – teaching workshops and privates starting at 10am, judging a few hours, my own competitions, not to mention the long involved process of preparing to perform Showcase. I often don’t even have time for a real meal.
By 11pm when all is said and done, I’ve been “on” for at least 13 hours: makeup done, camera-ready, good posture, on my feet, using my voice… I’m pooped! I need a few hours of downtime before I can muster the energy to social dance. Don’t forget – while you all get to sleep in, have a lazy brunch, get your prelims and finals over with before the sun goes down and have the rest of your evening to be entertained, the pros are the ones behind the scenes making all of that happen. They are producers of the activities you are consuming. So remember that when you wonder where they are at 1am.
How your intimidation sabotages you
Like most Pros, I am a victim of the “fear factor” – many people tell me that they or their friends are too intimidated to dance with me.
One reason is they think that I’m going to dance with them the exact same way I dance with other Pros. They think I’m going to pull out tricks and crazy stuff and they aren’t going to be able to “handle” me. NOT TRUE. I always adjust my dance to the state and connection of my partner. Notice I didn’t say “level” of my partner.
To me, I could care less if a leader is pre-Novice or All-star: if he/she has a great connection and appears to be open and present with me, I can play more because they can handle it. If they have a poor connection, are frozen with fear, or are drunk, I will play less.
Assuming Pros are bored with beginners
Another reason many social dancers are intimidated is that they think they are not good enough or they assume that all Pros “only like dancing with their own”, which is not true for me:
I LOVE dancing with beginner dancers.
Beginner dancers are the reason I became who I am.
Dancing with beginners for me is refreshing because they don’t try so hard to overlead over-ambitious patterns. I have time to think and chill and express myself. They also don’t get pissed off like some Intermediate-ish dancers do when something they tried didn’t work because they think I didn’t follow it properly. (My sarcasm my not be obvious on that last point, so just in case: If a pro follower doesn’t follow something you think you are leading, chances are, you didn’t actually lead it.)
Social dancing-wise, if I had a choice between a modest Novice with great connection or an All-star who happens to be sloppy and overbearing, I’ll take the former.
Nervous about being evaluated
I know many of you are self-conscious and feel like the Pro will be evaluating you the whole dance long. Here’s a great analogy a student once gave me:
When I’m dancing in a private lesson, I’m in editing mode. My spell-check highlighter is on, and I am gathering information to make a formative assessment to kick off the lesson.
But when social dancing, I turn off editing mode and turn on auto-correct. I’m not judging you. I’m figuring you out, I’m solving your puzzle, I’m decoding your language in order to have a great 3 minute conversation, but I’m not judging. Your errors are mere speedbumps or potholes in the road – but it’s all cool, I just turn on my 4-wheel drive.
Feeling pressure to perform
You might be afraid of giving me a “bad dance”. Let’s think about this fear for a moment…exactly which scale do you expect me to measure you against? Other Pros? The majority of my social dances that night? The mean, median, or mode?
Consider that there is no such thing as a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down. I never have a “bad dance”, because I take 50% of the responsibility of making it a safe, comfortable and fun dance!
There are however, “bad dancers”, and by that I don’t mean mean “beginner bad” (as previously explained), I mean “slap-on-the-wrist bad”, or “someone-should-write-that-guy-a-dance-violation-ticket bad”. These are the leaders who yank me around the floor like a piece of meat, whose lack of floorcraft causes traffic accidents, who grip me and twist my wrist with their negligent “too-proud-to-take-lessons” lead. You’d have to be pretty rude and oblivious to fall far enough down the spectrum that I would consider avoiding you the rest of the night.
I love dancing with my friends. I am usually out dancing long and late. Don’t get me wrong – I love my social time, but I’m primarily there to social dance. I like dancing with new people, just as I like meeting and talking with new people. But many nights, I will dance with the some leaders 2 and 3 times in a night. Sometimes it’s not by choice, though – it’s because I really want to dance and no one else is asking. I have heard this experience echoed from other Pro women, and it can usually be attributed a combination of lower numbers of leaders in the room which means they don't feel compelled to ask as often, and a tendency for men to feel more intimidated to ask high level women to dance (as compared to women asking high level men).
And, just in case you are thinking it, sometimes I DO ask people I’ve never met – both leaders and followers. Not before observing how they treat other partners though – I can’t afford not to pre-screen for safety – I have a career to protect. 🙂
How/when NOT to ask
Now, all that said, I do have one caveat about how NOT to ask. This has happened to me a few times now, and each time I was appalled:
I was standing or sitting talking to someone, and a guy I’d never met approached me while I was talking and grabbed my hand and started pulling towards the floor. As he pulled, he asked, “You said you dance with beginners, right?”
I was fuming. The common courtesy that everyone else in the dance world gets, but seems to have escaped these few “un-gentlemen”, is: When you ask someone to dance, you ASK, with words and eyes, and await their consent. You can add a gesture or offer a hand, but you DON’T GRAB AND HAUL like a caveman and then try to lay a pre-emptive guilt trip on them to prevent them from declining. Rant over.
Times to hold off asking:
(seemingly obvious, but shocking how many people make these faux-pas)
- while the Pro is eating
- when you see the Pro “bolting” off the floor, likely trying to escape to the bathroom or for air!
- while the Pro is right in the middle of a dance with someone else
- when the Pro is collecting their belongings to call it a night
- when the Pro has tucked themselves away in the DJ booth to take a break
- avoid “lining up” or “queuing” to dance with a Pro. I’m not a carnival ride you bought a ticket for. ?
Remember, EVERYONE has the right to say no to a dance. Pros are not obligated to accept your invitation – they are not property rental. Pros are not always eager to social dance with everyone:
- Sometimes they just want to hang out with music
- Sometimes they are pacing themselves and not dancing every song
- Sometimes they are not feeling 100% and don't want to disappoint you
- Sometimes they are trying to squeeze in some dances they owe before going to bed
...and there is nothing wrong with that!
So if your invitation does get declined, resist the reflex to assume they are rejecting you personally. They are just rejecting that dance in that moment.
Great times to ask:
- When they are near the floor, watching or casually grooving
- During or shortly after your private lesson with them
- Sunday, when everyone’s more relaxed.
- Right after they return from a “refreshment” break
- Right after you’ve just had an awesome dance with a trusted friend, so your confidence is high.
- When they are walking out to the floor with someone else – ask if you can have the next song.
- After having a conversation with them
- Between contests when they are waiting to judge again (be sure to check for to see if they are wearing dance shoes)
Be respectful of WHEN and HOW you ask pros to dance, but don’t be afraid to ask. We’re all human.
Remember most of these tips apply to all social dancers, not just pros.