Tactical Social Dancing Part 3

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Part 1 and Part 2 of this series have garnered a massive response – when I opened up the floor to take suggestions for more tactical questions, people really unloaded! 

Well, I’m honoured, because that’s exactly what we're here for. Not just this article series, but ALL the Swing Literacy programs: to fill a need and educate more dancers on topics they may be lost on.

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Part 3 of this series focuses more on the "social" aspect of social dancing...

How to ask high demand dancers

There’s a whole article on How/when to Ask Pros to Dance. But here are a few tips:

First, don’t form a line. See last week’s article, Part 1. Every dancer has their personal limit of how many dances they can do in a row. Don’t assume that a partner can handle “just one more”, if they are panting and dripping with sweat. If they are sprinting off the floor, do not do the desperate shoulder grab – this is inconsiderate and almost guaranteed to elicit a “no”.

Give them space – maybe approach them towards the end of the song with something like, “I don’t mean to rush your break, but when you’re ready, would you like to dance?” It’s a good idea to get on their radar before entering the dance space – “Save me a dance later?” can be suggested at the bar, in the elevator, at the entrance, or during class.

Regardless of your level, don’t be afraid to ask – there is no minimum level requirement to dance with anybody. At a social dance, skill has nothing to do with value. You are just as worthy as the dancers more skilled than you.

How to handle a follower who is a “player”

No, not “playa”, I mean a follower who likes to play – they interpret the music and accepts all invitation leads you throw at them. I can relate to this follower!

The thing to remember is that playing is not the same as hijacking. Hijacking is stealing or interrupting the lead: when uninvited play disrupts the leaders’ flow.

But not all playing is hijacking. Followers are free to play with syncopations and body isolations to their heart’s content as long as it doesn’t disrupt the lead. As long as they go where the leader leads and when, they get to be the one to decide how they move there (techniques needed). There is a whole chapter I can dedicate to this topic, in fact, that’s what the followers’ styling video seriesGot Play? Followers’ Liberation for WCS is for.

But for now, leader, what you need to know is that your follower might be playing on you because you are unwittingly giving invitations to do so. Your dance should be neither 100% assertive leading nor 100% “initiation” leading – it should be a healthy, balanced conversation (technique needed). It’s possible your “initiation leads” are being interpreted as invitations to play, or that your follower is fed up with being lectured at.

If you have an agenda with a certain pattern and you want to dictate how it finishes, make sure you are leading more assertively, but balance those patterns out with a healthy dose of open-ended patterns where the followers gets to choose, so you can have a balanced conversation. 

How to gracefully decline during a dance

I don’t mean decline an invitation to dance, I mean decline to do something within the dance.

Not everyone is comfortable with ducks, dips, drops, slides, squats, body rolls, invitation leads, pirouettes, etc. Followers, it will be useful for you to learn to recognize the setups/preps for the moves you prefer to avoid.

  • You could increase your grip on your leader, slow your core travel, keep your feet under you, or even brace yourself from being lowered (technique needed).
  • You can always turn a pirouette into a chaine turn and triple out of it (technique needed) – you aren’t required to spin on one foot.
  • An invitation lead is not a demand or requirement.
  • You can step out of a slide, squat under a duck, and lift the leader’s arm if you don’t want to limbo under it.

Whatever you do, finish with a big smile and musical styling, so they don’t mistake your declination of the move as rejection of them. You might follow up with, “I’m not up for those tonight”, or “I wasn’t quite ready for that”, or even more blunt, “That didn’t feel right, so I bailed for safety”. These are all “I” messages that will hopefully make the leader think twice about how (he) leads them.

How to handle “no”

Handling rejection is part of standard adulting. Hopefully the “no’s” you get are graceful and compassionate, but I know there are still some people who are manners-deficient.

Regardless of how well they manage their delivery, the meaning of their “no” is not always malicious. They usually are saying no because they mean “not right now”, because they need a break, just declined someone else, or don’t like the song. I will often say no if the song is inappropriate for the person asking me (ie. too fast for a beginner). 99% of the time, you should not take “no” personally.

Also remember that everyone has the right to decline a dance without judgement. There is a slight possibility they have a reason for declining a dance with you – if you notice they decline you habitually, take a moment and self-reflect. Maybe your last dance with them was not so pleasant? Did you get carried away with dips or hijacks? Check your hygiene habits. Get feedback on your partnering skills in a private lesson or peer practice session. Making some changes might gain you more Yes’s from all partners, not just this one.

Don't assume this is what a "no" means

Be sure to accept “no” gracefully, brush it off and don’t let it affect the rest of your night. “Ok, catch me later then?” is a gentle, open-ended proposal that invites the person to return the invitation when they are ready. Don’t pursue the person during the party – let them approach you, or wait to ask at the next party.

How to handle uncomfortable behaviour

This is a topic that deserves its own article, but briefly… You need to decide on your own personal boundaries, both physical and social. While there are commonly held social norms, don’t assume that everyone’s boundaries are the same.

For example, I personally am not bothered when leaders look down, because I know they are usually concentrating or intimidated. But some women feel offended because they feel that the leader is staring at her chest.

If you are concerned about a particular behaviour that you are not sure is acceptable in the dance, ask your teacher. If your partner does something once that might be interpreted as inappropriate, assess the situation first before reacting: Was it an accident? Were they even aware that it happened? If it wasn’t intentional, you might not even need to bring it up.

If something your partner is doing repeatedly or intentionally makes you feel uncomfortable, you do need to take responsibility for speaking up. Not only for your own comfort, but for the comfort of their future partners.

Here's how it might sound: “Could you please aim your hand a little higher? (show it) Here's what would make me more comfortable” Speaking up does not have to be angry or accusatory. Stick to the facts, state how you feel, and make a request. If they react poorly, don’t take it personally – at least you tried.

If the situation escalates or the behaviour continues despite your request, time to report it to the host, who should be able to deal with the person directly.

I want to reiterate:

the person deserves the benefit of the doubt first, then a chance to learn and make it right. If it doesn’t get better, it is your responsibility to speak up, for the sake of yourself and the community. Be part of the solution.

When your partner tries to teach you on the floor

Ah, the most common social dance crime! Under the guise  of “trying to be helpful”, some partners allow their need to control the situation outweigh their empathy and social agreements.

I have often fantasized that a referee could step in and issue yellow cards and red cards like they do in soccer. But in the absence of that system, dancers need to stand up for themselves. I elaborate on this topic in the article, Pep Talk for the Girls, Part 2.

Now, keep in mind, that “teaching” about a safety request is completely acceptable and encouraged. For example, if I leader is reaching for your hip and keeps “missing”, you need to speak up and show him where he needs to put his hand. If a follower keeps squeezing her elbow down on your forearm in closed position, the leader needs to reposition it with an explanation of how it is hurting him.

But for all those circumstances that don’t involve safety and therefore unsolicited feedback is inappropriate, what should you say? Here’s a list to choose from, depending on the circumstances.
Note that none of these phrases offer an apology. Do not apologize!

  • “I’m just trying my best.”
  • “I’m just doing what you lead.”
  • “Oh, it felt like that was what you wanted.”
  • “Oh, you mean you didn’t mean to lead that?” 
  • “Can we just skip it and move on?”
  • “Thanks, I’ll ask my instructor about that.”
  • “Can we just dance?”
  • “You’re not trying to give me unsolicited advice, are you?”
  • “When you’re done with your feedback for me, can I have a turn?”
  • When the leader accuses you

    Somewhere along the line, some (almost exclusively male) leaders never got the memo that their role is only to orchestrate and cause movement.

    Because they were in a class where the followers were taught their footwork and movement solo first, they learned that followers were supposed to memorize their part of the pattern and execute it on a cue. This implied lesson may not be their fault, but it is counterproductive to social dancing. The result is that some male leaders sometimes blame their follower when their move goes awry.

    First of all, blame is unwelcome in social dancing, just as it is in social conversation. But if he happens to accuse you, check yourself first: were you listening? Were you managing your connection correctly? Did you wait to be lead? Did you follow your inertia? If not, take the feedback (as rude as it was) and make adjustments.

    If the answer to these questions is yes and his blame is unwarranted, speak up and never apologize: “Oh, I didn’t feel the lead on that one”, “I just tried to follow your lead”, “That felt like that’s what you wanted”, “I will happily as soon as you lead it”. Be sure to deliver with a genuine smile, or at least with a neutral, non-judgemental tone and facial expression.

    How to increase your chances of a second dance

    Second dances aren’t necessarily back-to-back. It’s not common in WCS for a partner to ask you to stay with them for a second song, but sometimes if you are really connecting it’s nice.

    But I’m talking about getting a second dance later in the evening. Being a good sport, big smiles, positive vibes, encouraging reactions, all leave your partner with a good feeling that will make them want to come back for more.

    Sometime it might feel like you bombed the dance and want a “do-over”. If the song you danced to was lame or unknown, you might suggest trying again later to a more familiar song. You could also laugh it off by saying, “thanks for helping me shake out my cobwebs, can we try again later?” You could throw out a general warm fuzzy invitation: “I always love our dances – come and find me for a dance anytime”.

    Remember that many dancers like to “work the room”, trying to dance with as many people as possible once, before “going back for seconds”. This doesn’t mean they are not interested in dancing with you again – they just have a method.

    Whatever you do, don’t be a stalker. If I just danced with you 2 songs ago, I am guaranteed not going to ask you for another dance just because you are standing nearby. I’m going to find a “fresh” partner, and when I’ve danced with all of them, only then will you appear “fresh” again to me.

    Got more Tactical questions? Comment below and I will answer here or in a fresh article!

    Part 1 and Part 2 of this series have garnered a massive response – when I opened up the floor to take suggestions for more tactical questions, people really unloaded! It seems that many dancers have many questions that have gone unanswered, or have been incompletely answered, and are excited about the weekly Coach’s Corner blog articles to get satisfaction, or at least some direction towards further study.

    Well, I’m honoured, because that’s exactly what the blog is designed for. Not just this series, but ALL the Coach’s Corner blog articles: to fill a need and educate more dancers on topics they may be lost on. As you browse through the rest of the rich article archives, be sure to also check out the entire juicy resource section that will make dance geeks drool.

    So, since there was such a high demand for tactical advice, I decided to turn this series into an Facebook Live Q&A called “Ask The Coach”. We collect reader-submitted questions via PM or post to Facebook page (business page, not personal profile). So if you have a question, you can submit it there any time. The once a month or so, we will answer them there in a Facebook Live session that you can watch live or view later.

    If you have a question(s) you would like to submit, please send me a private message there, and I will add it to the queue.

    So if you would like to stay tuned to this Tactical Social Dancing series, all you have to do is click “Follow” on our page and you will automatically be notified when a new Coach’s Corner or Ask The Coach post shows up.

    Tip: if you want to make sure you never miss a post, select “See First” for our posts: after clicking “Follow” on our page, hover your mouse over the same button, “Following”, and a menu will pop up allowing you to select “see first” which will make my posts appear towards the top of your news feed, rather than getting buried.

    Yep, this starts now! To see some of the reader-submitted questions and answers from this week, check out (and follow) our Facebook page now! Remember, due to Facebook’s algorithms, not everyone sees these posts in their news feed, so please share with your friends and community, and tell them to “follow” the page!

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    1. 1) How can I make space for or invite a follow to be creative? I am thinking about when leading much stronger follows.

      2) What should I do when directed or "assigned" a dance partner by another dancer or teacher while social dancing?
      – "I need/want you to dance with xyz person because…"
      – "Here, dance with my friend"
      – "Come back over here after xyz because I want to dance with you"

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