It's the new year - typically a popular time to reassess and take stock, but this year we're a little wiser...
Since the start of the pandemic, we've all learned a lot about what really hasn't been working and is due for an upgrade. We've also had time to think about what's really important to us so we can make better decisions going forward.
Or have we?
Have you actually taken stock of what you really want out of your West Coast Swing lately? Because now's a REALLY good time to do that!
Consider this your opportunity to do a philosophical audit of your WCS, and "clean your closet" so you can dump some dead weight in your dance and focus on what you really want.
Ask yourself: What do you really want in West Coast Swing?
Here's a quick menu to choose from! Or maybe these will spark new ideas. Don't fall into the trap of saying, "All of them!". Read more below...
- More people asking me to dance
- A social network
- Public success
- Achievement (points)
- Self-expression through dance
- Kinesthetic/Sensory Satisfaction
- More people to dance with
- More opportunities to dance
- To feel needed
- To spread the love
- To affect change
Take a moment before answering: your first answer might be keeping you from being honest with yourself, which might be sabotaging your ability to have your needs met.
Many dancers approach us seeking advice, from all corners of the WCS scene: students, teachers, competitors, non-dancing spectators, social dancers, event directors. Our responses as coaches vary, depending not only on who’s asking, but on what their purpose is.
A common mistake dancers make is following advice intended for someone who has different needs/goals/reasons for dancing WCS.
Right now, check in with yourself: what goals or needs do you have NOW?
They are likely different from when you started. They're also likely different than this time last year.
Either way, if you have goals and/or needs that are not being satisfied, it’s time for an audit. Time to reassess and make some course-corrections if necessary.
This article is Part 2 in a series where I look at all the most common things dancers want out of their WCS, one category at a time, and explain how you can take action to get what you want starting now.
These are the kind of articles you want to read slowly and think. Read and consider all of these goals/needs – you may discover some less obvious ones that you can relate to. Or maybe this will spark some ideas that aren't listed.
All of these reasons/desires are valid: I’m not going to convince you to change any of them: But your (honest) reasons should dictate the path you choose and the decisions you make.
Said another way,
The advice you follow depends on what you really want from West Coast Swing.
So here's the second instalment in this series discussing the most common reason people are attracted to WCS in the first place. At the end I also describe a few pitfalls to avoid...
What do you WANT? Part 2: Skills
- Self-expression through dance
- Kinesthetic/Sensory Satisfaction
You might want all of these, but consider which ones are MOST important to you.
1. I want competence
Back when you started WCS, you might have been enthusiastically thinking, “I need to learn this dance!”, but it was more likely “I need to figure this thing out!”.
Either way, you see a discrepancy between what you can do and what you see others can do, and you feel motivated to close the gap. If the pursuit of competence drives you – let it. While in pursuit, keep your eyes open for the next new goal.
The key is to not succumb to complacency. Just because you learned a skill once, doesn’t mean you are competent at it. Don’t fall into the trap of convincing yourself that you have “learned enough” – not only your dance will get really boring to both you and your partners, but it's possible to regress. Time for private coaching.
One way or another, you NEED feedback, otherwise you are living in an echo chamber. You can buy feedback from professionals of course, but you can also get it for free from practice partners and trusted friends. There's an art to receiving and requesting feedback though, so I added a whole article about this below.
Want more details on how to gain competence in your WCS skills at ANY level? Be sure to check out more resources below.
2. I want mastery
It might not be enough for you to feel competent at something – you feel the need to conquer it. Mastery is an admirable pursuit in any field, and the prescription is almost always the same: coaching and practice.
Yep, you're going to need mileage if you want to myelinate new skills! There is no getting around it. But just social dancing and "trying to think about tips" is not going to cut it. There are way more effective ways to practice that will help you make more permanent improvement, more efficiently. And they start with drills. Be sure to check the article I've linked to below to find out how to optimize your practice drills.
Practice is useless without feedback. Masters provide feedback to you. But feedback is useless without practice. If your goal is mastery, you need to find all the coaching you can afford.
Shop around, find a sensei you respect and who respects you. Be particular: just because someone is a good dancer, doesn’t make them a good coach.
Diversify: train under multiple coaches to hear a variety of perspectives and approaches, and cross-train in other dance styles to gain mastery over your body. This is one reason why workshops are soooo valuable. You'll definitely want to read the article on workshops listed below.l
3. I want challenge
If you are bored in group classes, and bored with your dancing, it might mean that you need to be challenged, but not necessarily. It might seem like the answer is to “move up” a class level, but that’s usually not the ideal solution.
You don’t need harder skills you aren’t ready for – you need to find a more entertaining way to level up your existing skills.
In our experience, dancers are bored in group classes when they don't know how to learn effectively in group classes. This is extremely common (and ironic since group classes are a staple of partner dance training), and happens because most classes teach instructions for patterns but don't spend much time teaching dancers how to learn how to dance. This is exactly what Swing Literacy programs specialize in.
Take a private lesson to get a custom-tailored plan on how to improve your skills and find ways to challenge yourself in your classes, social dancing, and competitions. Or if you're ready to upgrade, Swing Literacy training can help you get a better ROI on every class you ever take from any teacher.
4. I want self-expression through dance
There will be a plateau point in your WCS development where your basic mechanics have stabilized, but you might not feel like you are “dancing” yet.
This is the time to go to a teacher for a private lesson and figure out how you can discover your personal groove and insert your own personality into the dance.
A lot of dancers come to us looking for this, and they think they need/want styling variations because they seem like an obvious solution to look better. But actually what they are missing is character of dance, which is acquired through fundamental movement skills - the foundation skills that you might have missed when you were first taught your "basics".
So some research first – study dancers better than you. If you can identify which ones you admire and why, your teacher can understand what inspires you. If you find yourself still hunting, always know that Swing Literacy Dancer Development Program provides all of these missing skills. Here's one skill you can explore that can give you access to feeling better immediately.
This might also be the point where you decide you would like to try choreography. Consider joining a team, doing a Pro-Am, or even a Rising Star routine. Read more about this below.
5. I want kinesthetic/sensory satisfaction
This dance is supposed to FEEL good. Reeaallly good. If it doesn’t, don’t give up, keep searching for more connection instruction, because it's likely you are missing some juicy skills.
Try different instruction sources: live workshops & intensives, instructional videos & online workshops, private lessons, online programs. There is a wide variety of quality out there, because not all teachers have had access to efficient systems.
In every format, there are ways to #trainWCSsmarter and leverage opportunities to get the feel you are striving for. But if you are struggling, it's time to switch modalities. Connection is complex, but should not be hard to get to the point where you feel amazing with any partner.
Does it help to get hands-on coaching and practice with dancers with good connection? Of course! But there's a LOT you can and need to learn that does not require in-person coaching.
And while having great practice partners will feel nice, isn't your ultimate goal to make EVERY partner feel good, not just the highly skilled ones? This means you need to train your compensation skills so you can achieve great connection regardless of what your partner offers. This is a unique skillset we focus on in the Swing Literacy programs.
In the meantime, embrace dancers with fewer connection skills than you, like a mountain biker embraces a rough trail. Welcome the challenge and use that dance as a checklist of survival skills you can work on.
Which of these goals/needs resonates with you?
Don't see some of your goals/needs listed? Don't worry - there are 2 more articles in this series so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out the recommended articles below.
Pitfalls to avoid
Now, let's address some pitfalls you might encounter as you strive for these goals/needs:
Not measuring your improvement
How do you currently measure your improvement? Hopefully you don't fall into the trap of relying on competition results to indicate your progress. Competitions only compare your 2-minute dance to others' 2-minute dance on that day. They are a useless metric for measuring how much your skills have grown. If you have a detailed formal assessment system like we do in Swing Literacy, here are two things that are far more valuable metrics than competition results:
- Writing down what you struggle with, then checking that list periodically to noticing when skills get easier
- Keeping a record of your videos, especially if you can have the same professional give you feedback on them periodically (even if they don't coach you regularly)
- Asking trusted partners for feedback after you've been implementing something new
Many dancers sabotage their own progress by self-disqualifying from sources of instruction because they make incorrect assumptions.
- Assuming that pure social dancing will fill this need
- Assuming that private lessons are only for competitors
- Assuming that your private lessons are all you need
- Assuming that group classes can't offer you anything new anymore.
- Assuming that all workshops are the same format or same effectiveness.
- Assuming all online classes are the same format or same effectiveness.
- Assuming that you "can't learn online" based on negative experiences you have had
- Assuming that you can't learn connection online (our hundreds of ecstatic Swing Literacy alumni we have trained exclusively during the pandemic would disagree!)
Ok so now what?
Once you have identified what your most important goals/needs are in the "skills" department, you can use this to help guide some decisions you make about:
- How much time you dedicate to learning: studying, getting coaching, practicing
- How much money you invest in private lessons, training, workshops
- Which type of activities you invest in to get what you want
- How you will measure your improvement
Then use some of the tips mentioned here as a starting point to take action to get more of what you really want.
Below are a few articles that provide more detail.
Stay tuned for Part 3: Competition where I will help you identify competition-related goals you have and how to take action to work toward them.
If you haven’t heard about this psychological concept, you need to. Understanding it can have a profound effect on your dancing, but also other areas of your life you may be self-sabotaging. Let me give you a little definition first, then I’ll discuss how this could be… the most important thing you ever learn in dancing.Defining Growth
Does this sound familiar? “Workshops are all the same”“I don’t learn well in workshops”“Workshops are only for beginners”“Workshops are only for serious dancers”“I’ll never retain it all anyway” These are all reasons dancers give for why they can’t/don’t need to attend workshops. They sound valid on the surface, but are actually evidence of a global epidemic.What if
Private lessons are a mystery to many dancers, not just the newbies. Veteran dancers tend to forget this valuable resource that can help guide them through the tough phases in their dance development and achieve their goals. Let’s demystify and help you understand exactly:Who can benefit from Private LessonsWhy you should bother considering themWhere you should
Dance feedback is like hugs. Everybody can benefit from them, but no one will admit to it, and it can get awkward to ask.An no one likes an unwanted hug.This article is your go-to source on how to gracefully GET and GIVE feedback. Read on to discover:The 3 conditions required for feedback to be appropriate:
In every skill-based activity there’s a difference between the beginners and the veterans. This makes sense – the longer you work at something, the better you get at it. Notice I said work at; just because you hack at something longer, doesn’t mean you’re improving.But the dance community is full of distinctions, divisions, labelling…ways of
Enter your text here… Wanna improve your West Coast Swing? Social dancing isn’t enough. You need to actually practice. But practicing is actually a skill unto itself, one that most partner dancers never actually learn explicitly, so it ends up being resented, inefficient, or neglected completely. But you neeeeeed it and there are so many
The West Coast Swing world is a strong supporter of social dancing: the improvisation side of the dance. The idea of speaking a language in order to carry on a conversation with anyone in the world without planning, is of the highest value. However, almost all dance forms have a facet to them that involves a
It’s great to see students all over the world taking the initiative to practice on their own. Practice of personal movement skills is part of a balanced diet of partner dance learning and skill development, regardless of your ambition level. We are strong advocates of “homework”: once you learn your skills in your lesson, you need
And now for a little practical philosophy.
Ask yourself: What do you really want in West Coast Swing? Take a moment before answering: your readily available answer might be keeping you from being honest with yourself, which might be sabotaging your ability to have your needs met.
Many dancers approach us seeking advice, from all corners of the WCS scene: students, event directors, teachers, competitors, non-dancing spectators, social dancers. Our responses vary, depending not only on who’s asking, but on what their purpose is. A common mistake dancers make is following advice intended for someone with different needs/goals/reasons for dancing WCS.
Before discovering WCS, you had a set of personality traits and life experiences that led you to it. Do you remember what your original reasons for taking up WCS were? Many people cite social goals such as “meeting new people” or skill goals such as “feeling competent social dancing”. Others cite needs that needed fulfilling, such as “feeling included”, or “artistic self-expression”. Right now, check in with yourself: what goals or needs do you have NOW? They are likely different from when you started. Either way, if you have goals and/or needs that are not being satisfied, it’s time for an audit. Time to reassess and make some course-corrections if necessary.
Let’s look at all the most common reasons people have for dancing WCS. Read and consider all of them – you may discover some less obvious ones that you can relate to. All of these reasons are valid: I’m not going to convince you to change them: But your (honest) reasons should dictate the path you choose and the decisions you make. Said another way, the advice you follow depends on what you really want from West Coast Swing.
I want more people asking me to dance
It’s nice to be wanted. It’s boring to sit on the sidelines. Everyone needs to accept their responsibility for asking other people to dance and not just pouting and waiting to be asked. But, if you are doing your share of asking and no one ever asks you, there might be a reason. Take a private lesson to get some honest feedback on your dancing – you might be doing something that is offending or deterring partners. The instructor can help guide you to more desirable dance methods and social behaviour.
I want confidence
Dancing is a great confidence-booster. It is often linked to other needs, such as competence or acceptance. Your confidence will improve the more you tackle and succeed at miniature “wins”, such as not needing to count your steps anymore, or finally unlocking that move/trick you have been trying to master, or having a Pro ask you to dance. Be sure to acknowledge and accumulate the little wins.
I want a social network
Being new in town or having an isolating job are examples of reasons you might need to develop a social network. Be sure to tune in to all of the WCS activities available, both local and global, live and online. Don’t just stick to your group classes and your studio’s Facebook group. Explore outside and discover different events and resources: diversify! Think beyond the dance floor: take advantage of social outings and quality time with dancers outside of the studio to enrich the quality of your network relationships.
I want acceptance/inclusion
Keeping in mind the harsh reality that high school politics exist throughout our lives, there are some things you can do to ensure you are accepted or included. Showing up is half the battle – you have to be present in people’s minds for them to invite you to things. Engaging in meaningful conversation and asking questions shows that you are interested, and people love to feel interesting. Humility and respect goes a long way – if you are accepting and inclusive, you will gain and retain more fans.
I want attractiveness/dating
It’s inevitable: dance changes people: almost always for the better. This is your chance to evolve and upgrade! If attractiveness/dating is a goal for you, look around. Study the dancers you admire and what they all have in common: how they dress, dance, treat each other, talk to others, make jokes, wear their hair/makeup. I’m not saying you need to be a carbon copy, just use others for inspiration. Put a little more conscious effort into your appearance and manners and intentionally seek out learning opportunities.
I want admiration
You might admit to yourself that you like to be admired: crowds cheering, likes on Facebook, compliments in person and comments on YouTube, etc. But be honest: if you didn’t get any of these things, would you suffer? Would you still want to dance? Deep down you might actually *need* admiration. I’m not judging, but this could be a slippery slope, so it’s important to stay balanced. Be sure you are deriving enjoyment from your other needs/goals too so that you don’t rely too much on what other people think.
I want identity
Once you get really embedded in WCS, you can’t imagine your life without it! It’s comforting and invigorating to have a hobby you are passionate about. Think: Who are you in WCS? To deepen your engagement and serve the dance that has brought you so much joy, consider getting involved in leadership activities, such as volunteering, hosting, DJing, or even teaching. However, be sure to keep some balance in your life: imagine if WCS was suddenly extracted from your life: what would you have left? Who are you outside of dance? Be sure to maintain your non-dance priorities.
I want competence
You might have started WCS enthusiastically thinking, “I need to learn this dance!”, but it was more likely “I need to figure this thing out”. Either way, you see a discrepancy between what you can do and what you see others can do, and you feel motivated to close the gap. The pursuit of competence drives you – let it. While in pursuit, keep your eyes open for the next new goal. The key is to not succumb to complacency. Just because you learned a skill once, doesn’t mean you are competent at it. Don’t convince yourself that you have “learned enough” – your dance will get really boring to both you and your partners. Time for a private lesson. #neverstoplearning
I want mastery
It might not be enough for you to feel competent at something – you feel the need to conquer it. Mastery is an admirable pursuit in any field, and the prescription is the same: coaching and practice. Practice is useless without feedback. Masters provide feedback. Feedback is useless without practice. If your goal is mastery, you need to find all the coaching you can afford. Shop around, find a sensei you respect and who respects you. Be particular: just because someone is a good dancer, doesn’t make them a good coach. Diversify: train under multiple coaches to hear a variety of perspectives and approaches, and cross-train in other dance styles to gain mastery over your body.
I want challenge
If you are bored in group classes, and bored with your dancing, it might mean that you need to be challenged. It might seem like the answer is to “move up” a class level, but that’s not an appropriate solution. Your skills are separate from your boredom. You don’t need harder skills you aren’t ready for – you need to find a more entertaining way to work on your existing skills. If you are bored with your dancing, stop dancing boringly! Take a private lesson to get a custom-tailored plan on how to improve your skills and find ways to challenge yourself in your classes, social dancing, and competitions.
I want self-expression through dance
There is a plateau point in your WCS development where your basic mechanics have stabilized, but you might not feel like you are “dancing” yet. This is the time to go to a teacher for a private lesson and figure out how you can discover your personal groove and insert your own personality into the dance. Do some homework first – study dancers better than you and identify which ones you admire and why, your teacher can understand what inspires you. This might also be the point where you decide you would like to try choreography. Consider joining a team, doing a Pro-Am, or even a Rising Star routine.
I want kinesthetic/sensory satisfaction
This dance is supposed to FEEL good. Reeaallly good. If it doesn’t, don’t give up, keep searching. And it shouldn’t be hard. Try different instruction sources: workshops, intensives, instructional videos, private lessons. Take a practice partner with you so you can get feedback on your efforts.
I want more people to dance with
If you have a small community, your priority might be on growth and exposure. Even if your role in your community is a volunteer, take some tips from business marketing, and start treating your Westie community as a product to be marketed. Westie Bombs, business cards, flyers, viral videos, cross-branding, bring-a-beginner nights, crossover events, branded clothing, community shows…the list goes on.
I want more opportunities to dance
Wish your community had more than one social dance per week? Take the initiative and create more! You don’t have to do it alone: gather some friends and rent some space. You could start a non-profit if you wanted to, but it’s not necessary. You could offer lessons from a real teacher, but lessons aren’t necessary. Also consider organizing field trips to nearby communities – make a day trip carpool for a weekend dance or workshop.
I want money
Hey there’s no shame in needing income. There are several aspects of WCS that can make you money, but none of them will make you wealthy. Whatever avenue you choose, do your homework first. Study the business, learn the skills, take the training, accept the advice, respect the art. Be transparent about your goal: don’t profess to be altruistically serving the dancers if your real goal is to turn a profit. People will see through it and distrust you.
I want to feel needed
Some people enjoy helping others to the point that they crave it. If you are in a position to help, why not, right? No problem, as long as you know your help will be appreciated. Unsolicited advice on the dance floor: not appreciated. Offering your expertise to a young instructor by helping them write a business plan over coffee: appreciated. The easiest way to satisfy this need? Volunteer at events and socials. Teaching does provide this sense of helping people, but it requires a ton of training first in order to be effective and accountable – not a job you should volunteer for just to satisfy your need.
I want to spread the love
You’ve gotten so much joy from WCS, you just want others to feel the same. In order to be effective in your mission, it is essential to consider the perspective of your audience. Figuratively rushing in and getting up in their face about how they should try this dance is only going to intimidate – they’re either going to think that WCS is only for crazed fanatics or that the dance has turned you into one. Monitor your enthusiasm, and tailor it to the particular audience you are targeting. On another note, if you are interested in taking community or global initiatives, great; but do your research and make sure your idea doesn’t exist already and either infringe on or compete with someone else who’s already done it. Also consider the big picture: your initiative might serve the needs of a small group, but will it be counterproductive in the progress of the larger community? These are questions you need to ask for help on.
I want public success
The first thing I ask students when they admit this is, “why?” Are you just wanting to compete because your friends are? Do you think you’re less worthy of a dancer if you don’t? Do you need the external validation? Why do you need people to see you succeed? No judgement – just prompting you to be honest with yourself so you can make accurate decisions. Attaching your self-worth to your competition success is very dangerous.
I want improvement
If you honestly want to engage in competitions in order to push yourself to improve, awesome. But this involves actually following through with activities that cause improvement, such as training. You can’t expect improvement or competitive advancement if you do nothing to work on your dance between competitions. If you want to improve, if you want to advance, you have to put in the work: this means investing in private lessons, getting your a$$ into workshops, and submitting to an intensive. No, self-practice is not enough. Step up, show up, level up.
I want trophies
Trophies are symbols of achievement. They are physical representations of a memory of glory. In 30 years, will you remember the trophy, the moment you were awarded the trophy, or the dance that earned it? Which do you think history will remember? Thanks to YouTube, dance records are now more valued than trophies. A memorable 4th place dance often earns as many if not more hits than the generic winning dance in that contest. If you focus on having an amazing dance with your partner in the moment, your personal satisfaction will be more rewarding than a trophy for an empty dance.
I want fame/status
Up-and-coming professionals trying to build their career often have this as a priority, and so they should. But the activities that build fame and status are often misunderstood. Fame and status are earned and given, not taken. You can earn it positively or negatively depending on your behaviour, so for every competitive success be sure to regulate your sportsmanship, humility, respect, gratitude, reinvestment in learning, and community contribution.
I want achievement (points)
There is no system currently set up to recognize achievement of skills; the only system of recognition in WCS is competition points. Out in the big wide world, you have to admit that points mean nothing. You can’t list your points on a resume. Points are also really arbitrary. Super dangerous to measure your self-worth on the opinion of 7 questionably-trained judges all prioritizing different things! But if it’s recognition of improvement you are looking for, you don’t need competitions to do that. Your instructor, fellow social dancers/competitors, and personal video records provide proof of improvement. Weigh these more heavily than your competition results.
Pitfalls to avoid
Satisfying one of your needs/goals disproportionately may be counterproductive
If one of your goals is to increase your dating pool, if you start sleeping around with many dancers, you could be damaging your local reputation, depleting your dating pool rather than increasing it.
Pursuit of your needs/goals could turn unhealthy
This dance can be addictive, but consider the costs. If you are struggling to pay your rent, you really should be reconsidering those flights and hotels and event passes. West Coast Swing will still be here when your bank account recovers.
Focus your efforts on activities that satisfy your actual needs, not the popular choices
Just because all your friends are competing in Jack&Jills, doesn’t mean you have to. If you’ve tried to get into it and it really doesn’t inspire you and doesn’t fill your bucket, don’t force yourself to do something that will lead to resentment.
Of course, the tips in this article just scratch the surface of the ocean of coaching that is available to you. For more information, and custom-tailored advice for your situation, seek out private lessons.