Lauren from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania brings up this common question:
“I attend regular classes and workshops on lindy and blues in Philly. These are often taught right before a night of social dancing. I love learning new concepts and experimenting with new moves.
“But then I notice that I slip right back into old routines on the social dance floor and forget to incorporate the new stuff. I get stuck. So there’s this giant disconnect between all the great stuff I learn in class and then what actually happens on the dance floor.
“I don’t want this to sound like a complaint about leads not leading stuff because obviously one solution would be for me to get better at leading so I can throw in the new stuff myself. But do you have any thoughts/suggestions in the meantime? Thanks!”
I hear two related questions within your mega-question. “How do I avoid slipping back into old habits?” and “How do I make room to practice my own stuff in a social dance?”
Old Habits, New Habits
Habits are good for social dancing. They make a dancer predictable, which makes them easier to dance with. However, if you’re trying to develop new habits, you have to replace the old habits. This is tricky!
I have two suggestions for you:
Suggestion 1: Practice outside of social dances.
It’s hard to practice on the dance floor, since you need to combine all your skills at once, on the fly. Practicing outside of dances gives you a no-pressure environment to focus and experiment.
Suggestion 2: Be willing to make mistakes while social dancing.
New habits feel wonky and wrong. We slip back into old habits so easily because predictability is safe. We don’t want to let our partners or ourselves down.
You have to do things that don’t “feel right” at first. Force yourself to try new habits. Your partner might be irritated or judge you. Guess what? That’s their problem. You WILL make mistakes. It’s the only way to progress, and we all have to do it.
I recommend working on new habits for a certain amount of time at each social dance. Dance a few songs with partners you trust, and work on your new habits. You can even let them know in advance. Say, “Hey, I’m going to work on something this dance. Do you mind?”
Then for the rest of the night, let it go. Don’t worry about your new habits. Just dance.
Working On Your Stuff
As long as we’re talking about willingness to make mistakes, let’s get to that other question. “How do I make room to practice my own stuff in a social dance?”
Whenever you’re social dancing, you have two things to pay attention to: Your Stuff, and Their Stuff.
As a follow, you are disproportionately expected to pay attention to Their Stuff. You’re supposed to wait… and hope… and wait some more… for you partner to give you a chance to work on Your Stuff.
You may have noticed this is a bit unfair.
Here’s the thing. You can make room to work on Your Stuff. It’s called initiating, and it’s complementary to the skill of responding, which follows spend a lot of time working on already. Here are three ideas:
Let’s say you have a cool new swing out variation for counts 1-2. But your partners keep pulling you in on 1-2, making it harder to do. It is perfectly okay to sink into the connection to initiate a change in rhythm and momentum.
For other moves you work on in class, are there elements from those moves you can fit into your dancing? For example, if a move used a rotational rock step, initiate that rotational rock step in another place and see what happens.
You can also experiment with changing other things in the dance. Pulse, your posture, the intensity of connection, momentum, and anything else you can think of. All of the things you like to initiate—Your Stuff—come together to eventually be Your Style.
Let’s Sum Up!
Again, you have to be willing to make mistakes. Try different things over and over to find out what works. You will also have to be okay with the potential surprised (or annoyed) look on your partners’ faces.
Of course the best way to work on these things, as mentioned at the tippy-top of this post: Practice! Ideally, find a partner who wants to work on responding to Your Stuff. That way, they won’t be constantly micromanaging Your Stuff. Who needs that?
Not you! Hope this has been helpful. Also check out my course on equal-opportunity connection.