Turns out newbie Rebecca carried a lot of wrong assumptions about advanced dancers. These assumptions reach almost mythic proportions in the lindy hop community. It seems like every scared newbie believes them.
I’d be doing you a disservice if I let you believe these myths. Let’s break it down. I’ll tell you what it’s like to be me, and what I found out about other advanced dancers once I got to know them.
Note: In this article, “advanced dancer” means anyone you think is better than you, anyone you find intimidating.
I began intimidating people a few years after I started dancing. I was blissfully unaware. One day a student said to me, “I’m afraid to ask you to dance because you’re so good. You’ll notice all my mistakes.”
Cue the sound of a heart getting crushed, ‘cuz that’s how I felt. Which brings me to…
Advanced Dancer Myth #1: They’re judging me!!!
I’m not judging you while I’m social dancing with you. I’m not watching you from the sidelines, thinking about how much you suck. I don’t assume you are a boring/awkward/annoying person based on your dance level.
Advanced dancers aren’t thinking about your dancing. They are thinking about their own dancing. That’s how they get better at dancing.
I am rooting for every single person I dance with. I want you to do your best, have fun, and laugh off your mistakes. I am on your side, because dancing is more enjoyable that way.
If anyone is really judging you while dancing with you, that’s their shit to deal with. It’s not your fault they aren’t focusing on themselves.
Advanced Dancer Myth #2: They make better friends.
Take your lindy goggles off. Advanced dancers are normal people.
Being good at dancing doesn’t necessarily make me at all interesting in any other way. My other interests, values, ideas, and hobbies (hopefully) make me interesting. If you want to know me only because I’m good at dancing, I am sorry. I need friends who are closer than skin-deep.
Advanced dancers are equally as boring as dancers at other levels. Why are you surprised? It’s not like we’re all outgoing and extroverted.
Advanced Dancer Myth #3: They are more outgoing and extroverted.
There are some very outgoing extroverts at high levels of dancing. But being advanced does not make you more extroverted. And getting good at dancing does not require you to be extroverted in the slightest.
I am introverted. That means I get energy from being alone, while social interactions cost me energy. Notably, I work from home and am alone 8+ hours per day. It’s awesome!
I like social dancing for the structured social environment. You ask someone to dance, connect for 3 minutes without talking, then part ways. This is a huge relief compared to parties with strangers and open-ended, free-form social interactions.
Extroverts get energy from social interactions. They love to initiate dances and conversations with new people all night. And they don’t need a break from this—they could do it all day, every day!
That’s not me in the slightest. Nope, nope, nope. So don’t think it’s you if I ain’t talking to you. It’s definitely me!
Note: Many people are somewhere in between: Part introvert, part extrovert. That’s cool too. Just try to understand that other people’s social tolerances are not about you.
Advanced Dancer Myth #4: They are immune to criticism.
My feelings are hurt when people I don’t know call me and my friends elitist.
But that’s not the worst of it. Advanced dancers are in the spotlight any time they go to a dance. Who are they talking to? Who are they dancing with? How are they dancing tonight? Oh look, they left early. How terrible. Oh look, he said no to Jane. What a shitty person.
You know you’ve done it. You’ve watched the advanced dancers to evaluate their every move. You’ve shit talked their dancing, or their awkward behavior. You’ve cried and cursed them out silently when they didn’t pick you for finals.
Unfortunately, in my narcissism I was almost completely unaware that advanced dancers hadn’t magically gained immunity from criticism. Shit talking hurts real human beings, and it makes you look very self-centered.
Not every new dancer does these things, but I’ve sure been an ass.
Advanced Dancer Myth #5: They are better than you.
They are NOT better than you. I am not better than you. I like certain people, don’t like other people, and haven’t gotten to know most of you.
I don’t want to be on your pedestal. It’s not safe up there.
Being on a pedestal means I have so much farther to fall when you get to know me and find out I am actually awkward, boring, weird… or normal. (I also don’t speak as well as I write. Sorry!)
When I’m up on your pedestal, remember I didn’t choose to climb up here. When you’re busy calling advanced dancers elitist and cliquey, remember that most of them are trying to be normal, average humans who sometimes step into the role of super-awesome dancer.
And seriously guys. If you believe all the advanced dancers are elitist and cliquey, then why do you give a damn about them? Because they’re elitist and cliquey… and AWESOME?? Oh I see. You want to be a part of this awesome elitist clique, but you’re somehow going to avoid being elitist and cliquey. Mm-hmm. Perhaps you need to reexamine some of your assumptions.
Advanced Dancer Myth #6: Being advanced is waaaay better than being a newbie.
I still worry about making mistakes. I self-criticize. I worry what people think. I do a lot less of those, which is admittedly great.
But I miss the euphoria of being a newbie: When everything was amazing to me, and I could dance 3 hours straight on sheer adrenaline. I don’t have that anymore.
I also miss being a nobody, when no one had any expectations of how I should or shouldn’t act. I had no idea how awesome it was to be at a dance without noticing people watching me. I missed out on enjoying that, wanting to “get good” as quickly as possible, because I thought it was infinitely better than being new.
It feels amazing to be good at something that took me so long to figure out. I wouldn’t go back. But to quote this Quora answer on being rich:
“It’s not nearly as good as you imagine it is.”
As I slowly evolved from newbie to advanced, I exchanged one set of problems for a different set.
But I still cry, I still bleed, I still struggle, and I am still afraid. Remember that the next time you feel intimidated. And remember if you keep at it, you’ll be here too one day.