Most things beginner dancers do are completely forgivable. Not knowing the steps, losing count with the music, being shy, fumbling dance etiquette. Advanced dancers have ALL been there.
These are the things that more experienced dancers get upset about. And we can’t just walk up and to you and tell you fix it. How would you respond if someone stopped you on the road and instructed you on how dangerous it is to speed? Enough people speed that it would be a huge burden on the “good drivers” to police the bad drivers. That’s why we have police.
And that’s why you have a dance instructor. Generally it’s their job to keep you out of trouble. But some newbies don’t get the memo. Hell, some advanced and intermediate dancers fall through the cracks on these.
Take heart if you see yourself here. All of these problems can be fixed. The first step is knowing about it.
Problem 1: Kicking and stepping on people
Also known as bad floor craft. This is the absolute worst problem on the list.
Getting kicked multiple times in a night has been known to make dancers irate. The pain that’s associated with getting your Achilles tendon trampled makes it remarkably difficult to stay calm. Especially when the offender continues dancing without noticing your convulsions, cries of pain, and spew of expletives.
The best way to keep from hurting others is to look before you move. Yes, that means you will be constantly looking around you on a crowded floor, possibly enjoying your dance slightly less. That’s a small price to pay for keeping your feet out of other people’s flesh.
Problem 2: The Pretzel
For the people lucky enough to not know this move, it involves a lot of twisting your arms and bodies into awkward shapes as quickly as possible, most likely causing mild rotator cuff injuries.
Never, ever do the Pretzel. Never. Ever. It is not a cool move. It is horrible to follow and confusing to lead.
Problem 3: Entitlement complex combined with inferiority complex
I can handle people thinking they’re entitled to dance with everyone. I can handle people thinking they’re inferior. Both of those kinda suck. But they’re quite understandable, given our culture and given how hard it is to learn to dance.
But I can’t tolerate the attitude, “Good dancers should ask me to dance because I’m inferior.” That just blows my mind.
You ARE good enough to ask whoever you want to dance. If someone turns you down, it is not reflective of how good you are. Think of every dance is a gift shared with a friend, not something you are entitled to.
Problem 4: Throwing yourself around
Related to and sometimes a cause of kicking people.
Flailing around communicates that a dancer lacks concern for other people. In reality, dancers who flail haven’t realized that their balance and momentum are their responsibility. They see other people throw themselves around and think that’s how it’s done. And it’s fun! If you only do it once a month…
Once you get addicted and start dancing a lot, you’ll learn that throwing yourself around is tiring and painful.
Until then, I’m staying away from you.
Problem 5: Asking for advice at awkward times
It’s awesome that you are humble enough to ask for advice.
What you need to learn is how to ask so that you’ll more likely get a useful answer.
It’s bad timing to dance with a great dancer and ask afterwards, “What can I do to improve my dancing?” While you were focused on getting everything ‘right’, your dance partner was thinking, “This is fun! Cool move! This is some sweet music!” Or some such. The point is that they’re not dancing with you to analyze your connection or movement issues. They are dancing with you to have fun. Many people, especially instructors, feel put on the spot when asked this question.
If you really want to get some free advice, choose someone you’re close to. Don’t ask in the context of a dance you’ve just had, are having, or are about to have. And remember, specific questions (eg “How can I make this move better?” or “How does my balance feel here?”) are more likely to get useful answers.
Lastly, don’t be too put out if the person seems reluctant to switch from social dance mode to instructor mode. Instructors especially value their time off the clock.
Problem 6: Quitting dancing
I love sitting at the Century Ballroom, watching the newer dancers and wondering, “Which ones are going to get addicted? Which ones are going to get really good? Who will I be able to share that unique, indescribable bond with?”
I find it really hard to invest my time getting to know new dancers who quit after a year. Because it’s emotionally draining, I’ve found I can’t be the welcome wagon for every newbie (especially not in a scene the size of Seattle). I did that for a couple years in North Carolina. Honestly, it was a bit heart wrenching to lose new friends over and over.
It takes years to get tight with long-time dancers. Stick with us.
Cheer up. You are a beautiful snowflake.
Some of the words in this article may sting. Some of them may be uplifting (“At least I’m not doing that!“).
Know this: none of these are unforgivable sins. Fix what needs to be fixed, and keep having fun. We’ll still love you.