USA Dance (Boise) Chapter #1014

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Erin's Etiquette Corner - #4 Now what do we do?: How to social dance with a partner

Erin's Etiquette Corner - #4 Now what do we do?: How to social dance with a partner

Now what do we do?

If you've made it to this edition of Erin's Ettiquette Corner, you've managed to successfully invite a partner to dance, you've entered the dance floor without incident, and dahling…you look mahvelous!
It's now time to begin dancing. First let's deal with the dynamic between you and your partner. If this is a partner you have never or seldom danced with before, you'll need to "meet in the middle" – har har, about how close together you are going to dance. On the competition floor, it's typical to dance the smooth and standard dances in body contact, but on a social dance floor, it's not as common, especially between partners who do not dance together regularly. The leader should invite the follower into dance frame by drawing his left hand back into its dance frame position while holding the follower's right hand. The follower should then approach the leader and stand at a distance that is comfortable for her, though she should not assume the leader wants to dance in body contact and therefore plaster herself to his ribcage. The leader will then take the follower's back in his hand and she will place her left arm into position. Leaders must resist the temptation to squeeze the partner closer to him. If the partnership needs or wants to come closer together during the course of the dance, it should happen naturally, gradually and comfortably after the couple begins to move. Throughout the dance, be sensitive to your partner's body language and the distance they seem most comfortable with.

Can we start now?

Yes. But first, let's be sure we're on the same foot…or rather the opposite foot. A good way to avoid any foot-smushing mishaps right at the start is for the leader to sway or shift his weight from foot to foot and settle his weight definitively onto one foot or the other. The follower will be able to feel this weight transfer, and stand on the mirror-foot to the leader's.

Now can we?

Yes. Once you find the beat. For whatever reason, finding the beat comes more naturally to more women than men. Followers should be sensitive to this and not just take off when they feel the time is right. Be patient and wait to be led to begin moving. Leaders who have trouble finding the beat might find it helpful for the follower to tap in rhythm gently on his shoulder, or some other unobtrusive communication of when the beat is. Then again, he may find your assistance distracting or annoying. Pay attention to facial expressions and body language.

Look ma! I'm dancing!

Just the same as when you're showing off your gymnastic prowess to your mother, it's better to be decisive and clear with your movements when dancing, rather than over-embellished and wiggly. That way nobody gets hurt. The partners must (silently) agree to dance at the level of the least experienced dancer. If you've never danced with someone before, it's difficult to know how good a social dancer they are. A leader should start out leading very basic steps, gradually building up in difficulty until either the follower's or his own maximum proficiency is reached…then back off just a pinch, so the dance is a pleasure rather than a test or struggle. Although it may be tempting to "show off" all of the fancy patterns you know, that "look ma, no hands" approach is always going to end in tears, or at the very least, a less than enjoyable experience for your partner. Likewise, the follower, if the more experienced dancer, should avoid activities that could "throw off" an inexperienced leader. Even if your partner only dances basic steps, don't pressure him to do more by verbally demanding, or worse, by back-leading or just doing your own moves even though they were not led. Don't chit-chat. Conversation can distract from the beat, or from his plan for what to lead next. If you find yourself bored, find something within yourself to work on while dancing basic steps. Is your head position all it could be? How about your hip action? Are you perfectly in balance over your own feet? Resist the temptation to do over-the-top syncopations and styling. Yes, you look great…but now your partner has stopped dancing to stare slack-jawed at your awesomeness. And finally, never, ever, touch your partner's face during a dance.

Be nice and share.

Hopefully you've realized that you are not the only ones on the dance floor. Not only do you need to pay attention to what's happening within your partnership, you need to be aware of what lies beyond. In the travelling dances, the leader is the one in charge of navigating the floor, since the follower is facing away from the direction of travel and can't really see where the partnership is headed. Leaders should take care to position the partnership in the appropriate "track" of the line of dance. If the partners are moving less than most of the couples on the floor, they should stay closer to the center of the floor, and dancers who are moving more should stick to the outside track. Collisions are not acceptable. Everyone needs to be aware of what is happening around them. Leaders must not dance aggressively nor too close to other couples, putting everyone in danger. Should a leader be executing a move in which he moves backwards, the follower should be on alert, since she's the one who can see in the direction of movement now. If a couple appears in the leader's blind-spot, the follower can warn the leader with pressure on the back of his right arm, telling him to move backward no further. The art of maneuvering around and between couples on the dance floor in a calm and rhythmic manner is called floor craft. It is a skill that is honed over time with patience, experience and practice. There are going to be people in your way. Until you can safely navigate around them while keeping time and leading your partner, sometimes the best thing to do is wait. It's better to hesitate and then resume dancing once another couple has passed than to do something dangerous, uncomfortable, unsightly or arrhythmic to get around.

In the spot and slot dances, floor craft is less of an issue since couples occupy a single position on the floor for the entire dance, but there are other concerns, especially if the floor is crowded. Most of the spot and slot dances have patterns that are danced with a one-hand hold, leaving the other hand and arm free. Pay attention to where your free hand is. Is it whapping someone's face? If so, stop it. Keep your arm in. Don't flail around willy-nilly. You can save large-volume arm styling for the dance studio or showcase performances. On the social dance floor, keep your hands to yourself. Or if you can't help yourself, go for a vertical line that keeps your arm above your body and in your own dance space. Aerials are not appropriate for the social dance floor.

Something bad happened.

Inevitably, something will go wrong during the course of your dance together. The mishap could be for any number of reasons; a misinterpreted lead, a timing blunder, another couple causing a distraction or near-collision, a misled step, one of you being off balance, and the list goes on and on. When there's a mistake, fix the fallout, and then move on, both physically and mentally. There's no need to make a big deal about a boo-boo, whether or not you are the party most at fault for it. Don't over-apologize if you know you are to blame – a quick "sorry" or "oops" is completely adequate. And if you are not the offender, it's your job to be quiet and forget about it. Do not point out what your partner did wrong. Don't abuse your partner for making a mistake. Do not attempt to teach your partner how the move should have been executed. If your partner would like your advice on the misstep, he or she will ask you later, once you've left the dance floor. This is one of the most common dance etiquette breaches. People cannot help but to try and "help", but in a social dance setting, your partner is not your student, even if he or she is a less experienced dancer than you.

Smile! You're dancing!

Even if things have been a bit bumpy with this partner, smile. Smile because there were some good moments, because there's a nice song on, because your shoes don't hurt your feet, because you've danced with one more partner and therefore have expanded your dance experience, because you learned something, smile because you're dancing! And that's why you came.