I remember my very first practice party. I had been learning how to social dance for two months. I felt like I was ready to test out my new skills at the studio's Thursday night dance party. I was having a great time dancing every dance, meeting new people, that is until I danced with one woman who was considered an advanced dancer. Halfway through dancing our waltz, she stopped and asked me if I knew what I was doing because I was not dancing right. My timing was off, I wasn’t leading her right, and she didn’t like it. So she stopped in the middle of the dance and walked off the floor. I was crushed.
As a teacher, this is a scene that I am all too familiar with. A newer student walks into the class or the party, and you can see some of the students visibly disturbed by the presence of a new student. Some students will even go as far as refusing to dance with the newer student because they aren’t “good enough.”
Or we will see a couple that will join a class and will refuse to switch partners because they don’t want to dance with anyone else. Often times this couple will struggle through the entire class. You will see them out of the corner of the eye trying to teach each other what I just explained, and neither one will have it right, but they will refuse to get help from their fellow students because they will only dance with each other.
When a student feels and acts this way, they are missing out on an excellent opportunity to improve their dancing. Learning how to dance is challenging. You have to learn the steps, the technique, the timing, the rhythm, the styling, and finally how to lead or follow. Each of these aspects of dance can be challenging in their own right. Each one takes time and dedication to get just right. Typically we learn these elements through private lessons, group classes, and dance parties.
Private Lessons are a great place to learn the bulk of the information. The information is tailored to your individual learning style and customized to the dance style that you prefer. Your instructor is able to teach the lessons at your pace. If you are picking up some of the information fast, he can keep moving forward. If you are having trouble with a step, the instructor can slow down until you completely understand the information.
Group Classes are where you get to practice what you have been taught in a group environment. The group classes are designed to help create good muscle memory through repetitive motion. Not only will you create good muscle memory, but you will also be able to dance with partners of different levels.
Dance Parties are perfect for putting your skills to the test. It is time to dance! During the dance parties, you will see and feel your hard work start to pay off as you are dancing to your favorite Cha Cha or Waltz. The dance parties are also a great place to dance with people of different levels. And here is why that is a good thing.
When you are a skilled leader, dancing with a newer follow will help you become a better leader. When dancing with dancers that are great at following, you don’t have to work that hard, you barely initiate the lead, and the follow is doing her part flawlessly. But when you dance with a newer dancer, they might not feel the signal as well, you might have to try leading it a few times before they follow it. This will help you become more sensitive to a follower's needs and help you become a stronger dancer.
If you are a skilled follower and you are dancing with a newer lead, this will also help you become a better dancer. It is a lot easier to dance with someone that is a strong lead. You don’t have to think as much, and it just happens naturally. But when you are dancing with someone that is newer, you will have to be more sensitive with your following. You will have to have more patience and wait for the move to be initiated. This will create great habits for your following. You will begin to anticipate less and less and become a great follow.
If you are a new dancer and you are dancing with someone with more experience, you will also see some benefits. You will feel how the body should be moving. You will feel the timing, the rhythm and may even pick up a couple of styling tips. Dancing with good dancers will increase the speed of your learning.
Not only is dancing with newer dancers beneficial, but it is also just the right thing to do. Every single dancer was once a beginner. We have all experienced the struggles of learning. You do not want to be the one that prevents someone from learning how to dance.
After my first practice party, I used the awful experience as motivation. I worked very hard to become a great social dancer. And one day that same lady asked me to dance. I told her I would dance with her on one condition, that the next time a newer dances dance with you, enjoy the experience for what it is. You could have easily discouraged me from ever coming back to dance, and I don’t want that for anyone.
The next time you get to dance with a newer dancer remember to enjoy the experience. They are helping you become a better dancer!