Category Archives: social dancing

When you know more than your partner

This is one scenario we see over and over in our classes. One partner already knows how to dance, the other partner is a rank beginner. It either goes really well, or it’s a disaster. Want your experience to go well, and not be a disaster?? Keep reading.

What makes this situation so hard is that it’s very tempting for the person who already knows how to dance to want to help their partner. This “help” often takes the form of giving LOTS of feedback, like “you’re supposed to…” If the experienced dancer is a follower, she often will just perform the steps she’s supposed to, without waiting for her partner to lead them (aka “backleading”).

It’s understandable to want to help – of course you want to help! But what’s challenging is that the help your partner most needs is for you to stand back a bit and wait for them to catch up. There’s no rushing the learning process with dancing – students need time for their muscles to remember what they’re supposed to be doing.

The main hindrance in learning to dance is the human brain – our brains just get in the way so often when we’re learning to dance – and having to process verbal directions – or criticism – or react to backleading actually slows the whole process down.

I LOVE it when folks who already know how to dance bring newcomers to our classes or dances. That’s what swing dancing is all about – bringing in new, unsuspecting victims! The hard part is toning down your own enthusiasm for spreading the swing dancing love while you let the new dancer learn at their own pace.

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Why Aren’t I Getting Asked to Dance?

So, I came to Jive Junction, and nobody asked me to dance. What gives?

This is a question we sometimes hear, and a fear we’ve probably all had!

The Numbers
Many people assume that most people come to dances with a partner, and they dance only with that partner the whole night. That may be true at some dances, but it has not historically been true at Jive Junction.

One particular evening, I kept a tally. About 60% of people who came to Jive Junction that night came with one other person of the opposite gender (so, as a couple). The remaining 40% came either alone (about 20%) or part of a group of either mixed-genders or the same gender (20%).

About 75% of those who came as a couple danced with another person (other than their “partner”) at least once during the night. (This is kind of a rough figure, as I cannot follow everyone around all night, I just tried to keep a tally in my head of who I saw dancing with whom.)

Generally speaking, those who dance only with the person they came with tended to be beginners, who probably lack the confidence that is generally needed to ask a stranger to dance. And that is completely understandable! (And, uh, also those who have small children and rarely have an opportunity to dance together just for fun these days…)

(For the record – S3 tends to be heavily weighted towards singles. Only four people ever came as part of a couple – Randy and Sarah, Mike and Janet – and those four rarely danced with their spouse. Nobody who came to S3 sat out any dances unless they wanted to.)

The Experience
Alright, so we know statistics are on our side. But that doesn’t guarantee that everyone will be asked to dance, or that everyone will get to dance every dance, or even that everyone will be able to dance as many dances as they want.

I’ve also spent several Jive Junctions observing those who are seated during any particular song, and particularly those seated two songs in a row. Here’s what I’ve observed:

– Many of those seated seem to be engrossed in conversation. Available dance partners seem to avoid interrupting a deep conversation to ask someone to dance. Light conversation seems to be interruptable.

– Many of those seated for multiple songs in a row looked cross or inaccessible. Their facial expressions were closed, eyes looked down, they avoided eye contact, their arms were crossed. They looked like they’d rather be grocery shopping than dancing. This does not generally say “please ask me to dance!”

– Seating also plays somewhat of a role. Single people who choose to sit along the back of the room seem to be asked to dance less frequently than those seated (or, better yet, standing) closer to the door. That’s just the traffic pattern at JJ.

– Those are remain seated a lot tend to also seem to not know many people at Jive Junction. Becoming friendly with fellow attenders also increases the number of times you are likely to be asked to dance. It is less intimidating for EVERYONE to dance with someone they know than to dance with a total stranger.

– Remaining seated tends to play a role, too. Think about it. First, if you’re sitting down and look like you’re comfortably settled, you look less accessible. Second, when you’re sitting down, you’re much much shorter than potential dance partners, who will typically be standing. It makes conversation awkward.

So – if you’re coming to Jive Junction and are not satisfied with the frequency with which you are asked to dance – consider whether you look approachable. Sit or stand along the side wall, make eye contact with others, be open and friendly, and you will greatly increase your chances of being asked to dance.

And – please don’t forget – if you want to dance with someone…it’s usually as simple as asking them. Folks rarely turn down an invitation to dance at Jive Junction!

My own experience at dances (outside of Jive Junction) has been very similar to my findings above. When I’m engaged in deep conversation with someone, I am rarely asked to dance. When I sit in the corner or off to the side, I am asked less frequently. When I am focused inward, looking down, sitting defensively with my arms crossed, and avoiding eye contact with others, I am not asked to dance. (This worked great when I was in my last trimester with Wally and didn’t feel comfortable dancing with strangers!)

When I am seated near the dance floor, easily accessible, making eye contact, looking happy, and focused on the activity around me – I am asked to dance much, much more frequently.