The Perks of Social Dancing: The Competitor’s View

As a competitive ballroom dancer, I frequently find that I put on my blinders. In the studio I want to train with my partner(s) in our routines with as little interruption as possible. It’s one of my ideas of a good time. However, that focus 24/7 basis would mean missing out on all of the awesome things that exist outside of competitive partnership, which is where social dancing comes in. Many believe that a competition is worth multiple practices and, in my experience, a social dance holds similar value but without the pressure. Below are a few of the perks of taking off your blinders and mixing it up on the social floor.

  1. It’s an escape from the “training” mentality. I am frequently a single-minded dancing machine. It’s what I do and what I love to do. However, I can’t retain the same amount of focus each practice or even within each partnership; it’s exhausting and sometimes the wrong thing to do for that practice. Social dances are a great way to take a break and to lightheartedly reacquaint yourself with the joy of partner dancing. After all, social dance is about pleasure, not perfection.
  2. You experience different types of connection. It’s almost guaranteed that you won’t come across multiple people who connect the same way. Some will be lighter; some heavier. Some will need a cattle prod to get them moving while some will protest any glaring/overdone leads or follows. Others you might not feel at all. What does this teach you? Well, adaptability for one. After all, your competitive partner might not be the person you retire with from the ballroom. Equally, if not more, importantly, all of this helps you to maintain your own body and frame, regardless of the circumstances. This physical consistency makes you a better dancer in a way that extends beyond social dancing to things like learning new figures with a partner (and executing them well).
  3. You get to test out your lead/follow on someone new. I hate to say it but competitive partners are frequently enablers. When beginning as a follower, I was totally guilty of thinking, “Well that wasn’t clear but this is probably what the s/he meant…” And bam! That became the lead for that figure. But this isn’t a post on how to communicate with your partner to achieve dancing nirvana–that will come another time. This is about social dancing. When dancing together, competitive partners aren’t just dancing. They’re building a physical language unique to the two of them. However, that language should still be identifiable to the outside world. Others might have a different “accent” but the idea should translate. In other words, social dancing is a great way to see if your partner has been humoring you and handing you the desired banana every time you say, “Stapler!”
  4. You will learn something new. Whether a figure, your preferences, or a fun fact about your partner, you will take something away from every dance, sometimes not even consciously. An advanced dancer will be able to throw you through figures (hopefully tactfully) and perhaps transmit some thoughts through connection that you might work on. A less advanced dancer is an opportunity to for you to focus on staying with them correctly as well as your own body. Even “awful” dances have their merits. A few months ago, I danced with a leader several times at a social. He was a fan of open choreography. To be precise, the exact same choreography for foxtrot and waltz and tango and Viennese waltz and samba. You might be noting, “Some of these things aren’t like the others.” Too true. I learned that while I enjoy open choreography, I enjoy portraying the characteristics of the dances more. I don’t want my samba to be like waltz to be like tango. I was also reminded of the wonders of a reliable frame, without which I would have been completely clueless. Side note: Please note that a social dance is NOT a teaching opportunity. You will dance with less advanced dancers but you are not there to lecture them. Remember, if they wanted a lesson that evening they would be at a lesson, not on the social floor. Instead you might say, “I think you might really enjoy lessons with instructor X. S/he is such a blast!”
  5. Lives change. This is an overused, evaluative phrase in the arts sector. Why should we fund this show again? Lives change. Why is that peacock necessary? Lives change. Why did people see that dance concert? Lives change. Similarly, social dancing does change lives, perhaps not in a dramatic flurry of activity, but it introduces you to new people. It gives you the opportunity to spend time dancing outside of your competitive partnership and meet people with a similar passion, which might lead anywhere.

I write this from a competitor’s viewpoint but it deserves to be noted that social dance is an art on its own. After all, you aren’t expected to switch partners every song on the competition floor. You don’t have to constantly adapt to new people or cope with the complexities of jive dancers kicking away at the center of the floor whilst orbited by leaping quicksteppers. The social floor is its own beast and boy is it fun!

Did I miss some great aspects of social dancing? Share some of your favorite things below!

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