On the social dance floor, there are two distinct groups that a lead or a follow will fall into. At its base level, a social dance will be either “Comfortable” or “Uncomfortable”. It doesn’t matter what level you dance at, you have complete control over which of the two groups you fall into. A complete beginner can give a partner a “Comfortable” dance, and a professional can give a partner an “Uncomfortable” dance quite easily.
So, what (in my opinion) is the line between the two groups? To me, there are three main differentials:
Respecting the body language of their partner
A comfortable dancer will ensure that their partner is not forced into a close hold, and will suggest movements to a partner. At the first sign that a partner feels uncomfortable, a comfortable dancer will not push that boundary forward. If a partner, at any time and for any reason, changes their body language or verbalizes that a movement is not welcome, a comfortable dancer will respect and act on that wish WITHOUT JUDGEMENT
- Avoiding movements that the partner has verbalized will aggravate injury – whether or not the injury is apparent
- Opening a hold if the partner tenses or attempts to move away
- Remove particularly sensual vocabulary if the partner physically or verbally expresses that they are uncomfortable with that mood – whether or not the movement is based in actual desire or is ‘just dancing’.
An uncomfortable partner judges a partner, attempts to “fix” partners, and may pull a partner into an uncomfortable close hold – sometimes because “that person dances with other people like that!”
(News Flash: if they dance like that with others and not with that one person, it’s because they’re not comfortable with that one person. Forcing them closer won’t fix that.) Some root causes of discomfort include:
- Sweaty clothes/skin
- B.O/bad breath
- Too close a hold
- Forcing movements
- Personal Space boundaries being infringed
- An uncomfortable/unwelcome sexual undertone (including feeling unwanted parts of the body)
- An attitude rubbing the partner the wrong way
Attempt to Connect with Every Partner in a Positive Way:
We all know the professionals or advanced dancers who greet every dance with a smile and kindness – whether or not it is their best dance of the night. These people make a world of difference to almost all members of the community.
- A very tired dancer graciously turns down a partner because they are tired
- A dancer turns down a partner they feel uncomfortable with, but still offers a smile (note: does not apply to cases where the discomfort exists *outside* of a dance, i.e. repeated unwelcome advances)
- An advanced dancer dances with a beginner and thanks them for the dance with a smile
On the flip side, we’ve also met the “stuck up” dancers – some of whom are genuinely nice people! They just… forgot to inform their dance habits of that fact. Such as:
- Promising a dance and never following up… even with ample opportunity
- The “look the partner up and down” before accepting or rejecting a dance
- “Sour face” during dancing, or gazing wistfully at other partners (includes rolling eyes or sighing)
- Criticizing a partner on the dance floor (UNLESS something is unsafe or is making you uncomfortable)
- Not finishing the dance with a smile, handshake, hug, or air-kiss (seriously, it costs nothing and you can pick your contact comfort level)
Ensures they Dance in a Level-Appropriate Way and Safely
Comfortable dancers ensure that their partner feels safe at all times, and their priority is in creating a safe space for the partner (this applies to both leads and follows!) They also ensure that they remain in control of their dancing at all times, and adjust the level of dancing to either the level of their partner or their maximum capacity to dance safely.
It doesn’t matter what level a dancer is – anyone can do this. I have danced with beginners who take care of me greatly, and only execute movements they are comfortable with. They too are comfortable dancers.
- Dancing with a beginner and creating a fun dance with material the partner knows or is capable of completing
- Follows holding their own weight in self-supported dips (seriously, all you bodyweight-throwers out there)
- Listening to the lead or follow, and attempting to connect with the dance partnership instead of how *you* look
- Leaders slowing down and taking time to either accommodate the follow, or to ensure the move is led safely.
- Moderating dance intensity and avoiding complex movements while drunk/tipsy
A dancer never wants to be “that person” who hurts someone – and it’s not only beginners or untrained dancers that are at risk of injuring or being injured. I have danced with ‘advanced’ leads or professionals AND regular social dancers who, either through drunkenness or cockiness, have put me through what I would call uncomfortable, such as:
- Forces a movement that a partner is hesitant of performing, including dips, drops or arm movements
- Dancing past their level (whether due to skill, drunkenness, or tiredness)
- Dancing past their partner’s level (whether due to skill, drunkenness, or tiredness)
- Backleading; weight throwing
Remember: comfortable and plain dancers are more appealing than uncomfortable and flashy dancers. Comfort comes first; musicality, repertoire, timing, style and dance chemistry all are lovely add-on’s that can’t function *without* the base comfort level!
So really, in the end, being a good partner is more than 50% common sense and respect. If you can respect all your partners you can be a comfortable dancer forever!