You have probably heard (or said) some variation of the phrase “I love beginners! All I care about is that my partner has good, clean basics.” We think that it takes the pressure off of novice dancers who are still getting their feet, and that it discourages pattern junky or rough behaviour. But, I think we may want to reconsider this phrase.

The “Clean Beginner” Myth

Beginners cannot have clean basics. Some may have cleaner or stronger basics, and some may be weaker. But, they’re not going to be ‘clean.’ Why? Put simply, they haven’t developed them yet.

Very few people (including intermediate/advanced dancers) have truly ‘clean’ basics. Basics are something we spend our entire dance life tweaking and improving. From ankle/foot strength to posture; foot rolling to turnout – we are always in the process of ‘cleaning’ our basics. The cleaning just becomes more nuanced over time.

Second, there is no actual definition of a ‘clean’ basic. Each person has a different threshold for what they consider ‘clean’. There is no objective standard that a beginner can use to determine if they dance “good, clean basics”.

Further, there are two main camps of beginners: the overconfident and the completely terrified. The first group usually thinks their basics are ‘clean’ despite needing a lot more work (it’s a common learning stage that can develop confidence and dance passion; let them be dance teenagers).

The second group is very, very aware that their basics are absolutely NOT clean – and they will hold fast to this idea even if their basics are better than 90% of beginners. And, the search for ‘clean’ basics can lead to paralysis and a fear of mistakes. What these beginners probably don’t recognize is the sheer amount of work, time, and training that ‘clean’ basics actually require – and that it’s totally OK they don’t have them yet.

We can’t expect even the most competent, talented beginner to have or recognize they don’t have ‘clean’ basics. As a result, I think there are other expectations that are more reasonable for beginners.

The ‘Safe and Present Partner’ Paradigm

Instead of expecting good, clean basics out of beginner dancers, let’s look for something else: safe and present partners. I consider these three cornerstones to be the most important:

  • Your comfort is more important than “making” something happen
  • They actively are searching for ways to improve the mutual dance experience
  • If you tell them something is uncomfortable that they weren’t aware of or forgot, they listen

For example, I don’t care if a beginner is off time – but I do care that they try not to hurt me. I don’t care if they have a gorgeous-feeling basic – but I do care that they’re doing their best to make me safe and comfortable. I don’t care if they try that harder move they don’t quite have yet – I just care that they’ll listen to me if I ask them not to.

Here are some other examples:

  • So what if their weight transfer is a bit wonky? They are trying to engage me in their smile and love of movement
  • So what if they aren’t the most responsive partner? They’re trying hard to focus on waiting.
  • So what if their close hold feels weird? When you verbally asked for a bit more space, they gave you more room.
  • So what if they are using their thumbs? Each time you told them, they re-released their hold and tried really hard to make you comfortable.
  • So what if that musicality thing was awkward? It didn’t hurt and they were trying to do something fun for us.

The list goes on and on.

“But I Want Partners Who Feel Good!”

Of course you do! But, for anyone coming into dance, the nuances of physical connection take time – and usually, more than a day. For some, “clean basics” and “great connection’ come after a few years of regular work. However, while they’re working towards that, I still want those people to have mutually fun, accepting dances.

Now, I’m not talking about people who treat partners poorly and may have poor technique that intensifies the issue. I am talking about the really sweet people who spend most of their time sitting on the sidelines – but absolutely light up when you ask them to dance. The people who are perhaps a little too enthusiastic in their body and connection – but really hope they give you an awesome time.

And, most of all, I’m talking about the sweet but insecure beginners who feel they’re not ‘good enough’ at dancing their basics to be a fun partner. I want those people to know that I don’t care if they have ‘clean basics’; I just want them to be safe and present. And, I don’t care if they’ve been dancing a day or three years – as long as they still care about my wellbeing and happiness in the dance.

Encouraging Beginners

The next time you see a beginner at any stage of their development, consider helping them understand that their willingness to listen to their partner and be safe is worth infinitely more than their technical proficiency.

After all, we’ve all met the high-level dancer who doesn’t listen or connect, but has great technique. What do you think of them?

Even for a beginner with ‘awkward’ basics, they can control half the recipe for a ‘great’ partner: presence and safety. Their technique can catch up later (provided they work at it). But, until the technique catches up, they can be a wonderful person that cares about their partner – even at the beginning stages of their journey.