“Social Dancer” can mean many things in dance-lingo. It can mean someone who is serious about learning improvised lead-follow dancing. It can means someone who is welcoming to beginners.
It also sometimes gets used to describe non-serious dancers who view the dancefloor as a ‘social’ activity to have fun. These are the people who know a couple basic moves, and don’t really have any desire to learn more or take more classes (sometimes, even any at all!)
They are usually aware that they aren’t ‘amazing’ dancers, and are quite alright with that. These people are still ‘social dancers’, but to differentiate, we will call them ‘basic dancers’.
This article is NOT about people who have an inflated idea of their own skillset, and behave badly towards fellow dancers. Regardless of level, this is an ‘ego’ problem – not to be confused with a dance level issue. Additionally, this does not refer to people who engage in dangerous dance behavior because they are untrained.
This article is about the very-basic dancers who come out, chat, and dance without doing anything complex or crazy.
These basic dancers have been a constant source of debate: Are they hurting the dance scene by driving away advanced, ‘real’ dancers, or are they a very important pillar of the community?
To me, NO dancer is a liability unless they are hurting people or making people feel unsafe or uncomfortable at a dance. It doesn’t matter what level they are; a pro who gropes students is just as much a liability as a complete beginner sticking their hand down someone’s pants. The intermediate dancer who forces their partner into unsafe positions is also liable.
Basic dancers do not equal liability. Rude, disrespectful, and dangerous dancers equal liability.
Basic dancers are not necessarily a ‘dance asset’ based on skill, but they still can contribute to dance in many, many ways.
When I started dancing, I was a ‘basic’ dancer for a long time. I didn’t have money, time, and crazy passion to work on my dancing. I simply went out dancing every bloody week (sometimes several times) because it was fun. I usually brought 7-10 people with me each time. Many of them are now “trained” and “serious” social dancers.
Somewhere along the way, I became a ‘serious’ dancer too. However, it took years – and a lot of opportunity – before I got there. Did that make me a liability during my ‘basic’ years? Would the dance scene have been better off if I had just stayed home?
There are also ‘basic’ dancers in my scene that have been around since before I started. Those ‘basic’ dancers are very often the ones who made me feel welcome and valuable in the scene in the first place. To this day, they still do that to every beginner who walks through the door – without attitude, without judgement. That is a massive contribution to the scene.
Basic dancers are not a liability that is driving away advanced dancers.
Most advanced dancers that I know aren’t against ‘basic’ dancers. They may not be the most thrilling dance of the evening, but they are generally old friends who have been around for a while and are perfectly fun to dance with. Most advanced dancers generally don’t have an issue with dancing with lower-level dancers ‘Basic’ dancers, and are quite lovely people.
If an advanced dancer requires ‘thrill’ to be entertained, they should probably just not dance with basic dancers. Saying ‘no’ for ego reasons is better than saying ‘yes’ and whining about how terrible the dances were – or closeting themselves at home because they feel obligated to take on ‘bad’ dances (in their opinion).
Usually, those people will end up only travelling if their home scene is anything less than world-class. Really, the only thing that will keep those people engaged locally are ‘advanced’ dancers with extensive training. If there’s a lack of dancers fitting that description, they’ll stay home or travel.
It doesn’t matter if there’s a large beginner/intermediate population – only the number of advanced dancers matter. The percentage of ‘basic’ dancers is irrelevant – just the percentage of ‘really good or great’ ones.
If you have 100 dancers, it doesn’t matter if there’s 80 ‘basic’ dancers; it will matter if the other 20 are ‘advanced’. Conversely, if you have 10 ‘basic’ dancers, 85’in-the-middle’ dancers, and 5 ‘advanced’ dancers, that person will likely only care about the 5 advanced people.
There are many ‘solid’ scenes that don’t even support the necessary number of advanced dancers to keep people of this persuasion entertained. Perhaps they’d be OK in Paris for Kizomba, or NYC for Salsa on 2. Maybe San Francisco for WCS, or Rio for Brazilian Zouk. The ‘Meccas’ of the dances. But in a normal scene? Probably not.
It’s not the basic dancers driving them away – it’s a lack of people fulfilling their expectations. Even in a very healthy social dance community that also has a low percentage of ‘basic’ dancers, this can happen quite easily.
There’s nothing wrong with those people, but their standards are not linked to the number of basic dancers. It’s linked to their travelling congress exposure, and the insanely high level of dances that they’ve grown attached to in those settings. That’s why we have ‘event withdrawl’ when we return home.
Many of us can still have plenty of fun at our local scene, but there is a reason we pay hundreds of dollars for that amazing Congress experience. For some, that experience begins to eat at their expectations when they return home and feel constricted by the level of partners available.
Basic dancers are not obligated to ‘learn more’.
First of all, we can’t tell if someone is currently learning based on their skill level alone. Some people have an easier time learning than others.
Second, if they’re not learning currently, we don’t know why. Maybe they’re injured, don’t have time, or are financially struggling. Maybe it’s something else.
Third, even if they actually don’t care about taking more lessons, it doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable or are somehow inferior. Some people just have other life priorities.
A person’s obligations on the dance floor are very simple:
- Treat your fellow dancers with dignity and respect
- Have fun and be civil
- Don’t hurt or harass anyone
- Dance within your limits
There is no obligation to take more classes. There is no obligation to be great. There is no obligation to keep up with what that super-serious dancer is doing.
If you don’t enjoy dancing with a ‘basic’ dancer, simply say ‘no’ nicely.
Go about your business, and dance with the people that fulfill you. It’s not necessarily the most generous view of dance, but it’s a heck of a lot better than judging another person. You’re entitled to dance in a way that makes you happy – regardless of how popular it makes you with other people.
But, own your decision. Don’t scapegoat the other person who is literally out to just have a fun time and connect with people. They haven’t done anything wrong.
Many ‘basic’ dancers have tons of the true ‘social dance‘ attitude. So do many of the ‘serious’ dancers I know. What makes me sad are the dancers from both camps who choose to talk badly of their fellow dancers – forgetting that these are people we are choosing to spend our time with.
If there is a lack of ‘Advanced’ dancers, don’t blame the ‘Basic’ dancers.
There’s nothing wrong with basic. Most people who start dancing will never become ‘advanced’ dancers because it simply isn’t important enough to them.
Instead of talking about how ‘basic’ dancers are killing the scene, shift the conversation. Shift the mindset to how the current generation of advanced dancers can inspire and lift up promising or motivated new talent – rather than tear down those who are happy as-is.
Find a group of people willing to get the training, and form a group. Create a practice session where people work on their skills. Approach a beloved teacher to create a semi-private class for a group that really wants to improve. Encourage people to take privates. Organize a trip by one of your favourite artists to your city.
If you really want to ‘build’ a scene, focus on motivating people UP, not pushing a certain subset of the dance population DOWN. Be a leader, a motivator, and someone who inspires their fellow social dancers. You never know which ‘Basic’ dancers are going to wake up one day, and decide to become a kick-ass ‘Serious’ dancer.
Excellent article. Hard to find an opinion article with which I agree 100%, but this is one. Thanks.
Thanks for writing about the type of dancer I am, (and proud to be!!) a basic dancer. I would love to spend more time on dance, but there city I’m in does not support the dances I enjoy so only when I have time to visit dance friends in other cities do I get to dance and learn. I’m always open to a more advanced dancer teaching me things on the floor, or declining a dance with me because I’m not interesting enough of a partner because I’m not afraid/embarrassed of the fact that I’m a basic dancer. I have fun, I see friendly, welcoming faces, and I have the best time!! They encourage me to join classes, but they don’t pressure me when I explain that it isn’t possible. If I ever do have a way to make it work, their welcoming attitude will have been a driving force to keep me interested and motivated to learn more. Thanks for the basic dancer love!
I was aware of some of the dance “snobery”, but luckily haven’t experienced it directly too much. I was told by a friend, who was a beginner, that one of her friends was coming off the dance floor and a stranger walked up and told her that he was going to ask her to dance, but she didn’t dance well enough for him to dance with her. She didn’t need to hear that! Don’t kill someone else’s dream, enjoyment or fun of the dance to serve your own ego. Just saying!
I have no problem with a beginning dancer who is enthusiastic and improves over time. I am less thrilled about the “Permanent Novice” dancer who has been around forever but has never developed any real skill.
I understand when a new dancer clutches and pulls on my arm; she’s new, she doesn’t know any better. I am not so understanding when someone who has been around for 6 or 7 years clutches and pulls on my arm. She hasn’t put in the time or effort to learn the basic elements of the dance. But she still wants to dance with leaders who have developed their skills. Of course this goes both ways with Permanent Novice leaders who want to dance with advanced followers.
If you’re going to go out and expect people to dance with you, you really should work at it and get better over time.
I’d still say that unless they are dancing dangerously (ie, the pulling on your arm is forceful enough to be dangerous), they are doing nothing wrong.
Yes, if you want great dances, you should probably get better at your skills. But, if these people truly frustrate you, why not just decline the dance in a polite way? They know where their skills stand.
Not everyone wants to become a great dancer. Many people are happy with just basics and a social passtime – and yes, they can still expect to have some dances in the evening!
I think there’s a misconception that these dancers only want to dance with advanced leads, and that they’re constantly aiming ‘up’. Very often, they’re also the people very happy with dancing with beginners and early intermediates. Of course, they also enjoy advanced dancers – but I’ve rarely met one who feels ‘entitled’ to those dances.
It is everyone’s right to agree or disagree with anything. I agree with the part in the article of if you are not comfortable with that person who asks you to dance, it is your right to decline the dance. If a person does not want to get better, then that is their right. This then takes the emphasis away from the “dance” issue and each takes responsibility for their actions and it becomes labeled “social behavior.”
Great article! Everyone is different and entitled to an opinion about what they find enjoyable. As an advanced dancer I get the most amount of joy leading a basic dancer to do something they never thought they could do. That moment they feel accomplished makes me feel joy in my heart!
Partner dancing is dying. We should encourage everyone,and accommodate them, or everyone will have a very small group and probably fail.
Problem with “Basic” dancers as described here?
They don’t know their basics.
An advanced dancer loves to dance with a beginner who knows her basics. But with a long time dancer who still doesn’t know her basics? Not so much.
What’s wrong with not having the ideal knowledge of basics? By the time someone has that knowledge, they’re usually not a beginner anymore. 🙂
Long-time dancers usually have an approximation of basics. But, they don’t have technically sound basics. Why? Because dance is simply not that important to them. It IS a social activity.
It still comes down to the idea that you should say ‘no’ if you don’t want to dance with them (for whatever reason). That doesn’t make it OK to hate on the long-time dancers who don’t take formal classes, or say that they have any less of a place on the dance floor.
There’s having “ideal” basics and there’s having decent enough basics that the dance feels comfortable. If the beginner is attending classes, I have no problem dancing with them even if their basics are sorely lacking (I consider it an investment then). However, if the dance doesn’t feel comfortable and there’s no reasonable expectation of them improving, why would I want to dance with them? Why subject myself to 4-5 minutes of discomfort if I know I won’t get anything out of it short or long term?
I think this is behind a lot of the unwillingness to dance with beginners who are not taking classes.
So say ‘No!’
But, it’s still not fair to tell those people they shouldn’t dance or shouldn’t be allowed at a social. No one is forcing you to dance with them 😉
And I do (not that I really have to often). In a polite way, of course.
I just couldn’t let your exaggerated (on purpose?) interpretation of “knowing the basics” pass without commenting, since people lacking decent basics is a huge problem in Europe. I can never know in advance if a random follower at some festival abroad will be outright dangerous to the other people on the dancefloor. Thus I very much emphasize with people who say they only want to dance with others who have decent basics.
There’s nothing wrong with that – but it should also be noted that some people who ARE dangerous dancers are taking classes, while some who are not are reasonable social dancers. It’s impossible to know based only on how they dance! (it’s also impossible to know the reason why someone is not taking classes)
Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as your particular scene, who have amazing and committed resident teachers and scene-builders. 🙂
By the standards of this piece, I’m probably a basic dancer. I don’t go to the “dance conventions” like NEFFA and Dance Flurry and similar festivals. In our dance community we don’t hold ‘classes’ as such, although there are workshops in other dance forms from time to time. And creeping a arthritis in on knee is probably making me more of a basic dancer than I used to be. Still, despite my ‘basic’ level, I was OK with much of this article until I saw this sentence:
“Even in a very healthy social dance community with a low percentage of ‘basic’ dancers, this can happen quite easily.”
Hello?? A “very healthy social dance community” is predicated on “a low percentage of ‘basic’ dancers”? This is ego on a community-wide scale. This is the attitude that makes some dances very unfriendly to beginners, and to many ‘basic dancers’ as well. I certainly won’t mind staying away from communities of dance snobs.
How about NOT classifying the members of your dance community by skillset? How about accepting them for who they are, how they relate to their partners and to others on the dance floor, and how they support the work of the whole community, instead of judging them by skills, as though the dance were an unspoken type of competition?
I think you misunderstand my intention with that sentence. The intention is as follows:
“Even in a very healthy social dance scene that ALSO HAS a low percentage of ‘basic’ dancers, this can happen quite easily” (I’ve edited the original article to better convey my point, after your comment)
The intention was to debunk the idea that the ‘boredom’ some advanced dancers feel is related to the number of basic dancers, or a low-quality social scene.
Your last paragraph in your comment was the entire point of the article – that basic dancers are a valuable and important part of the community, and are not responsible for ‘advanced’ dancers choosing to no longer dance.
I’m sorry that two misplaced words overthrew the entire point I was trying to communicate – and that the article appears to have upset you.
I’m a basic dancer according to this article.
I’ve taken several hundred classes and dozens of private lessons over the last thirty years. I started with passion, but no natural talent. The always-patient, fabulous instructor, Kelly Casanova even had to teach me me how to find the beat. I worked diligently to figure it out, practicing everywhere possible.
I’ve been told that I’m a decent/ good, follower. But, I’ll never be an excellent dancer. My body has a limited amount of coordination.
When I dance with someone who has fun and appreciates my trying, my dancing is at its best because I’m relaxed and having fun.
When I dance with someone who is judging me, who feels critical, or who expresses the views of wcsdncr, I become tense and can’t even feel the music.
So, wcsdncr and others of your ilk, please don’t ask me to dance–I’m there to have fun, do my best and come away feeling inspired and joyful.