Dear 1-Year Dancer,
I’m glad you’ve been with us a year. I’m so happy you’ve been contributing to this wonderful community for a full 12 months.
We may need to have a talk soon.
Do you remember when you started dance? I remember how hard the basics were for you. I remember you struggling to stay on-time, and being petrified of asking that person you really admire to dance.
You were a beginner then.
I’ve noticed that lately you’ve been signing up for all the advanced classes. And, very often, you’re able to get through the moves – even on the social floor! This is a big accomplishment. But, it is important that you remember that, in many ways, you’re still a beginner.
See, 1 year of dancing does not make you an advanced dancer. There are maybe a handful of exceptions to this rule – but you are probably not one of them (even if you think you are).
At the 1-year mark, you’re somewhat like a dance teenager: you feel really grown-up as a dancer, but in a couple years you’ll look back and realize how young you were. You may be very talented, but there’s simply no way you have learned it all in that short a time.
After 1 year of dancing, it is expected that you are able to ‘get through’ a lot of moves. But, there are many people in your position that confuse ‘getting through’ moves with ‘mastery’ of the dance.
Don’t become one of them.
‘Getting through’ moves may seem like enough – but you will not become an advanced dancer. ‘Getting through’ a dance pattern is like the doggie-paddle of dance. Yes, you can get across the lake. However, it is neither elegant nor efficient – and you’re splashing everyone around you.
After 1 year, you are not an ‘advanced’ dancer – even if you are taking ‘advanced’ dance classes.
See, ‘advanced’ dance classes do not mean that the dancers in the class are ‘advanced’. Rather, it means the concepts being discussed are ‘advanced’. This means that the people who will be able to master the concept are ‘advanced dancers’.
But, if you’re just ‘getting through’ the movement, you’re not an advanced dancer. You’re not mastering the concept – or the dance. You’re barely surviving.
Even if you are the best dancer in your local scene, you still may not be an advanced dancer. There are many scenes where the best dancers are not considered advanced at events. For example, the best dancer in a very small community may only be an experienced beginner. In many mid-size scenes, the strongest dancer may only be at an intermediate level.
If you want to become an advanced dancer, now is the time that you need to go back to your roots. Go back, and take more beginner’s classes. Notice where the weight shifting happens. Notice how much of a weight shift there is.
Figure out how you can work with partners at a lower skill level – very often, they are how you can tell if you are truly leading or following. Ask your teacher for feedback. Practice on your own. Take videos of yourself, and dissect your movements in comparison to how your dance idols move.
When you go to congresses, take a class that you perceive as ‘below’ your skill level. Usually, you’ll be able to better apply the knowledge there and actually use it in your social dancing.
Yes, it can be fun to push your skill level. But, if you leave a workshop and haven’t ‘gotten’ what they were working on, it’s likely above your skill level. Workshops should teach you something new – not push you so far that you can’t apply any of the things you just learned to your social dancing.
I know you may not believe me when I say that you are not an advanced dancer yet.
In fact, many of you won’t. Many of you believe that at 1 year, you’ve got it. I can tell you from experience: you don’t. At 1 year of dance, I thought I ‘had it’ in Salsa. I didn’t – but I didn’t realize that until I’d been dancing for 3 years.
This is normal, and it is natural. But, the sooner you realize that you don’t ‘have it’, the sooner you will actually ‘get it’. The sooner you can set aside your perceived mastery, the faster you will grow.
I see it in students. I have some fabulous, experienced dancers who know that they don’t know it because they’ve gone through the same learning curve in other genres. They come prepared to work on basics, because they have the intimate understanding from other dances of how important those basics are.
Others don’t have that understanding. They feel that they ‘have it’, or they already can dance another style, ergo they should be able to dance this style.
It doesn’t work that way.
Dancing well takes time. It takes commitment. It takes a willingness to work. Even if you’ve danced 50 other styles, you have to re-commit to the new style in order to master it.
Dear 1-Year Dancer, you can become an advanced dancer. But please, be your own best ally – not enemy. Embrace the fact that you are still very young in dance.
The sooner you understand how much more there is to learn, the sooner you can blossom.
There is a saying that I remember hearing a long time ago, although I don’t remember the exact wording:
‘The beginner dancer learns the basics with the intent to get to the intermediate moves. The intermediate dancer learns the intermediate moves to with the intent to get to the advanced moves. The advanced dancer goes back to improve their foundations.’
So, I’d say that thinking like an advanced dancer is useful even when you’re at the beginner stages; an ongoing focus on working on your foundations.
Also, I say ‘foundations’ and not ‘basics’ because I think that when one thinks of basics, they often think only of the plain versions of the basic steps that they learned as a beginner. When thinking of ‘basics’ as ‘foundations’, I think that the perspective shifts from the steps themselves, to how the steps are executed. And when one thinks of how the steps are executed, then one starts to see what parts can be varied (as needed, or desired), and what parts shouldn’t be changed at all.
Experienced dancers sometimes seem to devise numerous novel moves, which upon closer inspection and good understanding of the foundations, one realizes that the novel moves are often a variation of, or uses concepts from, the plain basic moves. Those with strong foundations can often see the modifications that made up the move, while those with ‘just the basics’ will need to learn the novel move as if they were learning a brand new move.
I couldn’t agree more to that! I’ve been in many situations you describe in your articles: the beginner’s hell, the “autopilot” thing, etc. I’ve spotted a few “big ego” dancers, and I really try to not be one of them. But, after one year of dance, it took me one year more to realize that I was only “getting through” the movements. I lowered my lesson’s level, and worked more on the basics. I enjoy to dance with beginners, more than before.
I think that the most important thing in social dance is the connection. The more I dance, the more I understand how subtle the information can be in social dance. I start to switch roles (from lead to follow), there is so much fun and new things to learn by doing this! Anyway, this is more a general comment to say how nice are your articles. I didn’t fully realize some things before you really explain it along your website, so many many thanks! And keep writing please 🙂
Greetings from Germany, of the Lindy Hop scene!