Each dance has their own system and customs for dancing. Some dances have a pretty defined limit of one-song-per-partner, while in others you can spend an hour or more dancing with one person. Tango has the most defined example, with a Tanda (3-4 songs) being the ‘standard’.
I spend the majority of my time dancing Brazilian Zouk, which has a pretty open, multi-song system in both North America and Europe. The ‘norm’ is 2-3 songs per partner in most places. One is still polite and acceptable – but so is dancing for over an hour. I’ve also gone to WCS events, where the general ‘rule’ is one-song-per-partner (or two, if you’re both really feeling it).
While both the one-song-per-partner and a multi-song norm are perfectly reasonable systems, there are some benefits and detriments in both.
The One-Song-Per-Partner System
This approach feels the most fair in many ways. It provides (in theory) equal opportunity for partners to dance with people they enjoy. It also (theoretically) prevents people from sitting down too long, since partners are constantly rotating. In these systems, you know that the most you’ll be waiting for the chance (not certainty) to snag a favourite partner is 1-2 songs.
A 1-2 dance system removes the awkwardness of figuring out how to end an unpleasant dance. If you don’t like a partner, you know the most you’ll have to wait is 3-4 minutes to avoid being rude to the partner. Since it’s also a standard convention, you also don’t need to worry about hurting the person’s feelings by ending the dance “too early”.
A one-dance-system does not need physical or verbal cues to help partners understand when a dance is over. The song does it for them. This means that beginners have an easy way to understand when the dance time is over.
Meet More People
A one-dance system allows you to meet more people than a multi-dance system simply because you will need more partners to make it through the night (assuming the same amount of dance time). This can be helpful for expanding your dance social network.
In my opinion, the one-dance-per-partner can turn the dance experience into an ‘assembly line’ for advanced dancers who have dance lines forming. Each song, they need to adjust to a new partner, get through the dance and…. do it all over again. Every song. For hours, unless they sneak away.
There’s no time to relax and recharge with a preferred partner, which is more present in a multi-dance system. The only way to recharge without constantly rejecting dances is to leave the floor completely.
Every person has partners they enjoy dancing with a lot. A standard one-dance-per-person system lends less flexibility to these preferences. If I really enjoy a partner, I want to dance multiple songs with them – especially if the music is awesome.
While it seems more ‘fair’ to treat every partner the same, it can also feel unfair to not take into account the personal preferences of a dancer – including when they have a really great connection they’d like to explore more.
Obviously, people still have the option of dancing multiple songs. But, when one song is the standard, it can feel awkward to ask for those additional songs (especially if you may get rejected). And, bystanders may feel put out that one of those people isn’t available to dance again.
The Multi-Song System
Get Your Fill
There’s nothing more satisfying (in my opinion) than to be able to ride a great wave of music with a great partner. A multi-dance system allows you to truly dive in to a connection, and explore it until you both need a water break. Even dancing 2-3 songs can often be enough to scratch that itch – but really in-sync partners may go upwards of an hour!
Call a Mulligan (“false start”)
Sometimes, you get a great partner, but an awful song. Or, you just have a dance that you wish you could re-do. Or, the last song was OK – but the song that just started is effing awesome. Multi-song systems give you that opportunity.
Out-of-sync dances drain me. In-sync dances revitalize me. Sometimes, all it takes is a few songs with a partner who makes me feel awesome to get me ready for another hour of dancing. Multi-dance systems allow you to really maximize that re-charge.
I think this is especially the case with in-demand dancers. It’s nice to be able to choose to revitalize yourself with an amazing partner, rather than being stuck feeling like part of an assembly line. Even if it’s just that couple songs extra, it can be just the medicine the person needs to be ready for 30 more dances.
Enhanced Non-Verbal Communication
In some ways, the non-verbal communication used to end dances in multi-dance systems can be a relief for people who are shy about asking for more dances. And, the lack of direct confrontation (ie, not asking to stop, but rather just physically indicating it) can sometimes be easier for people than a verbal transaction.
This isn’t true for everyone, but it certainly is true for some.
Hurt Feelings and Expectations
Some dance scenes expect (rather than provide the option of) more than one dance. This can end up creating hurt feelings in those that did not get multiple dances, for whatever reason.
While I personally feel that people need to be OK with this type of ‘rejection’ on a personal level, it can feel a bit tricky if you’re the person trying to leave the dance without offending someone. If the standard is more than one song, you may feel bad about leaving a dance “too early” – even if there is a reason you’d really like to do so.
Codified Physical Cues
While I personally don’t really think it’s a big deal, open-ended multi-dance systems do require specific cues for dancers to know when a dance is ending. For example, Zouk often uses the hug-and-thank method to indicate when a dance is finishing. If no one hugs-and-thanks, the dance keeps going. This can create a bit of confusion for newer dancers who haven’t yet learned how they can end a dance.
Meeting Fewer People
If you spend a long time dancing with one person, you end up dancing with fewer people throughout the night. This can put a damper on finding new partners you really connect with.
In theory, people dancing multiple songs together means that you’re more likely to be sitting out for longer. This is particularly true if there’s more follows than leads, or vice versa.
In practice, I find that whether you sit out has more to do with how willing you are to go find dances. But, for the passive dancer, it may make a difference.
In my personal opinion, I prefer a multi-dance system as a base – provided that one dance is also acceptable. I like the non-verbal and continuousness of multi-dance systems, and it really has led to some amazing dances for me. Generally speaking, I tend to find myself “wanting more” when each dance is confined to one song – especially when more than one dance is reserved for parties who are sexually interested in each other.
What’s your feeling? Do you prefer a one-dance system, or a multi-dance base? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
I always navigate different spectrum of system. No particular favorite. Just I learn read people better. I guess, Experience to be social dancing for couple years now.
Sometimes, there are those dances that make you feel you can dance forever with one person. It’s such a special and beautiful feeling. I think everyone should have the chance to experience it.
I mostly navigate the WCS circuit so got use you to the single song method. It releaves the guessing game of whether or not a second or third song is welcomed, or just “expected” I also love meeting new people so like rotating. I do find partners I enjoy dancing with l, and tend to just dance with them a few times a night spread out rather than back to back. I just recently started zouk and the 2-3 dances method threw me off gaurd. I was keeping in my normal 1 dance state of mind until I noticed and am still trying to get comfortable. As a beginner in this dance, I don’t want to put people at the mercy of me stopping the dance, but I also don’t want to hurt their feelings if they were having a good time. I do love being able to just meld with a partner you love for a few songs, but, if the connection isn’t there, then I don’t want to fight it for more than one song.
I’m from a generally 1 dance (modern jive or wcs), and only recently (after 10 years of social dancing), heard that in many places, blues is 2 dances. Explains why sometimes you can’t get on the dance floor.
I prefer a single dance. I go dancing alone and while I ask more people to dance than being on the receiving end of requests, I would find it very hard to get on the dance floor. Multi-dances, you’re also potentially stuck dancing to 2 or 3 track styles that aren’t your thing, or that are so fast, you can’t stay on the floor for the 2-3 after having danced for several on the trot. While I’d love to dance for ages with some of my favourite dancers, it feels a bit like hogging them and being selfish to other people in the venue, all of whom come to dance, but some may miss out. Especially beginners, I can see having less of a dance, and those who in a 1 dance would get to dance with some much better level dancers, but in multi-dance would miss out on that. The thought of a milonga terrifies me – having to potentially sit out 3-4 songs and not out of choice, but just because I’d not found someone to dance with. 1 dance all the way for me (with the choice to have another later on – or straight after if requested).
I’m definitely with you on this… I’m in a multi-dance system but I’ve always been fortunate cause there’s always more follows than lead but it hurts everytime when I didn’t get to dance with a beginner who trying to get into the dance but has to leave early bc they haven’t danced yet.
I’ve been in 1-dance systems when there were far more leads than follows but I’d sit out for just a song or 2 before I could dance, but those two songs without a dance killed me. I could not handle it. But that’s definitely the one downside for multi-dance systems.
Multi-song system is just horrible for introverted, low-self-esteem beginners – which I dare say is the majority of beginners.
As that kind of a beginner, you kinda realize that dancing with you is not the best experience in the world. So, you’d rather spread that tacit duty over multiple people — but the tradition forces you to endure the (even if imaginary) feeling that you’re asking for too much from the poor partner who had the misfortune of catching your eye.
I agree with the one dance per partner, i keeps dancers from’hogging’ partners, it is simply selfish to keep a dance partner, isn’t the idea to dance with multiple partners to refine your leading and following abilities?
I agree with you, Gene. I see it as very selfish and rude, on behalf of both the lead and follow. And the dancers who do this are the better dancers too. I can see dancing 1 or 2 songs, maybe 3 “occasionally”, back to back but, when they extend it to 4, 5, 6 songs, 45 minutes, an hour, at an organized social dance, then it becomes very rude to other dancers and extremely selfish of the couple. It can also start some unsavory rumors! Particularly if one of them is married or has another companion.
Re Tango) While it’s considered fairly rough to leave the partner before the tanda (series) ends, it’s not unheard of. Within the more than ten years of dancing I think I did it twice. (In one case because I was allergic to the partner’s perfume and I could hardly see. I hope my watery eyes were proof enough) It’s possible though to invite or accept invitation in mid-tanda and thus protect yourself from inflicting or having to survive four songs. 😉
In most communities I know of it’s perfectly fine to dance two tandas with the same person, three would kinda start looking like there’s something more going on. There’s no obligation or expectation of a second tanda in most places though. I did hear about some places where two tandas are the norm. I don’t like that. It’s too long and there’s always the risk that the music with not be a good fit for the two of us. Usually you are expected to leave the floor or at least move to the corner even if you plan to dance another tanda with the same partner, to allow people sitting on the opposite sides of the floor to see each other.
While sometimes it’s hard work to finish the tanda, I would not want to switch to just one song. It takes time to decide whether I like the music, to find a partner, meet and tune in. One song would be too short.
One song “system” proposed so you don’t need to learn how to communicate or be assertive… While meeting more people with whom you won’t communicate or be assertive? 😉
Plus losing the chance of really getting into the partner…
And I thought that dancing was about communication!
No thanks. This seems to me like the very definition of overthinking. Dance if you can and want, don’t if you don’t, and learn to deal with your choice / the situation. Or you’ll end up in taxi dancer hell.
And those feeling that the world is rude to them… Personally, the (fortunately few) times I have learnt of someone who was feeling like that about me not dancing with them, I started avoiding them purposefully. Self-entitlement is not attractive.