Many social dancers go to events for the opportunity to dance with their favourite pros. In some places, the most sought-after dancers can have a line-up of people waiting for their “3-5 minutes of heaven”.
But, there are some pros who social dance very little – or seem to social dance ‘too much’ with other professionals.
Are they breaking a rule? Should there be a ‘requirement’ or ‘expectation’ that a professional social dance as much as possible -and with everyone at an event?
My answer? Usually, no.
Which pros are we talking about?
This article is primarily directed towards the ‘top tier’ of pros. These are the ones who travel very regularly to dance events, and are paid as a headliner to attend the event. They usually give workshops, and feature strongly in advertising.
What pros are usually contracted to do
From an organizer’s perspective, we typically ‘hire’ professionals to teach and perform. There are some genres that may have modifications on this (ie, competitions), and some may contract a pro to dance socially for a few hours. What a pro is contracted for is what they are obligated to do.
When you figure in the duties that a pro is contracted for, it’s often between 2-8 hours a day. If the pro is a teacher and performer, competitor, DJ, or judge, this tends towards the high end of the range.
When you figure in prep time, each hour-long workshop eats up at least 1.5 hours. DJ’s need to set up their equipment. Performers and competitors have tech rehearsals, prep time, and more – and they need to be very fresh to do their best job. Judges need to be mentally alert and prepare for the competition. All of these things take time – and a well(ish)- rested pro.
What pros do on the side
In addition to the regular obligations set by the event, top professionals typically have an impressive lineup of people who want to take privates. So, they may do an additional 2-6 hours of teaching per day.
When you add these two numbers together, you’re looking at between 4 and 14 hours already spent in the day.
Extra things pros do
Many events also have things that don’t fit in the normal scope of duties that artists are still expected to attend. This is incredibly event-specific, and can range from a photo-op to a VIP dinner or lecture.
This is not including time for eating or personal care, or any other extra ‘activities’ happening throughout the day that are mandatory to attend.
Where social dancing fits in
If a pro is on the low end of the spectrum (say, 4 hours), it’s typical to see them burning the social dance floor. They may not dance the whole night, but they are typically present at the parties for at least part of the evening. Some of these professionals do this to build their reputation; others do it because they really really love social dancing.
Even for the pros at the high end of the time commitment range, they usually spend at least a bit of time at the party. But, they may be exhausted from a full day of activities. They could also need to get to bed on time – especially if the event requires them to be up early, or they have a big show or competition.
There’s a caveat for even the most social pro. If something is going to get cut during the weekend, it usually has to be the social dancing or private classes. And usually, the economical thing to cut is the social dancing. Especially for top artists who make their living off of dancing, privates are a main source of income.
Pros do need rest and downtime to be functional. Some require more than others. For example, I need sleep. If I don’t get sleep, everything suffers. I either need to get that sleep during daytime downtime, or at some point during the evening.
If I’m teaching the first workshop at 11, running competitions from 2-4, doing tech from 6-7, and performing at 11, the only time that I can feasibly fit sleeping is after the show. This means that I’m leaving the social early (2 a.m. being ‘early’). But, if I’m teaching at 12, running competitions until 3, and then I’m ‘off’ for the rest of the day, I’ll burn the floor all night and do my sleeping in the afternoon.
Why was the pro hired if they’re not going to social dance?
When you’re a dance professional, your reputation can be built on a few things:
- Your DJ’ing
- Your teaching
- Your social dancing
- Your performances/demonstrations
There are some professionals who are legendary for staying on the floor all night. And, this is usually reflected in their reputation and acclaim. This can contrast with a famous performer, who may not be known for burning the floor all night.
Both types draw people. Both bring a different flavour to the event that hires them. Sometimes, even within a couple, you have one partner that dances significantly more than the other. Some pros are well-known for both performance and staying on the floor all night.
So, some artists simply aren’t hired because of their social dancing. They’re hired because they add value in another way.
Shy, Grumpy, or Injured Pros
Another consideration is the temperament of certain pros. Contrary to intuition, many artists are pretty shy people. Several are introverts. So, giant parties where they know few people are not exactly their comfort zone.
Plus, many pros are dealing with injuries. This is simply the result of the intense physical things they make themselves do every day. If they social dance with too many partners, they risk turning a temporary inconvenience into a giant problem. This is doubly true if they have a big performance or competition later in the weekend; the wrong move on the social floor can jeopardize their ability to fulfill their professional obligations.
There’s also professionals who may just be having an ‘off day’. I get those when I’m tired. When I’m half-asleep and just want to curl up in bed, it takes some seriously awesome music and dancing to ‘pep’ me back up. Sometimes, even that’s not enough. So, they may choose to go fulfill their needs rather than be the ‘snob’ that night.
Why some hardworking pros dance anyway
First of all, many hard-working pros simply love dancing. So, that part of the event may not be a ‘job’ for them.
Others use it to build their reputation, in order to be able to command better gigs and better pay rates. The more draw an artist has when they attend an event, the more valuable they are to organizers. That doesn’t mean they dislike social dancing – but it may be the difference between heading to bed early and dancing a couple more hours.
But some social dance – yet ignore the ‘regular’ dancers! What snobs!
If the evening’s social dance is the time a pro gets to unwind, many will elect to spend part of that time with people they’re close to. On the dance circuit, that’s other travelling professionals.
Those other professionals are also the ones who are able to challenge them, push them, and let them express the music to their fullest capacity. It’s no wonder they want to dance with each other!
Most of the time, the pros that social dance with other pros aren’t actually thinking about how exclusive it seems. They’re simply doing what makes them happy. That’s not a license to be rude to a social dancer who comes and asks for a dance – but it is an explanation for behavior that may seem snobby, yet is not ill-intentioned.
(And yes, there are a few professionals who really can be snobby. But, it’s far from the majority in every style I’ve seen).
How dare they enjoy dancing with other pros more than regular people!
Most of the time, ‘regular’ dancers want to dance with the big names because of their insane level of skill. That skill is built because dancing is what they do. Every day. For several hours. Constantly. Of course they have a far superior grasp of what they’re doing!
It’s not reasonable say that an average dancer will provide that challenging thrill to a top artist. Dances with hobby dancers may be enjoyable, fun, exciting, and more – but it’s not the same as dancing with someone else that has the same intense practice schedule, experience, and dedication to their craft. It’s like saying a top NASA engineer will be challenged by the thoughts of a 2nd-year undergraduate engineering student. The conversation can be fun and even create new ideas, but there’s simply an imbalance in experience.
But I want social dancing pros!
When a pro chooses whether or not to social dance, how long to dance for, and who to dance with, they are building a reputation for themselves (whether they recognize it or not).
It may not be your idea of a good reputation – and that is completely fine. You have the ability to choose where to spend your money, and on whom. You pick what events you pay for, and who you take lessons with. If you love social dancing pros, prioritize and spend money on the events that bring those people. Support them!
Why don’t event organizers force them to social dance?
Well, some events may pay money to contract the artist for a specified number of social dance hours. But, typically that means budget needs to be taken away from other areas. It’s hard enough to break even on an event without adding extra expenses.
In most events, party passes are cheaper. Therefore, spending the money allocated for an artist to fly around the world to be there for social dancing instead of using those funds to beef up workshop schedules and other Full Pass programs can seem like a bad idea. This is particularly true if you know the artist is likely to at least social dance for a portion of the party.
So, if you want events to start mandating social dance hours for your favourite pros, prepare to spend more money on your weekend and party passes. Otherwise, it’s simply not affordable to pay pros for social dance duties.
If we are not paying an artist for social dancing, we never mandate how much time a pro must spend social dancing, or dictate who they will dance with. That is their call, and they have the right to decline, go to sleep, or only dance with each other. However, we do encourage artists to spend time with attendees and dance with them. Most are very happy to do so.
Well, this is their job. Don’t they get the whole week to rest?
Most top-level pros travel weekly. Depending on how far the travel is, that can take 1-2 days out of the week. Then, you’ve got to add in a day for jetlag recovery.
If the artist is typically at an event starting Thursday and leaving Monday, simple recovery and packing can eat up a lot of the Tuesday/Wednesday downtime.
Of course, many artists also run dance schools, have to manage their business, do laundry, and the other day-to-day maintenance stuff the rest of us do. Plus, they need to rehearse routines, train their bodies, and more. Professional artists don’t spend their downtime sitting around doing nothing. If they did, they wouldn’t be at the top of their field!
It’s a true treasure when we have artists who are avid social dancers, great teachers, and awesome performers. We should be incredibly grateful to have these people among us, and it is totally awesome to recognize their great spirit.
But, recognizing how awesome those people are doesn’t mean we should put down the artists who don’t “do it all” as effectively. We need to recognize that artists are people, and people have limits. Their bodies have limits. Their minds have limits. And, those limits don’t make them bad people or professionals.
Even if they are hired for an event, it doesn’t mean that they are our slave for the duration of the weekend. There are very few select professions where people are reasonably expected to be constantly available for days on end, and “dance artist” is not among them.
Let’s be a little bit more understanding of these people who inspire, promote and grow our wonderful dance. Let’s give them the space for downtime and enjoyment, so that they can truly give 100% when it counts. At the very least, choose to recognize the artists who go above and beyond, rather than rejecting those who you feel don’t ‘do enough’ because they didn’t burn the floor all night.
I love this article. Being an artist myself I’ve experience it all. Including being openly ridiculed because I was “taking too long of a break”. The culture has changed so much in these past 10 – 12 years and it’s starting to make artists feel as though they are only machines, here to appease to everyone’s wish and whim. I thoroughly enjoyed your article. You’ve helped explain what artists have been wanting to communicate for a long time now. Thanks
It would be best to know what you can handle and create bigger gaps in between so you can rest, BUT social dancing for any Pro is important to the community. Social dancing is the core to any social or festival, please never forget that>
If you’re saying that pros should choose to not book additional private lessons in order to have more energy to social dance, that’s very unfair. If you think most pro dancers make a lot of money you are wrong. Attaining a high level of skill takes a lot of resources – time and money – that needs to be earned back. It is up to event organizers to determine where the most value lies – hiring pros for social dancing or to teach/perform/etc. It is up to individual pros to determine the right value mix they themselves offer. Most pros and organizers do want to support the community and are not solely profit driven, but at the same time we’re not independently wealthy enough to do it for solely altruistic motives.
Reputation reputation reputation.
As with anything… what you do constantly is what you’ll become known for. I don’t judge anyone off one night. So if I consistently go to festivals where I consistently see the same pros.. not social dancing ANY of the nights or exclusively dancing with their inner circle.. I don’t get mad or upset…I just know “this pro doesn’t social dance with their “fans” at festivals. ”
And that’s fine with me. But it might breed resentment or negative feedback from others.
Many successful business empires were built by people who did not care to cater to their fan base… but more often than not it’s hard to lose a reputation as being snobby and exclusive.
You have to also recognize that unlike other “professions” this is a profession built on your Public Relations. Lose enough fan respect then your draw level lessens which will hurt ticket sales. If the quality of the Pros you’re hiring goes down I will hit up other festivals. These days there is a festival every week and I’m close enough regions to give me a healthy choice of where I spend my dollars.
So.. does a Pro have to do anything they aren’t contracted to do? No.
But good PR imo is the bread and butter of making it in the dance business.
PS. The same goes for social dancers.. people who constantly reject new dancers or only dance with their crew will earn that reputation. Whether they care or not is a personal choice.
Good perspective. That is so sad! Artists are human beings too and need sleep, and deserve to have some fun themselves!
Perhaps. Pros should after all still make time to social dance. Take the time to take care of yourself and only commit to what you can do and not just be thrilled at different money opportunities knowing you will be exhausted after. Be smart and stay humble Pros.
I read and appreciated this article. As a 36 year veteran teacher I hope I can add my perspective, although it might be different from what a dance pro experiences. My career required me to be in a classroom for seven and a half hours a day. In addition to that, I had to spend many many hours at home that were unpaid. Additionally, in order to be able to do a good job of teaching and establish a good relationship with students and parents ; additional hours were also spent at my worksite before heading for home, quite exhausted only to spend more hours with grading papers, additional planning time when my after-hours work was taken up with conferencing and the endless meetings. Now, if you have gotten this far you might ask how this applies to dancing. I will tell you. For at least 15 years I attended every possible group class I could when I wasn’t preparing for my career. I got quite good at dancing. I retired and decided to pursue my dancing passion, so I started doing showcases; then moved to competing. All of that has come to a complete halt, because where I live, after having retired, there are not many dance opportunities available at all. When I have traveled to dance events from Ocala where I live, I paid my money to get in and sat . I asked the DJ/’dance pro’ for a dance and was turned down. And what I observed was that this person who was benefiting from the money I paid to get in was only dancing with selected people. It became abundantly clear when I was turned down for a requested dance with the excuse of ” I need to sit this one out and recoup my energy’. That would be okay as I have done that myself in the past; but then I don’t get up and dance with the next person who asks me for the exact same dance. A pro making money off a dance event should be willing to be out there on the floor in some of the smaller venues. Bottom line for me: I go where I can dance with people who have invested time and money into becoming better dancers. If the people running the show sit it all out or dance with only their selected students or fellow pros, my money dries up and gets spent traveling or invested in other pursuits.
I am so sympathetic with your response, as I live in the Villages, Florida. My one thought is that I would go to Shawn Swaithes’, Mark Traynor’s or Mark Arnott’s dances in Orlando where everyone dances with everyone (i.e. you don’t need a partner) and the level of dance proficiency is high. Ocal is sort of a wasteland and you will be frustrated there. scott roberts (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There is this sense that Pros only go after money now and maybe that is true. Pros go after big festivals now and everyone seems to be a clone of particular couples. Pros need to remember that social dancing is key to any event or festival, the workshops and performances are not the most important thing. PLEASE PROS, know your limits and give yourself appropriate rest to make sure you social dance with the community. We notice more when you dont social dance rather then any workshop or performance.
You realize that workshops and performances aren’t something pros do for events as a favor, right?
The workshops and performances are what pay the bills. Pros attending an event aren’t often hired to social dance, as Laura said. They’re hired to judge and teach workshops. It’s written into the contract. Other events will require or encourage a pro to perform a routine as part of their contract. Pros that don’t perform aren’t hired, because the event wants the Classic/Showcase floor show.
So while you may want pros to social dance more, they also need to pay their bills and continue their dance employment. I totally support pros who don’t social dance because they’re overloaded and overworked. My five minutes of bragging rights aren’t worth their exhaustion. There are a ton of amazing advanced/all-stars on the floor; they will do for keeping an event going.
I don’t know what pros complain so much about, if you dont intend to social dance then please let your following fans know you will not be participating in social dancing or tell the promoter to make it clear to all the guests that the certain pro is choosing not to dance with the community. Yes, its that easy!
Tanja Alemana? Sucks that that happens. Hope this article helps people understand the dedication to the craft you folks show.
Couldn’t agree more. I am just an improving beginner and seldom ask a pro to dance for all of the common sense reasons you put forward. Plus they have the right to enjoy themselves which is obviously more likely with good dancers. For some of us I suspect more of an issue is the “snobbishness” of self-evaluated “good” dancers.
Great points in this article. Gives a different perspective. The layout of the question and answer help understand where your money goes or could go. I remember going to my 1st congress and didn’t know Pros would social dance after workshops/performances. I was a huge bonus to see they had the energy to do so! Wether its money motivation of not for them to social dance, it’s still physical activity they have to endure. So I appreciate that from the Pros. Thanks!
Hi all. As always Laura wrote a well written article. I really appreciate the perspectives you’re trying to give.
When i read it, I hear you think and talk and I totally understand it from the way i think (and i dont own the truth!) and how i observed you taking your job seriously.
I though think there are more aspects to this issue. And of course it is in my perception.
In some events I see teachers. artists, behave as professionals and understanding that the dancers are their clients and without them they would not have a job. But i also see something quite different. I see professionals getting drunk or just a bit to assertively persuing nightly ‘afterparties’ . I always imagine myself getting drunk at work or being prince charming too much…
And of course you could argue if this is “at work”. You could consider the workplace the lessons and performance and the parties a place for Pros just like any other place. But hmmm… it’s tricky i think. But I DO admire their dedication and what they do for the dance community, I just regret that sometimes, some professional just act a bit too unprofessional. So related to the question: should they dance socially, i just want to add: IF they do, let it indeed be in a social way.
Another aspect is the “queuing” at parties. At one of my first zouk congresses I noticed a strange line of ladies forming at the stage. I assumed that’s where the airconditioning was or so and that that was a nice and chilled place. A friend of mine was in the line and i was happily walking towards her to ask her for a dance or two. Her face changed. She almost panicked. “No!! I dont wanna loose my spot”. She turned out to be waiting for a Pro to dance with her. I saw her waiting for 45 minutes at least. And no this is not my personal jealousy. I do understand too the want to dance with your “idol” , but it can take proportions where there are like 6 lines of 10 ladies at a party and that influences the energy of the party i think. So the want for dance with Pros can interfere with the party as a whole. I also indeed admit that back in the days as a beginner leader it intimidated me and made me insecure to be rejected because someone is waiting for someone else to dance with. I’m happy i left that stage years ago, but it may apply to others.
A third element is that many female brazilian zouk teachers, stay in the VIP room. I noticed though it is changing. I’m not sure why. Maybe i changed perfume and i’m seducing them all out 😛 No but seriously I noticed that.
I wondered about this phenomenon. One time i happened to be at a friends house with one of the female Pros. She was even cooking for me with another friend of mine. I could ask her the question why this happens and of course I had an idea why. And i have to admit it makes sense to me. She explained to me that as a follower you’re in more danger or getting injuries. Leaders might think “Oe lala! hmmm… I can open my full arsenal of tricks and movements while dancing with her”. She experienced people overdoing themselves. And indeed I can imagine this. I also dont have a solution for this. Well leaders should of course always keep the follow safe in the first place, but that’s not something the Pro can fix on the spot at that moment. Well I do remember a quite funny story. A female Pro told me she wears a cap! I thought it was her new gangsta style. But she did it so leaders would not come to close AND they would take care in head/hair movements. If they would too it too rough the cap would fly off. Apparently it worked!
A fourth thing is the filming. People ask a friend to film the “3 minutes of heaven”. I wonder how the Pros experience this and also maybe the amateur dancer. To me dancing is connection. With each other, with the music. And of course I get why people film it, of course it can me memorable. But I sometimes have really nice dances with Pros, but for me it would feel weird to film it. It’s like a moment of connection, with a certain intimacy. With all follows btw, no matter what level. I feel that it goes a bit too much to “look mum I met a big star” and too far away from experiencing the dance itself and also from seeing the Pro as a person. He or she is not just a prize to dance with. I heard they’re human. But maybe people should store memories more within instead of on a memory disk. (Do i sound old now? 😉
So let’s just dance from our hearts. Level of technically becomes far less important this way.
It is true that the life of a Professional Swing Dancer is physically demanding. And, the paying public should reasonably only expect a Teaching Headliner to live up to their contractual obligations. So, turning down social dances and clustering in teacher cliques in no way constitute unethical behavior.
It just makes you a dick.
To be sure, I have been wiped from a couple days of teaching and privates and a couple nights of dancing and “living it up.” And after all that, social dancing with a waiting line of beginners that’ll buck and whip like a gang of rogue, sweaty firehoses—well, that sounds as appealing as eating Q-Tips. But, when I was still teaching social dancing at events, I always tried to have at least a night of “yes” to everyone. Not outta charity but out of a desire to not be a dick to the people footin’ my bar tab. ‘Cause here’s the rub, and all you self-appointed professionals should perk your ears: It’s call “Social Dancing.” If you act antisocial, people don’t like you. Remember, just as Pros are not ethically bound to Social Dance with the Patrons, the Patrons (Our Employers) are not ethically bound to give two shits about the Pros.
Some students take all day workshops, travel, perform more than once and still social dance each night. Pros need to manage themselves better. Many pros perform the same routine for over a year and by teaching a workshop or two a day they are exhausted? Come on now, its a profession and they should be able to manage their time more effectively. It is poor planning on their part and if they need more time in between to rest then ask for it. Pros always complaining.
You dance with the patrons “out of a desire not to be a dick.” What lucky patrons those must be. If only all pros adopted the attitude of “I dance not to be a dick,” instead of “I dance because I want to,” what happy patrons we would have.
“Ooh I just got to dance with Steve!”
“Awesome! I hear he’s amazing at not being a dick and dancing out of obligation!”
Steve your awesome for sharing your talent and not being stingy with your energy. Being female, it’s exciting to dance with pro leads every once in a while. It’s annoying when pros have a pretentious vibe about them.
My experience of pros (and we’re talking mostly the US ones booked for modern jive/ceroc weekenders /workshops in the UK is that most will do at least some social dancing and they enjoy dancing with anyone who enjoys dance as much as they do. I’d say they’re more generous with their time (maybe it’s the novelty and not having their usual pros ) being at these events than the UK pros (who admittedly are usually dance teachers on the side and aren’t spending time travelling the world/teaching privately.
I think social dancing is just that, and the pros should be promoting that however possible. Obviously they need to ensure they’re not overworking themselves like anyone else, but it’s inspiring to see them social dance even if it’s just a short time on the dance floor.
Thank you for your thorough article, Laura. I appreciate your insights. I attend events for social dancing, and hope I get to dance with certain people. I understand that artists have so much on their plate already. I dont want to be a burden, and trouble people when they are exhausted. I admire everything that artists do for us. So, I try to check in with the person with whom Id like to dance by observing their body language and also asking them if they could dance with me at some point when they arent too tired and are in the mood to do so. Since I get back pain easily and turn down people as a result, I imagine that artists have it very difficult because an injury could be devastating for their career. I completely understand that their are numerous reasons why they’d be uninspired to dance with me at a particular moment. So, I try not to take it personally when that occurs.