Many social dance styles are increasingly putting more emphasis on the development of technical proficiency. This is great on several levels. It prevents injury, raises the level of dancing, and keeps upper-level dancers engaged. It promotes artistry and interpretation. It’s a conduit for dance growth.

But, it runs the risk of shutting out people who definitely deserve to be a part of our communities.

I recently read a Tango-based article that opens with the sentence “When people really get into tango, it becomes fairly evident that group classes and a few private lessons aren’t really enough.”

Enough for what?

Unless my understanding of the article is completely wrong, it seems to say that ‘it isn’t enough to attract good partners’. (paraphrased) Which is a fair point. Generally speaking, strong technical dancers enjoy dancing with similar-level partners.

But, it is the follow-up point that I take issue with. This follow-up point is ‘Dancers complain about snobbery because they refuse to invest enough in their dance education to be attractive partners.’ (paraphrased)

Investment only works if you have three things: Time, Passion, and Money.

I personally don’t believe that a partner’s ‘worth’ is measured solely by their technical proficiency. It is measured by a plethora of factors – including attitude. Is technical proficiency important? Sure, it can be.

But, lacking the desire or ability to acquire strong, technical proficiency doesn’t excuse ‘snobby’ behavior.

The People who Can’t (or Won’t) ‘Step Up’

It’s easy to say “why don’t they just invest more?” But, some people can’t. Investment only works if you have three things: Time, Passion, and Money.

If you don’t have time, it’s hard to invest. A world-class heart surgeon may LOVE dancing and have money, but they only have time for 2 classes a month. Is dance ‘not for them’ because they don’t have time?

If you don’t have passion, you have no reason to invest. The guy who is accompanying his girlfriend to make her happy may only take group classes. Does this mean he doesn’t ‘deserve’ dances with good dancers?

If you have no money and no teachers are willing to give you a scholarship, you may have to learn only at socials or ‘free’ classes. Should they be ostracized by advanced dancers, since they’re not growing enough?

Disputing the Argument for Snobbery: “Using What You’ve Learned”

There’s an argument for snobby behavior and judging others on their technical proficiency centered around ‘advanced dancers getting to use what they’ve learned.”

I understand the desire for dancers to use what they’ve learned. But, you don’t need to use everything you’ve learned every single dance. Otherwise, the top dancer in the scene would never dance. After all, no one else can do what they do.

If technical proficiency is your only tool for judging someone else at a dance, you’re missing out on what it means to be part of a social community.

If you’re an advanced dancer, it’s great to have several advanced dances in a night. But, dancing with a few beginners or intermediate dancers isn’t going to spontaneously devolve all of your hard-won skills. In fact, it can often illuminate holes in your own technique, and force you to be even more precise.

If your reason for this argument is you won’t have fun unless you use everything you’ve learned, I’d advise you to stop learning.

Why? Well, the more you learn, the less fun you’re going to have! You’re going to keep surpassing all the partners that challenge you. Eventually, there’s going to be no one that will keep you engaged.

Why not just make your own fun in dances? Why not use your advanced skills to create engaging dances with all levels?

Judging on Technical Proficiency

Judging the value of a person only by their technical proficiency is superficial. It turns the social scene into an elite clubhouse: “pay your dues, or don’t enter.”

Yes, it is fair to use technical proficiency as part of your ‘toolkit’ for deciding if you want to dance with a person. Weighing this factor doesn’t make you a snob. Exclusive reliance does.

For example, if it’s my favourite song and I really want to dance it with a strong dancer, OK! Great! It’s part of a balanced reasoning. You want a strong dancer for a specific reason because of the conditions.

And yes, you are certainly allowed to always refuse dances with anyone below a certain level. But, doing this unilaterally and with no other considerations does makes you a ‘snob.’

If technical proficiency is your only tool for judging someone else at a dance, you’re missing out on what it means to be part of a social community.

Even if you only entertain 2 beginners or “not-serious” dancers a night, you’re helping. Even if all you do is talk to and encourage them, it’s fine. I mean, really.

Unless the person is a dangerous dancer, is it really hard to spend a song or two with that person? Is it that difficult to give a selfless dance? And yes, dear Tango dancers, you have the ‘Tanda’. So? Ask halfway through a Tanda, and just do a song or two if it’s that bad!

Why Kindness Grows Scenes

Social dances require new blood to be sustainable. The thing is, new blood doesn’t appreciate the nuances of your dance. There are very few people who try dance once and go ‘Hell Yes! Let me spend THOUSANDS of dollars to grow!”

Heck, I wasn’t one. You could barely convince broke-student me to spend money on anything more than a University club membership ($30 a year) and a monthly social.

What kept me around? The ‘advanced’ dancers who danced below their level to motivate me. The ones who accepted my requests with a smile week after week.

Two years later, I got serious about it. Two years of investing in me as a social dancer turned me into someone willing to fly to other continents to learn and grow. Two years of investment turned me into an evangelist who brought a lot of people into dance – several of whom became ‘serious’ dancers.

I’m a stronger dancer now than some of those people I viewed as ‘advanced’ who helped me up. I still dance with them and have a blast – even if their technique isn’t perfect, and things mess up every once in a while. Even if they’ve stopped ‘investing’ and just dance socially.

It’s Not About Forced Behavior

I’m not going to tell you “say yes to every dance” or “be nice to everyone.” That’s like telling a 5-year-old to “apologize and mean it.” It just doesn’t work – it’s lip service only.

If you choose to judge only on technical proficiency, I will support your right to do so. But, I will not tell you that it is morally right, kind or constructive.

I have always advocated that you should be able to choose if you want to dance at all times, and for any reason. So, it is well within your rights to decline all dances with ‘uninvested’ dancers.

But, that doesn’t make it kind.

It’s my right to not do anything to help a guy bleeding on the sidewalk. I’m perfectly entitled to not want to get his blood on my white pants. But, my personal morality would never allow me to walk past the scene.

If you choose to judge only on technical proficiency, I will support your right to do so. But, I will not tell you that it is morally right, kind or constructive.

I will never hold the position that people must pass a threshold of ‘investment’ to be part of a scene. I will never advocate for any dancer to feel left out or worthless on the basis of skill – regardless of the reason.

I don’t want to promote the idea of dance scenes that are (or seem) snobby. I want to promote inclusion and positivity.

I want to have scenes where newcomers come in and say “Wow! These people are so nice! I want to be part of this,” and where the heart surgeon can say “Dancing with these great people is the perfect end to a stressful week.”

What do you want your scene to look like?