I understand why people say they will not dance with people who ‘do not take lessons’, but I disagree with them when they say it is because those people are ‘dangerous’. It’s impossible to judge whether or not someone is a dangerous dancer by whether or not they take classes.
Is there a correlation between not taking classes and danger level? Possibly, but it isn’t always that simple.
I want to preface this article by saying that I am a very, very big believer in the necessity of good dance training. I really wish more people would take their dance training seriously, and I really wish that every person who was teaching dance took great care in motivating their communities to a higher level. I completely believe that if you want to try ANY remotely advanced (or intermediate) movement, you must have a good, solid base and understand what you are doing. This is not negotiable.
However, I also recognize that there is a significant part of the dance scene that is fueled by individuals who are simply looking for a social activity. They’re not looking to become great dancers; they’re just looking for a fun time to go out, socialize, and move a little. I don’t think that their desire to not take classes should prevent them from enjoying this social element of dance.
Will I try to motivate them to take classes if they cross my path? Hell yes.
Will I tell them that they must take classes, or get out of my social (or secretly wish it)? Hell no.
It is easy to conflate basic social dancers with being dangerous, but they’ve very rarely been the ones who have injured me – or made me feel unsafe.
The people who have most frequently hurt me are the people who have taken a limited number of classes (or skipped basic levels) and then decide they’ve ‘got it’, OR advanced dancers who are under the influence of alcohol. These are the follows who feel comfortable enough with their dance that they’ll throw themselves into dips. These are the leads who learned that pattern combination and will haul you through it – no matter how uncomfortable.
These are not the never-trained who use the same 5 basic patterns on repeat forever because that’s what they sort of were able to figure out and can do. Boring? Could be. Bad connection? Quite possibly. Unpleasant? Sure.
Dangerous? Not usually (note the usually).
It’s fine to not want to dance with those people; you have the right to say ‘no’. However, to claim that these people are ALL ‘dangerous’ does not do service to the actual idea of what a ‘dangerous’ dancer is.
A dangerous dancer is someone who puts the safety of other dancers at risk. A dangerous dancer can be any level, and be dancing with any level of partner. It can be the advanced leader who is drunk and takes their partner past their limits. It can be the self-dipping intermediate follow. It can be a beginner who thinks they’ve ‘got it’.
Of course, there can be some overlap between ‘dangerous’ dancers and ‘never been trained’ dancers. There are the YouTube watchers who try to wrestle with movements that they don’t understand, and the follow who emulates the way that an advanced dancer bends everywhere.
I usually have seen these overlaps when there is a dancer who ‘takes pride’ in the fact that they’ve never taken a class. This is a very different attitude from the person who just ‘wants to be social’ or ‘doesn’t have access/time/money’ for classes. Usually, this is a person who is looking to show off their ‘skills’ and doesn’t want to attribute their dance skills to lessons – formal or informal (‘I am a self-taught wonder!’ mentality).
But, from my experience, saying all untrained dancers do this is a very, very broad overstatement. Rather, like anything in life, situations should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Part of the reason for this is that you cannot always tell who is or is not taking classes.
There are people who have been taking regular classes for a decent amount of time, but still can barely execute movements socially. There are people who have never taken a class socially, who are able to fake the basics reasonably.
There are also the people who took classes, and got poor instruction as to what they should do… thus sometimes turning them into a dangerous dancer who legitimately believes they’ve been trained to do whatever it is they’re doing.
All of these categories CAN be dangerous. More importantly, whether or not they took classes does not change anything if they ARE dangerous – they are still dangerous, and I will still be very careful when dancing with them. Most importantly, it is impossible to judge whether or not they will be dangerous simply by whether they chose to take classes.
It is fine to say that you do not enjoy dancing with people who don’t take classes as much as dancing with well-trained dancers.
It is fine to say you wish people would get more training (I do!). If you feel unsafe, it is fine to talk to people who are dangerous about what your limits are. It is fine to decline to dance with anyone, for any reason, at any time. After all, it’s your body and your life.
It is not fine to tell people who are dancing safely (badly or not; trained or not) that they have no place at a social. It is not fine to say that these people have no business coming into the social dance scene. To do so is a form of intolerance in a space that is supposed to be about inclusion.
Even in the case of non-trained dancers, it is impossible to know what the situation is without getting to know the person.
I know single moms who squeeze in a couple hours of social dancing in off-hours when they happen to have a baby sitter, but have no money or time for regular classes. I know there are people who live hours away in places with no social dancing, who drive in just for the chance to social dance. I know peoples who go to socials on a regular basis to humor their romantic partner’s love of dancing, and fumble their way through a basic pattern week after week.
These people all have a place on our dance floors, provided that they are not dancing dangerously. Even if they can barely manage a basic step for months, they are allowed to be part of our community. You don’t have to dance with them, but you also can make a conscious choice to not judge them for their lack of classes.
Encourage them to classes, but don’t judge. Unless they’re dancing dangerously, the person doing the judging is doing more harm to the community than the person doing the (‘bad’) dancing.
When we judge others, we set up walls. If a person feels excluded, why would they want to take classes?
If you encourage them to join you and welcome them with open arms, suddenly your school or your classes look like a great place to be. It looks like a fun, social activity with accepting, fun-loving people.
Maybe if we switch from judging to motivating, we can get some of those never-trained people INTO classes – instead of driving them away.
Photo Credit: SV Photography