I was once the girl who though I danced better than I actually could. And you know what? Most of you probably were, too. Several of you probably still are.
Yes, there are a few people who are (sometimes too) humble. I’ve had students where I just wish they could get a shred of self-confidence to go with their dancing. But, I’d say it’s not the majority. Most students go through a period of know-it-all-ness. It’s just the way things work. (I like to refer to this as the ‘teenager’ dance period.)
So, let’s go through a personal case-study of me, who thought she could dance way better than she could.
In the beginning
I freakin’ sucked. My first dance teacher even suggested that dance just wasn’t my thing. I knew I was really bad – but I was also really stubborn. I stuck out the beginner classes and worked hard to get the Salsa basics down.
After about a year of taking beginner classes as both a lead and a follow, I felt pretty solid about my dancing. There was no one to take over the local university club, so I did. I started teaching Salsa basics. In comparison to the people around me, I knew more. Therefore, I felt like I’d ‘gotten it’.
When I went to Toronto, I knew people were better than me. I also knew I’d never be attempting to teach in Toronto anytime soon. But, I didn’t really think I was that far off. I was doing double spins. How much harder could it be to land a quad?
I was a mediocre social dancer, but I really thought that I was at least a high-level intermediate dancer relative to the Toronto scene.
(Spoiler: I wasn’t.)
I was surrounded by dancers better than me, but I really thought I was dancing at their level. Why? Because my dances were relatively successful, and people would say ‘yes’ to my requests for dances.
On top of feeling like I’d ‘gotten it’, I didn’t have money (or time) for lessons. I had 2 part-time jobs, full-time school, and access to only one local school.
Because I wasn’t taking lessons, I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t have someone I trusted who was able to guide me (positively) through the process of learning.
Instead, I was surrounded by people who thought I was great. My friends were usually people with less experience than me. The ruler that I was using to measure my own success stopped just a little past my own abilities.
But, for all my ego and lack of training, it wasn’t about not wanting to improve. I wanted to be a great dancer. I just didn’t have the resources (or knowledge) to know there was that much more.
When I started Zouk, I once again knew that I wasn’t good. But, I figured I wasn’t that bad. People were still willing to dance with me. I had a Salsa background.
Over the next few months, I figured I’d ‘gotten it’. The scene was small, and there were only a handful of truly experienced dancers. There was no Zouk school in my city. Once again, my tools for measuring my own ability were skewed in favour of me thinking I was stronger than I was.
My situation didn’t change until a year after I started the dance. It was only when my current partner started working with me as a mentor that I began to see beyond my own broken measures of success.
Suddenly, I began getting real training. I had a real mentor. I was exposed to people who could really do the dance well. It became obvious that I had a hell of a long way to go.
That mindset is still where I am now. Despite teaching locally and knowing that I am a reasonably strong follow and lead, I’m keenly aware of my deficits.
But, the only reason I am is because I’m constantly surrounded by people to look up to and that are open with me about my journey. If I were a social dancer without a mentor and without connections to the international community of professionals, I would very likely still think I was better than my actual abilities.
(Who knows? Perhaps I still do think I’m better than I am. After all, how would I be able to tell?)
When you encounter a dancer with an inflated sense of ability, you don’t need to tear them down. You can gently point them in the direction of classes. You can help mentor them, if you are in a position to do so. You can share stories from your past.
Regardless of how you handle it, recognize that this is a natural process. Until we know what lies beyond, we can’t know how much more we have to learn. If you don’t know about the existence of anything beyond multiplication, you may think you’re a genius mathematician when you master grade 4 math.
Yes, you can educate them. Yes, you can tell them there’s so much more. Yes, you can point out where they can focus on improving their skills.
But remember, be kind. These are not evil people who are out to ‘get’ you at socials. Rather, these are dancers who simply don’t have the fortune of knowing how much room they have to grow.