Most of us have heard about the five ‘love languages’, when applied to our interpersonal relationships. Some people prefer loving words, while others prefer giving and receiving gifts. Some like actions that show love, and others like physical touch. Some just like the person they care about to be present and engaged.
This got me thinking: maybe there’s ‘love languages’ in dance. Maybe part of what makes us connect with certain partners comes down to what connects best with us.
TDG Note: Article updated in Jan 2021 with quizzes and additional details.
The Dance Love Languages
Just like the original love languages, all the dance love languages are based on the idea of connection. But, the difference lies in what kind of connection is used, and the dominant characteristic a person seeks from connection.
Of course, no dancer is ‘confined’ to one love language – or prefers it all the time. Sometimes, it can depend on the partner or the music. But, for most dancers, there are one or two that speak to them more strongly than the others.
The Six Dance Love Languages are Energy, Deep Connection, Challenge, Playfulness, Expression, and Creativity.
What you crave: Exhilaration and Flow
- Your Pet Peeve: Not dancing full-out
- Want to be known for: Embodying the spirit of the dance!
- Worst nightmare: Not being able to use footwork
Energetic dancers want to be invigorated by their dances. This doesn’t mean complexity, but it does mean that they want to leave the dance with that energized feeling of really having fully danced.
These are the dancers who connect best when their partner is going all-out in their execution. They don’t mind sweat; it makes them feel like they really did something. They don’t mind that feeling of being out of breath. In fact, their perfect dance may leave them feeling just a little drained at the end of a particularly great song.
Many Energetic dancers are also fairly rhythm-centric in musical tastes and gravitate to rhythm-centric dances that give them the opportunity to really work their body and find that energized flow. In many cases, this can be a more traditional approach. They’re also likely to prize things like “Sabor”, “Energia”, or the “Spice” of a dance. Starting and stopping constantly, experiments, and standing-and-hugging are not likely to satisfy them fully.
Energetic Dancer Thoughts:
- “I love capturing the soul of the dance.”
- “It needs more [Sabor/Energia/Spice/Soul]!”
- “The worst thing is when people just stand on the spot and do nothing. How boring!”
- “My favourite music has a nice, strong beat.”
- “I don’t mind sweat at all. It means you’re really dancing!”
- Love rhythmic expression; frequently will mention Sabor, Energia, or Spice (if applicable to the dance)
- Very high energy – can go forever
- The flow and expression of using their whole body thrills them
- Can be frustrated by being forced to stop and chill
- Prefer classes where they get to move a lot, as opposed to long explanations or drills
Strengths and Weaknesses
Energetic dancers can dance forever. They’re able to just go, go, go – which means you’ll usually find them doing everything during the day and dancing all night long.
While they may not think of dance as physical fitness, they’re really getting a workout whenever they show up. They’re there to throw down and sweat – which is a great approach to social dance. Sometimes, they struggle with slowing down and taking it easy – or focusing on a class’ more nuanced technical elements.
Energetic dancers can be some of the dancers most likely to backlead or ignore partner cues when they get swept away in the passion of the dance.
Social Dancing Strategies for Energetic Dancers
1) Give breathing room. Not everyone can go forever, and not every song is energy from start to finish. Learn how to take it easy, and provide breaks for less energetic partners.
2) Pay attention to partner limits and requests. Remember to wait just a little longer to make sure you aren’t ahead of your partner, and that they’re up for what you’re suggesting.
3) Find energy in your own body. Energy can be a very internal experience; it does not have to be outward. There are ways to use your feet, arms, and body to channel the energy you have into your own body – making you a much more compatible partner for less-energetic dancers.
What you crave: Fun!
- Your Pet Peeve: Partners who won’t smile with you.
- Want to be known for: Being the “Fun, Comfortable Partner”
- Worst nightmare: Making their partner uncomfortable
The dancers who prize Playfulness just want to have fun. They don’t care as much about the sensuality or challenge, but they do want a partner who engages them in play. Whether it’s quirky patterns of movement with a twist or a particularly fun interpretation of a lyric, they want a partner who will come into the sandbox of creation with them.
They love the sense of teamwork that comes from experimentation or creation. This is different from Creatives, who get their joy from the act of creating itself, rather than the partner’s reaction and engagement. Their perfect dance is one where partners are OK at laughing at a weird moment or misstep, and where the ‘perfection’ of the dance takes a backseat to the exploration of fun.
Playful dancers come in several flavours; most are at least a little silly-ish. Some like to act out lyrics; others like to do unexpected, silly things in the middle of the dance. Some just like to share funny looks, or “break the seriousness” of a partner; others have a “flirty” play style. All of them are looking for the payoff in their partner’s reaction. The key differentiator between a Playful and an Expressive is that the Playful dancer is more concerned with their partner’s fun than the music’s interpretation.
Playful Dancer Thoughts:
- “Every dance party is an opportunity to meet fun, new people.”
- “The worst dancers are the ones that make you feel like you are a bad partner.”
- “My favourite dancers are the ones that make their partners smile.”
- “The biggest compliment I’ve received is that I turned someone’s night around.”
- “I will only keep dancing as long as it is fun for me.”
- Most likely to get a laugh from their audience or partner
- One of the most beginner-friendly types
- Often more silly, goofy, or light-hearted than other types
- A smile and open body language draws them instantly
- Often a more social type of social dancer
- Mistakes are easy to laugh off as long as it isn’t making their partner uncomfortable; an unhappy-seeming partner is far more serious
- Drawn to fun or interesting moments when watching others dance
Strengths and Weaknesses
Playful dancers are typically the person who ends up with a long line of beginners referred to them by friends, or the one known for taking the stress off some of the more serious, perfectionistic dancers.
Many find these people low-stress to dance with, where they can just “be themselves” and let loose. They’re often the safe, friendly presence that puts everyone at ease. In a sense, they’re the “class clowns” of the social dance world.
Playful dancers may struggle with more serious dancer types, who might find their charming antics more embarrassing than fun. Others may struggle with predicting what’s coming next, which may throw them off their groove.
Social Dancing Strategies for Playful Dancers
1) Read the room. Some people have varying degrees of enjoyment (or tolerance) for play. For example, some people are all-in for rolling on the floor and doing “weird stuff”. Some won’t instigate, but they’ll certainly follow you into it. Others would be mortified if their partner suddenly started acting out the lyrics. You can maximize your partner’s reception by paying attention to what they like, and starting with small moments.
2) Don’t neglect structure. Play is fantastic, but it needs a technical framework to hang on. You’ll find more partners are able to follow your playful style and be willing to contribute if they can speak a common base language with you.
3) Use your superpower, but preserve yourself. You are one of the types of dancers that is easiest to approach for new or intimidated dancers – but it’s important that you set boundaries for yourself as well. Learn to say “no” when you’re not up for a dance – otherwise, you might find yourself burned out from not taking time to recharge.
What you crave: Perfect Synchronicity
- Your Pet Peeve: Not prioritizing a good partner connection
- Want to be known for: Feeling good to dance with
- Worst nightmare: Being rough or uncomfortable to dance with
Deep Connectors want to shut out the world and be one with their partner. What they see means little; what they feel means everything. Most would rather go slow and simple to preserve a perfect connection, as opposed to fast or complex movements that break it.
To them, the ‘perfect dance’ is perfectly in sync with their partner. Other elements of the dance are great, too – musicality, complexity, and creativity – but they’re not as important as the magical feeling of connection. Often, Deep Connectors are most likely to misidentify as an Expression dancer – but critically, an Expression dancer’s joy comes from the music first, rather than the physical touch of their partner.
Deep Connection Dancer Thoughts:
- “I love partners that make me feel safe and taken care of.”
- “I don’t care what I look like as much; I just want to feel good.”
- “The worst thing is a rough or inconsiderate partner.”
- “I have trouble trusting a partner that I’ve had a bad dance with in the past.”
- “I find it easier to learn through feeling and closing my eyes than thinking about what to do right.”
- Most likely to have their eyes closed.
- More sensitive to “rough” dancers
- Take connection errors more seriously; can be prone to beating themselves up about not following or leading ‘well enough’
- Prize feel over look.
- Not usually competitive, and often care little for shows.
- May prefer dancing with safe, known partners than managing the unknown of a possibly rough new connection.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Deep Connection dancers often do best in close-hold dances or with slower music that gives time for them to sync up with their partner. Immediately fast or energetic dances like Salsa or Lindy Hop can present more barriers to entry than Kizomba, Brazilian Zouk, or Tango.
Deep Connection dancers are often more comfortable with physical touch than their peers, often possessing an uncanny ability to “tune in” to or relax their partners – but are also more sensitive to disturbances in connection. They can be easier to shake out of “the zone”, or feel depressed or upset after a bad or disconnected dance.
Many also are introverted or shy, with a smaller, tighter circle of friends within the scene. In many ways, dance can be an internal experience shared with another person – which may prevent them from finding and enjoying new connections when their social safety net is available.
Social Dancing Strategies for Deep Connectors
1) Set the expectation early. As a Deep Connector, you’re likely better at helping to draw out the good, comfy feelings than other styles. Even entering a dance, try to bring your partner into your yummy, marshmallow world before they run down a different path.
2) Learn how to communicate your needs. Most Deep Connectors are really good at feeling their partner out, but many struggle with making their own needs known. Figure out how to use body language to ask for what you need – and work on using rehearsed and kind verbal prompts before you start resenting your partner’s inattention to the connection. Especially with beginner dancers, this may involve multiple reminders for the same issues.
3) Meet them halfway. Not everyone is great at matching a partner’s connection – but it’s probably one of your strengths. Finding their wavelength can help resolve some of those less-than-perfect moments – without your partner even being aware! This is often easier to do with your eyes open, as it lets you spot visual cues to better inform their physical body language.
What you crave: Pushing the Envelope
- Your Pet Peeve: Not trying new things for fear of failure
- Want to be known for: Being a great dancer
- Worst nightmare: Being written off as unable to do something
The dancers who want to be constantly pushed towards greater things are Challenge dancers. They often love tricks, dips, and challenging movements. Leads may enjoy seeing if they can ‘get the most’ out of their partners, while the follows may enjoy leads that ‘push the envelope’ with things they’ve never seen before.
Of course, these dancers still love connected dances and dislike dangerous partners. But, for them, a dance that doesn’t keep them on their toes leaves them wanting more. They want to see how many one-footed turns they can hold – and don’t mind trying several times in one song. Their perfect dance makes them feel like they have accomplished more than they thought they could.
Challenge dancers are one of the less likely types to identify as something else, but most often have Playful, Creative, or Energy tendencies.
Challenge Dancer Thoughts:
- “I see so many cool things I want to learn!”
- “I hate it when I see a dancer doing cool stuff with other partners, and then they don’t do any of it with me!”
- “I want to try that again; this time I’ll get it!”
- “I have a list of concrete dance goals I want to achieve, including one-footed turns, splits, and a really cool dip I saw this one time.”
- “I get frustrated if I just can’t seem to make something work.”
- Most likely to be in a Lifts and Tricks class
- Love complex patterns, and spend a lot of time breaking them down
- More likely to work on body conditioning to ‘unlock’ more potential
- Often drawn to competitions, shows, and lifts
- Goal-oriented and driven (“I want to do that!”)
- Sometimes prone to taking mistakes too seriously, but willing to work to overcome them
- Most likely to be bored by a limited repertoire
Strengths and Weaknesses
Challenge dancers frequently do well in competitions and performance – as long as they’ve mastered the basics of connection and musicality as well. Many are often driven towards great technical proficiency and are hard workers. After all, strong technique and a capable body open up far more possibilities to do more.
They’re also most likely to try new things, and to be less timid about errors. In short: they’re the daredevils of the dance world, and are often responsible for creating inspiring, visually-appealing lifts, tricks, and shows. They can also be very driven and goal-oriented, as they see things they want to do and commit fully to learning it.
Most of the risks for Challenge dancers come in the early stages – before they understand the basics of connection and technique. They are more prone to self-dipping, rough leading, and forceful movements than most other types, and usually need some mentorship to move through their early dance journey without developing a bad name for themselves.
These types are often the most easily-bored type of dancer, as they have an ever-increasing appetite for higher-level content. This is why high-level Challenge dancers are frequently less visible on a social floor than spending long hours in the practice studio or rehearsing for the big show.
Social Dancing Strategies for Challengers
1) Check in with your partner. You are probably more risk-tolerant and ambitious in your repertoire than many other dancers, which means that you need to be conscious that not everyone may be up for what you have to offer. Verbal check-ins (“is this OK for you?”) can be very useful for Challenge dancers who struggle with non-verbal cues.
2) Learn how to dance safely, early. Challenge dancers, as the most ambitious type, are also most likely to find themselves with dangerous habits. Learning and workshopping those issues is critical, particularly whenever dealing with a new concept or trick. For example, follows should take care to manage their weight in dips and drops; leads need to make sure their partner is capable and willing to execute what they ask. In addition, Challenge dancers are one of the types that will benefit most from making sure their connection and technical principles are well-established to support all the crazy stuff they really want to do.
3) Challenge yourself. In many ways, Challenge dancers are likely to have the most difficulty finding partners who can safely deliver what they’re craving. Challenge dancers can benefit from taking a page from the Energetic handbook: find ways of putting the energy in your own body to challenge and push the envelope in a way that doesn’t rely on your partner.
What you crave: Musicality and Expression
- Your Pet Peeve: Dancing the same way, regardless of music.
- Want to be known for: Musicality and interpretation
- Worst nightmare: Songs where they can’t find the rhythm
Expression-based dancers just want to interpret the music. Within that, there are two main subtypes: Emotive and Technical. Both types usually prize being “on time” very highly. After all, how can you express the music if you aren’t dancing to it?
Expressives often mistype as Deep Connection, Creative, or Playful dancers. But, the critical difference is that their explorations are tied to music first; the others are secondary to how well what they are doing matches the music. For example, they’re playful to a playful song – but don’t necessarily treat a sad or serious song that way.
Technical Expression dancers love intricate musicality. They study how to best “hit” the music, different ways to create musical accents, and enjoy using a mastery of technique to display the full range of patterns in a song. They may understand and appreciate the emotions behind a particular song – but the expression for them is how their technicality illustrates the song rather than their body feeling the emotion. They’re more likely to use counts and structure to analyze the song than to simply let the feeling wash over them.
Emotive Expression dancers want emotion, texture, and contrast in the feeling of their dance. They may be less married to particular technical expressions of music, but they want their body and the feeling of the dance to shape itself to the dominant themes of. For example: where are the tense moments of the song; when it is relaxed? Is it romantic? Sad? Powerful? This does not mean they don’t care about the rhythm or timing – but they’re more likely to intuitively feel timing than cerebrally analyze it.
Expression Dancer Thoughts:
- “I love this song! There are so many great opportunities for musicality!”
- “The worst thing is a bad DJ or an undanceable song.”
- “I’m just not feeling this music.”
- “I wish I could get my body to do all the cool things I think about doing to this song.”
- “I love to listen and think about what I can do to different songs at home.”
- Being on time is very important (After all, how can you interpret a song if you aren’t on time?)
- Likely to be very attached to what music is played, and follow specific DJs or musical tastes.
- Might use “bad” music or DJs as their break time.
- More likely than average to decline a dance because they don’t like the song.
- Often can visualize or think about what they want to do to a specific song – even if they’re not able to physically do it (yet)
Strengths and Weaknesses
Expressives are some of the most versatile dancers. Almost all dancers enjoy musicality to extent, and competitions or shows frequently reward good musical expression.
Expressives can run the risk of putting the music above their partner, and forgetting to bring them along for the ride. For Technical Expressives, this can manifest in an on-and-off connection or a sense of aloofness.
Music makes or breaks an Expressive. You likely have terrible dances when you don’t like the music, and amazing dances when you love it – sometimes regardless of your partner!
Social Dancing Strategies for Expressives
1) If the expression isn’t working, see if your partner is on the same musical wavelength. As an Expressive, it’s likely you’re stronger at finding cool ways to interpret the music than your partner. Learn the skill of adjusting what you interpret to the skill level and abilities of your partner. This may mean staying in a “safer” emotional interpretation, or simplifying your technical patterns. Follows particularly can benefit from finding ways to interpret musicality in their own body without disrupting their partner’s ideas.
2) Listen to your partner as much as the music. The music might be your ruler, but it might not be your partner’s. Make sure your connection to your partner shares the spotlight with your connection to the music. You’ll be in a better position to suggest your musical ideas if you are in it together.
3) Give yourself permission to sit out a song. You’re at your best when you are feeling the music. If the music isn’t speaking to you, find a go-to polite decline. Otherwise, it might just feel to your partner like a pity dance – and no one enjoys that!
What you crave: New, creative ways of dancing
- Your Pet Peeve: Only doing what you learned in class
- Want to be known for: Their originality and creativity
- Worst nightmare: Being forced to dance within a box
Dancers who communicate through Creativity want to always do something new – or in a new way. They want to ‘break the rules’ and engage in co-operative creation. Regular or common movements are Ok in small doses, but they don’t satisfy the Creative.
Their perfect partner is the person who approaches each dance as a blank canvas. They love when their partner adds something unexpected, or explores a new dimension of movement. They’d rather take a bumpy path less traveled, than the ‘safe’ path everyone else uses.
One of the hardest things for a Creative is to be told exactly how they’re supposed to do something. Many may mistype as an Expressive or a Playful dancer. However, a Creative gets fulfillment from the act of creating itself, as opposed to their partner’s reaction or the music’s interpretation.
Creative Dancer Thoughts:
- “Dance is all about exploring possibilities!”
- “I don’t want to be told I can’t or shouldn’t do things.”
- “I find really structured classes difficult; I prefer feeling or creativity classes.”
- “There’s no such thing as a mistake.”
- “Late night is the best! You can do whatever you want with no judgment.”
- Most likely to be the one rolling on the floor
- Capable of leaving the music for the sake of exploring a possibility
- Very rarely consider something a “mistake”
- Can be frustrated by too much structure or too many rules
- Usually attracted to unconventional dancers, styling, or music
- Not usually competitive in their dance; it’s about their journey
Strengths and Weaknesses
Creative dancers are frequently the innovators of a dance community. They’re constantly coming up with new, cool things that others want to emulate.
Creative dancers also tend to have a healthy attitude towards not taking the dance itself too seriously, with mistakes being an opportunity for trying something new as opposed to a “wrong” decision.
Creative dancers can struggle with respecting the technical framework of a dance, and with partners who really need clarity. After all, a partner who is prone to thinking they did something “wrong” is unlikely to appreciate the lack of right answers that Creative dancers embrace!
Social Dancing Strategies for Creative Dancers
1) Keep an eye on the floor. Creatives are among the dancers most prone to not paying attention to the flow or spacing on the floor. Make sure that your experiments respect any rules or limitations of your space
2) Don’t neglect technique. Learning the rules is the best way to break them successfully! If you’re able to learn the common base that everyone else seems to be caught up in, you’re more likely to be successful in bringing others into your creative sandbox.
3) Recognize partner stress. Some partners – particularly technique-focused ones – can be prone to beating themselves up over mistakes. Your sandbox can sometimes look a lot like a pile of mistakes they’re making, instead of a fun co-creation experiment. So, let them in on the fact that you’re “trying something out” or “experimenting” to help them let go of their need for being correct.
More than One Language
Of course, it is completely possible to resonate with more than one category – and most people enjoy a mix of these languages. You might enjoy being challenged – but only when it expresses the music. Or, you may enjoy a deep connection, but love playfulness and energy at the same time.
These languages are also useful to helping us connect better with other people. Regardless of what you enjoy, you’ll become a more desired dance partner if you can read what your partner is craving.
For example, if you notice that you can’t get a partner to play back, try switching to a different dominant style. Maybe what they’re craving is a deep, close connection. Or, maybe they want to do something more energetic.
What languages resonate most with you? Did we miss one that you think should make the list?