Are you someone who constantly feels like you’re ‘taking one for the team’ when you go dancing or get involved in the community? You might be a dance martyr.

Dance martyrs are characterized by feeling like they’re sacrificing their own joy, standard of living, or other happiness by giving back to the dance scene.

Dance martyrs can be anyone. They can be the dancer who begrudgingly accepts every dance – even if they didn’t want to. It can be the volunteer who makes the organizer feel guilty asking for help. It can be the professional who makes people feel obligated to support them because of their sacrifice.

Basically, it refers to anyone who emphasizes how ‘good’ they are to the scene by what they have ‘sacrificed.’

The thing is, martyrdom is not a ‘good’ thing. It makes others feel like a burden. Whether you’re a pro or a social dancer, making your fellow dancers feel like a burden is not a good thing. It makes them feel responsible for your sacrifice and misery – or roll their eyes at your dramatics.

When you are a dance martyr, you directly negate any good you have done by your attitude towards your ‘good deed.’

The Pity-Dance Martyr

The classic example of the dance martyr is the person who gives ‘pity dances’. When they accept a dance, they visibly broadcast how ‘charitable’ they’re being to their partner. They clearly show that they would really prefer to be doing something else – but that they’re ‘sticking it out’ anyways.

For the partner of these dancers, the reaction is a process:

  1. The partner immediately regrets asking for or accepting the dance, but hopes that the martyr’s attitude will change when the dance starts
  2. The partner realizes the martyr is not receptive to attempts to engage in the dance, and concentrates on just ‘getting through it’
  3. The partner feels shitty about their dancing. If it’s a beginner, they may decide dancing is not for them and leave the scene
  4. The partner dubs the martyr a snob, or decides to never ask them for a dance again

The martyr said ‘yes’ to the dance (a ‘good deed’), but at what cost? They gain a reputation as a snob, and they’ve left their partner with a terrible feeling.

A pity dance martyr can be any level. There are pro’s and average social dancers who give pity dances. The ‘victims’ of their pity dances can also be any level. The dominant characteristic is the martyr accepting a dance they don’t want, and refusing to attempt to engage fully in the dance they agreed to.

Escaping Pity Dance Martyrism

If you’re noticing some of these trends in yourself, that’s OK. Even the best of us succumb to it once in a while.

Avoiding dance martyrism is a mental game. You have to set yourself up to fix your own attitude and overcome problems, rather than blame external influences.

For example, the pity-dance martyr can be reworked a couple ways:

  • Revising a personal ‘never say no’ policy
  • Putting on a faux-enthusiastic face if you’re determined to uphold a never-say-no policy
  • Finding ways to turn ‘obligation’ dances into ‘fun’ dances
    (ex. building tolerance for low-level or faux-pas dancers)
  • Giving preference to creating an engaging dance, rather than a ‘good’ dance
  • Learning to give only when you’re comfortable not getting a ‘return’

The bottom line is that you need to stop making other people feel guilty because of your ‘kindness’. If you are making someone else feel bad in order to feed your desire to be appreciated or appear benevolentyou’re actually creating a less-kind atmosphere.

Note: this does not mean you can’t talk about real issues in your life with friends. This is exclusively about not making others feel bad because of something you’ve ‘given’ them – like a pity dance, or other dance-related support.

Putting on a ‘Happy Face’

Yes, it’s OK to ‘put on’ a happy face. If I’m starting a dance with that beginner who is (quite literally) shaking as we get onto the dance floor, I will put on an enthusiastic face. Why? Because their comfort, joy and inspiration is more important to me than my desire to have an amazing technical dance.

No, I’m not “lying” by looking enthusiastic. I’m enthusiastic about the possibility of them joining the scene. I’m enthusiastic about them getting inspired, and wanting to learn more. I’m enthusiastic about wanting to give them a great dance.

And, even if I’m not enthusiastic, I’m not going to make them feel like I’m doing them a ‘favour’ by dancing with them.

If you really can’t find something to be (or at least appear) enthusiastic about, say ‘no’. You’ll be doing far less harm by saying ‘no’ than if you give them 4 minutes of pity-time to feel like they didn’t live up to your expectations. You’re not doing anyone any good by giving them the ‘honor’ of an unenthusiastic dance.

Don’t be a Pity-Dance Martyr!

Practice enthusiastic consent, or polite ‘no’s – with all dancers, of all levels, at all times.