When someone tells you they’ve been dancing for 10 years, do you automatically expect that they’ll be a great dancer?
I used to. But, I’ve realized that there can be a massive difference in skill level between people who have been dancing the same length of time. That difference is primarily due to the difference between passive ‘experience’ and active ‘training’.
Dancers Under 1 Year
Before the first year mark, there’s not as much variation in levels. There are some who are stronger, and there are others who struggle more – but they generally have a similarly shallow pool of knowledge. Even the really dedicated dancers aren’t usually notably exceptional in the first year.
The 2-Year Professional vs. The 10-Year Hobbyist
These are two extremes. On one hand, you have the person who has been dancing a decade – but never really progressed that much. On the other, you have the person who has been dancing 2 years – but is sought out by professionals as a ‘fun’ partner.
The 2-Year Professional
The 2-Year Professional is not necessarily someone who is actively teaching or acting as a professional within the scene. This timeline more refers to the people who have achieved a level high enough to be on par with other local instructors (and, in exceptionally rare cases, internationals).
The 2-Year Professional is someone who started a dance, and took it very seriously. I’ve met dancers who travel the world to take several hours a day of private lessons with top professionals for a month. On their spare time, they work on their dancing. This includes thinking about dance, watching videos, and doing drills.
These people also frequently have other movement background to draw on. For example, solo-trained dancers, high-level crossover dancers from other partnered styles, martial artists, and elite athletes can usually learn a new style far more easily. It gives them a ‘head start’ in their dance progression.
Sometimes these people also get a practice partner (or three) to work with.
The result of all this training is that within a 2-year time frame, they have risen to become one of the ‘stars’ of their local scene.
The 10-Year Hobbyist
In contrast to the 2-Year Professional, the 10-Year Hobbyist is the person who never was all that motivated to ‘work’ at their dancing. A few fun, basic moves are awesome. A couple new patterns picked up from a congress adds a bit of spice.
But, drills? Practice partners? Private lessons? No, thank you.
These people can still be fun. Some can even feel really nice to dance with. There’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist – if you’re being safe and reasonable.
The Variable: Other Experience
This is where some people who are training but struggle with growth may get frustrated that they’re not progressing as fast as a colleague. Usually, this has to do with other movement background.
For example, a dancer with extensive ballet or other experience is usually going to pick up a lot faster than someone who exercises by typing on their keyboard at work.
When I’m looking at the picture of dance progression, I usually consider significant other movement experience as ‘training’, since it accelerates the learning curve.
Comparing the Two
The difference between the two types is training and exposure to dedicated learning time. Social dancing helps you improve – to a point.
But, social dancing in lieu of training can lead to bad habits and ruts. Frequently, avid social dancers are unaware of all the technical details they are missing.
What the 2-Year Professional does that the 10-Year Hobbyist neglects is dedicated quality practice time. This is quality time that you spend honing your craft. Whether it’s classes, dedicated practice partners, privates, or personal movement studies, all the different types of training improve your base.
The other important vector is the quantity of time spent practicing and dancing. For example, is the Hobbyist dancing once per month, while the 2-Year Professional dances three times per week?
That’s a massive difference in exposure. After only 4 weeks, the 2-Year Professional has gained the same amount of experience that the Hobbyist will get in a year. This is compounded by the fact that they will retain more, since the instances of dance are closer together.
That doesn’t mean that the Hobbyist is bad. They just don’t have training as a priority. Which is fine – as long as they don’t conflate ‘experience’ with ‘training’.
In dancing, the length of time you’ve been dancing is far less important than the amount of time you’ve actually spent dancing and training. Instead of assessing a dancer’s level or expertise by how long they’ve been dancing, ask questions about their training and exposure. Ask how often they dance, and who they learned from. Ask if they did other dances or sports beforehand.
Most of the time, we ask about someone’s experience as a way to benchmark our own learning. It’s easy to feel like we’re a ‘fast’ learner after a couple years of intense training, or that we’re terrible if someone who has been dancing 3 years less is a stronger dancer. But, we sometimes fail to take into account the more accurate qualifiers of dance skill.
I love your dance brain!! You need a book!
This makes sense. However, I might be more careful in saying the ten-year hobbyist isn’t motivated as sometimes life can get in the way. Time and money aren’t always plentiful, and some people experience physical and/or mental illnesses.
At one point, my local dance scene was holding auditions for intermediate/advanced classes, which I gathered was to include both intermediate and advanced dancers not just advanced intermediates and advanced dancers. (I may have been wrong about that, which was one problem.) I had been experiencing some depression before this happened and was unable to make myself get to the weekly dances in time for the lessons but had taken some classes the year before. I also couldn’t afford to travel frequently but had traveled on occasion through the years and took local workshops when I could. There was also a weekly or monthly practice session that I would have attended were it not held in a house with animals I’m highly allergic too.
Around that time, I heard a lot of talk about dedication and gathered some scene leaders did not think I was dedicated enough. I auditioned repeatedly and could not get into these classes. Years later, I realized that part of it was an issue with dance/teaching styles. The other part of it was the clique in the scene. Enough people were frustrated by this situation that eventually they had feedback sessions after the audition. Some stopped coming as frequently.
While most of my skills were rated as average to good, my ability to incorporate the class material was rated as high. And, yet, I still couldn’t get in. Then I learned that most of the people in the class were the same people attending the practice sessions that I was physically unable to attend, and I heard that part of what they were looking for was “dedication”.
The past few years, I haven’t been dancing as much because life has gotten in the way again. I’m comfortable where I am now and know my dancing has suffered a bit and would like to get back to some basic classes to practice fundamentals when I can. While I’d place myself as beginner/intermediate in terms of classes now, there are other long-time dancers in my scene who would rate me as a solid intermediate. The truth is probably someplace in between, as I tend to be somewhat more self-deprecating now than I was.
I know I was much more skilled back then than I am now even if I was overestimating my abilities. While maybe I wasn’t as skilled as I thought I was, I was more skilled than I was given credit for in my local scene. (Feedback from another, more advanced, scene did help me feel better about my skill level back then.) It was completely demoralizing to have gone through that experience, though.
I’m not sure what my point is exactly other than to be a little careful in judging people’s motivation and dedication. It’s not always easy to tell what else is going on in someone’s life. Thankfully, many things have changed in the scene, and I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now. The scene feels nowhere near as judgemental as it once was. While I still don’t have the time or money to get out as much as I’d like or take the classes I’d like to, I feel much more welcome in the scene. It’s nice to know that it’s waiting for me once I’m ready to jump in head first again.
Thank you for all your wonderful advice, yes you alright all above, more U exposure yourself with different instructor and they skills with a lots of practices made a big difference. I will keep my butts to do that. ?
I often get ask by people how long I have been dancing a certain dance. It’s tricky to answer them as I do multiple dances. If I dance certain dance once a week, I guess I am a hobbist and social dancer. Certain dance like Zouk is non existence where I’m from so I may not dance in for weeks or months. What is a good way to answer those questions?
I dance once a week at class, every third day at home and few times a week with my friend. I have been dancing for 8 years but still I am really bad at it and my movements look awful. Am I doing something wrong or is it not enough? I do my own choreos sometimes, take both classes that are on my level and ones that are more challenging, and I also learn by copying dances from youtube and watching dance videos in my free time. I stretch and do full body strength training every third day as well.