If we’ve been social dancing for any length of time, we know that one of the golden rules is to ‘never teach on the dancefloor’. It’s irritating, it’s rude, and it makes your partner feel really crappy.
I’m not talking about the follow who requests that their hands not be squeezed, or the lead who requests a follow not to self-dip. I’m talking about those <s> lovely </s> individuals who stop a dance to explain to you what you’re doing ‘wrong’ and how to fix it.
I’m talking about things like this personal anecdote:
I once had a guy ‘correct’ me on a tango step I had never heard of. With any intermediate+ lead, I was able to execute it because of the lead’s skill. Yes, I wasn’t doing it perfectly – but it worked because the leads were compensating for my non-knowledge.
With this newer lead, I was having a hard time following the step. This was because he had not yet mastered his own ability to lead the step to a point where he could compensate for me. No biggie… until he stopped the dance to glower at me and inform me that I should be doing (insert name of step I didn’t know), followed by a mid-song lesson on the step.
It was neither nice nor effective, and just made me irritated. Really irritated. So irritated I have yet to dance with him again.
But… why? Why was I so very irritated by this encounter? Why do we feel that one of the greatest faux-pas is people seeking to share their knowledge? And, is it ever OK?
When you teach on the floor, you’re likely irritating your partner for one of two reasons:
- They know you have no clue what you’re doing, and are pissed you’re giving them a lecture on something you shouldn’t be; or,
- They know they have no clue what they are doing, and are now upset because you have taken time out of the dance to point out how much they suck (or at least, that’s what it feels like).
Both of these are saying ‘I know more than you’, even if one is simply horribly misguided. So basically, you have the people who are irritating because:
- They’re throwing their superiority in the face of someone who already knows they’re not as strong; or,
- They *think* they know more (but really don’t)… thus irritating their partner by virtue of possessing an ego much larger than their actual skill set.
No one likes someone telling them ‘I know more than you’, even if it’s true.
It’s even more irritating if it’s NOT true. If you really ARE a stronger dancer than your partner, they probably already know that. They don’t need it thrown in their face during a fun dance.
But, the majority of offenders in the ‘teaching on the floor’ category are people who do not have the expertise to actually help their partner understand.
Superiority: the reason dancefloor lessons are SO irritating
No one likes being treated like an inferior on their night out. When we correct a partner during a social dance, it immediately puts us on a pedestal of superiority.
Justify it as we like, teaching on the social floor is almost always rooted in ego and superiority. It does not matter how well-intentioned, how brief, or whether 1 out of every 20 partners actually enjoys the advice; the reason we are giving advice stems from us.
It stems from our need to be looked up to as a dancer.
It stems from our desire to ‘help,’ which is a way to make ourselves feel good.
It stems from frustration that our partner isn’t getting something that we think they should.
The other problem with advice-giving is that it establishes a teacher-student power dynamic in what is supposed to be a social atmosphere. While teacher-student dynamics are great in the classroom between an actual teacher and student, it’s not appropriate for the social floor. Even when actual teachers are social dancing, they’re not trying to create a teacher-student dynamic.
On the social floor, the best dances happen between two equals.
Why are people who don’t know what they’re doing usually the ones ‘teaching’ on the floor?
The people who are teaching on the floor are usually ‘teaching’ because they’re not able to effectively compensate for their partner.
In dance, we’re constantly compensating for each other’s mistakes. However, many ‘floor teachers’ believe that the issues that are present in the dance are squarely the result of the partner’s incompetence. Thus, they decide to ‘help’ and ‘correct’ their partner to bring them up to speed.
What they don’t realize is that the mistakes are partially because they’re not leading or following properly.
I have no need to correct beginners on the dance floor. Why? I can work with their mistakes. Their basic went wonky? No big deal. Frame is not present? Whatever. I can provide frame for the both of us, if necessary.
But, what if you put two newer dancers together? A lot more things suddenly go wrong, simply because neither can effectively take care of the other, yet.
All you need is an over-inflated ego on one of the newer dancers to begin ‘blaming’ their partner and ‘helping’ them get better. Very often, they’ll defend themselves by thinking that since the move worked on an advanced dancer, it’s their partner’s fault.
The other group of people who frequently teach on the dance floor are the ones who are looking to bump up their own ego.
This is the dynamic you see when a so-experienced man takes a very new woman, and spends time ‘getting to know her’ by ‘teaching’ her how to dance. Of course, it doesn’t have to be experienced man to new girl, but it is the most common dynamic I’ve seen.
The ‘teacher’ gets to feel important, attractive and special because they have the attention of a person they’re likely attracted to. Thus, they get an ego boost.
Very often, the ‘student’ may:
- Not realize the ‘teacher’ actually has no idea what they’re talking about
- Feel like they should be ‘grateful’, even if the advice makes them feel bad
- Get confused or overwhelmed by badly-presented information
- Develop bad habits from bad advice
- Injure their bodies because they tried to follow the ‘instructions’
Basically, it’s almost always a bad idea. There may be some people who ‘appreciate’ advice or on-floor teaching, but they are in the minority and can still be negatively impacted by floor teaching.
“But what about the well-intentioned ones?”
I’ve yet to meet a dancer in the scene who had bad intentions as the motivation for teaching. Most of the people who teach on the dance floor legitimately believe they’re doing a service.
Some believe they’re improving their inexperienced partner, or that they’re contributing to a better dance by correcting mistakes. Some do it to make themselves feel important and valued. Some feel that others should be grateful for their opinion and help. Most think they’re legitimately doing a wanted thing.
What they fail to realize is that the way they are trying to help is rude. It’s like interrupting a golf game to tell a friend how to properly align their swing. Are the intentions to help? Almost certainly. Is the intention to make the person giving advice look smart, benevolent, and helpful? Of course.
What does it actually look like? A person interrupting a perfectly fun game to nitpick.
“But they asked for feedback!”
Practice and feedback between two consenting dancers is great – away from the social dance floor!
Even if a partner asks for feedback, I’d suggest smiling and just saying that you’re there to dance. Generally speaking, feedback should be saved for practices and off-floor time. If someone requests feedback and you want to practice with that person, suggest moving away from the dance floor.
In addition to not making you look like a floor teacher, it also removes the hazard that stationary couples pose for the floorcraft and safety of dancing couples.
What if the person is brand new?
This is probably the only good exception to teaching on the floor. Brand-new dancers need somewhere to start. Even so, there’s a specific order of operations that should be followed regarding how much to teach them.
First, if the new person came with a friend, let that friend direct the teaching. If they ask you to help, feel free. If they are spending time with the person, let them be.
If the person asks for your help, then feel free to help them – within limits. The limits can look something like this:
- Help them understand the basic step
- Do the basic step to their speed (NOT the music)
- Help them understand the timing, if they’ve got the step
- Give simple cues that don’t confuse them. (Ex: Follow your elbows; don’t use your thumbs, change weight every step.)
- If they screw up, give them a chance to breathe and re-start.
- Correct them every time they get a step wrong
- Force them on timing
- Start teaching dips, non-basic patterns, and styling
- Get technical
- Re-teach the basic every time they screw up (just start again!)
Don’t be a dancefloor teacher, unless you’re bringing a brand-new person into the scene. Once that person has taken a few lessons, it’s time to stop ‘coaching’ them on the floor.
Unless you are a teacher in a classroom, you should not be teaching dance. Even if you are usually a teacher, the social floor is not the place to give unsolicited advice!
Have thoughts on dancefloor teaching? Leave them in the comments below!