Instructor Paralysis is when social dancers get so nervous about dancing with an instructor that they lose their ability to dance well. While this condition is most prolific when people dance with international instructors, it can occur with any dancer you perceive as stronger than you. It can also happen if it’s simply someone you really would like to impress.

It’s similar to how awkward many of us get around a romantic crush. The big difference is that Instructor Paralysis happens with dance crushes instead.


Instructor Paralysis can manifest in different ways. Common symptoms include:

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Forgetting to step
  • Rushing, or simply being off-time
  • Profuse sweating and a racing heart
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Frequent apologies, or explanations for perceived mistakes
  • Backleading, or over-leading
  • “Terrified Deer” eyes

If this sounds like something you’ve experienced, you’re not alone.

How it feels to have Instructor Paralysis

The horrible thing about Instructor Paralysis is that it stems from wanting to do well. People who suffer from this really care about having a good dance. This can be related to wanting to not ‘let down’ the more advanced partner, or ‘prove’ that you’re a good partner in hopes of maybe snagging another dance later.

But, this pressure to do well ends up creating a mountain of anxiety. It’s really, really, hard to relax into a dance if you’re crazy anxious.

Things that make Instructor Paralysis worse or better

For the afflicted

Most of the work you can do to alleviate your symptoms happens before you even reach the dance floor. For example, if your Instructor Paralysis is tied into anxiety in the rest of your life, consider developing anxiety coping mechanisms to use in social dancing.

If you are in a dance and are feeling the symptoms of Instructor Paralysis, consider doing one of the following:

  • Breathing (if you’ve forgotten to)
  • Making a conscious effort to relax your muscles, especially in close hold
  • Compliment your partner, instead of criticizing yourself

Another important aspect of controlling symptoms is to commit to movements. A lot of times, disconnection in people suffering from Instructor Paralysis can come from second guessing what you’re trying to do.

When you second guess yourself, moves you thought you could lead stop working. Moves you thought you could follow become confusing. It’s not that you’re not capable; you’re just assuming you couldn’t possibly be right. 

Remind yourself that there’s no reason to change what works. If you commit and get it ‘wrong’, it’s still better than committing to nothing. After all, committing to nothing means that it definitely won’t be right.

For the partner of the afflicted

The partner of a person with Instructor Paralysis has the power to alleviate or exacerbate the symptoms. It doesn’t matter if you are actually an instructor or not; if you’re dancing with someone who is clearly suffering some of these symptoms, be aware of what you can do to reduce the pressure.

Some things that a partner can do to reduce Instructor Paralysis include:

  • Slowing down
  • Using simpler movements to build up confidence in their partner
  • Breathing together
  • Creating connection instead of patterns
  • Smiling, or giving a compliment on something that’s working well
  • Ignoring mistakes

On the other hand, a partner can make Instructor Paralysis worse by:

  • ‘Teaching’ on the floor
  • Disengaging from the connection
  • Throwing fast-action moves together in a sequence
  • Dragging a partner through steps, instead of accommodating mistakes

The most important thing is probably adapting to the other person’s connection, even if it’s not your ‘favourite’ style. Of course, this doesn’t mean do dangerous things. But, if you are able to use the weight and feel of your partner’s connection, it will likely make them feel like they’re doing things right. When that feeling of rightness emerges, they’ll become more confident. That confidence will cause symptoms of Instructor Paralysis to slowly disappear.

Don’t despair!

Instructor Paralysis, or even Better-Dancer-Than-Me Paralysis, afflicts everyone at some point. It’s nothing shameful, and most advanced dancers understand the paralysis. They’re not judging you because you’re tense, or jumpy, or otherwise freaking out. They’re likely highly sympathetic towards your plight, and know exactly what’s going on. After all, they’ve been there before.

If you’re feeling the nerves, try to remind yourself that it’s OK to be nervous. Take a deep breath, and enjoy the ride. You will survive it.

Have you experienced Instructor Paralysis, or danced with a partner who was nervous with you? Share your experience in the comments.