In the last couple weeks, I’ve attempted to alleviate my hunger for ballroom with social dancing. Two weeks ago, Roomie and I attended a Halloween social dance at a local studio. I went to the monthly swing dance, complete with a live band, at another studio this past Saturday. And last night, I went to another social dance after my hip hop class, since the two were at the same place. Last night in particular inspired this post because of some interesting comments people made and because of how I’m feeling post-dancing.
First, hip hop. Since it was being held at a primarily ballroom-oriented dance studio, several of the students in the class also took ballroom classes or at least used to. The teacher had never learned ballroom, and she was more curious about it after a student basically told her she was teaching wrong during a hip hop workshop held at the same studio.
Her hip hop classes are choreography-focused. She has a particular part of a song to which she has choreographed a routine. Some of the moves will even be specifically matched to some of the lyrics. This is not how a ballroom class is structured. You still learn a routine, but it is based on counts, not a particular song. As long as the song has the right timing, you can dance the same routine to any number of songs and repeat it as long as the music is playing. The student who got upset with the hip hop teacher during her workshop was expecting this format. He was expecting a ballroom-like class in which he could learn specific moves and apply them to any song with a similar rhythm. But that’s not how you learn hip hop. The teacher was amazed to learn that in ballroom competition, you didn’t know what song would play. You had a rehearsed routine, but it could be danced to any song in whatever style was announced. Ballroom is definitely not hip hop.
The topic transitioned to the necessity of a partner in ballroom and then to the limited availability of male partners. I have to say, sometimes I really wish the male ballroom bloggers that I follow lived a little closer! Women vastly outnumber men in ballroom in my area, at least at the amateur level. A couple students in the hip hop class who also take ballroom classes commented that it seems to make a lot of the men (at least in that particular studio) act a little entitled or egotistical at the social dances. They don’t need to be good dancers to get the ladies because they’re the only partners available. And if you mess up, don’t worry, they’ll “teach” you the correct way (never mind that it was likely their poor lead that threw you off in the first place).
I’ve experienced my fair share of these kinds of dancers, and it’s soured my view of social dancing. But I’ve also met a lot of guys who honestly enjoy dancing and do their best to be good partners. So I still went to the social dance after hip hop class. But there was one comment another hip hop student made that stuck with me. She used to dance ballroom, but quit in favor of other dances like hip hop and salsa. She said as she advanced in ballroom, it got harder and harder to find a male partner to dance with at her level, to the point that she finally gave up and transitioned to other dance styles. I knew exactly what she meant.
Once I joined the social dance, I stood on the sidelines for awhile, as expected. I don’t go to that studio a lot, except once a week now for hip hop, so the other students don’t know me. I usually have to wait awhile for someone to ask “the new girl” to dance. I actually started to wonder if I would get asked at all. There seemed to be a lot of couples on the floor, not just dance partners. I could also tell one or two were more advanced, but most were just enjoying basic dance steps.
I honestly don’t mind dancing basics. I’ve had some lovely dances that consisted of simple boxes and underarm turns. I’d prefer a dance made up of strong basics than one made up of more advanced steps that are led sloppily or just plain wrong. Perfect example would be my two Nightclub Two-Step dances of the night. For the first one, we did pretty much all basics but the guy was on time and had a decent lead. The dance was nice and relaxing, as I think Nightclub should be. The second one involved more intermediate steps but had me a little frustrated because the guy could not stay on time. The second Nightclub ended up being more work than play for me.
Another interesting comment came from a young guy (younger than me even!) who first asked me to dance a salsa. He said he didn’t really know how to salsa, but I quickly assessed that he knew how to dance in general. I started the dance so we were on beat with the music and he picked it up very quickly. He could also lead, not necessarily salsa-specific moves, but they were still done within the timing of the music, so I could still follow. We chatted a little after the dance and I learned he mainly danced blues fusion, which involves a lot of improvisation and just moving to whatever specific song is being played. He had just learned about ballroom and was curious, which is why he was at the social. He asked if I came to these studio parties a lot and I told him no, not really. I started to try to explain that I’m more of a competitive dancer and, without trying to sound full of myself, I had advanced to a point where social dancing wasn’t as fun. He chimed in, “Must be hard to find guys who are good leads.” Nailed it.
I know there are great social dancers out there who are advanced in their craft. Social dancing has its own set of necessary skills, compared to competitive dancing. Lead and follow are much more critical since you might not know your partner that well, if at all, and there is no rehearsed routine. Social dancing is how I became the follow I am today. I would go to every practice party and social dance I could get to and dance with everyone who asked me. The result is a consistent compliment that I still hear today: “you’re a great follow!” The problem in my area seems to be that students who are only interested in social dancing and only attend social dances and maybe group classes aren’t taught the importance of lead and follow, or how to do either one well. They are taught steps.
Now that I’ve learned enough ballroom to appreciate the difference that connection with your partner, i.e. good lead and follow, can make in a dance, I look for that connection. I want the whole experience, not just the steps, because that’s when I really feel like I’m dancing.
Which leads me to my post-social dancing feelings and an explanation of the title of this post. Driving home, I felt a little bit more relaxed and content. But not quite what I was hoping for.
It’s like when you have a sugar craving. You just want a little something sweet and someone has one of those two-pack Starbursts leftover from Halloween. You open it up and you get two orange ones. They’re ok, they still satisfy your sweet tooth, but not in the same way that a pink or a red one would have. But at least they’re weren’t yellow ones?
Tonight’s social dancing was an orange Starburst. Yes, I got to dance a little ballroom. But not exactly the way I wanted.
I know there’s one blogger out there who does a LOT of social dancing. What about the rest of you? Any other competitors out there who still enjoy social dancing? Please share!
6 thoughts on “The Orange Starburst”
My enjoyment of social dancing depends entirely on the partner and how willing they are to trust you. Even without a strong connection, you can still lead (it takes more work) but only if the follow is focusing more on what you suggesting and not trying to guess what your next move is. But you get someone who doesn’t trust you and is tense and stiff in your arms and basically dancing her dance no matter what you do, then its a chore and I can’t wait for the song to end. Then, I try to find ways to politely avoid those people for future dances. (Sorry I know that sounds bad)
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Don’t apologize D_Wall because it’s the same thing on this end! A bad partner, whatever that means, equals a bad dance. And you’re exactly right, the dance becomes a chore. Nothing wrong with avoiding that work in the future. 😉
Early on in my dance journey, someone older and wiser tried to convince me to attend social dances by saying ‘if you don’t use what you learn often, what’s the point of paying all that money for dance lessons?’ I’ve had instructors tell me that I would progress much faster as a dancer if I gave up social dancing and focused on learning competitive technique, but I think that social dancing is the other side of the ballroom dancing coin that a person needs to truly appreciate what they are learning. After all, these dances weren’t created originally for competition use, right?
I do realize that it may be easier for me to go out social dancing frequently than you though. After all, when I go out, I am in control of what dances I do, who I dance with and what figures are used. That is the benefit of being the Leader. On the other hand, I am also the one responsible for my dance partner: keeping her safe, keeping her comfortable, and making sure she has fun. Sometimes that is a whole lot of responsibility to agree to take on!
So I personally enjoy social dancing. I make it fun for myself, so I always find it enjoyable. And I happen to live in an area where social dancing is available on every night of every weekend, so there are lots of opportunities for me to go out and get my groove on. That’s where you’ll find me if you want to come dance. Have you ever thought of moving over to the other coast? 😉
I’m positive I would enjoy social dancing a lot more if there were more male dancers like you Thespian! And you’re right, the guys do take on a lot of responsibility. But like D_Wall pointed out, it works both ways. Ladies need to do their part too.
I’ll actually be on the east coast for a couple months! My upcoming road trip is taking me to eastern Pennsylvania. Rural area though, so unfortunately not too many dance party options!
I don’t, but even if I did I’m a bit far from you. I loved reading this though it was interesting to find out more about this dancing world of yours! 🙂
I don’t get out much because there aren’t many options around here. But I’ve always enjoyed dancing with beginners who use simple steps. It’s relaxing and fun and I can enjoy the music!
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