With a few breaks inbetween, I’ve been social dancing for over 10 years! Well, 10 years of ceroc/modern jive, plus another 2 years of salsa before that and a bit of overlap with west coast swing towards the end. But we’ll go with 10 years for this post!
(This post as with all on this website focuses on modern jive and/or ceroc, but the majority of these things I’ve learnt is also relevant to sociall ballroom dancing as well.)
Time really does fly by when you’re having fun and social dancing is a whole load of fun. From learning new skills, to making friends. Having a social life, knowing that it’s good for your health to be out exercising. And of course being able to point to moves they do on Strictly Come Dancing and admitting you can do that drop or trick too.
Over the years I’ve learnt a lot from dance. Partner dancing is very different from solo, with some important skills needed to be a good partner. And social dancing is very different again to choreographed dancing.
Here’s some of the things I’ve learnt over my years of social dancing, from the salsa years, but predominantly from modern jive or ceroc (with a bit of west coast swing thrown in too)
10 things I’ve learnt in my 10 years of social dancing
1. You have to get over the awkwardness of dancing with strangers
Dancing with a partner is awkward to start with, but you do get used to it. Because you’ll never feel comfortable dancing if you can’t relax and ignore the fact you’re dancing with a stranger. Dancing is a contact sport, you can’t social dance and not connect. Understand how close your partner will feel comfortable with, work with your level of comfort and enjoy the dance. Remember that everyone should be there to dance, not to get close to others, and that should get you over any awkwardness.
Don’t forget if you ever feel someone encroaching on your space and they’re not taking any notice of your discomfort, explain you don’t like it, and avoid them in future. If it goes too far, report them to the organiser who should have a word.
There will be accidental body touching. Just laugh it off and get on with the dance.
2. Simple can be better than complex
There’s no need to go flashy with every dance. Sometimes the simple moves and slower music can be just as amazing a dance as the fast ‘throw everything into it’ dance. In fact some of my dream memorable dances have been slower dances where we’ve been able to dance to the music and really connect much better.
Where you’ve got an imbalance of abilities, keeping things simpler may remove the pressure for the less experienced dancer, and it can also allow you to play more with the music rather than concentrating on moves.
3. Let yourself go and feel free
If you can let yourself go and not feel sill, you will probably get more out of your dancing and end up a better dancer. Not everyone can do this, after all, it needs a lot of confidence and less thinking ‘I don’t care what people think;.
There’s often that voice in your head niggling at what you think you look like when you dance. Or that you’re not as good. Or that you can’t do styling. Everyone has to learn, and the majority of people on the edge of the dancefloor are either working out who they want to dance with next, or simply watching people who either look amazing together, or are dancing beautifully. The rest of us are generally glanced over. So there’s no need to worry about what you look like.
The benefits over letting yourself go and trying out new things like body movements, or styling, is going to be much better than not trying them at all. After all, if anything goes wrong, own it, and people won’t even know it’s gone wrong. We all have to practice if we want to improve.
I found having a break from dancing while I had my son, and then a few years afterwards was what relaxed my dancing. I knew I had the technique, but was probably a bit stiff and wouldn’t only try things I knew would work. But give it a few years off, going through the indignity of having a baby, looking a bit silly on the dancefloor meant nothing in comparison. It turned out to work well.
I enjoyed my dancing more, I’m sure I was a better dancer, and I had some great dance experiences. Not once did anyone comment on how silly I might have looked. So give it a go, even if it’s only with one ‘safe’ partner and one dance a night.
4. Try new things
Styles, techniques, teachers, classes.
Concentrating on one dance style will make you more proficient in it (especially if it needs great technique). But most dancers will benefit from learning new things. That could be just mixing up the teachers you learn from – after all, every dance teacher has a specialism or favourite things to teach. You can learn more styling from different teachers – try male and female teachers.
But why not try totally different dance genres. Especially with modern jive which is a mish mash of different styles, then learning more about others will only help your modern jive. This is why doing a dance weekender is of great benefit as well as fun, especially when you’re starting out. You can try lots of different dance styles all in the safety alongside other modern jivers. Over the years I’ve tried about 40 different dance genres, and I’ve learnt something from every class.
5. It’s fine for girls to ask others to dance
We’re not stuck in earlier times where it was improper for girls to ask men to dance. If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone to dance, you probably need to get over this (unless you’re a stunning 20 year old who dances beautifully). Even if you’re a good dancer, you may still need to ask people to dance, because in most venues there are still more women than men who attend. If you don’t, you’ll not get to dance as much as you could.
Just accept that some might say no (men need to learn this too), and just move on to the next. While many venues still say that every request to dance should be accepted to make everyone feel welcome, there will be people who turn down a request for whatever reason.
You may also find girls dancing with girls and two men dancing together. It doesn’t mean they fancy each other, they might just want to try out a different role in their dancing. But not everyone feels comfortable doing this, so be polite to people if they ask and you don’t want to dance with them, and vice versa, (the same as asking anyone to dance), be accepting if you get refused a dance if asking.
6. You have to work at it and watch yourself dance to improve
If you really want to improve you, you obviously need to work at it. But alongside that, you’ll really improve if you can see yourself dance and talk through points with a teacher or someone who’s experienced.
Ask for feedback from people you trust and who are good dancers and well thought of in your class or area. Try a taxi dancer if a teacher isn’t available. If you worried about getting criticism, try asking a good dancer, what they believe people need to work on to be better at xy or z when dancing with them.
Look out for people others like to dance with and work out why. Then pick up those traits yourself. Or practice in front of a mirror. Not many people like watching themselves dance, but seeing the way your body moves will help breakdown that movement and smooth it out (e.g body isolations a mirror really helps).
7. Make an effort
Look like you’re enjoying it and ask others to dance, be seen to mingle and dance with all abilities. Then others will look to you as someone who’s out there to dance.
8. Learn something every time you dance
Everyone can learn something when they dance, even the pros. You might be happy with your own dancing and there isn’t the pressure to always be improving in social dancing. But you can gain so much more from improving – whether it’s the ability to be a better leader
9. Learn to lead and follow, even if you don’t social dance both
Learning the other part will help your dancing. If you’re a leader, understanding what a good and bad leader feels like, or the same with a follower – is essential to understanding how you dance that role. What can you do to make your dance partners have a more enjoyable dance. I wouldn’t mix up the learning lead and follow from starting out, but once you’re confident in one, try out the other, for fun and for improving your dancing.
Look like you’re having fun and you probably will. You’ll certainly attract other dancers who’re enjoying themselves and the dancing. You’ll also end up being more sociable.
When dancing goes well, it can be a huge high. When the right song, the right dance partner, the right mood, all combine at the right time. Bam, it can be magical. Those occasions don’t happen often (and not even everytime with the same person), but when they do, you remember those occasions for years.
While I’ve had a few years away from dancing recently, I’m hoping there’s many more years of dancing to come.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt while social dancing?