It’s not all about you.

We all want our dances to feel good. I mean, why would you want dances that don’t feel good, right? We do this thing called partner dancing because we love, seek, and even crave that great physical and emotional connection with someone else as we move together to the music. When it happens, it’s just pure magic.

But here’s the thing: it’s not all about you. As much as we want it to feel good for us, it should also feel good for our partners. After all, this is a social dance, and if it doesn’t feel good for your partners, then they won’t want to dance with you. Then no one feels good.

When I work with students, I speak of three objectives for partner dancing:

  1. It feels good to you. This means that it is both pleasant for you as well as good for your body (in other words, not putting unnecessary stress on your body or causing long-term chronic issues).
  2. It feels good to your partner. If you do your part right, it should make things easier and more comfortable for your partners – and hopefully give them a positive experience when dancing with you.
  3. It looks good. Dance is a performing art, and hopefully it is aesthetically pleasing. Besides, if you’re doing your part right and it feels good, it should look good too.

Of course, the first two objectives can be contradictory: what feels good to you may not feel good for your partner. Most if not all of us have had a dance where our partner seems very satisfied but it just wasn’t that good for us. Maybe the physical connection wasn’t comfortable, maybe we just didn’t click with our partner, or maybe we just didn’t have a fun time. Worse still, our partner may do something that makes the dance difficult or even painful for us – arm leads, arm follows, rough leaders, heavy followers, leaders who don’t pay attention, followers who hijack leads, etc. Sure, that person may be having a grand ole time, but the person holding his or her hand may be less than thrilled with the experience.

I understand the desire to do things a certain way in order to maximize your enjoyment. The problem is: you have a partner. If you were at a club dancing by yourself, by all means, go nuts and do what you like. But when you take someone else’s hand and create a shared experience to the music, it should involve at least a minimum level of respect for your partner and his or her enjoyment. You should at least want them to be comfortable, if not ecstatic. In this case, it isn’t about maximizing your enjoyment, but about optimizing for the enjoyment of both partners.

Welcome to any relationship.

So what’s the balance? How do we make sure we’re having a good time and creating a pleasant experience for our partners?

First of all, let me say this: you won’t enjoy every dance. At least, not to the extent that you may like. Not every dance is perfect, and truly amazing dances are not common. It’s our community’s unicorn: a magical being that is very rare and very difficult to conjure.

Similarly, it takes two. It takes two to fail, and it takes two to succeed. You could be doing everything in your power to make a dance work, and you may still not find the connection or the good feeling you’re seeking because, hey, partners. You both have to do your parts well to create good connection, to make the dance feel good, to make the magic happen.

That said, you should know your part well. You should be doing what’s good for you and your own body in a way that improves the partnership, not in a way that hurts it. Having proper posture, frame, movement, and timing will improve the connection and experience with your partner. If you’re doing something that you think is proper but it’s causing discomfort or an unpleasant feeling for your partner, then it’s not proper.

It’s funny, but I work with students all the time who do things they would never want their partners to do to them. In fact, when working with students who have bad habits or poor technique, I will often dance with them and repeat what they’re doing (though not anything painful or dangerous, mind you). After they experience their own unpleasant actions, they immediately want to work on correcting it. Some are even embarrassed, having not realized what they were putting their partners through. But that’s the point: we don’t always know what we’re putting our partners through. They can be gracious and even smile and laugh and yet they still might not be enjoying the dance because of something you’re doing to them. This is why it’s important to get good instruction that can give you the tools and feedback you need to create a positive experience.

Yes, I want you to have a good time. Dancing is about having fun and gosh darn it, you should have fun too. But remember that this is partner dancing, and so we should be balancing our fun with that of our partner. We should be thinking about what we can do to make our partners comfortable, make our partners smile, and create a positive, enjoyable experience for them. (Hopefully not at the expense of your own enjoyment, but I won’t lie – sometimes that may happen.)

The best partners are the ones who make you feel good – physically, emotionally, and in creating a fun, dynamic, and musical dance. Rather than asking that from our partners all the time, how about we try to be the partner who provides it? Then you’ll be the one everyone wants to dance with.

 

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