What your partner really wants

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of balancing your partner’s experience with your own in partner dancing. Because we’re partner dancers, it’s not enough to just think about ourselves. It’s important to be mindful of how our partner feels as much as we think about our own enjoyment. (At least, if you want people to enjoy dancing with you and ask you to dance…)

While sometimes people focus more on their own enjoyment, I find that a lot of the time things can go the other way: people can be overly concerned with what their partners want. They really want to please or even impress their partners, and they worry about boring them, displeasing them, or disappointing them. 

I’ve certainly experienced this feeling, especially when dancing with more experienced or talented dancers, and dancers I admire and respect so much. And when that happens, I feel a lot of pressure to do something “cool” or “fun” – something that will wow them. It can create a lot of stress and performance anxiety, and ironically it prevents me from dancing my best. I’m too self-conscious and stuck in my head to connect with the music and be in the moment with my partner. (This same experience can happen when competing, where we’re trying to impress the judges and the crowd.)

When I work with students, especially in private lessons, and I ask them what their goals are, I often get responses that fall in line with this “please the partner” thinking. Leaders often want to learn “cool” or challenging patterns to make sure their followers aren’t bored, and followers sometimes want to be able to do a lot of styling and “tricks” that will add something interesting to the dance. I’m all for learning more content and raising your level of complexity, difficulty, and expression, but there’s an underlying assumption that we need to do lots of impressive things to keep our partners engaged and enjoying the dance.

The funny thing is that if you ask people what they want in a partner, it isn’t big moves or fancy styling. Leaders generally want a follower who is connected, grounded, feels good to dance with, and pays attention to them. Followers generally want a leader who has good connection, feels good to dance with, pays attention and responds to them, and gives them opportunities to contribute to the dance. (And, conversely, no one wants a partner that is tight or pulling, off balance, off time, ignoring them, or treating them like an inanimate object.) In short, we want to dance with people who have a good connection and treat us with respect and compassion, regardless of the content of the dance.

This is not to say that there isn’t a place for moves and styling. Content adds vocabulary to your repertoire so you can be more articulate in your musical expression and it helps you create more opportunities with your partner. But how many dancers want a partner who has lots of big moves or flashy styling but doesn’t have a good, comfortable connection? My guess is very few. It may be fun to watch, but if it doesn’t feel good, it’s not really creating a positive experience for your partner.

So yes, you can learn moves and stylings, but don’t think that you need that to please or excite or engage your partner. We all want the same thing in our partners: someone who feels good and who makes us feel good. After all, we’ve chosen partner dancing, which means we want to connect with others and engage in a collaborative expression of the music. We want our partners to connect with us, engage with us, dance with us. And if we achieve that, isn’t that enough?

But what do you think? Do you agree that we want partners who feel good first and foremost? Where do you think these perceptions of what our partners want come from? Have you experienced the stress of wanting to please your partner? Have you ever felt like you didn’t please your partner? Why do you think that is and what did you learn from the experience?

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