Hello dancers! Lisa Spiro here. I figured it might be a good time to use this blog to talk about some of my opinions regarding dancing at a dance event.
When we go out dancing, be it a dance class or a dance social, we are constantly striving to have a good time. But sometimes there's something about our dance partner that prevents us from having 100% fun. Sometimes that partner can even ruin your evening.
For me, I can usually take certain nuisances in stride and not let it ruin my night. But there are some things that just bug me when I'm dancing with someone, and sometimes that something is enough for me to "blacklist" that person.
So here are my top ten pet peeves when I'm dancing with a partner. Keep in mind that I'm not using this list to point fingers at anybody in particular; this is just something I've compiled over the years as a dancer.
Pet Peeve #10: The Noodle Arm
I admit, this isn't a huge pet peeve of mine, it just makes things a little harder to work with.
Noodle arms are when the person's arm is limp and unresponsive. You try to lead using a slight compression in the hand, and only the arm moves, not the part of the body you actually wanted to move. While it's not the most annoying thing in the world, it does make leading difficult and unnecessarily forceful. So followers, here's some advice to avoid the noodle arm: keep your arms in front of you, so that you can feel a lead going into your arm, and thus let it go into the rest of body. The guys shouldn't have to do all the work for you; you need to do a little work yourself.
Pet Peeve #9: The Arm-Wrestler
In class, we talk about compression, creating a slight pressure in the hand to ease leading and following. But some people interpret that to mean you need to apply constant pressure all the time, so your arm becomes very tense and stiff.
In the case of followers, this means you're making your leader's arm really tired, really fast, and it takes a Herculean effort to move you.
In the case of leaders, it means you're relying on your arms for leading more than your body. You become too firm and rough with your leads, and it gets pretty exhausting for your followers, who feel like they need to fight you every step of the way.
Ease up people! Use as little pressure as you can, or else dancing becomes more work than it needs to be.
Pet Peeve #8: Gum Chewing
Okay, I get it: you don't want to have bad breath when you're dancing with your partner. That's fine. In fact, I applaud your efforts in personal hygiene.
Gum chewing is noisy. If you have a tendency to chew with your mouth open, it's becomes especially loud, and when you're dancing with someone, loud smacking noise is now rather close to someone else's face.
Once again, this isn't a huge pet peeve of mine, but it's still a little annoying. I recommend refraining from chewing with your mouth open while you're dancing with someone, or switch to lifesavers.
Pet Peeve #7: Uptight And Constricting Frames
Sometimes when the guys are nervous or tense, their arms become rock-solid restraints that the follower can't escape. Once they feel more confident, however, their frame relaxes and everything’s fine, no worries.
I get it, you're nervous, I've been there. But there are some guys out there who are tense all the time, with arms that slowly start to squeeze me up against their bodies. I end up either unable to move the way I want to, or crushed up against him (a little awkward sometimes--I'm not so sure I want my chest pressed up against yours). A firm frame doesn’t mean a tense one, so leaders, just relax a bit and soften your frame. It should feel like an open hug, not like you’re about to toss me down on the ground.
Pet Peeve #6: Flamboyant And Careless Dancers
There's always at least one couple like this out there on the floor. It's the couple who learned the flashy, exhibition style of dancing andthey've made it to the advanced levels. Good for you for making it to Silver or Gold level dancing, but here's the thing: just because you are now an advanced dancer doesn't mean that people will automatically get out of the way for you. When you dance on the floor with everyone else, we expect you to practice good floorcraft, like everyone else. Beginner students can be forgiven if they keep crashing into people; they're still learning. But advanced dancers who keep bumping into people...well that's another matter entirely.
I know there are situations where bumps and collisions can't be helped, such as a really crowded dance floor. But with this pet peeve, I'm talking about the dancers who don't adjust to the crowd. Their style is huge and flamboyant, they don't watch where their steps go, and they try to stick to the routines they learned, even if there's not enough room to complete the whole thing. The best advanced dancers are not the ones with the flashy moves, they're the ones who can complete a whole song without a single collision, despite the crowd.
Pet Peeve #5: Using The Shoulder Blade As A Handhold
We leaders have all done this: we cup that hand on her back so our fingers are digging in a little. It’s a cheap trick to get the followers to follow us, and most of the time it’s not too annoying, but every once in a while there’s this hand on my back that tries to use my shoulder blade as a hand hold.
First off, ow! It doesn’t feel good! That spot will frequently feel tender long after the song is over.
Secondly, no matter how hard you pull on the follower's back, you’re not going to get the exact results you want, so and flatten that right hand and avoid using it to lead her around. Trust me, the less you rely on that hand, the better everything is going to feel, for both you, and the people you dance with.
Pet Peeve #4: Hand Squeezers
Ugh, this one is definitely a big one for me. I've blacklisted people before for this reason (meaning I don't want to dance with them again).
When I say hand squeezing, I mean the Grip Of Death. Sometimes, it just restricts movement; other times it's downright painful, and I worry that one of my fingers is going to get dislocated (yeah, a few people hold on that tightly).
When a follower does it, it's usually because they are nervous or are feeling off-balance, but like the noodle arm, it makes leading difficult. Not a big deal, but still something to watch out for.
With leaders, hand squeezing becomes a little more dangerous. When a leader is a hand squeezer, it's for a couple of reasons:
1) They're nervous or off-balance, or
2) Their type of leading is rough, with extreme use of arms for leading. The leader feels like they need to hold on to get the follower to do what they want, or else they'll lose her hand and be unable to complete the pattern.
It's the latter reason that I particularly dislike. I will avoid leaders who use this style of leading, not only makes following extremely difficult, it hurts. That take-that-thumb-off-the-back-of-my-hand-because-you-are-currently-cracking-all-my-fingers kind of hurt.
Hand squeezing is especially dangerous when you're turning her: you could easily twist her arm and hurt her shoulder. So, like I tell all my beginner students: Fingertips, please. No Thumbs!
Pet Peeve #3: Crankers
Ooo, this is another one where things can get dangerous! Cranking is where the leaders does a gigantic, windmill-like motion in order to turn the partner. While it looks pretty darn cool in competitions, this is a big no-no on the dance floor. Spinning the girl requires very little movement on the leader's side: you can either twirl the wrist "like you're stirring your coffee", or make the movement slightly larger, like you're "stirring the pot".
Cranking can seriously hurt someone's shoulder if you don't know what you're doing. It can also severely throw off your partner's balance, or sense of direction. I can think of three instances where my arm got cranked, none of them were pleasant:
The first time it happened, the guy kept hitting my face with my own arm (I eventually learned to duck).
The second time it happened, I didn't see it coming, and my shoulder felt like it was getting wrenched out of it's socket (this was the only time I ever corrected someone on the floor).
The third time it happened, the guy was trying to show off his salsa skills, and he very nearly crashed me into the pillar in the middle of the floor, not once, but twice (like I said, it can throw off your partner's balance).
So guys, ease up on the arms. Trust me, the ladies do know how to spin, and if they're having troubles spinning, then the move is currently too advanced for them.
Pet Peeve #2: The Creepy Smile Or The Creepy Hands
Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, there was this guy who I secretly nicknamed "Mr. T.C.". T.C. stood for "Too Close". He kept cropping up at these dances that I would normally attend, and he didn't really dance ballroom or swing.
Now I didn't mind that bit; sometimes you just want to have fun on the dance floor without doing any noticeable basic steps. That's fine. What creeped me out about this guy is that he would have this smile the whole time: this creepy, wide, lips-closed smile that would literally be just inches from my face. A couple of times, it looked and felt like he would kiss me.
He never did, of course, but it felt like it, and that is a big no-no in my book. When we ladies go out dancing, we are trusting that the strange guy we're dancing with is not some sort of pervert; we want to feel safe and comfortable the entire time. But when the guy is silently staring at you with a weird smile that doesn't falter for a second... well,as a woman I get creeped out. I'm not saying you shouldn't smile at your partner, I just saying that you should treat a dance like you would treat a normal conversation: avoid looking creepy.
By the way, the same thing goes for hands. I do not feel comfortable being touched in certain places while dancing. Sometimes, the leaders miscalculate and their hands accidently brush up against me. Okay, fine, we've all done that, and it's clearly an accident. But do not put your hands there for a certain move. Waist and shoulders are fine with someone you don't know. But the curve of the low back that's just above the person's rear, or the widest point of a woman's hip, that's the danger zone. Having your hand too close to a woman's chest while she's turning is also dangerous, so watch where your hands go. Remember, you want the woman to feel safe dancing with you.
Getting tapped on the head really bugs me too, although I never thought I would actually have to say so. I had someone do that to me once as part of a certain move, and he kept doing it for the whole song. Maybe it's just me, but it felt invasive somehow, and I really didn't like that. So, no head-tapping either. It's annoying.
Pet Peeve #1: Unsolicited Teaching
This is my biggest pet peeve. It's the one that can easily ruin someone's night.
Some of you already know how much I hate unsolicited teaching, as I'm very vocal about this. I hate unsolicited teaching with a passion. If they didn't ask for it, you shouldn't do correct your dance partner.
Do not tell your partner that they are doing it wrong.
Do not tell your partner to press harder or to bring their feet together more.
If they are indeed doing something wrong, just go with it. Adapt to your partner.
People just want to have a good time; they are not looking for lessons from each and every partner they dance with. If you are giving your partner advice, you are doing so without any teaching experience (trust me, teachers undergo training for a reason). Chances are, you don't have a full grasp of the move or technique yourself, and it is more likely that you, in fact, are doing it wrong!
Even if you are indeed a teacher or coach, you still have no right to correct someone at a dance social. They are not your students, and therefore should be left to try things on their own.
Now I have corrected people at dance events in the past, but I was able to do so because of specific reasons:
1) I'm one of the event hosts, and I'm working with someone who's brand new to dancing and needs a crash course
2) One of my students has sought me out with a question regarding a step they're doing.
Dancing should always be about positive reinforcement and not about criticisms and corrections. If you're dancing with someone and it's not going according to plan, don't correct them. If they asked you for advice, go ahead and give a response, but be tactful and brief, and if you're not sure, seek out a teacher.
So there you have it. My top ten pet peeves. Sometimes the key to a successful night of dancing is being aware of what bugs you, and learning to take it in stride. Like I said, this list isn't meant to target anyone particular dancers; the people I used as examples were complete strangers to me. I teach my students pretty well, so they can breathe a sigh of relief and know I'm not talking about them. But you can never have a completely perfect dance night.
The best thing you can do if you encounter a pet peeve while dancing is to not take it personally. Don't let it ruin your night, and you'll have a great time regardless!