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When Dancing isn’t Fun Anymore

Two friends of mine just quit dancing. One quit because the rejection was too much. The other quit because she hated the scene; it wasn’t supporting what she needed as a dancer and she wasn’t growing.

Here are a few things I’ve done in this situation (and a few I need to do more of).

#1. You gotta train. Let’s be honest: Dancing is a lot more fun when you are in high demand (especially with good dancers). No one really wants to pay $15 to sit for 3 hours. You get to be in demand by being well trained. I’m constantly amazed at how much detail goes into making someone a desirable dancer. If I want to dance with awesome dancers, I have to put in the same amount of work they did. And yep, the secret here is private lessons. Lots of them.

#2. Take the lead. If dancing isn’t fun because the skill level is low in your community, take the lead in getting people better trained. Host a practica where people share feedback. Have friends over to work on stuff. Invite a pro to your area to teach a workshop and host them if you can. If you are the most skilled person in the room and everyone else is struggling, build relations with those who show sincere interest in growing. Kindly offer some guidance and coaching for how to advance (i.e., point them to the best pro to work with). Sometimes people simply don’t know what they are missing.

The other option is to literally “take the lead”. Followers, you may love the challenge of learning to lead (and some guys love to follow!). I was amazed at how cool it was to be on the other side. Learning the other role can infuse all new energy to a stale dance life.

#3. Social dancing takes work. I’m an introvert. But when I show up at a dance, I work that room. I do my best to walk the room greeting everyone I know. I may even introduce myself to people I don’t know yet. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for it and I’ll hide in a corner, but it truly makes a difference when I do it. This also helps you stay in high demand because most people like to dance with their friends and those perceived as warm, open and friendly.

Community is a huge part of any partner dance, so do the work to become part of the community you are in. There is a reason it’s called social dancing – we need to be social. On and off the floor.

#4. Drop the expectations. If you aren’t having fun anymore, take a moment to really consider why. How many of those reasons are due to unmet expectations? Just showing up doesn’t guarantee you dances. The best dancers may never notice you or seek you out. Life is a lot easier when you drop the expectations and find a way to make the best of whatever you find yourself in.

No good dancers? Use it as an opportunity to be social and build relationships. Feeling overlooked? Work on your solo dancing or study other dancers. Learn to embrace whatever is happening and make something good out of it.

#5. Go solo. If you dread “working the room” or just want to have fun or simply don’t want to depend on others to make your night fulfilling, try a dance you can do solo. Blues, ecstatic dance, belly dancing, tribal fusion, hip hop, african dance, pole dancing, aerial silks – there are tons of options that put you in full command of your experience.

#6. Take a break. I do this all the time… Sometimes it’s not fun RIGHT NOW. Walk away for a few weeks and you’ll likely come back feeling rejuvenated.  You may realize that what you really need is to try a different style of dance. Your body may simply be worn out. I burn out on dances all the time and rotate through several of them based on my mood.

You may realize that you have some personal issues to work through (rejection, insecurity, lack of confidence) – if so, address it so it stops haunting you. Whatever it is, give yourself a break to rest, heal and reset. And it always feels good when you reappear and people are excited to see you back again.

When it just isn’t fun anymore, all you need to do is something different.

The scene you are in may never change. But you can.

And that is what changes a scene. 

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An Insecure Dancer

I was just about to leave for my first big tango festival when a message popped up on my phone. It was from a skilled dancer raving over the amazing followers and how every dance was the “best one ever”. Then he said how excited he was to dance with me that afternoon.

My excitement shifted – without a clutch – to anxiety. Was I going to be totally out of my league? I had been working on my tango but I still had much to learn. I didn’t want to disappoint any kind-hearted, unsuspecting leads who took a chance on an unknown girl. First impressions matter – especially in tango.

That weekend, I felt this anxiety pulsing through my body with every guy who asked me to dance. Sure, the dances were amazing for me, but were they amazing for my partnersBecause I truly cared about that. 

My focus when dancing is on giving and creating. I seek to give perfect balance, timing and responsiveness. I seek to create a moment with my partner that leaves them feeling awe over what just transpired between us and the music.

That level of giving and creating takes time and work to master. Meanwhile, I wrestle with the insecurity of knowing that I’m not there yet.

When I began tango I discovered something terribly awkward. With it’s complex technique, requisite intimacy and demand for total vulnerability, tango makes people insecure. Could I get truly comfortable with being raw, vulnerable and (gasp) – imperfect in this unforgiving dance?

I could handle being raw and vulnerable – hey, I was once naked on stage. But the idea of people politely suffering through dances with me while making mental notes to avoid me for the next decade was unacceptable.

I am secretly obsessed with how I feel to my partner. I never want a lead to feel burdened by a lack of balance, or thrown off by bad timing or wonder how to control something that doesn’t listen and moves on auto-pilot. The insecurity is a result of how much I care about how I affect my partner and what we are collaboratively seeking to do.

Insecurity drove me to action. 

Therefore, I work regularly with a pro. I insist he is brutally honest when training me. I attend weekly practicas (and probably annoy the leads with how much I ask how something felt or what would make it feel better). I ask for specific feedback. I assume nothing because I’ve been surprised in the past. Insecurity has kept me open to growing. It drives me to root out and fix everything that doesn’t feel good to a partner. Insecurity drives me to take an experience and seek ways to make it better.

This all served to help build greater confidence. However….

Confidence carries an ugly risk – assumptions. Sometimes we get so comfortable or confident that we get sloppy over time without realizing it. Or we think we know more than we truly do. A “good” embrace isn’t the same as a “phenomenal” embrace. Everything can be done better with new layers of technique.

As I develop confidence in an area, I keep it on my radar to check regularly with practice partners and my pro.  I’ve grown sloppy two weeks later on something I thought I had nailed down.

So perhaps a dash of insecurity is a good thing after all… something to keep me humble and driven to stay on top of my game. A few weeks ago, I travelled to a festival out of state and had a drastically different experience. I felt confident. I felt humble. And even though I felt that tinge of insecurity, this time I knew what to do with it. I embraced it.

Related: Tango isn’t for Everyone & The 9th Way to Get Asked to Dance.

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The 9th Way to Get Asked to Dance

If you read 8 Ways to Get Asked Dance and people are still skirting around you and focusing on blank walls when they see you, consider the 9th and most powerful way to get people to sweep you onto the dance floor.

#9. Take a private lesson. Stay with me. I know you think you don’t need it. Maybe you’ve been dancing since you were 10. Maybe you’ve had years of training. You might even be working with a pro now. If you aren’t getting the dances you REALLY want, you probably need to change something. 

Without regular coaching, we all get a little sloppy over time. Or maybe it’s something more problematic… like technique that got missed or weird habits. Whatever it is, we all need an instructor who has the guts to be honest with how we really feel to our partners.

Right now, people in every community are praying that someone they know would learn they are:

1.  Totally unaware of how to stay on balance.
2.  Rendering their partner’s hand unusable for the next dance.
3.  Gouging out their partner’s kidneys.
4.  Oblivious to timing and how music is actually structured.
5.  Unaware of how to touch a human they are not assaulting.
6.  Facing the wrong direction.
7.  Molesting partners by connecting in the wrong places.
8.  Impersonating a noodle.
9.  Single-handedly destroying their partner’s back.

When you work with a great instructor, people will say great things behind your back instead of, “How the hell is she walking unassisted without falling over right now?”

And if you’ve worked with a beloved instructor and you aren’t happy with how your nights are going, then it’s time to face reality. Find a pro who has the courage to teach you what you need, not what you want.

If you are a social dancer who is feeling unfulfilled or frustrated, get a pro who is a master at teaching social dancing technique.

Having the right instructor is transforming the experience I have at milongas. Instead of ping-ponging around to every pro in town, I committed myself to one master level instructor to get my fundamentals totally cleaned up and developed. I’m still in the middle of my process, but this has been the most impactful thing I have done thus far for my dancing.

And sure enough… it’s starting to magnetically draw the better dancers to me so I finally have the kind of nights I really desire.

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The 9th way of getting asked to dance helps prevent you from doing this move all night.

 

Why tango is snobby

When people really get into tango, it becomes fairly evident that group classes and a few private lessons aren’t really enough. Tango is a technique driven dance. Without solid technique, people spend a lot of time sitting out, complaining about the snobby people who won’t dance with them.

When people get serious about learning tango, they embrace technique. Learning technique isn’t quick or cheap. It means finding a master-level teacher and studying regularly with them for months or years. Therefore, many instructors offer packages of 10, 25, 50 private lessons. Consequently, serious dancers usually drop big money on private lessons. 

Would you spend $2500 on photography classes to learn how to use your high-end Nikon and then go out to take photos with an iPhone? Probably not, because most of the stuff you learned with the camera can’t be practiced or applied with an iPhone. Sure, you’ll get some good shots, but you’ll feel unfulfilled, knowing that you have the ability of doing much better work with equipment that supports your new knowledge and skills.

Most dancers aren’t snobby – they simply want to use what they paid to learn.* They are seeking a return on their investment because they spent a big chunk of hard-earned money learning it.

Learning has a catch:  Use it or lose it. To truly learn it, you gotta use it.

What’s the point of learning new things if I spend my evening adjusting for (or struggling through) other’s wonky technique instead of practicing what I paid to learn? Some people invest thousands of dollars so they can do amazing things with other skilled dancers – not so they can do basic moves with people who think technique is overrated.

Tango is a technique driven dance that isn’t for everyone (depending on your expectations). I don’t say that to be elitist; I say that to be honest. If you are sitting out a lot or getting passed over by people who you want to dance with, find a pro with extensive expertise in correcting and teaching technique.

If you won’t work on your own technique, then stop complaining about what other people “should” be doing (i.e., asking you to dance anyway or learning how to lead/follow better). If you refuse to rise up then get used to sitting down. 

If we want to dance with better dancers, let’s get serious about our art and become better dancers… develop the skills under the right pro and people will seek YOU out.  We all have to earn it – just like the “snobby” people did. 

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There is a difference between seeking to dance at one’s level versus being overtly rude or denying others of basic courtesies. Honestly, I have found nearly everyone I have met to be incredibly warm and kind upon getting to know them a bit. And please don’t mistake shyness, introversion or intimidation as snobbery or rudeness. Give the benefit of the doubt and get to know people first.

For the serious dancers: there is no harm in taking care of your own needs first. Just remember to  reach back and help someone else along the way (just as others likely did for you). Community and karma matter in this world.

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