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.
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.
We all know the “Not Quite Social” dancer. They show up to a social dance and basically spend all night dancing with one person. It’s understandable if they are on a date. But sometimes it’s a rockstar dancer who just doesn’t want to dance with anyone else because… well, no one else is “worth dancing with.”
I have been that dancer. I have often heard “I don’t want to dance with anyone else here” muttered in my ear – and it’s always based on the skill level in the room. But then I realized what message we were sending to the rest of the community by shutting everyone else out.
I sensed that the message I was sending was: I don’t want to be part of the very community that made me the dancer I am today.
We are all dependent on good social dancing to practice and develop our skills. We get better by dancing with people of ALL skill levels (even beginners). Right now, there are a lot of people feeling frustrated and stuck in Intermediate Land. They don’t get to work toward their true potential because the more skilled dancers barely make eye contact with them.
This is creating a barrier to growth – both for dancers and venues. Dancers who aren’t challenged, don’t grow. They eventually drop out, give up or move on to other things. And it’s usually the high potential ones who do this.
Rockstar dancers, please remember this: There was a time when no one wanted to dance with you. A time when people gave you dances even though there were better partners in the room. A time when others secretly wished you would get some serious help with your dancing. And yet, people danced with you anyway – even when they didn’t have to or want to.
Let this be an invitation to the “Not Quite Social” dancers to return to the very community that created you. Come to the practicas and actively participate. Get to know the people in the room. Socialize a bit – especially at smaller dances. Dance with someone you haven’t met yet. Figure out who the high potential people are and help them along a bit – just as someone likely did for you.
Sadly, it’s a little creepy having people at a dance who think no one there is good enough to dance with (or who mock everyone else in the room). We need scene leaders who are active and positive contributors. Dance is all about connection… and it’s worth staying connected to the very community that built you.