[Following? Read what tangologue would like a beginner follower to do. It's very good.]
This was inspired by ricky's story about an acquaintance of his. This acquaintance went to classes for two years before he went out to dance socially. Of course, if you've danced socially even once or twice you will know exactly why this was a mistake; but if you haven't, it's not obvious at all.
So this post is intended to encourage beginner leaders to get out there by telling you what you need to be able to deliver (not necessarily very well) for your very first go at social dancing, and what you don't. It's mostly what I, as a follower, need you to be able to do so that dancing with you can be fun. So if you lead and you have something to add or subtract, chip in.
I'll be happy to dance with you, and you will manage OK, if you know:
- How to synchronise properly. Just put your feet together and change weight from one to the other, on the beat. Don't bounce up and down or lift your heels off the floor, it's totally confusing (get someone to lead you and do it, so you find out why). Now I know which foot you're on and which one you're going to go with next.
- How to walk positively, on the beat, with your feet close together. Now I know whether you're moving or stopping, and I can get my feet out of the way, as if by magic.
- How to make a steady embrace (open is fine, just don't lean forwards or look at your feet).
- How to get in and out of a cross. (Ochos are optional - too many make my feet hurt).
- How to do a rock-step. It's easy to follow, and you can use it to fill time in a traffic jam and to change direction; you can do a lot with it musically, too.
- How to do some little double-times if you feel like it and the music suggests it.
- That (a) you are supposed to go round the floor anticlockwise without overtaking, reversing, or bumping, and (b) the world is full of people who can't do this, and some days you are one. It's no big deal.
Some kind of a round turn will also be very useful. But I don't mind.
Nothing else I can think of will be any additional use at all, and if you know all the above it is time to make yourself presentable and go dancing.
If you try get 'good' before your first adventure in social dancing, you will be wasting your time, money, and spirit, because:
- It is just not possible. The skills you learn in class are not, and can't be, the same as the ones you learn by doing it - as I have observed before. The social dancing skills are not trivial to learn, and you really don't want to be doing anything complicated while you're trying to get the hang of them. You also don't want to be thinking of yourself as a good dancer and then finding you're not. That's just upsetting and distracting. It's much better to know where you are.
- No-one will care. Social dancing is not a big deal and it's not about you. No-one is going to be looking at you admiringly, scornfully, or, very much, at all. They are busy dancing, gossiping, eating cake, observing each other's dress sense, waffling about the music, bitching about rival clubs, or thinking about themselves. It's not that people don't watch, but they don't watch very attentively, and when they do happen to look at you, it is a very good thing to be seen as what you are - a beginner with some sense.
- The followers want you to keep it simple and give the social skills priority. We all know that it's more fun to dance with a beginner who walks nicely, listens to the music, mostly knows which foot you're on, and doesn't get your stockings torn, than someone who expects you to deliver all sorts of fancy stuff without regard to anyone else (or, very often, the music) on a crowded floor. Such people are fools and bores. Watch the fellow reversing at high speed and doing all the ganchos and know that if you could see the woman's thought bubble, it would often say "He thinks I'm a Playstation, I bet he'd be rubbish in bed". Do not be misdirected by his example. And we also know that the beginner with some sense may well turn into a good dancer, and we'll be glad we were nice to him, whereas the other bloke is probably beyond redemption. [There are people who can do all the fancy stuff, with the music, and the floorcraft, and make it fun. Watch them, enjoy them, don't worry about them.]
- It's nice to be able to dance with someone from the same beginners' class as you, while she is still a beginner too. It makes the jumping in easier for her, too. If you wait, she will have either given up or grown wings by the time you arrive.
I'm not telling you to stop taking classes. I think a regular class is essential if you want to improve. But I assure you that social dancing is even more rewarding and fun.
Jump in, it's going to be stressful, but people who do it think it's worth it.