Three (Light-Hearted) Rules for a Good Dance

Before I get on with today’s post, just a quick reminder that tap dancer and recent guest to All the Cats Join In, Andrew Nemr, will be presenting  his show, Echoes in Time, tonight at Symphony Space in NYC. Check out the interview with Andrew from last week, and if you’re in NYC, go see the show tonight!

I was shocked the first time a woman told me she was intimidated to dance with me. I thought, Really? Me? But I’m not even that great, and I’m a mellow cat. I’ve since come to realize that anyone who can do a swingout with relative ease can be intimidating to a new dancer. After having the same conversations many times, I’ve developed a couple of standard lines in response to some of the things I hear from follows. Most dancers I know develop some sort of lexicon of catch phrases for all those common conversations. Here are some of mine:

Me: Would you like to dance?
Follow: Umm, I’m not very good.
Me: (In a totally upbeat, non-sarcastic tone of voice) Then I’m glad I asked you to dance, and not if you were very good.

New Follow: (after mucking up) I’m so sorry.
Me: Don’t be, you’re doing great. I have three rules for a good dance. One, we’re both smiling and having a fun. Two, neither of us gets hurt. And three, no one’s ass hits the floor unless its intentional.

I also try to be encouraging to new dancers at the end of a dance without going overboard. I will also let them know they are welcome to find me for a dance anytime, and that if they have any questions or need any help to feel free to ask. There’s a lead in DC, an older gentlemen who’s been dancing since before I was born, who told Susanne after she’d been dancing for a month or so, “Stick with it kiddo. You’re gonna be good.” I don’t know if I have the guts for that level of honesty. Its probably easier hearing that from a kooky older guy, but it impressed me that he was able to pull it off.

I’m wondering what are some of the other regular conversations you have, and what are your stock responses?



Filed under balboa, Blues Dancing, community, lindy hop, Uncategorized

17 responses to “Three (Light-Hearted) Rules for a Good Dance

  1. christina

    There’s this whole decision tree for a follower dancing with a brand-new leader of “do I follow the music or his rhythm?” Generally speaking, I’ll try and follow the leader, unless he’s super-blatantly following my feet and struggling to stay on beat unless I do. But I’ve had this conversation more than once, after he tries to follow me while I’m trying to follow him and we spiral downward into ever-worse cadence:

    beginner leader: loses it, stops dead in his tracks Ack, I’m so sorry.
    me: It’s ok. Whenever you want to start over, you can just lead a rock step, and I will follow you.

    This usually gets a relieved smile, and we finish the dance with a little more authoritah on the leader’s part.

  2. Michael

    I often find myself dancing with a new follow. If she knows who I am, she’s usually quite nervous and shaking a bit. My usual response is, “Don’t worry; I don’t bite until the second date.” That gets a smile or a nervous giggle, but sets them at ease. If she doesn’t know me, or even if she does, I start off with very basic stuff and test the waters of her ability. Once I get to their level of ability, it’s usually a discovery of something she wasn’t quite able to do. She apologizes and I usually reply with words to the effect of, “That’s cool…I just made up a new move.”

    There’s glory in a great mistake. =-)

  3. Lauren

    My husband had a situation with intimidating new follows without even realizing it too. Whenever he messes up he laughs a bit and intends it to be at himself, but one particular follow thought that he was laughing at HER because she had messed up. It’s often hard to figure out whose “fault” it was. So years later the follow was friends with him and mentioned it and he couldn’t believe that she thought he was such a jerk (but she kept dancing with him because he was good and she had fun). Because of this I think it’s a really good idea to say as either the lead or follow “I’m sorry, let me try that again” or something that way the other person doesn’t feel that you’re judging them. I often tell leads when they mess up “That’s fine, just start again whenever you want” and hope I don’t come off as judgmental.

    • christina

      Oh, man, if I thought a lead was outright laughing at me, I’d probably never dance with him or her again. A leader who consistently gives me dirty looks when things don’t go as they’ve planned gets put on my very short list of “people I’m not going to ask to dance.”

    • Oh, what a sad misunderstanding! Glad it worked out. Generosity of spirit goes a long way. When I’d been dancing three years or so, a friend and I took to calling dancing with beginners “community service.” I’m ashamed to admit this now, because it sounds so snotty and unkind. But there IS something to be said about paying forward all the generosity lavished on me when I started.

  4. Elizabeth Farrington

    As we gain experience with social dancing it’s easy to see certain “slightly uncomfortable” social situations replaying themselves again and again. It’s a play with a rotating cast of characters.
    The newbie Ingenue nervously asking the Leading Man for a dance. The beginner-mediate dancer who, after a couple of years on the hardwood, feels put out by not being included due to a lack of understanding the skill required to jump from “here” to “there”. The nice older gentleman who asks all the follows to dance, but is thought to be creepy because he’s older. (He’s not.)
    Or the follow who gets a little too close in a genuine attempt to get connection, and likewise is thought creepy. (She’s not, she’s just trying really, really hard.)
    Then there’s the Lady-Killer Lead (slays them, lays them, then leaves a trail of broken hearts), not to mention his female counterpart.
    And let’s not forget the “God’s Gift to the Dance Floor” who seems cocky but is really just unsure enough that only dances with partners who will accentuate the positive are welcome.
    The apologetic, critical, “doing you a favor”, shy, kindly, talkative, silent, staring, disinterested, clumsy, awesome, musical, enthusiastic, mirror-watching, funny, downright weird, and my favorite, the really skilled person who genuinely loves dancing with EVERYONE and makes it a point to let them know–Craig!–are characters in the group soup that make social dancing even more fun than just the dancing part!

  5. Ceste

    hmm…I’ve had so many nightmarish dancing experiences…too many to count…and yet I’m still addicted for over 7 yrs now…so let me list the top 2…I had 2 leads leave me on the dance floor in the middle of a dance…one lead after 2 or 3 moves, my shoulder was aching, so I calmly pointed to it & asked if he could be a lil more gentle cuz my shoulder was hurting…his response? “Where’s the restroom?” I pointed & he left me. I had a hard time getting off the floor w/o getting hurt. It was SUPER crowded.
    I had another man ask me if I could Viennese? Yes, I can, I said. Well, he proceeded to go right into terribly complicated moves which I of course flubbed. He tried again and I again flubbed. To which he calmly left me on the floor.
    POSITIVE dancing experiences I find include many things: 1. Lead not having heavy cologne 2. Lead making eye contact when asking to dance & off & on thru/o the dance, but not manically intense thru/o the dance 3. If its clear that the lead has absolutely no idea what he’s doing, I try the best I can to find his rhythm. If it gets to the place where he is pulling my arms out of the sockets, then I will tell him so in a nice way. If he is extremely flustered, I say the rock step bit that was already mentioned. 4. I LOVE dancing w/ leads where I cannot predict what they are going to do. 5. I Love when a lead walks me to the sidelines after the dance to protect me from danger 6. I love when they ask to dip me or go slow enough into a dip to be able to gauge whether or not I’m freaking out about it. 7. I love when they ask during the dance, can you do Charleston? Or do you Lindy? 8. I hate when I’m dancing w/ a really advanced dancer & I miss one lil move & they have this “Oh-she’s-pathetic-I’m-going-to-be-so-bored” look on their face 9. I love it when they say, let’s try that again. Or new move or do u want to try that again? 10. I love encouragement. One of my 1st ongoing dance partners would always call me Ginger & wink & say, you’re the best & again he was like 80 yrs old & could get away w/ it. He was always wary of one older gentlemen who frequents GE who would always give a lesson to every follow he had. He saw many girls reduced to tears and would always attempt to do damage control w/ them after they had danced w/ the neg. guy

    • Getting left on the floor is horrible. I’ve had it happen and it was just awful. Once, I was dancing with a beginner and he was nervous and tried to walk off the floor. I kindly explained that leaving your partner on the floor is a horrible snub. He was all apologetic and we finished the dance. He was being really hard on himself and so I tried my best to help lower the bar of overly inflated expectations he had going.

  6. Lisa T

    I have a whole slew of responses that of course I mostly can’t remember right now but a couple include: I ask someone to dance and they say “I’m new” and I say “So was I” as I drag them onto the floor. Another common attempt to decline: “I’m not very good”. I sometimes say, “Only way to fix that is to practice…” also while pulling them onto the floor. Or “don’t worry, we are all faking it” depending on which they seem like they will respond to better. (I wouldn’t want them going away believing that one!)

    I always try to remind my classes “Smile and pretend you meant it” when executing a goof. (And that is definitely why I smile so much when I dance… 🙂 ) I follow that up with pointing out how you may think you are grimacing at yourself, but your partner will think it is about him/her. It took me years of dancing to realize the leads weren’t frustrated with me.

    Another favorite line of mine when I mess up leading is to tell the poor confused follower “you followed my confusion perfectly”.

  7. Here are a few of my common replies and frequently used phrases or sentences.

    To beginners when being encouraging/light.

    “Not a problem. We all start somewhere.”
    “Don’t worry. I should have led that better.”
    “How long have I been dancing? Oh, a while.”

    To beginners when being honest.

    “It’s like any other skill or hobby, its going to depend on your natural apptitude and how much you want it. I know a girl who was competing nationally after 6 months and people years in who still can’t find the beat. But that simple step step rockstep that you are doing, it took me 3 months to be comfortable with that, and you got that down in ____. So you are doing better than I was at that point.”

    To friends

    “See that guy/girl over there in the ____. Grab them for a dance. They are shy/going to be good/incredible/visiting from ___.”

    General dancing

    “Sorry about that but where I was sending you suddenly wasn’t safe anymore”
    “Whoops. People”
    “No that was awesome. Can you do that again?”

    To the person wearing the ice shard of crystal cutting misery and pain on their ring finger


    • Thanks for sharing, Jason. I really like how all of your comments show such a generosity of spirit. And about the last one: YES. That right there is one of the main reasons my engagement ring is not a diamond solitare.

  8. Shaila

    Hilarious – that’s pretty much the conversation I have every time as a totally mucking up follower. But I’m the smiley sort, and I have a blast dancing.

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