Social Dance
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Boy Meets Girl: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Social Dance!
Written by Rick Archer, July 2006

As we are fond of saying, Slow Dance leads to Romance. Social Dance is unquestionably one of the finest skills for meeting people ever devised. It is no surprise that many of the most successful social gatherings include the use of dance to break the ice.

Although certainly there are other ways to bridge that awkward tension of meeting between two strangers, Social Dancing stands supreme in this regard. Dancing has been known to melt fences faster than Cupid on a good dart day.

For a man, Social Dancing puts him into situations where he can meet many single women. Dancing allows the man a golden opportunity to approach an interesting woman he does not even know. Certainly men have been known to cringe at the thought of asking a woman to dance and the concomitant risk of rejection. However, most men would also agree it is much easier to ask a lady to dance than to undergo the painful awkwardness of making conversation with a total stranger at a bar, a party, or other places of chance meetings. Best of all a man has a chance to put a lovely woman in his arms instantly. He may barely even know her, but suddenly there she is. Now that is wonderful… What a pleasure!

For a woman, Dancing is also a graceful way to meet men. A woman can learn so much about a man simply by dancing with him. Is he gentle? Is he considerate or is he a Showboat? Does he protect her or does he take chances with her safety? How does she feel in his arms? Does she feel excited or does she feel bored? Does she feel safe or does she feel insecure? When there are mistakes, does he become critical or does he encourage? Is he a gentleman or is he scary? At the song's end, a lady has a pretty good idea about what kind of man she has met. With the ice broken and strong impressions formed, a lady knows whether to smile warmly, evenly, or get up and run in future encounters.

Dancing is an activity that can be approached from so many different levels. At the top of pyramid, you have the fabulously gifted dancers in costumes and gowns displaying breath-taking athleticism. At the base of the pyramid, you have the beginners stepping on feet, jerking arms, and dancing off the beat. Certainly even from these humble beginnings future Dance Champions have emerged, but the vast majority of students are perfectly content to never rise any higher.

Isn't it this way with all human activity?

The ski slopes are much more crowded at the base of the mountain than they are on the Black Diamonds at the top. For every Olympic skier, there are thousands of wannabes at different stages on the ladder. Some people want to be the best while others just want to have a good time. Where Volleyball is played there are the skilled athletes who spike, block, and set, and then there are the putzers who are perfectly content to lob the ball over the net and dodge any ball hit with steam.

Dancing is no different. A few respond to the ethereal call of the Muse Terpsichore and seek excellence while the vast majority see Dance as a necessary evil on New Year's Eve or as a time-effective way to seek their next romance. Obviously different people bring different motivations to the dance floor.

In Social Dance, all the glory goes to the performers as they glide in perfect union across the floor or risk life and limb with death-defying lifts. These gifted dancers serve as an inspiration to everyone! However certainly there is room in World of Dance to include as "Dancers" even the far less gifted. I am willing to accept as fellow members into the Dancers Union the poor couple who nearly kill each other attempting a Twostep at the Last Call for Alcohol Saloon. They won't make anyone think of Baryshnikov, but if their rhythmically-impaired struggle out on the dance floor brings a smile to their faces, that's good enough for me.

In my thirty years of teaching, I suppose I have watched more than 60,000 people take their shot at learning to Social Dance. Some of these people actually got "hooked" on dancing and decided to pursue the sport to the point of excellence, but the vast majority were perfectly content to learn just enough to be able dance for the fun of it.

For example, recently a couple I know from my daughter's school showed up to take a private lesson in Salsa. It seems they were the only Gringos invited to an upcoming Latino wedding. As an expression of respect to the people who had invited them, this couple wished to be able to get out on the floor at least once and not make fools of themselves. I thought that was pretty cool. The husband, a non-dancer, was a good sport. He had no rhythm, his leads were weak, and his footwork was unreliable. In a nutshell, he didn't show much natural ability. However he brightened considerably when I told him on a scale of 10, he would earn 7 points simply for getting out there. I added he would get another valuable point if he were able to smile the entire time he was on the floor no matter how many mistakes he made. With the bar lowered, this gentleman tried much harder. By the end of the hour, he was no Astaire, but his wife was smiling. Another success story.

This is niche that SSQQ has claimed in the World of Dance - teaching ordinary people how to dance well in a short period of time for a reasonable amount of money. Our emphasis has always been on "Group" dance lessons. After all, dancing is a "Social" activity. Can you think of a better way to teach a student how to dance with lots of people than a Group Dance Class?

For thirty years using Group Dance Classes, SSQQ has concentrated on teaching normal human beings how to dance with skill at nightclubs and social situations such as parties and weddings. I of course admire the instructors who train serious dancers to perform and compete, yet at the same time I am sure everyone in the dance community agrees there is a time and place for recreational social dance as well. Not everyone has to aspire to dance greatness, especially those who learn to learn to dance as a way to meet people or to simply have fun Twostepping at Rodeo parties.

There might be a twinge of regret in my decision to concentrate on Group Classes here at SSQQ. Like any good coach or teacher, I take my job seriously and want my students to become excellent dancers. But my wishes don't always jive with those of my students.

For example, on the Dark Side, their commitment level is not always very high. For example, not long ago I had a West Coast Swing student named Jean show up religiously for seven straight weeks of dance lessons. She concentrated, she asked intelligent questions, and she stayed after class to practice on a consistent basis. She was the best dancer in the class.

Then Jean missed Week Eight. She missed Week Nine. When she wasn't there for the start of Week Ten, I asked a lady who worked with Jean where she was. It turns out Jean had met a boy and was now in love. Uh Oh. So much for dance lessons. Sayonara, Jean.

The incident with Jean was certainly not a first. Not by a long shot! Since Dancing is one of the premier skills of all-time for the purposes of meeting people of the opposite sex, many dance students are there for the sole purpose of scouting for a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Frequently when they do indeed meet someone, they have a habit of disappearing from the dance scene faster than it takes to blink an eye. In fact, I coined a phrase, "Marriage is the Death of Dance", for this exact phenomenon.

Another frustration at my end of the business is deciding how hard we can push students to improve. Many times in my career I have watched 'Art' take a back seat to 'Fun'. Since many of our students take Social Dancing simply to acquire the most minimal skills necessary to get out on the floor, it makes no sense for me to take the drill sergeant approach. In Group Dance Classes, students have just so much patience for criticism. With this in mind, I have learned to let many things slide. I stick to the important things like footwork, rhythm, and leads, With this in mind, I confess to professional pain as I observe free arms dangling to the floor, men's hands nowhere near the correct place on their partner's back, people dancing too far apart, heels hitting the floor on ball-changes, and countless other mistakes the Dance Elite would make only in their worst nightmare.

People ask me my opinion on the effectiveness of Group Lessons versus Private Lessons. Both situations have much to recommend. Group Lessons are perfect as vehicles for meeting people and having fun. Let me add that if you practice enough and take the advanced, SSQQ can help you become a very good dancer at a very inexpensive cost.

But if money is no object and the purpose is not to meet people, obviously Private Lessons are better.

Group Dance Classes have their limitations. Many of the mistakes I listed above are so obvious they could be cleared up quickly in a private lesson, but I force myself to remember that many students aspire only as high as making it out on the floor and off again in one piece. If I were to make a fuss about every mistake that every student is making, my Group Class would move with the speed of a glacier. So I deliberately find a balance that my students can live with between criticism and fun. All good teachers learn this kind of pacing at some point. Group Classes can do a very effective job of explaining leads, footwork, timing, and other important fundamentals. But when it comes to the finer points of technique and precision, in Group Classes there is a definite point of diminishing returns. I have discovered the more time spent on details, the more people start to groan and beg politely for the instructor to shut up and play some music. Often I have noticed the group would rather dance clumsily to music than spend the extra time to get it right. Strike up the Band!

Given this fact, here at SSQQ we have our best luck when we make the classes fun. But this doesn't mean that a student is prevented from becoming a great dancer. We have turned out some marvelous dancers over the years. At the top of the learning curve, if several students aspire to excellence, they soon discover they can become pretty good dancers naturally if they will simply take the time to stay for Practice Night and review what they learned in class that evening. It is a good compromise.

I remain perplexed by the number of our students who don't make a point to stay for Practice Night. Readers might be surprised at the high percentage of students who come to class, then skip practice and head straight home. This phenomenon amazes me. 'Why are they even taking this class?' I wonder to myself. After all, once a student begins to practice on a regular basis, you can see their progress accelerate exponentially.

If you take our advanced classes and make a pointed effort to attend Practice Night, I think you can reach the college equivalent of a Bachelor's or Master's degree in social dance here at SSQQ. But if you want a PhD in Social Dance, you will need to switch to Private Lessons.

Group Classes and Practice can take a student just so far. In sports, the playground can turn out some pretty good basketball players, but a good coach can help an athlete progress to a much higher level. One summer when I was a kid, a boy I used to beat one on one at basketball suddenly started to beat me rather easily after he joined his high school team. He learned secrets of leverage, footwork, and defense that effectively turned the tables on me.

Dancing is no different. There are many subtle tricks of the trade. For example, sometimes the 'obvious' way of dancing a pattern is nowhere near as effective as unexpected footwork or a different lead that will bring better results. I believe group classes are extremely effective for training large numbers of people to become good dancers. But when it comes to the rarified atmosphere of competition dancing, there is no substitute for private dance lessons. Once an individual expresses an interest in taking their dancing to a much higher level such as exhibitions or competitions, I quickly assure them that private lessons with a good teacher is the best route to take.

For the first thirty years, SSQQ has been strictly about Group Dancing. However the potential for a dance competition training program here at SSQQ is vast. All we need is for the right teacher to come along and light the fire. For example, a couple years ago a gifted instructor named Susie Merrill recruited 20 SSQQ dancers and turned them into a world championship dance team known as "Heartbeat". Another gifted instructor named Anita Williams helped SSQQ students Joel McCleskey and Victor Marquez win individual World Championships. Recently on a local level, Bryan Spivey and Scott Ladell have seen their West Coast Swing and Western students perform very well at dance competitions.

Until this teacher comes along, SSQQ will simply continue to stick to what we do best - teaching Group Social Dance Lessons and creating the environment that leads to marriages, friendships, and healing as well. Did you know SSQQ is quietly very effective at helping people recover from breakups and divorces? Dancing can help a struggling person find some much needed friendship and confidence. For example, many of our students show up dealing with a loss of some sort. Many people come through our doors recently separated or divorced.

At a difficult time like this, our dance studio can be a pretty safe place. As opposed to the bars where only the strong survive, taking classes at a dance studio can allow friendships to develop with a minimum of pressure. During the healing process, a student can have friends of the opposite sex to take classes with and meet as part of a large group at a dance club. He or she can still feel part of the human race for whatever period of time is necessary to mend without feeling the pressure to get serious. Later when the jagged nerves start to heal and the wounded self-esteem makes a comeback, the person will usually know exactly which one of those "friends" would be the perfect person to begin seeing more of.

And if their relationship deepens and their interest in dancing fades away, we have to learn to accept that our students will have to move on. Good will and fond memories may bring them back some day. Or perhaps like Charlotte's Web they will send someone to take their place. Maybe it will be a friend, a neighbor, a colleague at work, or a grownup child just out of college looking to have some fun and meet people.

All Teachers, dance or otherwise, must accept our students are given to us for a while, then we have to let them go. For the most part, it is our job to first show them how to avoid crippling their partner, then get them on out the floor, give them some encouragement, and watch them go to work

We should also say thanks for the occasional gifted students that come our way. And let us cross our fingers and hope that Dancing becomes a very important part of their life. Then perhaps our gifted ones will fight to stay with us if and when Cupid decides to spin his clever magic again. The world can always use a few more great dancers!


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