Dear Dance Diva,
To me, the best possible dance is one in which my partner and I feel content—both feeling that the lead/follow has gone relatively well, neither having been made to feel incompetent and together having had enough of a pleasant social connection to warrant future contact. In your esteemed opinion, what is the best way of achieving this?
What an astute question! And so delighted you asked it of the ultimate arbiter of all things dance etiquette who of course, does not lack for an opinion on this very important subject. Unless you only dance with one partner, with whom you are on an exact equal footing, most social dances match two people who are not of the same level of experience or accomplishment. In this case, it is critical that the more experienced dancer tone down the dancing and figures to meet the level of the less skilled participant. This is not a situation like adding numbers to find an average; you are not going to pair an expert dancer with a rank beginner and expect to produce a dance on the intermediate level. This is strictly lowest common denominator. Focus on beginning with a good connection and some simple combinations and, if all goes well, then gently test the waters of your partnership. And stop before the train wreck, please. It is a true skill—and one to be applauded far more than showing off that new figure you just learned and are doing pretty badly yourself—to be able to discern your partner’s comfort/ability level and your own capability in achieving the results you desire. Be sensitive to your partner’s preferences; if you try a move that is clearly uncomfortable or untenable for him/her, for goodness sake, don’t repeat it to try to make an improvement. The worst possible culmination is for your partner, whether or follower, to walk off the floor feeling like a klutz or an idiot. And with the right insensitive partner, this can happen to even the most sophisticated dancer. (if one can only imagine, the Diva herself has suffered such insult, though you can be sure she did not deign to dance with that partner again! Finally, remember to smile, make eye contact and project a no-pressure attitude of fun and forgiveness. This is not a competition. You will not suffer demerits for mistakes either by you or your partner nor will someone stand in judgment if you dance at less than your ultimate skill level. Keep your ego in check and present a positive, enthusiastic façade, even if it’s only a façade. As with all things dance; modesty, appreciation and generosity are far more attractive than even the most impressive dance vocabulary. And if you are what the Diva refers to as a “dance snob”—i.e., someone who will only dance with someone at or above your own level—please go find a permanent partner and limit the damage to the rest of the social dance population.