Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Top Ten Peeves When Ballroom Dancing

Hello dancers!  It's time for me to post something a little different from the norm.  

I like to share my opinion sometimes, and I figured that having an article about dancing posted at least once a month would be a nice addition to this site!

I already have a few articles on dancing.  If you want to check them out, they're located on the Ballroom Dancing 101 page.

So, this month, I want to talk about:

My top pet peeves when ballroom dancing

When we go out dancing, be it a dance class or a dance social, we are constantly striving to have a good time.  But sometimes there's something about our dance partner that prevents us from having 100% fun.  Sometimes that partner can even ruin your evening.

For me, I can usually take certain nuisances in stride and not let it ruin my night.  But there are some things that just bug me when I'm dancing with someone.  Here are my top ten pet peeves when I'm dancing with a partner.  Keep in mind that I'm not pointing fingers at anybody in this list; this is a list that I've accumulated over the years, mainly as a dancer.

#10: The Noodle Arm
I admit, this isn't a huge pet peeve of mineNoodle arms are when the person's arm is limp and unresponsive.  You try to lead using a slight compression in the hand, and only the arm moves.  The rest of the body doesn't react. While it's not the most annoying thing in the world, it does make leading difficult and unnecessarily forceful.  So followers, keep your arms in front of you.  And if you feel a lead going into your arm, let go into your shoulder and into the rest of your body, so that you can generate a quick response.  The guys shouldn't have to do all the work for you; you need to do a little work yourself.

#9: The Arm-Wrestler
In class, we talk about compression, creating a slight pressure in the hand to ease leading and following.  But some people interpret that to mean you need to apply constant pressure all the time, so your arm becomes very tense and stiff. In the case of followers, this means you're making your leader's arm really tired, really fast, and it takes a Herculean effort to move you.  In the case of leaders, it means you're relying on your arms for leading more than your body.  You become too firm and rough with your leads, and it gets pretty exhausting for your followers, who feel like they need to fight you every step of the way.  So, ease up people!  Use as little pressure as you can, otherwise the dancing becomes more work than it needs to be.

#8: Gum Chewing
One thing most dancers are really self-conscious about is personal hygiene; we don’t want people to cringe because we smell bad somewhere.  People constantly dive into our bowl of lifesavers at the studio in order to cover up stale breath, but some people resort to chewing gum to make their mouths smell nice. 
I understand the need to make your breath smell minty fresh, but if you chew gum while you dance with me, particularly with your mouth open, I’m going to get a little irritated, because that mouth is right in my face or next to my ear when we dance together.  There’s something so maddening about that little smacking sound, and I find it really distracting when I'm trying to dance with you.  So if you need gum, please chew before you dance, not during.  And don’t chew with your mouth open, please.  Thank you.

#7: Uptight And Constricting Frames
Sometimes when the guys are nervous or tense, their arms become rock-solid restraints that I can’t get out of.  Once they feel more confident, however, their frame relaxes and everything’s fine, no worries.  I get it, you're nervous, I've been there.  But there are some guys out there who are tense all the time, with arms that slowly start to squeeze me up against their bodies.  I end up either unable to move the way I want to, or crushed up against him (a little awkward sometimes--I'm not so sure I want my chest pressed up against yours).  A firm frame doesn’t mean a tense one, so leaders, just chillax a bit and soften your frame.  It should feel like an open hug, not like you’re about to toss me down on the ground.

#6: Flamboyant And Careless Dancers
There's always at least one couple like this out there on the floor.  It's the couple who learned the flashy, exhibition style of dancing and they've made it to the advanced levels.  Good for you for making it to Silver or Gold level dancing, but here's the thing: just because you are now an advanced dancer doesn't mean that people will automatically get out of the way for you.  When you dance on the floor with everyone else, we expect you to practice good floorcraft, like everyone else.  Beginner students can be forgiven if they keep crashing into people: they're still learning.  But advanced dancers who keep bumping into people...well that's another matter entirely.
I know there are situations where bumps and collisions can't be helped, such as a really crowded dance floor.  But with this pet peeve, I'm talking about the dancers who don't adjust to the crowd.  They make their arms huge and flamboyant, they don't watch where their steps go, and they try to stick to the routines they learned, even if there's not enough room to complete the whole thing.  The best advanced dancers are not the ones with the flashy moves, they're the ones who can complete a whole song without a single collision, despite the crowd.

#5: Using My Shoulder Blade As A Handhold
We leaders have all done this: we cup that hand on her back so our fingers are digging in a little.  It’s a cheap trick to get the followers to follow us, and most of the time it’s not too annoying, but every once in a while there’s this hand on my back that tries to use my shoulder blade as a hand hold.  
First off, ow?!  That doesn’t feel good!  Seriously, that hand can make my back sore for the remainder of the night!
Secondly, no matter how hard you pull on my back, you’re not going to get the results you want, so do yourself and your partner a favor, and flatten that right hand and avoid using it to lead her around.  Trust me, the less you rely on that hand, the better everything is going to feel, for both you and the people you dance with.

#4: Hand Squeezers
Ugh, this one is definitely a big one for me.  What I mean by this one is that the person I'm dancing with, be it a leader or follower, has a death grip on my hand.  With the followers, it's usually because they are nervous or are feeling off-balance, but it's still preventing me from leading you comfortably.  That's it for followers, though.  It's the leaders who really bug me with this one.  A leader who's a hand squeezer is either one of two things: 1) They're nervous or off-balance, or 2) Their type of leading is rough, with extreme use of arms for leading, and potentially dangerous.  It's the latter one that I particularly hate.  It's like they think that they need to lead everything and that she will fly away if they don't have all five fingers encircling her hand.  This style of leading not only makes following extremely difficult, it hurts!  Ow!  Take that thumb off the back of my hand, because you are currently cracking all my fingers.  
That hand squeezing is especially dangerous when you're turning her: you could easily twist her arm and hurt her shoulder that way.  So like I tell all my beginner students: Fingertips, please.  No Thumbs!

#3: Crankers
oo, this is where things can get dangerous!  Cranking is where the leaders does a gigantic, windmill-like motion in order to turn the partner.  While it looks pretty darn cool in competitions, this is a big no-no on the dance floor.  Spinning the girl requires very little movement on the leader's side: either twirl the wrist "like you're stirring your coffee" or make the movement slightly larger, like "you're stirring the pot"
DO NOT CRANK THE ARM!  Cranking can seriously hurt someone's shoulder if you don't know what you're doing.  It can also severely throw off your partner's balance, or sense of direction.  I can think of three instances where my arm got cranked, none of them were pleasant:  
The first time it happened, the guy kept hitting my face with my own arm (I eventually learned to duck).  
The second time it happened, I didn't see it coming, and my shoulder felt like it was getting wrenched out of it's socket (this was the only time I ever corrected someone on the floor).
The third time it happened, the guy was trying to show off his salsa skills, and he very nearly crashed me into the pillar in the middle of the floor, not once, but twice (like I said, it can throw off your partner's balance).  
So guys, ease up on the arms.  Trust me, the ladies do know how to spin, and if they're having troubles spinning, then the move is currently too advanced for them.

#2: The Creepy Smile Or The Creepy Hands
Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, there was this guy who I secretly nicknamed "Mr. T.C.".  T.C. stood for "Too Close".  He kept cropping up at these dances that I would normally attend, and he didn't really dance ballroom or swing.  Now I didn't mind that bit; sometimes you just want to have fun on the dance floor without doing any noticeable basic steps.  That's fine.  What creeped me out about this guy is that he would have this smile the whole time: this creepy, wide, lips-closed smile that would literally be just inches from my face.  A couple of times, it looked and felt like he would kiss me.  He never did, of course, but it felt like it, and that is a big no-no in my book.  When we ladies go out dancing, we are trusting that the strange guy we're dancing with is not some sort of pervert; we want to feel safe and comfortable the entire time.  But when the guy is silently staring at you with a weird smile that doesn't falter for a second... well, as a woman I get creeped out.  I'm not saying you shouldn't smile at your partner, I just saying that you should treat a dance like you would treat a normal conversation: avoid looking creepy.
By the way, the same thing goes for hands.  I do not feel comfortable being touched in certain places while dancing.  Sometimes, the leaders miscalculate and their hands accidently brush up against me.  Okay, fine, we've all done that, and it's clearly an accident.  But do not put your hands there for a certain move.  Waist and shoulders are fine with someone you don't know.  But the curve of the low back that's just above the person's rear, or the widest point of a woman's hip, that's the danger zone.  Having your hand too close to a woman's chest while she's turning is also dangerous, so watch where your hands go.  Remember, you want the woman to feel safe dancing with you.
Getting tapped on the head really bugs me too, although I never thought I would actually have to say so.  I had someone do that to me once as part of a certain move, and he kept doing it for the whole song.  Maybe it's just me, but it felt invasive somehow, and I really didn't like that.  So, no head-tapping either.  It's annoying.

So enough of my ranting, let's move on to my #1 pet peeve
#1: Correctors
Some of you already know this pet peeve of mine pretty well by now, I'm so vocal about this.  I hate unsolicited teaching with a passion.  If they didn't ask for it, you shouldn't do it.  Do not tell your partner that they are doing it wrong.  Do not tell your partner to press harder or to bring their feet together more.  If they are indeed doing something wrong, just go with it!  People just want to have a good time; they are not looking for lessons from each and every partner they dance with!  If you are giving your partner advice, you are doing so without any teaching experience (trust me, teachers undergo training for a reason).  Chances are, you don't have a full grasp of the move or technique yourself, and it is more likely that you, in fact, are doing it wrong!  And if you are a teacher or coach, you still have no right to correct someone at a dance social.  They are not your students, and therefore should be left to try things on their own.  
The only times I teach at a social, it's either because 
1) I'm one of the hosts, and I'm working with someone who's brand new to dancing, or 
2) one of my own students has approached me with a question about a particular move.  Dancing should always be about positive reinforcement (ie., compliments and encouragments) and not about criticisms and corrections.


So there you have it.  My top ten pet peeves.  Sometimes the key to a successful night of dancing is being aware of what bugs you, and learning to take it in stride.  Like I said, this list isn't meant to target anyone particular dancers; the people I used as examples were complete strangers to me.  I teach my students pretty well, so they can breathe a sigh of relief and know I'm not talking about them.  But you can never have a completely perfect dance night. 
So think about it, what bothers you when you go out dancing?  If you want to share, comment below (you can do it anonymously if you like).  And remember to not take your pet peeves personally.  Don't let them ruin your night, and you'll have a great time regardless!


  1. Excellent! I remember I was doing some of them. I still constantly remind me not to do things. It is hard because you are not good at it yet and you tried to compensate your weakness. Anyway these are really good list of things especially for leaders to improve.
    Jay Rhie

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