Since joining the social dance community, I’ve been privileged to befriend like-minded people who share my passion for dance. I feel incredibly lucky to have a core group of friends to dance with at every salsa night and with whom I can travel and have an awesome time. We’ve formed a close bond and we can be honest with one another about our experiences on the dance floor.
Whenever we leave a dance event, we often use the drive home as an opportunity to ask, “So? What was your best dance of the night?” We enjoy ourselves throughout the evening, but there is usually one dance in particular that stands out. Perhaps it’s because you found someone who loves your favourite jam as much as you do, so you were both able to be playful with the music. Or, maybe you were able to connect with someone you have never danced with before and it was effortlessly smooth. In any case, every story of someone’s “best dance of the night” offers an important lesson to help you improve your own dancing.
Lesson one: When it comes to learning, you’ll never be finished.
Every time a lead tells me what their best dance of the night was, I listen carefully. What did that follower do that was so enjoyable? Sometimes it’s something really simple like smiling genuinely throughout the dance or clearly enjoying the music. Other times, they describe subtle details that I have to constantly remind myself to work on. For instance, am I light enough on my feet? Is my styling natural or is it out of place or too excessive and therefore taking away from our connection? Am I doing everything I can to maintain my balance and hold myself up while I step/turn/dip, or am I relying too much on my partner? Every time a friend tells me about what they appreciate in a follower, I ask myself, “Do I do that?” If I’m not doing it, I work on it. There is always something new to learn and one of the best ways to become a better dancer is to listen to the people who dance with you.
Lesson two: Connection is everything.
This lesson is a recurring theme in several LDC articles and is emphasized in every social dance class. It’s not about the number of “advanced” moves you know, nor the number of fancy shines you have memorized. Being a great social dancer is about paying attention to what your partner is doing; this is key to an incredible dance experience. Some of my worst dances of the night have been with people who are experienced, incredible dancers and very talented performers. Despite their skill, I felt no connection to them and at times, I felt embarrassed because I couldn’t keep up. Sadly, I’ve heard many stories that reflect similar frustrations. Leads should always be mindful of their partner’s experience and avoid super complicated moves that are tough to follow. It’s always a great idea to “test the waters” early on in a dance to see what your follower knows already.
On the other side, I’ve heard many leads say they’ve had their worst dance of the night with followers who are difficult to lead or who are too caught up with their own styling to pay attention to their partner. Followers who are experienced should always pay attention to their partner’s lead, even if it’s not what they’re used to. I will once again quote the talented Magna Gopal who reminds us: “It’s not about me, it’s about us.” It is possible to make amazing connections with people at all levels of the spectrum of experience.
Lesson three: Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Sometimes, you’ll want to channel your inner Daniel and Desiree and share moments of sensuality with your partner. Other times, you’ll want to be incredibly silly and make faces at each other throughout a dance–and that’s perfectly fine. Some of my favourite earliest memories of dance were when new friends would break the ice by singing along with the music, whispering funny comments while they were leading me, or making sound effects during a dip. Maybe some followers wouldn’t enjoy this, but it really helped me to combat my own awkwardness. Being too serious or trying to dance like a professional all the time is hard. Being authentic is much easier (and much more enjoyable for you and your partner). The best dances are often the ones in which you think less and laugh more!
Lesson Four: Give every dancer a chance and encourage other people to dance with them.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “You should dance with so-and-so. They’re really fun to dance with!” Since day one of my salsa dancing adventures, my more experienced friends have shared their favourite partners with me. “He’s a really smooth lead!” “His bachata is out of this world–best dance of the night for sure!” “Her musicality is incredible–she’s a better lead than many of the men!” If it weren’t for these recommendations and introductions to some warm, welcoming dancers, I would have been too shy or too intimidated to ask these people to dance. For that reason, I never want to seem too intimidating and I definitely want people to finish a dance with me and say “You should dance with her!” to their friends.
So, I strive to make each dance memorable, no matter what. No. Matter. What. Even if you and your partner do not dance at the same level of experience, you can still be playful and have fun with your basic steps. Be someone’s best dance–not the reason why someone is discouraged.
What was your best dance of the night at the last event you went to? Share your story with the hashtag #bestdanceofthenight.