So last night I went to a West Coast Swing (WCS) group class because my friend wanted to go. It was a dance she explored a few years ago but hadn’t done in at least a year. I’m so glad we went because it was actually a really good class, the instructor was clearly a “Westie” (i.e. not a person who specializes in ballroom teaching WCS, but someone who knows the WCS dance specifically), and my friend remembered how much she loved the dance.
I’ve been interested in learning WCS, really, after meeting an instructor at a competition. He brought it to my attention that ballroom has stylized this dance and it looks really different when danced by people who know it. I went to a class back in September and instantly understood what he meant. It is such a smooth, sultry, down and dirty, but super creative, and fun dance. It really depends on the connection between partners and allows the opportunity for a conversation to occur between the partners. It was a total different experience than I’d had learning it from a ballroom instructor.
So, in any case, my interest in learning the “authentic” WCS is piqued.
Last night we learned a ton of moves and I met a lot of people as the classes progressed and leaders rotated around to followers one after an other.
Some of these dancers are amazing. They know all the moves and they know how to lead.
Some of these guys are less experienced, but open to learning, and fun to connect with.
Then there are those who think they are there to instruct me.
Listen, it’s generally great to get to dance with a more experienced dancer. They can teach you stuff just through the process of dancing with them.
But the worst is when they think they know what they are doing but in actuality they don’t. Yes, perhaps the “know” how to do a figure or step, but really they don’t know how to do it properly.
It’s also super bad when a leader thinks that just because he leads something, the woman should follow. Uh, hello! Sometimes there’s a reason we don’t follow. Just because you thought in your brain you did something, doesn’t mean you actually did (happens to me all the time). And to get mad at me because of that, well that’s just rude. You know, perhaps your lead wasn’t clear. Perhaps your body is positioned incorrectly and blocking my way. Perhaps I don’t trust you enough to be in an intimate hold when I just learned your name 2 minutes ago.
It is offensive to me when people try and instruct me at a social dancing lesson, unless I specifically ask for it. I’m a pretty smart girl and a very good dancer. I’m also open to learning. But I paid the instructor to do that for me, not you, Mr. full-of-yourself! Plus, the instructor of the class actually complimented me on my following skillz last night! (Yes, Skill-z with a “z,” because I’m ghetto cool like that) Yes, I do miss the lead and try to lead from behind sometimes, but in general I try really hard to be connected and follow. I’m pretty aware of this situation and do my best to be the best follower I can.
Last night I danced with one person in particular who really rubbed me the wrong way for all of the above reasons. At one point he spun me around and my arm was blocked by his arm. He placed my arm on his shoulder and told me that was where it was supposed to go.
“Oh, for that particular move?”
“No, in dance. In dance when you turn, you put your arms up.”
I was not aware that in all of dance, anytime you ever did a turn you are supposed to put your arm up.
The way he said it was so patronizing! OMG! I was like, (in my head) you don’t know who you’re talking to, bub! I’m a better dancer than you, hands down. Maybe I don’t know all the steps you know, but in terms of creating connection, controlling my body, and doing the steps I do know, I can kick your butt!
“Oh really?” I replied, acting like he was really instructing me and I was really learning something from him, like a pedantic groupie. In reality, I couldn’t believe this guy. He didn’t know what he was talking about!
He had originally told me what a nice connection I had when we had danced during the class.
“Thank you.” I replied.
But here’s the thing. I may not know WCS, specifically, but there is a reason for that ability to connect, why it felt nice. I practice it all the time with Ivan. I think the connection is super important and almost magical when present. I know what connection should feel like (generally) and because of this I can do it, probably better than someone who is just taking social lessons or a beginner.
So anyways, I can make a nice connection. Great. This guy liked it and told me it “Felt great.”
Cool, I thought. When he asked me to dance after the classes during the time for open dancing practice, I was glad.
But then all the cocky, instructional stuff. Ugh! Makes me not want to dance with you. Makes me tense up and wish it were over.
After the arm issue, he tried the move again and again we had a problem. He almost seemed like he was getting frustrated with me.
He told me, “I’m gonna push you because you have a good connection. I’ll take you out on the dance floor and teach you some stuff. So don’t cry about it.”
Who says this?
Well, that is fine and good, but mister you forgot the first thing about lead and follow. It is an INVITATION you’re supposed to offer, not FORCING someone to do something or wanting them to submit. The best dancers allow the conversation. Especially in WCS the woman can “hijack” the dance and take control for a time. (I’m nowhere near good enough to do this yet) But with that possibility the dance is supposed to be a dialog, not a monologue. Besides, dude, based on the way you were trying to bulldoze me around the dance floor, you didn’t have very nice things to say to me. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be in conversation with you. Seriously, in the future, if I go to this party again, I may choose to dance with him if he asks once or twice, but if he becomes bothersome I’m gonna let him have it!
Now contrast this to this other leader who was absolutely awesome. I felt completely comfortable dancing with him. He had a nice clear lead and we were able to dance almost an entire song with only one or two mishaps. I came alive dancing with this fellow because he was just digging the music and inviting me to dance with him, not expecting that I bow down to his machismo ego. He was absolutely more experienced in this dance than I, but he didn’t try to instruct me in anything. He invited me, and most times, I happily accepted the invitation.
It felt great! This is the magic of social dancing…when you can dance with someone you’ve never met in your entire life seamlessly. It is fabulous!
So even if I encounter some bozos out there while learning this new amazing dance, the WCS, I think it’s worth the price. There are also those awesome leaders out there and boy are the fun to dance with.
Here is a video of a kick-ass WCS. Notice that it is a true conversation….a word to the wise for mr. know-it-all…and that is what makes it freakin’ awesome.
Go Stefanie! ! I’m a Lindy Hop leader who’s been dancing since 1997, and I agree with 100% of what you say. NO UNSOLICITED CRITICISM!! That goes for both leaders AND followers — followers do it too. Dancing is supposed to be fun. How much fun is it when one partner treats the other as clearly inferior?
I’ve never done the Lindy Hop but it looks like a ton of fun! How did you get into doing it? I agree with you, and you are right. Some followers can be just as bad in terms of instructing their leader. No fun! It’s way better when there is mutual respect and appreciation.