Photo by Shane Karns
There is an age old debate in social dance scenes. When, if ever, is teaching okay on the dance floor? Ask a dozen different dancers and you’ll probably get a dozen different replies. Some people forbid it outright, some people feel like it’s their duty. Most people fall somewhere in between. Here we’ll discuss the merits of both ends, as well as the most common solutions to the issue.
On the Dance Floor
In many dance scenes, any kind of teaching on the dance floor is considered rude. Especially if there are lessons before the dance, many blues scenes try to keep a clear line between class time and dance time. In these scenes, people just want to have fun during dances. When the music starts and the lights dim, you go into social mode. You want to see your friends, talk to people, dance and have a good time. Learning something more is the last thing on your mind. This is also true of teachers, who frequently just want to dance like everybody else, instead of teaching everyone who dances with them. In addition, not everyone has a thorough grasp of dance mechanics. When people start teaching on the dance floor, you get well meaning dancers giving lessons in dance technique that is anywhere from slightly off, to dangerous. While we do not all need to be perfect, technical dancers, discouraging instruction on the dance floor can help minimize passing on dangerous habits. (Dips and tricks are the thing most often taught on a dance floor.) Finally, discouraging teaching also discourages unsolicited feedback. There is nothing worse, for a new dancer especially, than being told after a dance about all the things they need to fix. So many scenes have discouraged any kind of teaching, in order to create an environment that is more welcoming for their dancers.
Some dance scenes go the other way and actually make teaching on the social floor an expected and regulated thing. Often called practicas or blues labs, these sessions range from formal dance and feedback sessions with a moderator, to something that looks like a normal dance, but started the night with a quick lesson on how to give and receive feedback. A benefit to these is the spirit of learning they foster. Dancers in these scenes can give and receive feedback gracefully, in a way that is incorporated into the fun, rather than diminishing it. This spirit also allows scenes, especially small scenes without access to professional instruction, to continue growing and improving when they would otherwise stagnate. Practicas are also used as a community building tool, fostering a sense of collaboration and ownership by everyone involved, often helping with retention in those same, smaller scenes.
In the Middle
Most dances around the country fall somewhere in the middle. Some allow teaching in their code of conduct only if a partner is doing something dangerous or uncomfortable. In some scenes it is rude to offer feedback, but if feedback is asked for, it is kosher to give it. When you come to a new scene, check in with the host or organizer of the dance you are attending. They should know what the implicit or explicit code of conduct is for that particular dance and can help you navigate whatever the rules and expectations for dance floor teaching may be.