Home Blues Teaching on the Dance Floor

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.

 

Practicas/Blues Labs

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.

Nicole has been an avid blues dancer for five years, and social dancer for 9. Originally from New Mexico and co-organizer of Atomic Blues Fusion, she now bases out of San Francisco, but is seen just as often teaching somewhere at a dance near you.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’d love to know your source for “Dips and tricks are the thing most often taught on a dance floor.” Not in my experience.

    Practica as a “dance floor”? Well, sure, you’re on a dance floor but it is fundamentally different from a social dance environment. It’s a safe place where feedback is not only expected, it’s anticipated, making it fundamentally different from the first perspective.

    There’s one easy to follow rule here, understand this definition and rule: Unasked for advice *is* criticism. Don’t criticize. The only exception? If you’re being hurt by your partner – then you should say something, but be careful when offering criticism.

    Since this is public domain, here’s some unasked for advice. This article really has some serious faults by failing to initially identify the distinct differences in social dance environments: post-lesson practices, practicas, social environments (bars vs studio dances), etc. The environments give a lot more sense of when social instruction is acceptable and “acceptable” is far better defined not by the culture of the scene but by the attitude and expectations of the recipient.

    I would love to see you rewrite this from the perspective of the recipient than from the perspective of the advice-giver. I would love to see you address the validity of the advice from advice-giver, How does one know they’re ready to give [unsolicited] feedback on the dance floor in a non-practica environment?

    Etc etc. I think you get my point — this issue as addressed skips many relevant points.

    Also? It’s no really a debate, it pretty much should not be done in a social dance environment. Practicas being a social *learning* environment. Even post lesson open dancing is a questionable place, but there’s an acknowledged expert in the room for those.

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