Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Leaders! Everything You Ever Wanted to Hear From Your Follower (but were afraid to ask!)

Leaders! Everything You Ever Wanted to Hear From Your Follower (but were afraid to ask!)

A recent post on Facebook (Thanks Jasmine!) brought about the topic for this week! Apologies for length but, well, lets just say I have been given alot of things to pass on here!!!!

There are a number of complaints, concerns, and comments about leaders that repeatedly come up when followers get together and talk dance. As someone who "Swings Both Ways" as a leader and a follower, I totally empathize with both sides of the slot. So Leaders, don't think I am picking on you! Next week it will be the Follower's turn!

I would HOPE that any dancer out there would want to continue to improve their dance, whether they are purely social dancers or fierce competitors, because really, the better we understand the mechanics and nuances of the dance, the more people will want to dance with us! AND, they will leave with a genuine smile on their face, rather than the polite "Thanks-for-the-dance-how-fast-can-I-get-to-the-next-dancer" look. I am sure we have all seen - and given - THAT look! One of the best things you can do for your dance is to really, REALLY hear what it is like to be on the other side of the slot. So below, I am listing and commenting on the chief complaints that I hear from Followers.

     1) Overleading: Basically guys - we come equipped with Power Steering, Power Brakes, and Cruise Control.

I once watched a top Pro female following a Novice leader (who I had had a disastrous dance with in competition and who seemed to think he had to goat-rope me through the whole song) in the late night dancing. Afterwards I commented something about his lead, to which she replied "I don't get it - I'm a Ferrari! I don't need to be dragged through every ^%&**% step!" So, think of leading as you would driving - only use as much as you need to achieve the move, and no more. I am going to address each of the 3 topics separately.

          Cruise Control: If you have never followed (or rarely follow) you probably have NO idea how different it feels to have a body lead vs an arm lead. A body lead feels like you have put your foot on gently on the gas as you let out the clutch - an arm lead feels like you are trying to get out the gate first in a drag (literally) race! If you are not sure if you have mastered the body lead, ask the best follower you are comfortable with talking to (as she will definitely be able to know the difference). Mastering this alone will double the number of followers on your dance card overnight.

          Once you have us moving, you really, truly don't need to keep us moving - we are really good at doing this ourselves! Yes, beginner dancers may not move as well (and may need a bit more "help" at first), and there are differences in how we are taught from region to region about what "connection" is, but my understanding of where the dance is going in general is to create dancers who are not dependent on each other but rather who can work cooperatively to create magic on the dance floor. The leader who leads every single step, keeps us followers from developing our own ability to move and makes it much harder for us to add our own styling. So for instance, on a simple side pass, you only need to give us the speed and direction (forward) on "1", the change of direction around "3and", and the indication that we are ending the move (sometimes called the post) on 4 so I know to be prepared to anchor. In between all that is needed is a clear (Read: NOT heavy, strong, or controlling!) connection so I know where you are. Leaders who lead every single step of every single move make us our job 10 times harder.

          Power Steering: Just as we are able to move ourselves very well, we are also able to change our direction on our own! Again, a beginner may need more support and help through a turn, but whenever possible, try even then to let her get herself around...it is the only way she will find her own balance and technique!!! Once we know our "job", we are usually pretty good at getting ourselves through any change of direction that you may give us. Lead the change of direction and let us follow through - trust us to do our part of the dance!

          Power Brakes: You have no idea how many times I have wondered if I'd need a neck brace, or shoulder surgery at the end of a dance. Once a follower has learned technique and control, you may be surprised just how fast we can stop ourselves on our own! The worst offenses come after a spin, when the leader often yanks us out of the end of the spin to hit a break.  Odds are, if we know the music, we will instinctively be ready for that hit anyway...but even if we don't know the music, all it takes is a subtle change of speed as you finish the last spin to let us know to pay attention to what you are doing. Please, please, PLEASE don't yank our arm down....this is one of the biggest things that causes injuries AND scares off many a newbie so she doesn't come back.

That brings me to another subject:

     2) Dancing with Beginners: The experiences that a follower has in her first few weeks and months can make a HUGE difference in her long-term dancing. You have no idea how many beginners have come up to me who I have to talk off the ledge (ie, they are thinking of quitting) because an "Advanced" leader scared her or hurt her feelings. Also, how she physically dances will be greatly affected by her first experiences (ie, if she fears getting hurt by the aforementioned goat-roper leader, she will learn to dance defensively/tight, which is a hard habit to unlearn).

You have all probably heard of the book "Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars". This book covers the different ways men and women approach not only sex but life in general. The dance floor is no different. Where you guys generally don't want to look "foolish", women will often blame themselves for every little thing that goes wrong in the dance....especially when she is still learning. If you have ever done a workshop or three, you have likely heard the instructor say "It is always the leaders fault". Well, like it or not, most of the time it is. Why? Because YOU are in the drivers seat. It is YOUR JOB to take each follower and learn how to "drive" her. Just like different makes and models of cars, followers have different ways of reacting to each lead, and differing skill levels. Your job is to figure out what each follower can do (Is she a Jeep, a Toyota, or a Ferrari?), and then give her a dance that accentuates her skills while perhaps challenging her a just a bit to stretch her dance a little. This is ESPECIALLY true for beginners.

I cringe sooo many times when I see a woman who perhaps has just learned the left/right side-passes and a push break getting dragged through dozens of spins and dips by a leader who thinks he has to "teach" her to dance. Even those who have danced several months or even a year or so are often more emotionally fragile than the leaders imagine....they often feel they are not advancing (when in fact they are) because some guy just threw every move he knows at them (often badly!) when their skill sets were nowhere near those level of moves. You may find it a bit tedious at times, but in the long run, you will get many, MANY more followers who want to dance with you if you take care of them when they are baby-dancers. So if you have to lead left and right side-passes for a whole song, use that time to perfect YOUR technique! Odds are there is SOMETHING you need to improve (centering, balance, timing, etc). This is the perfect time to work on it!!!!

In addition:  when you first dance with anyone who you nave never danced with, please please PLEASE don't pull out all your fanciest moves in the first phrase of the music! Even if you have watched them dance with someone else, always ALWAYS start with simpler moves, and work your way to the more difficult ones as you figure out what the follower is capable of. I often do some basic patterns to figure out what her connection and general "follow-ability" is, (ie, does she anticipate? Does she settle on her anchor? Is she watching me? etc). THEN I add a simple free spin (if she can't spin on her own, she likely will not spin well with connection). The rest of my dance will be largely determined within that first phrase as I now know what moves to not try with her at this point. As we get to know each other over time, I may pull out moves that will stretch her, but not on our first dance. I want her to be confident and relaxed at the end of that first dance, and I am sure it is why I often get the remark that our dance was the best one of the night - not because I am a "better" leader, but because I adjusted my dance to my follower!

BTW: how you dance with these beginner/more novice dancers tells ME a lot about how good you are as a leader......they are less likely to be able to fudge for a bad lead, so when I see a real beginner/novice having a great dance with a leader, I want to dance with HIM!!!!!!

     3) Please be Gentle with us! : Many of you don't know your own strength. Fingers in our backs during whips, death grip thumb holds in open, and the like make it hard for us to enjoy the dance. It's a good thing to check in with a follower that you trust once in awhile to get some feedback around this. 99% of the time the leader is totally unaware that this is happening and we will be happy to let you know if you ask us!

     4) PLEASE: No teaching on the dance floor! : With a few exceptions, most teaching on the dance floor comes from leaders. And, like it or not, my premise is that in 85-90% of the cases, the thing that needs to be fixed is the leader. (I know that will be ruffling a few feathers here, but I tend to speak MY truth guys!).

The reason for this is what I already discussed; and that is that it is up to the leader to not over-face the newer or less-competent followers, and this accounts for at least half of these "free advice sessions". The other issue is whether you are actually leading the move in the most correct/efficient fashion. Just because you can lead it with some followers doesn't mean you are leading it correctly! A more advanced follower, or one who just learned the move in the workshop with you, will "fill in the gaps" in the lead...while a less competent/experienced one may or may not muddle her way through it.

When I am leading, I generally try to not give advice to followers (unless it is something I have worked on with someone in class) on the social dance floor....with the RARE exception of a simple fix that I might offer (and if they don't get it, I leave it alone!).

It is my opinion that if you can't follow, you are in no place to "teach" a follower, and visa versa. If you are ASKED for help, then by all means, help if you can, but again, if you don't follow, you may want to at least enlist someone to help you who does know the move (your instructor perhaps??) so they can get the information that they need as a follower to understand their role.

I am sure there are other things that followers will want to chime in on. Please, no mentions of names if you are giving particular examples....but I would love to see a good exchange of information on this. We can only improve what we are aware of.....and remember girls, it's your turn next week, so be nice!!!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Roomshare Etiquette 101

As an organizer of our local dance community, Hudson Valley WCS, I often promote weekend dance events that I like to my group. With that comes the responsibility of helping people to find ride and room shares. I am very fortunate to have the assistance of another dancer, Jun Ogata with this monumental and sometimes thankless task. Matching personalities and personal needs and preferences takes some serious shuffling and patience!

There are many things to consider when sharing a room with others; it is good to be honest from the get-go about what works for you, what you can compromise on, and what just plain won't work for you. After all, we are going to these events to have a good time, so it really pays to make sure that you and your roommates are on the same page.

Below are some of the issues that you need to think about when sharing a room. You can print out the list at the bottom of this blog and give it to your roomshare organizer or, if you are doing your own coordinating, you can send it out to all your roomies to clarify things with them ahead of time. If you are a room coordinator, feel free to use this form for your group too. This list is *MY* point of view, gained from our experiences here and the stories I have heard from other coordinators - take it and make it your own!

He/She who books the room sets the tone of the room.

Most of the time the host hotel sells out weeks (or even months) ahead of time. So if you happen to be one of those people who does not plan ahead and you leave the booking of the room until it is too late, you should be thankful that someone had the foresight to book that room AND let you stay with them! So if they say no partying, or lights out at midnight, or they like the room cooler than you do, then abide by their rules, or get yourself a room at the overflow hotel. If you are the person who reserved the room, make it clear to everyone what you expect BEFORE the dance weekend, preferably in an email or other written notification so you can refer to it if there are any misunderstandings. 

Rooming Preferences.

If you prefer a uni-sex room, a bed to yourself, or a full room (to save money), be up front about that early on. Some people are ok with sharing a room and/or a bed with someone of the opposite sex, while others prefer same-sex roomies or fewer roommates. Also, if there is a particular person who you expressly do not want to room with (for whatever reason), put that out there early on too. If you are ok with sleeping on the floor, make that clear too - being flexible will certainly help you to get a space much easier.

Arrival/Departure time:

It helps to know who is arriving first so you can make sure they have a key  - if you can put everyone's name on the room (if you booked the room) it can save everyone a lot of frustration when they arrive as you don't have to scramble to find each other. However, some hotels charge if you have more than 2 people in a room, so check that out ahead of time.  If you need to stay over an extra day, check to see if anyone else is doing that ahead of time, so you can make arrangements for those days well ahead of time.

Committing to the room:  

If you have been offered a room space, it is only fair to give a definite yes or no answer. If you are a maybe, make it very clear that you cannot commit yet, and be prepared to lose your place in that room. Expecting someone to hold a space for you while you figure out your situation is just not fair to them. If you are the room holder and you may already have other roomies and you tell someone maybe, remember they are free to keep looking for a space until you give them a definite answer.

Also, if you have a change in your situation, and cannot go at the last minute, it is only fair that you try to help to find someone to take your place in that room. We had a situation here where there was a vague agreement (where the room holder misunderstood that the person was not fully committed) and the other person dropped out at the last minute (to room with someone else), leaving her high and dry and with the full cost of the room. Thankfully we managed to help her to get another roommate but the other person never offered to help find someone or to pay for her space. It left everyone with a very bad taste in their mouth and made for a lot of emails after with everyone getting more upset. If in doubt, clarify with each other exactly where you are at - it makes for a much nicer situation all around.

 Discuss anything that might cause an issue 
with your roommates ahead of time:

Some people have things they just cannot live with in a roomshare. Below are just a few of the issues that can cause problems in a room.

               Odors: There are many people who have a hyper sensitivity to ANY kind of smell or odor. Exposure to things like perfume, hair spray, strong shampoos, etc, can make them physically ill. Check with everyone before you douse yourself in Channel #5. To be honest, you should always err on the side of caution here anyway and go VERY lightly, if at all, with colognes. I passed one guy on in the hall once who REEKED of cologne -  and when we stepped in the elevator, we knew that he had been on that one...even *I* found it to be too much! I can only imagine what it was like to dance with him!

               Light and Noise: Some people cannot deal with light or noise when they sleep, while others can't sleep without the TV being on. Also, there are times that your roomates may just need some peace and quiet. If you must have quiet, try to find like-minded roomies. And for the rest of you, just try to be sensitive to others when they are sleeping. If people are sleeping when I come in (I'm one of those who often shuts the floor down) I put on the light in the bathroom and use a flashlight to find my stuff - which I usually set out before I go down dancing - so I hopefully don't disturb them.

               Temperature: I personally like a cooler room. I can't sleep if the room is over 68 degrees. Period. I was once in a room where someone joined us on a Sunday (after my roomies and I had been happily in our 67 degree room together for 3 nights) and started complaining about how cold it was. It made for some tension for the next 24 hrs. If I join a room and I have not made it clear that I need a cooler room before I join the room, I suck it up and live with the room temperature.

               Neatness: Some people are neatnicks - others like to spread out. If you are a tidy person and you can't stand a mess, make that clear to your prospective roommates. Better yet, everyone should just try to keep their clutter in their corner....when you have 3-5 people in a room, a *little* clutter soon looks like a bomb has gone off in the room!

                 Bathrooms: This is often one of the places where a lot of tension is created. People are often competing or doing specific workshops and need the bathroom to get ready. This is a 2-way street. The best thing is to plan ahead and perhaps shower a little earlier in the day, set out your make-up/clothes/etc to speed up your time in the facilities, and work out a schedule for the bathroom ahead of time with anyone else who is competing at the same time as you. However, remember that just because someone isn't competing doesn't mean that they don't have a right to use the shower when they want! A little pre-planning in this area can save a LOT of grief later! If you are a bathroom hog, and love 2 hr showers, remember that you are rooming with others, and try to plan your bubble bath for a time when everyone else is occupied with other things.

                Snoring/Nightmares: It really is only fair that if you snore, you let your roommates know it beforehand. There are plenty of people who also snore who will understand, and others (like me) who have an excellent set of ear plugs. Also, if you have nightmares on a frequent basis, let your roomies know so you don't scare the be-jesus out of them. We had a roomie one night who started calling out. It scared his bed-mate who was afraid to wake him in case he lashed out. When we got him to wake up, it actually ended up turning hysterically funny, but it could have set an odd mood over the room. Now that we know this about him, we know how to handle the situation if it arises again.

               Party People: Some people love to party on a weekend - others want a quiet space to retreat to when they leave the dance floor. Whenever possible, try to find roomates who are aligned with you in this area. If you are in a room where others in the room are not party people, take the party elsewhere....there are plenty of others who will share your desire to celebrate in their room :)

               Payment: If you are the one who booked the room and you want everyone to pay you cash, make sure you let them know ahead of time. There are many ways to sort this out - I personally like to put my share of the room on my card so I can keep track of my expenses better, and I'd rather that my roomies pay for their own part of the room rather than receiving cash, as it keeps all my expense tracking simpler.  If someone is set on cash payment, that room wouldn't work for me. 

             Once you are in the room: There are more things to sort out - which side of the bed you prefer to sleep on, food/alcohol sharing, etc. Be sure to have a quick meeting with your roomies to air any other issues that might come up as soon as you can once the weekend starts. It can save a lot of grief and hard feelings later!

Finally, if you are working with a Room Coordinator, 
KEEP THEM INFORMED of any arrangements you make on your own!

Roomshare coordinators often also help to book tables and coordinate rides for events. Let them know if you have your pass and/or if you are looking for a ride. The more people who have your info, the quicker everyone gets their needs met.Also, each has his or her own style -  some take on more responsibility for matching and some only put you in touch with possible matches. Find out their style so you can be clear about what your responsibilities are in each situation.

Room coordinating is an exhausting job. These people are doing their best to match not only "orphaned" dancers (those with no place to sleep) with those who had the foresight to book a room. They are usually trying to take everything they know about you (see above), and match you with a suitable rooming partner(s). If you find someone to room with on your own, let them know as soon as that is confirmed so they can take you off their list. And THANK THEM for their time. AND, ask them for a dance or buy them a drink when you see them at the weekend. Really.

Below is a "form" you can copy for your own use when rooming. 
Use it and change it as you will for coordinating rooms to suit your situation.


(Circle one)      I have a room and am looking for roommates

                          I am looking for someone to room with  

Age: (Can be generic)__________________    Sex: _________________________

Arrival Date/Time: _______________Departure Date/Time:________________

Room Preferences

 # of roommates:_____________

Sex of roommates: (Circle one)        Male        Female        Doesn't Matter

Age of roommates: (Circle one)       Around my age       Any age/doesn't matter

Sleeping Situation: (Circle all that apply)  

     I can share a bed     I prefer a bed to myself     I can sleep on the floor

     I am ok with sleeping with someone of the opposite sex

I prefer my room to be: (Circle all that apply)

     Quiet, low key       Some partying but not late at night        The Party Place!

I have the following special needs: (Circle all that apply)

     No perfumes or strong odors           No Lights/TV/noise while sleeping

     I need the TV on to sleep                 I prefer neat/tidy roommates

      I need a cool room to sleep             I need a warm room to sleep           

      I snore                                            I have nightmares                  

      I prefer non-smokers                       I cannot sleep with snorers

      I will be competing and will need cooperation around the bathroom right before comps

      I am not competing and am flexible around bathroom time

I would prefer to not room with the following people: 
(this info will be kept confidential)


I prefer to pay for my part of the room by: (Circle one)

      Cash                 Check                      Credit Card

**Thanks to CJ Henry and Jun Ogata (roomshare coordinators extraordinaire!) for their feedback in this post!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Followers! Everything You Ever Wanted to Hear From Your Leader (but were afraid to ask!)

So Ladies! This is your turn to get some feedback from your leaders. The comments below are generalizations of what I have heard from leaders, as well as my own experiences as a leader. This is written in the spirit of increasing awareness and opening a dialogue - both here and hopefully between you and other dancers. After all, we can't fix what we are unaware of!


Guys like to look like they have it all under control - and when they start this dance, they usually feel totally out of their element.

Followers - please, be patient with your leader - especially the newer guys (and by that I mean, anyone with less than a year's experience). Most come in feeling that they have 2 left feet (and some seem to be right!), and many come in worried that they will "look stupid". Many want to look like Jordan Frisbee overnight and they find it frustrating when they realize that it's just not happening this week (or month, or year!). They see other guys who they feel make it look sooo easy to lead and they forget that that guy was likely just as awkward and uncoordinated when he started and he's been dancing for several years or more.

Just as I mentioned to the leaders in my last blog that it is their job to adjust their lead to the followers abilities, so we followers must consider the abilities of the beginner leader while he is in the early stages of learning this dance. I have had a leader say to me that a follower "sabotaged" his dance (when she was likely doing her version of adding styling and perhaps back leading a bit), another that said that he felt that "x" follower didn't like dancing with him because she kept making faces (and I understand, when we are trying to figure things out, it often shows!), and another who basically called the instructor to tell her he was quitting EVERY WEEK for 6 months because he thought he would never get it (and THANKFULLY he is still dancing with us today because the instructor kept encouraging him to stick with it!).

My basic rule of thumb with a real, raw beginner is to tell him that I am really happy to follow the two moves he just learned for a whole dance (and I MEAN IT!) . I explain that I understand it is not easy, and I tell him that we all started where he is, and I am happy to just let him practice with me because I really, truly want him to learn the dance so I have more leaders to play with in the future. I keep my follow simple (as doing ANY styling will often get you a deer-in-the-headlights response at this point) and I make it a point to SMILE a lot! Afterwards, go ask another follower to ask him to dance - the new guys are often scared to ask anyone at that point and it is our job to put them at ease and show them that we really appreciate the effort they are making.

As the leader starts to get better, you can add a *little* styling, but if you see that it really throws them off, tone it down a little. If they ask you for help, unless you actually lead yourself, your best bet is to find the instructor and ask them to help him (and you act as the dance dummy for him). You can say "I don't lead myself, and I don't want to give you bad information, so lets find "X" and see if he/she can help us figure it out". After that, if you are dancing later, you can let him know when he is getting it right that you can feel the difference - let him know that you noticed! Encouragement and positive feedback in these early stages goes a loooong way with our leaders!

2) LEADERS LOVE IT WHEN YOU LOOK AT THEM AND SMILE! : Take it from someone who has had to teach herself to smile - I know it isn't easy sometimes when we are concentrating...but if you look like you are having fun, a leader will forgive you a lot more if you miss a move, or if he has to work harder to help you through a move (because you have your own stuff to work on!). Don't be afraid to flirt a little - this IS a flirty dance! As Angelique Early told our dancers in one workshop, "Fall in Love" with your partner for that 3 1/2 minutes.....ie: make him the center of your attention, let him know that you are having fun, and forgive his mistakes (after all, you are probably making a few yourself!). Fun followers with flaws get more dances than self-centered, pouty ones that make faces when the leader goofs up (and then proceeds to tell him what he is doing wrong).

3) DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK THEM TO DANCE: Many ladies come to this dance from other dance communities where the leaders are the ones who search out a partner. Or we have women come in who just assume that the guys will ask them. Then I hear complaints that "No-one is asking me to dance".  The WCS world is an equal-opportunity community - we encourage followers to ask the leaders to dance too! You will find that once you become more pro-active you will also get more people asking you to dance. Why? Because you will be seen on the floor and like it or not, people in general will normally ask familiar faces first. Yes - there are some who seek out the newbies, but trust me - it's just a human condition to seek out people who you are already comfortable with. It's nothing personal if you find yourself sitting in a corner with no-one asking you to dance - it's more likely that you just are not being noticed because of your location and body language. If you just can't bring yourself to ask the leaders, then at least stand up near the dance floor as a song is ending, and smile and tap your feet, and ACT  like you WANT to dance! Make eye contact with the leader you are hoping to dance with as he comes off the floor. Just as we ladies learn in relationships, guys can't read our minds. Let him KNOW you want to dance with him!!!!

Also, if you see a new guy, go ask him to dance. Yes - you  might do side passes for 3 1/2 minutes, but just keep remembering point # 1 above! It is in our best interests to encourage them!!!!

4) FOLLOW THE LEADER: This is a difficult point to discuss, as following has so many different aspects and nuances that are hard to explain. But I will do my best to give you some points to think about.

First, the number 1 rule of following is WAIT! This is easier said than done, especially for beginners. We are taught the moves first, rather than how to dance. So it is easy to just see the leader start to move in the general direction of a move you know and to then just start a move that seems to fit that visual cue. Often followers don't even begin to really get the concept of what true following entails for months, or even years after they start dancing. Yet this is where the true magic of partnered dancing lies - in the ability of the follower to settle in the anchor (on the 6-and-a) and wait that milli-second longer before taking her "1" - and THEN in being able to stay that fraction of a second behind the lead.

WCS patterns are like legos - we take bits of one pattern and incorporate it with bits of another pattern. So basically every 2 beats you can be going into a different pattern than the one that you started on. This is where beginners get really confused, as they have not been exposed to enough patterns and pattern combinations to really understand that, in the end, there are no set-in-stone patterns once you start to dance! It is this ability to be flexible and creative with your partner that has hooked so many of us in to this dance. So - what can you do to increase your "follow-ability"?

One of my favorite things is to dance with someone I totally trust (and who preferably is a really clear lead), and ask them to lead me in basic moves. Then I shut my eyes (as we can subconsciously follow what we see easier than what we feel), and tune in to what I am feeling. At first, you may get off balance and you may have trouble with trusting the process, but keep trying, even if you have to open your eyes every few seconds at first. Concentrate on allowing yourself to totally settle onto and over your left leg at the end of each pattern in a relaxed manner, and wait to feel the lead. Several things can be fixed with this exercise - if you normally take large steps, you will likely find yourself not striding as far -  self preservation keeps us a little "cautious" here...which in turn actually helps us stay behind the lead! In compression moves, you are likely to actually go into compression as you won't visually stop yourself. You will start to feel more of the nuances of what the leader is doing and how it affects you. Do this for one song every time you dance, and you will likely start to find that your dance begins to change a lot as you learn to relax and trust both yourself and your leader.

Privates are another great way to work on this. Many of you take lots of workshops yet never take a private, but in truth, this is something that you are unlikely to really master without at least some one-on-one time with a professional. Yes - I know - most of you may just want to be social dancers, but at the same time, I hope you want to at least get to a point of proficiency where your follow is somewhat light and yet leadable! And the better you are, the fuller your dance card will be! There are many ways to take privates without it breaking the bank. I often ask someone to split a private with me....we both get something out of the time and we can also provide each other feedback in the days and weeks after while we are working on what we learned. To further reduce costs, you can ask the Pro if they will do "mini-group" privates, where 4-6 people split the hour. Again, you will have some one-on-one time with the Pro AND you get several people to practice with for feedback.

If a leader does a move and you totally miss it, you CAN ask him to lead it again. Sometimes that is all it will take for you to "get" the move. If not, then perhaps you can find your instructor and ask him/her what you are missing. (Note to Leaders: this is NOT an invitation for a 30 minute lesson! It is an invitation for you to lead the move again, and to perhaps to make sure you are being very clear in your lead the second time around.You can give a few suggestions about where you are trying to get them to go, and no more. If they don't get it, then either you need to fix your lead or they are just not ready for that move. Either way, it is your cue to not lead it again with that partner!).

I can assure you, if you can really work on this, your leaders will thank you by asking you for many more dances. Why? Because it takes a lot out of us if we are continually having to change and adjust the patterns that we are intending to lead because you, the follower, have (usually unwittingly) put yourself in a place where we cannot execute the next part of the move. In my last blog I told the leaders we have Cruise Control, Power Steering, and Power Brakes. It is up to US to make sure we do our best to make it easy for them to lead us with minimal effort.

The bottom line is that this dance is a PARTNERED dance - partnerships assume that all parties do their best to assume responsibility for their role in the partnership. Yes, most of us are social dancers, and that is often interpreted as "I only need to learn some basics and nothing more". Well, yes, you are within your rights to assume that, but honestly, if you went to a parking lot and told you could drive any car you wanted, wouldn't you pick the Ferrarri over the Army-version of a Jeep? So the more you can do to keep learning and growing, the more people will want to dance with you...even if it is slow progress, we all recognize and appreciate it when someone has improved their dancing. That, combined with a genuine smile will do wonders to keep your dance card full.

Oh - and to both leaders and followers - if your partner does something that you think is really cool, LET THEM KNOW! I was at a dance last weekend, and the most popular leader was not the biggest pro, it was a guy who smiled and said "Niiiice!" when the follower did something that he thought was cool or sexy. This goes both ways. Show your appreciation when you think your partner does something great and/or if you recognize that they have improved their dance. Not only will that get you more dances, it earns you brownie points in WCS heaven :)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Move vs Technique Based Classes

I just had a great conversation this morning about the content of classes....what constitutes a good class, what will attract people to take the class, what our responsibility is to the class. I thought I would share my thoughts here to open up a dialog with both students and, hopefully, instructors.

It is my firm belief that classes (especially those that follow the 6-move based Beginner tracks) should be technique based FIRST, with a simple move or two to help illustrate and execute that technique. This is the theory in my "Beyond the Basics" classes on Thursdays. Personally, I HATE the use of the word "Intermediate" in regular classes. Anyone who has gone to competitions  knows that in that world, Intermediate is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish....so in that respect, we are doing a disservice to our dancers in having them believe that they are Intermediate level only to find themselves in over their heads when they attend their first workshops at a dance weekend.

In addition, I believe that the word "Intermediate" fosters a feeling of entitlement to go from "Basics" to "Goat-Roping Move-fest" in some. I remember all too well my early days of dancing. If the class was asked "What do you want today - move or technique" - the leads all chimed "Move" while the follows all chimed "Technique"!  Thus I was thrown into the deep end when I entered Intermediate class (as the guys usually won the call), learning all kinds of moves that were well over my level of ability. Actually, learning the PATTERNS is a better way to put it... it was YEARS before I learned to FOLLOW the move correctly, because I had not mastered following. And this is where I see the fault in the current system.

The bug here is that if you tell a new dancer just how much technique is involved in WCS, you will scare the pants off them, and often you will lose them. Yet, to not insist on creating good habits from the start is doing a HUGE dis-service to them (take it from someone who is STILL un-doing bad habits that were not addressed years ago!).

Thankfully, I have seen a nice shift at dance weekends to more technique-based workshops, but the difficulty there is that when the instructor has 75 people in the room, it is not likely that you can really, truly get anywhere near all of those people to get it all. But it's a start, and I applaud the trend in this direction.

I believe that the place that this should be happening is at home - at our local clubs and groups. I would like to suggest that anyone who teaches has a look at how they can teach more technique while letting people feel that they are getting more variety of moves and styling for their dance. My personal approach is to watch the group warm up, and see if I can find a detail that the majority need to work on - and THEN create a move to illustrate it. So if the follows are anticipating I have the leads learn 3 very simple variations on a basic move that all start the same. This teaches the leads to be CLEAR in their lead, and the follows to LISTEN. What a concept, eh? Another sticky spot for dancers is spinning - but I believe that in this instance, you have to first see if the majority of the issue in the room at the time is in the leading or the following. A follow will never learn to spin if the leads are not leading it right....self preservation will win every time. So what/how I will teach, and what move I will use, will depend on which part of the techniques needed to spin are most needing to be worked on by the majority in the room.

Finally, I feel it is VERY important for those of us who are teaching to take regular privates so that we stay on top of the latest techniques for both dancing and teaching. I learn sooo much about how to teach when I take a private. It is very easy for someone who has reached their level of comfort with their dance ability to want to pass on what they know, but in my opinion, we do a disservice to our students if WE don't continue to learn. I believe that EVERY dancer, no matter how good, has more to learn, and as teachers, we can always learn a better way to pass on what we know. I have had several Pros say to me that the problem with the system of teaching as it stands is that there are many, many people out here teaching what/how they were taught even tho the way they dance now is nothing like that style or technique. I couldn't agree more!

Without a firm foundation, a house will fall down. Without a well designed chassis, a car will not drive smoothly nor be safe. Yes - one can dance without  good basic techniques, just as you can initially build that house or car...yet, in the end, the lack of good technique will eventually become evident, and the ride becomes less stable. So why not make sure that our students get it right to start with???

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Music and Lyrics - Dancing with the Fourth Partner

Often in a workshop you will hear the instructors talking about the 3rd partner - the music. It's all about learning to take the nuances of the music and learning how to express what you hear in your dance. Perhaps the music goes up a few notes - so you may show that as a slight rise in your step. Or there is a series of staccato (rapid) beats - so you may take a few quick steps to match that beat. If the general tone of the music is flowy, you make your dance float and keep everything smooth.

Many people "hear" the vocals as just another part of the music. It can be interesting to watch 2 people dance to the same piece - one is hitting all the musical points while the other is following the patterns set out by the vocals. Both are completely legitimate, and can be fun to watch. Yet when you watch the Pros in competition, there is something more (beyond their great technique, shaping, personal style, etc) that draws the crowds to their feet - and that is when they dance to the the lyrics.

When I talk to other dancers about this, I often get the reply "I don't hear the lyrics - I just dance to the music". WOW!!!!!! To me, that is like having Hot Apple Pie without the Ice Cream, a Baked Potato without Butter and Sour Cream, or London Battered Fish without the Tartar Sauce! Yes - you can eat all the above without their companion foods, but together you get a much yummier meal!

I am one of those dancers that hears EVERYTHING - at least as long as it is clear and not overshadowed by the music (which sadly often happens nowadays). Anyone who dances with me knows I lip synch like crazy and I often do things that make my leader look at me as if I have two heads....I know then that I am dancing with someone who doesn't hear the lyrics! I am fortunate - hearing what is being said comes easily to me and I memorize songs pretty quickly after first hearing them.

So - how DOES one start to hear the lyrics if it does not come naturally to you? There are several things you can do to train your ear, or at least to give you more to work with.

  1. Download and listen to 5-10 of the most popular songs that you are currently dancing to and play them at every opportunity that you can. Your car is a perfect place for this. Start to try to sing along with it....you will probably notice the chorus first. That is the part that repeats several times during the song. Get to know that part first....it's a safe place to start to play. Start with music that is slow and has a gentler groove like California Dreamin and Layla (Links to my top 10 favorites for learning are found in this blog). These two are part of the staple diet of most DJ's and are a safe bet for the beginner.
  2. Still can't understand what they are saying??? Download the lyrics from the internet. www.lyricsbox.comwww.metrolyrics.com, and www.lyrics.com are just a few of the many sites where you can find all the words to any reasonably popular song.Then, read the lyrics as you play the song a few times. Even though I hear the lyrics, there are many songs where parts are less clear to me - and I will search the lyrics to fill the gaps in the song for me. And beware - you may be surprised and/or shocked at some of the lyrics! Try singing the lyrics with the words in front of you so you really get a feel for where it all fits in.
  3. This is where it gets fun. Anytime you are listening to the music, start to imagine what you can do to hit different parts of the lyrics. I do this all the time in my car. And yes, I DO get some odd looks sometimes! If you are at home, try "hitting" a certain phrase or pick out some part of the theme of the song and play with that. At first you may feel odd and awkward, but that is the only way to get to become comfortable with anything new. If you are there, then GREAT! You are well on your way to learning something new...'cause you certainly won't learn it by wishful thinking!!!
  4. If you have a practice partner, get them to do all this too, then meet up and just play with what you each hear. Even with both of you knowing the lyrics, you will likely be drawn to express different parts of the song, or you will interpret the song differently. This is another great tool to your creativity - mimicking what your partner....I don't know how many new moves I have got this way!
  5. Go to Youtube and watch the Pros dance to a piece of music. If you really like their interpretation, download that song AND the lyrics, then go back and watch it again with the lyrics in front of you. Practice picking out when they are interpreting the lyrics, and when they are following the music.
Watch this version with Kyle Redd and Patty Vo to Secret. Yes - it's taken to quite the extreme, and you may not feel comfortable with going quite this far, but I think it is a great example of just how many places that this couple brought the LYRICS  in to their dance. (link to lyrics here)

So many places where they took a piece of the lyrics and had FUN with them! "Watch the Sunrise" ..."Jump outta my seat" , "I'm driving fast now" , and "but I want you so bad". This is one of the main reasons that so many of us are drawn to WCS - because we see the better dancers taking the musical interpretations to places we could never do in any other partnered dance. 

When you DO start to hear the lyrics -  invite them in to your dance. Play with them. Take risks with them. Have fun with them! After all, isn't that what dancing is all about????

Edit: A few weeks after I wrote this Robert Royston and Jill Demarco showed exactly how it is done at Swing Diego to the song "Stroken by Clarence Carter. Take a look at this, google the lyrics if you need to so that you really get just how well they are playing to the fourth partner, and enjoy!

Thanks to CJ Henry and everyone else who contributed to the content of this blog! And apologies for the randomness of the placement of the song links - I can't seem to get them to just line up :^(

    Saturday, April 9, 2011

    Life Lessons I've learned from WCS

    West Coast Swing, and partnered dancing in general, brings out many challenges and issues for each individual dancer. This can be in the form of dealing with our self-image and confidence, boundaries and social skills, and much, much more.

    I firmly believe that this wonderful dance of ours, West Coast Swing, has the capacity to teach each and every one of us so much about who we are and how powerful we can be. The lessons we learn on the dance floor can be taken back to our homes, our workplaces, and all other areas of our lives. What do I mean by that??

    We have a safe place to practice taking risks and to learn to be ok with looking goofy.
    • I can’t remember how many Pros I have heard say “You gotta go through goofy and ugly to get to cool and sexy”. Given that we are all trying to get to the latter, we are all in good company while we work through those moves that just don’t come naturally to us. I can’t remember how many people I have heard in a beginner lesson who are convinced that they have “two left feet” who have gone on to be wonderful dancers. Thank goodness they took that risk of looking goofy and making mistakes!!! Learning to be ok with not always looking “good” and being ok with making mistakes is a powerful lesson that we can all take out in to our lives.

    We get to practice letting go of our perceptions – both of ourselves AND our partners!
    • I remember a friend telling me how she ate humble pie once when she went to her first weekend and saw a guy who she thought “didn’t look like a dancer” and decided to “be kind” and ask him to dance…only to be totally swept of her feet and brought back down to earth in one of her best dances of the weekend. How many people do you meet every day who you create an opinion of before you have really gotten to know them?

    We form partnerships with friends and strangers alike for three and a half minutes where we take a piece of music and create something that we could never have imagined before the first note was played.
    • There are not many places where people can get together to play, to flirt, and to generally be vulnerable with a stranger of the opposite sex (or not!) with no worries that their actions will be taken as an invite for something – er – more…. Many dancers are people who got tired of the “bar scene” and all the drama that goes with that territory, yet they still wanted an outlet for their passion to move to music. (I am one of those people!) Aren’t we so lucky to have this place to express this part of who we are?? Where else can you practice bringing playfulness and joy to a situation?

    We learn how to be sensitive to the smallest signals from another.
    • Robert Royston’s mantra of the 3 types of lead (Physical, Visual, and Body Language) can be applied to the dance of life. The best dancers learn to share in the conversation, rather than to dominate it. Great leaders learn to adjust their dance to the abilities and confidence of the follower, choosing moves that compliment her rather than moves that make them (the leader) “look good”. Great followers learn how to relinquish control while adding what they hear to the conversation, sorta like adding the seasoning and embellishments that makes a well prepared meal to gourmet status. Hmmm…where else can we practice these skills in our lives??

    We are so fortunate to have this wonderful dance. For anyone who is considering West Coast Swing (and partnered dance in general), all I can say is, JUST DO IT. Let go of what you feel “should be” and be patient and kind to yourself. For those who have been dancing for some time, consider where you can take the lessons of the dance floor out into to your life.

    See YOU on the dance floor!!!

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Roomshares and Rideshares: Communication is Key!

    Given the rising costs of gas and accommodations, dancers are looking more and more to share rides and/or rooms to dances and events. In our area, I am fortunate to have my wingman, Jun Ogata, to help me with organizing these things for our dancers. Between us we have a large number of contacts both inside and outside our group which makes it possible for us to help to hook people up who are looking to save money and our natural resources.

    This last (Boston Tea Party) weekend I heard from a number of people who had roommates drop out within 48 hrs of the dance (one had TWO of her 4 roomies ditch at the last minute), change minds, and/or mis-communicate causing last minute scrambles to the person holding the room. This causes bad feelings all around and puts hardship in dancers who are often going to events on a shoestring.

    Whether you are working directly with a group of people that you know, or you are going through an intermediary like Jun, there are some things that need to be kept in mind.

    1) If someone turns you down as a roommate at a weekend, don't take it personally. We each have our preferences and needs when it comes to rooming: room temperature, bedshares (some people like to sleep alone in the bed, others are ok with sharing their bed), same sex vs mixed sex roommates, social issues (party room vs quiet room), scent allergies (if the person can't tolerate hairspray/perfumes/etc), etc etc etc. Given that we are often in that space for 3-4 days, the better "fit" that you can find, the better... over the course of that time, little things can become less tolerable as we get more sleep deprived! It doesn't mean that the person doesn't like you, it just means that they know their own limits and needs. It's better to find a place where everyone will come out of the weekend happy with their rooming arrangements, believe me!

    2) In either case, make sure you are VERY CLEAR in your communication about where you stand. If you are on the fence about someone rooming with you, be clear about that. Perhaps you have someone that you already promised to hold a space for, who has not got back to you, so you cannot commit that bed to anyone else. Or (as in my case) you are holding out until closer to the date to keep a space open for last-minute people who have not booked a room at all. I often keep my room open as long as possible for those who suddenly find they can come, so if a person already has a room, I try to hook them up with other people first, and if we don't fill either room, we can drop a room a few days before and join up. When I do that, I make it very clear that my space is a *maybe* to anyone who I feel I can help find a space elsewhere. Once you say YES, please don't change your mind, or if you must, offer to promise to help them find another place.

    3) Pay your fair share please! With rooms, it is common to split the room equally amongst the occupants, but don't forget to leave your fair share of the tip for the maid, (Especially if you have kept them busy with requests for extra towels, toilet paper, etc!!). I often find that people totally forget this part. Also, if you are doing a rideshare, don't forget that the person is incurring not only gas expenses, but tolls and wear and tear on their car. If they won't let you pay what you think is fair, then buy them a coffee or something at the rest stop (esp if they won't let you drive!) Karma baby, Karma!!!!

    4) If someone outside the room/car that you are in helps you find a room/ride, THANK THEM!!!!! I know for a fact that Jun puts in countless hours organizing our local group trips. I often post on Facebook that we need help finding a place for someone in our group - I have the contacts, they don't. I really don't mind, but it IS nice to have someone recognize that I made the effort for them.

    Communication is KEY in any situation, and mis-communication causes angst and upset that is unwanted and totally avoidable. Sometimes it isn't 100% comfortable to say NO to someone but it sure beats the stress that comes with the mess caused by a vague agreement. We dance because it brings us JOY - lets do what we can to create JOY in every other place in our lives!

    Dealing with the DJ: We are trying our best to keep EVERYONE happy, honest!!!

    I want to address something that came up from several people, and that is the subject of the dance music. DJing music is not an easy task. You need to find a mixture of music genres and speeds to try to keep everyone (or almost everyone) happy. I had 3 people say that they didn't like the music - one wanted more "up beat" music, one wanted more Blues, one wanted more slow, "flowy" music. I had gone to great pains to split the music almost 50/50 blues and contemporary, as well as slow/fast (with a lean towards medium-slow as the evening was so warm). I guess it was a night that I just wasn't going to win - it happens :^/

    If there is a Pro then I also have to take into account if he/she has a very full "dance card". If the Pro has people lining up for dances, I try to play shorter pieces. Robert Royston and Terry Roseborough danced with well over 30 people at their workshops AFTER a full day of teaching. For you Blues lovers, sorry, but most blues music is longer (4-5 minutes) as opposed to contemporary (3-4 minutes).

    I can almost promise you that there will be music each night that you won't like. Some nights it may be more than others. If you are having one of those nights where you are just not feeling the music, you can ALWAYS come and make a request....if I have it, I will usually play it (although I still retain the right to say no if I really think it won't go down well, in which case we will find something you like, promise!)

    I am happy to take feedback, and will try to incorporate it in to my future dances. To anyone who feels they can do better, I say volunteer at something like the HVCD dances and see for yourself how difficult it can be!

    Images and Perceptions: Partnering Skills

    Last week I DJ'd once again for Bob And Dave's Tuesday Night Dance in Albany. Afterwards we all went out to a local diner to hang and chat and grab a bite to eat. During the conversation, the topic of dance floor etiquette came up, most specifically with how we perceive the intent of our partner. Having sat in on many-a-conversation about this, there are often one or two people in each community who just continue to come up in conversations (sometimes around this subject, other times around teaching on the dance floor...the two biggest subjects that come up around dance floor etiquette). And having known most of those people, I am sure that 99% of the time how they are being perceived is NOT how they think they are acting!!!!

    WCS tends to be a fun, flirty, and often sensual dance. However, we need to keep in mind that HOW we flirt and HOW MUCH we flirt with depends very much on the person we are dancing with. Learning to read body language when you are dancing with someone will carry you a loooong way!

    LEADERS: If you try to bring a follower in to a "close closed" position and she firmly puts her hand on your arm to create space between you, LET HER HAVE THAT SPACE!!!! AND continue to give her space for the rest of that dance (and any in the future, at least until you are both more comfortable with each other). Trying to force her to stay in close-closed will only end up with her avoiding dancing with you in the future. And you may become the topic of a late-night diner chat. And you DON'T want to be that guy!!! Many people (most especially women) have differing comfort levels around their personal space with a person who is not their "partner". Give them that space and you will have a dance partner for life.

    ALL DANCERS: Again, watch how your partner is dancing with you. If you do some kind of a flirty move, and they look at you and smile, then GREAT! Maybe do it again at a future dance. However, if they look away, frown, or start that "space-creating frame", back off and save it for another day. Beginner dancers can be especially sensitive to this as they don't always realize that we are really just having fun and playing with the music (especially if it is a flirty song!). Give them time to get used to the nature of our dance!

    Finally, most of us have gone through the phase where we THINK we are doing a move the way the pros do it (especially with body isolations) and what we look like is NOT what we THINK we look like. Some of these moves can be perceived as "gyrations" if not done right, which may be mis-read by your partner. The best advice I can give you here is two-fold.

    1) Get a video of yourself dancing. Yeah - it can be downright scary and depressing (I STILL hate watching myself on camera) but you will quickly learn what move - many that you may think are your COOLEST moves - that you either want to omit from your dancing or that you need help from a professional on to get it to look like what you *think* you are doing right now. That leads me to

    2) Get professional help. Even if you are only a social dancer, it doesn't hurt to take a private once in awhile to work on your dance. After all, the better dancer you are, the more people will want to dance with you! And don't we all want to be that person who can't get off the dance floor without being asked for another dance (rather than chasing partners all over the floor or sitting on the side!)? Often I hear dancers saying that they really like "X" but they don't like dancing with them because they do "Y"... and that thing is often a simple fix that you are not aware of. If finances are an issue, ask one or two people to share the private with you. This works for everyone as you now have someone to tell you when you fall back to your old habits.

    Olofactory facts: When a little bit o' "Smell Good" is too much!

    Whilst I know that we all want to "smell good" for our dance partners, it has been brought to my attention (and been my personal experience) that some people wear a LOT of cologne/perfume. Now, I am sure that to these people, it is not much, but for some, even a small amount will smell overpowering, and can even cause strong reactions including asthmatic attacks, and at the very least is can be just as unpleasant as "BO".

    Please keep this in mind when you are spritzing yourself before a dance....if you are not sure, ask a few friends if your cologne seems strong. If even one finds it overpowering, you may want to cut back or switch to another brand. Your partners will thank you for it!

    Happy Dancing Everybody!

    Teaching on the Dance Floor: Helpful or Hurtful?

    So another issue was brought to my attention after this last dance - and that is around not teaching on the dance floor and practicing kindness and patience with more novice/beginner dancers.

    I think that part of the issue is that we have to remember each of us comes to the dance with different "issues" - things that can trigger us to feel insecure, incompetent, frustrated, or whatever. The newer the dancer, the more likely that these things might get triggered. And teaching on the dance floor often unwittingly sets those triggers off.

    I had one of our up-and-coming dancers came to me during our dance upset and frustrated because they had been dancing with someone who said "You could be a much more desirable dancer if you did "x"". Now I am sure that the person who said that *thought* they were being kind and helpful, but it had the quite opposite effect. Fortunately I have built a good relationship with the affected dancer and I was able to talk to them about it and helped them to calm down.

    I know what it is like to be on both sides

    I remember when I first started and many-a-leader tried to tell me what I was doing "wrong" (and I hate to tell you guys - but I still dance with many of you and to be honest, looking back with what I know now, it wasn't just me who needed to "fix" something!). Fortunately I have a somewhat tough skin and I would just avoid dancing with anyone who was unkind or who constantly tried to teach me. I didn't mind a pointer here or there, and actually appreciated it if a leader re-did a move that I missed so I could "get" it. But there are many, especially followers, who will not speak up or who have not learned to deflect this kind of "help". Whether it is well-meaning or ego driven doesn't matter - in the end, if the person feels degraded or upset after, you have done a huge disservice to the community.

    I also know what it is to be in the situation where I know something that could help a dancer to "fix" something. Note to our Newbies: It is a tough spot for us more experienced dancers to be in....we all want to see our fellow dancers get better - both to make the dance easier for us to partner with them AND to make the dance more effortless and enjoyable for them. However, there is a time and place and even a way to help.
    First, you have to remember that not everybody WANTS to fix things (I know, I know, to those of us junkies, we just can't imagine why anyone would not want to keep getting better). Many are just happy where they are at. If you are dancing with that person, just remember it is 4 minutes of your time - and I find those people are great partners for me to work on some aspect of MY dance.

    Second, you might be able to approach it by saying "That "x" move feels off to me and I'm not sure if I am leading/following it right. Do you mind if we ask {x instructor} to watch and see what *I* am doing wrong?" Note: If you try this approach, be fully ready to learn that it actually is YOU that needs to fix something!!!!

    The last point here is if you are dancing with someone who needs so much correction that you feel that you might get hurt, the best thing you can do is to gracefully find a way to stop that dance - perhaps you tweaked something in your shoulder and need to let it rest. Or ride that dance out but let go at any point that you feel endangered. There will ALWAYS be those dancers who just don't want to learn the techniques that could make their dance better - THEY are having fun just exactly where they are. It is your responsibility to look out for yourself, and no more.

    Finally - just remember that we are all here to have FUN! Again, it is only 4 minutes of your time - give it graciously (as someone did for you when YOU were a beginner!) and find some aspect of that dance that you can make into a positive experience for you both - perhaps they laugh and smile a lot....or that piece of music is your favorite right now.

    And if you are that new person who got your feelings hurt by someone's "helpful" comment, remember 2 things: 1) Most of us really, REALLY just want to help, and 2) Those who "help" because of their inflated egos are not worth getting upset over.

    Instructor Ethics: Don't Put Your Instructor on the Spot!

    One dilemma that most dancers don't think about surrounds the subject of asking for help from an instructor/event organizer who is at another instructor's event. Often times we are approached by the dancers in our local group with questions about something that they are working on.

    While we are excited to see our dancers wanting to improve their dance, it puts us into an awkward position - that is, when we are at another instructor/organizer's venue, it is considered a professional courtesy that we not teach on their floor. So, what do you do if you are struggling with a move or a concept at a dance? You have a few options.

    First, you can go to the host Instructor and ask for help. This is especially important to go to them if the move you want help on is the one you just learned in their workshop! They will usually be happy to help clarify things for you.

    Second, if you have a preference for, or have been working with another Instructor who is in the room, you can wait until their next lesson to ask for help. This keeps them from getting into the awkward position of wanting to help vs wanting to respect the space and or teaching methods host Instructor.

    Note: This is just a guide: different instructors have different relationships and agreements. If you have a small thing to ask, take your instructor to the side and ask if they are available to help you then and there. If they are comfortable with helping you, great! If not, ask them to remind you that you had a question at your next visit to their studio.

    We all want to support you in your journey and growth as a dancer. Keeping this in mind when you are at a dance will help us to help you while extending a professional courtesy our colleagues. :^)

    Clique Critique: What Both Beginners and Seasoned Dancers Need to Know

    It has come to my attention that some people (mostly our newer dancers) feel that the dance can get a bit "cliquish". I want to put a few points out here:

    1) To the "seasoned" dancers - please do make an effort to dance with the new and less experienced dancers. I totally know that you want to dance with your favorite partners and friends, but without a kind soul who danced with you at some point in the past,  you wouldn't be where you are.

    2) To the "newbies" among us - there are a few things to remember here. Ladies: we are an equal opportunity community...you can ask a guy to dance here too! Don't be shy!  

    Also, in general, most of us are very happy to dance with you, but we often get caught up with being excited to see folks that we only see once a month or whatever. Again, please please please feel free to ask us. MOST of us are very happy to oblige!  When I run my dances I am often distracted by many things and I realize I missed many of you at the end of the night...again, come find me! I'm usually in the DJ corner if I'm not putting out fires! 

    And finally, don't judge how someone is dancing with you as to whether they are enjoying dancing with you. Many dancers have different ways of concentrating - some look away and others may look really mad or upset (I have been accused of both and have had to train myself to look and smile at my partner!). I promise you, most of the time it's just a habit that they are probably not aware of. Don't take it personally!  


    Hooray! I finally got my blog on!

    Recently, I have been adding thoughts to my newsletters where I have addressed things I have observed & learned over the last 8 years in the WCS world. Several people requested that I put them in a format that can be easily accessed when they come across someone who has had a question or experience that might be helped with what I have written.

    So, here we have it - my blog - my place where I will put my thoughts and musings about the wonderful world of WCS.

    The first few entries will be exact copies of the "Thought of the Week" from my past newsletters. After that, we will see where my keyboard leads me!

    If you have a thought/experience/concern that you would like addressed, contact me! I will always be glad for ideas for things to cover.

    Pamela Marshall
    Kingston, NY