Putting Yourself and Others at Ease on the Dance Floor

Couples dancing at a party
What do you do when your dance partner is nervous or confused?

A few years ago, I spent a lot of time working with my dog, Naboo, who has separation anxiety. Two dog trainers suggested I take a tough love approach: give him corrections then leave him alone to “cry it out”. After several weeks, there was no improvement—in fact, Naboo was more anxious.

I then switched to a kinder, gentler training method. Staying within Naboo’s comfort zone, I slowly expanded the amount of time I left him alone in a room. This approach made much more sense to me, as I know fear, anxiety and pain greatly hinder learning.

The More Anxious You Are, the Harder Dancing Becomes

While this may seem obvious, how often do we actually follow this in life? I myself went for the quick fix in which Naboo was supposed to learn how to behave differently when he was in a state of panic. Whether we are nervous or just want to excel at what we’re doing, the allure of an instant solution is strong. We also believe to get results we have to push ourselves.

This way of thinking also shows up in partner dancing. Have you ever danced with someone who was obviously anxious or missing their steps? If you’re like many dancers, you go into quick-fix mode. For instance, Leaders lead more forcefully, unintentionally pushing and pulling their partners uncomfortably. Followers try to “help” by leading themselves into moves, leaving Leaders doubly confused. Other common responses when a dance partner has difficulty are speeding up, “teaching” them what to do, getting frustrated and being critical.

Stay Calm to Soothe Yourself and Your Dance Partner

What if, instead, you stayed present with your own internal response? Do you do any of the things I mentioned when your dance partner has a hard time? Do you hold your breath, tense your shoulders, get irritated or start overthinking?

Woman relaxing her dance nerves
When dance anxiety strikes, notice what’s happening in your body.

When you take a moment to notice what’s happening inside you, there’s an opportunity to put yourself more at ease. You might remember to breathe, let go of extra effort or remind yourself it’s just a dance—if it doesn’t go well, you won’t lose your job or never get a date!

Staying calm will not only make your experience of a difficult dance better, but it will also help put your partner at ease.

From there you might do a few other things to take the pressure off your partner and keep them in their comfort zone. For instance, you could make eye contact and smile. Leaders can slow down and lead simpler steps. Followers can resist the urge to back lead. Followers can also change their feet to match your Leader, even if what the Leader does is incorrect or off beat.

While you may not get to show off your latest move, meeting your dance partner where they’re at, then gradually expanding from that place of ease, will prove far more effective and be more fun for you both!


 

For more ideas on how to improve your social dance experience, read Get More of What You Want On (and Off) the Dance Floor

For ways to reduce anxiety and improve your dancing, read 3 Simple Strategies to Improve Your Coordination

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