How to survive dance partnerships
We’ve previously written about partnering in the ballroom and Latin American dances, but here we’ll just digress a little more from the physical advisories, to the emotional and social ones. Before you send us for a sanity check (yet another one), bear with it because your inter-partner relationship is, in our opinion, equally important as all of the technical knowledge flooding into the body. Whilst by no means marriage guidance councillors, between us we have seen enough close and distant dance relationships to help share some common themes. It can limit enjoyment, and learning progression and like most other aspects, there are technical tips to ease things along when trouble brews.
Help increase, not decrease, each other’s enjoyment & motivation
Perhaps the number one thing to realise and remember is that your partner, like you, is almost certainly doing their best, and it is never their intention to make mistakes or make the dancing more difficult than it should be. This sounds obvious, but sometimes in our quest for the latest regional dancing championship title (!) we can get frustrated and start seeking every possible improvement outside of ourselves to focus on. Try to avoid the overly-critical approach with your partner and learn to value the positives in what they dance more. You can successfully motivate each other to aspire for better quality, but only with a positive approach will that process become enjoyable and fulfilling for the both of you. If you regularly give feedback to your partner on their dancing and there is a defensive or distance-seeking response (not necessarily verbal by the way), then there needs to be a change of approach in the way you interact with each other. In cases of the blame-game, perhaps try apologising for your part in the problem even though you may feel only partly to blame. Fix that approach first before you spend more time on physical improvement and you will improve more positively together. If you cannot fix that, just agree to never, ever feedback negatively on the other’s dancing.
What if you find yourself feeling defensive?
If you feel in yourself that you become defensive and wish to distance yourself from your partner’s intentions of ‘constructive feedback’, then also you could try a change of approach. This might take some experimenting with but aim to listen without responding or reacting in the first instance. Try to understand what your partner is saying and listen openly to it, initially without reply. Calmly think about the meaning of what they are saying and try to take the positive from that in order to rationalise the important dancing bits.
Positivity breeds positivity; try aiming to give some positive feedback to your partner every time you practice.
Positivity breeds positivity; try aiming to give some positive feedback to your partner every time you practice. Maybe you especially enjoyed or had a great feeling from one or two aspects of the dancing during your practice, in which case you should share that with your partner and be encouraging, without being patronising. It is worthwhile understanding which aspects your partner might be focused on and developing; perhaps something they’ve been finding especially challenging has just come together for the first time – celebration time! If the roles were reversed, you would be grateful for some appreciation and healthy respect for what each other is going through to improve your dancing together.
There is a limit…
Now, if things have blown up and it all gets a bit rude and demeaning or perhaps even worse than that, stop the dance conversation calmly but firmly, perhaps suggesting that you are ready to listen only when spoken to calmly and reasonably. In working together and compromising, that doesn’t mean compromising your whole sense of values and worth. Regrettably we have known rare cases where we’ve had to encourage one half of the partnership to stand up to unreasonable behaviour from the other half, obviously as well as foster a better sense of cooperation from the offensive half! In general, we are incredibly lucky with lovely couples for our teaching, but in one isolated case we’ve even known a couple be asked to converse more acceptably or leave. We’ve so rarely known it get to that point, but for any dancers and teachers out there who ever come across dance relationships that cross the line, be aware of that and don’t feel in any way it has to be acceptable just for the sake of harmony; it is not ok.
Finally, we go back to the usual heart of our technical discussions, about the physical aspect of the dance. Try to clearly feel what you are dancing and enjoy those actions, gaining some positive feedback for yourself as you dance. Don’t approach that heel turn with fear in your heart, try to approach it with opportunity for feeling something special in your dancing. If that fast spin in the jive has been a cause of stress and tension, aim to use some burst of positive energy before you dance it to ease you through. Starting to get a clear feel for each of the action that might otherwise be a bit foggy, should help you achieve a more positive state, and in turn that more positive feel is proven to help you through the fog. Doubtless that will rub off on your much-loved partner too.
Whilst by no means an encyclopaedia of the emotional side to partnering, maybe we’ve touched on some of the key issues enough to make you think about possible improvements with your partner and we hope that helps translate to your dancing too.