Girls*, let’s chat.
The boys had their turn with Guy-Guidance and Dude-Dilligence. Now it’s our turn. I’d like to address some of the common concerns and complaints I hear from women in my Feminine Styling Intensive, private lessons, and in personal conversations. It’s a bit of tough love specifically for women, whether they lead or follow.
There was so much juicy advice, I split up the article, so watch for Part 2 next week!
*When I say girls, I am not referring to girls in the diminutive, juvenile form – I mean the informal, comaraderie term of endearment reserved for “my girls” as in, “girls’ night out” or “You go, girlfriend!”.
“There are never enough leaders”
So? What are you going to do about it? Well, let’s consider your choices:
1. Quit coming.
2. Keep taking class and wait your turn.
3. Recruit more leader friends.
4. Learn to lead.
5. Learn how to make use of your time between partners. Back when I was taking local classes as a beginner, I would keep my ears and eyes on the teacher, but I would constantly be moving and practicing something – ballet exercises, spins, fans, foot rolling, etc. I would never be standing around waiting. I took control of creating my own learning experience.
When it came to social dancing, I would constantly be asking leaders to dance – never waiting to be asked. If there was no one to dance with, sometimes I found a group of solo girls and we would have a little solo dancing party just the group of us like we’re in a club! I was never bothered by not having enough leaders asking me to dance, because quite honestly, I wasn’t keeping score. Are you keeping score? Ask yourself why.
“The skill level of my community is too low to challenge me”
Sorry, but you don’t get much pity from me here. I grew up in a town where the level was so low (at the time), that the best dancer in the city was in Novice division. But this environment strengthened me, forcing me to be creative and adaptable, skills which have clearly contributed to my career. There are always ways you can challenge yourself – do not rely on others to provide your fun: create your own fun.
During each social dance, I would diligently insert the new skills from class into the dance, along with other toys I was playing with from my own dance practice. Some were personal movement skills like body rolling and arm styling, but some were partnership skills like slot deviations and invitation requests. I know the leaders were often shocked by my “creativity”, because they were used to their followers being obedient robots. But I kept it up anyway because I knew I was desensitizing them and they were learning to deal with me. By getting used to me, I was opening the door for other followers to be creative too, which laid the groundwork for a whole new generation of dancers who understood that WCS is a conversation, not a dictatorship. Each follower who expresses herself responsibly while dancing with any level of leader is providing a community service of setting the standard for this conversation.
It’s a good habit to get into to read this article annually. Make it a tradition to kick off your new year!
“I feel boring. I need styling”
Whenever a student requests this in a private lesson, I ask them to clarify: “Do you mean you feel like you’re just robotically going through the motions and it doesn’t feel like “dancing”? Or is it that you are comfortable with your body and your dancing and are just looking for more creative challenges?”
More often than not, women perk up when I articulate Option A. This is actually not a symptom of needing styling – rather, it’s an indication that she has not yet learned the character of WCS. It is likely that the WCS she has been learning has been steps/patterns oriented, and the only information offered on the followers’ expression of WCS has been the occasional embellishment. So she learns that embellishments are the only way to “look good” while dancing. But what is missing are the fundamental body awareness techniques and explanation of character of dance – what makes WCS look different from its neighbour dances. So before you go trying to memorize more styling videos, find instruction on how to rebuild your foundations and look like a Westie.
“Can you teach me how to style like you?”
I *could* give you styling choreo, but it will not be “you”. It’s important to develop your own style. One way is to try to imitate styles you like, like”trying them on” to see how they fit on you. But imitation is never ideal because it’s not personal – it will never look the same on you as it does on the dancer you admire, especially if you are not developmentally ready for it. So instead I prefer to coach you to develop your own personal style.
This involves skill development, as in any physical skill or sport. As you work through progressive body isolation drills and take inventory of how your body likes to move and where you weaknesses are, you can start to form a picture of how you can use your strengths to style your dance. Like learning any creative art, you first must study the rules and the properties of the medium, then you study the greats to identify all the different perspectives and approaches that have already been revered.
The final step is to acquire advanced techniques that enable you to experiment and design your own path. I have a workshop intensive and an instructional video series on Feminine Styling that does exactly that: it breaks down and sequences characteristic movements for WCS as well as how to do popular styling options for followers that will give you a strong start to developing your own style.
“The leaders never give me time to play”
This is common in areas where the leaders have been taught to prioritize patterns. But this does not give you license to hijack! There’s a whole wealth of information on the topic of invitation leads and styling – way more than a single workshop or video. Part of the problem is that the leaders don’t know how to stop and start patterns effectively, and until they have a chance to learn that, your styling options need to fit within the context of the patterns.
So don’t wait around for leaders to stop and let you have a turn. Instead, manage the connection you owe and do your job of going where and when he’s leading. Then you get to decide *how* you move your body during that movement. This is why you always need to practice your personal movement skills and solo styling drills while holding on to a scarf or cup of water: you train yourself to be able to isolate and protect your styling from disturbing your connection.
“I keep getting rejected for dances”
This is an indication that something is off:
- Hygiene: It’s possible you need to get in a better habit of managing your hygiene before dancing. It’s not just B.O. and bad breath – sometime overpowering perfumes can be just as offensive and deterring.
- Timing of your requests: Check that you are asking at convenient times when the leader is not in the middle of something like eating, or heading to the washroom to change shirts. Consider switching up your timing, so you’re not always asking when the leader is walking off the floor. Also be careful not to ask too often, as this can potentially give off a stalker vibe.
- Mechanical Efficiency: If it takes too much effort to move and redirect you, the leaders may be getting exhausted every time they dance with you. Check in with your teacher for feedback on how to move more efficiently, be more responsive, more balanced, and better connected.
- “Conversation” skills: If the leader is constantly getting interrupted by your creative ideas, he might be getting frustrated that he can never finish a sentence. It’s not that you should supress all of your play, but get some feedback on *when* and *how often* play is appropriate.
- A Grudge: It’s possible that a leader might have been offended by you in the past and is just holding a grudge. If you care and want to fix it, it will take some mature one-on-one discussion to confront and resolve the issue.
Self consciousness and self-esteem have nothing to do with your real skill level. Read The Not-Good-Enough Myth
“I’m not attractive enough”
Ok, this one is sticky, because perception is relative. It’s likely a symptom of low self-esteem, that could be improved by focusing on what you can control and learning how to better present who you want to be. When you feel attractive, you automatically become more attractive. But this might not be enough to garner the response you are looking for from others, in which case you could take it one step further and educate yourself on beauty and fashion.
When I was in school, I was a tomboy slob. When I started dancing, I learned how to use a hair straightener, I updated my glasses and got contact lenses, I learned how to wear makeup, and I started dressing in clothes that suited my body. I carried myself with better posture. I paid attention to what the dancers I admired were wearing, and I found the common ground between that and my own taste. I evolved as a woman because of dancing, to the point that I was unrecognizable to my high school friends.
Whether or not you choose to subscribe to traditional feminine standards, attractiveness has some common elements that are gender-irrelevant. Dressing appropriately for the dance style (for example, no one wears skirts or hats) makes you look like you belong in the scene and know what you’re doing. Pairing neutral colours with bright colours is aesthetically pleasing; wearing clashing colours is not. Light colours are less forgiving than black. Clothes that are too small or too big on you are less flattering. Makeup and/or hair style makes you look more intentionally “ready” for the occasion, and more formal vs casual.
Want more? Here’s a whole article on dressing for competition.
Let dance inspire you and seek out some female mentorship or education on fashion and beauty to set yourself up to present yourself better and feel better.
“I’m too old to…”
1. Wear certain clothes. It’s amazing how women talk themselves out of wearing the strangest things. A lady once said to me, “Oh, I’m too old to wear dance boots – those are for young women.” Even stranger, another one said, “I can wear the black ones, but I’m too old to pull off the coloured ones.” This is an art form, people! Business dress code does not apply! Quit assigning status to objects of clothing! Sure, you can dress your age if you like, but “dressing your age” doesn’t mean “dressing like the worst dressers in your age group”. Be sure to pay attention to the most successful dancers in your age range and take style cues from them. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself and think that old = conservative/boring and young = flashy/sexy/exciting, or plus size = frumpy/subdued/blackfabric and skinny = pretty/colourful/eyecatching. I love seeing a Masters woman wearing tasteful sparkles, a young woman in an elegant jumpsuit, or a plus size woman rocking a colourful tunic and whatever @#$% boots she wants!
2. Pull off sexy styling. Hah! The only sexy styling that you should refrain from doing are the same stripper moves we would advise the young women to avoid too. Sexiness it’s not about age – it’s about poise, grace, magnetism, and intrigue, which are available at every age. Want a breakthrough in your confidence? Take a pole dancing class. Seriously! Then use the instructional videos I mentioned to apply it to WCS.
3. Compete. Masters division – it’s a thing! Only compete against women over 50! This makes it a more comfortable, accessible playing field. If you have any curiosity in competing but don’t want to be thrown in the general population pool, try Masters before deciding how you feel about competitions.
4. Do the bendy moves. Dancing is a form of expression. Are you saying that just because you don’t have the knee strength to squat mid-pattern, you are excluded from expressing yourself?? Of course not! If you are physically not fit enough to do certain movements without causing injury, by all means, avoid them, but instead of diminishing your arsenal, replace each of those moves with safer ones that you can play with: foot synchopations, body isolations and arm styling are a great start.
“I often get hurt social dancing”
The key observation here is that you get hurt while dancing with different leaders. If it was just one leader in particular, you might be able to blame it on him. But since this happens with multiple leaders, the problem is likely with you.
10% of followers that tell me this complaint are simply not fit enough to dance. This means that they do not have the core strength necessary to engage to their arms, protect their joints, move urgently, and be stable. The sudden accelerations or unexpected movements the leaders lead are not unsafe unto themselves, but these followers are not strong enough to withstand them. This condition is not correlated with age or weight, but women who have a history of physical activity never seem to have this problem. No amount of technique will make a difference until the muscles are prepared. I recommend a physiotherapy program that involves correction of muscle engagement and strengthening of core muscles and connective tissues.
The other 90% of women are fit enough, but are unaware of the techniques required to allow themselves to be led into elasticity and/or steering movements. This is a massive, essential fundamental that is severely neglected or glazed over in most beginner classes. This is why we include it in detail in the Swing Literacy Training Programs and instruction video: “7 Habits of Highly Effective Swing Dancers” and “The 8th Habit: Secrets to Steering”. Of the 90% of followers that presented with this issue, we have been able to coach all of them out of their self-injury habit.
Now, if you keep getting hurt by the same leader, that’s a different story. Next week, I’ll be addressing how women can handle awkward situations and stand up for themselves.
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