Tactical Social Dancing: Part 1

“What should you do if…”, “What happens when…”, “How can I handle…”, “How do I deal with…”

These are all questions that students of all levels batter their teachers with. They are tactical questions – they ask for circumstantial advice, or recommendations for particular situations that have to do with not just the physical side of the dance, but also the social/mental side.

You’ve probably got your own list burning a hole in your pocket, so this is the article series you’ve been waiting for!

But you might not be ready. It’s possible that you don’t yet have the skills to implement some these very valid tactics. This is not an insult, merely a fact. Allow me to explain.

In any sport, such as ours, there are 3 types of skills: Techniques, Tactics, and Strategies.
Strategies explain the overall game plan or goal, and include several tactics to achieve it
Tactics explain “what to do and when”, and need several techniques to execute them.
Techniques explain how to do a movement (tactic).

Here’s an example of the skills of “Posting for Leader’s Turn”:

Strategy: What’s the goal Tactic: what it causes Technique: how it happens
Keep follower close while leader turns around in place Post on count 4 to prevent follower’s further travel Negate follower’s momentum by applying 
equal & opposite force, by tightening the bicep and ceasing elbow extension (more
techniques available)

It is a very common pitfall for teachers to use the word “technique” when they are actually referring to “tactics“. (This is why there is a whole section dedicated to T, T, S in both the Swing Literacy Teacher Development Program and the Dancer Development Program!) But as a learner, what you need to know is that just because you hear good advice that offers a valid tactic, does not mean that you will have any idea HOW to implement it, unless you also learn the accompanying technique. And this accompanying technique gold is harder to acquire, like a “batteries sold separately” situation.

In this article, we are talking specifically about Tactics. So as you read the following advice, recognize that not all of the tips include the actual techniques to implement the tactics. This is intentional, because techniques (specifically physical ones) are best reserved for a private lesson. But knowing they are out there should motivate you to go hunting. When it comes to techniques, “you gotta catch’em all”! (And yes, they are all included in the SLDM)

When the floor is crowded

The WCS slot has grown in length and width over the years, but floorcraft skills have not followed suit. Slower music = longer stretch = using more space. You personally should be conscious of this and responsible for restricting your real estate (strategy) using posting (tactic), shoulder-checking (tactic), and slot/leash length management (tactic). Each of these tactics has a plethora of techniques explaining exactly how to make them work.

These tactics shouldn’t dampen your dance, though – remember WCS was just as exciting when it was danced to 140bpm over 2 floor tiles. As any tango, tap or hip hop dancer will tell you: you don’t need space to express yourself.

Where to start searching for technique? You mean besides the obvious private lessons? Video. No, not YouTube; instructional videos. Specifically ones on footwork and body isolations, which are not distance-dependant. Be sure to check your pitch to make sure your head is never further behind your hips, this way you might bump bums, but you will avoid bonking heads (techniques needed). As a follower, I make sure my arms are not flailing out during turns or extensions – I focus on internally-directed arm styling (techniques needed). As a leader, be prepared to act as bumper to protect your traveling/spinning follower from a crash, and NEVER yank her arm in panic (techniques needed).

How to dance with newbies

I’m talking brand-new, first timers. Many people’s instinct is to “show them the steps”. This is the worst crime you can commit on this impressionable rookie. If they are venturing out to the social floor, they are hoping for 2 things:

1. Proof of concept: that the material they learned already (if any) actually works. These newbs are painting with primary colours here. They are expecting to lead/follow things they can easily recognize. They need proof that these work and time to gain comfort before they start learning new colours.

Let them do basics, even if they are a mess! Just because you’re bored, doesn’t mean they are – they are laser-focused! I like to add a few secondary colours towards the end of the song, when I feel they can handle it. This is the ultimate exercise in reading (their) body language.

Newbies also need to feel what the dance should feel like, which means they need you to do proper, authentic stretching. Faking it and just walking around is not helping, and is planting the seeds of bad habits. Resist the urge to “teach” them anything. This is not your job and/or not the appropriate time or place.

2. Someone kind to go easy on them and forgive their inevitable mistakes. Dancing with a newbie is the ultimate test of YOUR adaptation skills (techniques needed). You can’t call yourself a competent dancer if you can’t adjust your dance to accommodate all levels.

If you show off or even just “dance your normal”, this newbie is not only going to be frustrated, they won’t even be able to appreciate your skills. All they will remember is how incompetent you made them feel, that they should avoid you in the future, and that maybe WCS isn’t for them.

Surely you can donate 3 minutes of your own focus and generosity to making this potential new Westie feel comfortable and encouraged?

How to deal with the obsessive dipper

Followers, we all know “that guy” (it’s almost always a male because most female leaders don’t tend to do weight supports due to size and strength) who likes to dip 17 times during a dance, or maybe he’s the one who thinks it’s a good strategy to brace your skull before slamming you down over his knee. He should know that a dip is a trust contract that must be earned, and that while dips must be lead and never invited, they should never be forced.

Regardless of the reasons he is over-dipping you, it is your responsibility to speak up. This can be verbal (with a smile): “Whew! I think I’ve hit my quota of dips tonight, thanks!” or physical: reaching your free foot back to brace yourself against him pushing you down (techniques needed).

If he’s a known offender, you can jokingly mention before the dance that you are “playing by Classic division rules tonight: no more than 5 weight supports!”, or seriously gain his compassion by indicating an injury or vertigo episode you are protecting. Also check out this handy wristband that serves as a safety signal to your partners: EZ Does It wristband


How to deal with the self-dipper

Leaders, we all know “that lady” (it’s almost always a female because male followers have more empathy on this topic) who likes to self-lead into dips and drops. You are leading something straightforw
ard and all of a sudden she’s squatting behind your back, expecting you to hold her there until she’s done with her “moment”. 2 projects for you here:

1. Prevention. There are some followers who missed the memo that she is supposed to physically *request* time to play *before* committing her weight to a drop (techniques needed). It’s possible that you might have unintentionally relaxed or strengthened your lead, indicating an invitation. In this case, you need to re-evaulate your leading connection during certain moves (techniques needed).

Some followers missed the memo that dips are NOT invitations – they are to be lead! The leader needs to be physically prepared before she gives you her weight! In this case, keep your wits about you and be sure to lead assertively through “openings” she might decide to take advantage of (techniques needed).

2. Reaction. When you are past the point of prevention, you need to go into survival mode. This means bracing yourself and not worrying about aesthetics. In a standard dip where she’s throwing herself down, engage your core and hug her against your torso so she can’t descend and pull you off balance. In a drop, engage your core, bend your knees, and offer your second hand or place it on her back to assist. (more techniques available)

When you’re feeling overwhelmed

Maybe you’ve had a rough day at work and just need to be around positive energy for the night. It’s ok to take the night off your homework and just dance your cares away. As long as you’re not hurting your partners, no one will care that your footwork isn’t improving tonight.

Give yourself a break and maybe make a game of it – ask people you don’t normally dance with, dance twice in a row with someone, or dance with newbies you know won’t judge you. Anything to ease your stress and take the pressure off.

If, however, you arrive at the dance triggered by something – parking issues, losing a shoe, stood up by a Tinder date, don’t take it out on the floor. Dancing is for freedom, healing, and escape. Don’t turn your partner into the meter maid.

If your partner isn’t paying attention to you

I don’t mean to say that you are being needy – I’m referring to when you partner seems to have their head in the clouds – they are zoned out and just going through the motions.

Be forgiving – you don’t know their reasons for checking out – they might be serious reasons worthy of your sympathy. This person also might be completely oblivious to how they appear to their partners. Either way, you should not take this personally. You could let them space out and then if you really need their attention, increase your connection briefly.

But if you would like to engage them and bring them back to Earth, you could check your own eye contact habits (looking down too much, closing your eyes, not spotting), and try looking at them specifically during footwork synchopations or poses. There are loads of connection techniques (for both roles) that engage your partner and dramatically improve your communication and partnership with or without eye contact.

If a line up forms to dance with you

This is more for the upper level dancers in the community, but also quite common in communities where there are more followers than leaders.

I’ll be blunt: followers can get a little nutty when leaders are scarce. I realize that they feel the need to jump in the shark tank and compete for each and every social dance, but this is not a healthy social environment.

It is not appropriate to form a queue for a certain leader during social dancing. Leaders are in charge of their own “dance card”, and just because followers are forming a line on the side of the floor does not mean you “owe them next”. You are free to ask whomever you choose, wherever on the floor.

Myles’ advice: keep a smile on unless they cross the line, politely explain that “I don’t attend a lineup, but if you ask nicely (wink) I’ll come and find you for a dance later”. Then, be sure to keep word and go find them so they learn to trust this process.

If you need to decline a dance for safety reasons

Most dancers know a partner who hurts to dance with, so they try to avoid them. This is not a rude or mean person: they might even be a friend. This dancer is either unaware of their own strength because they have never gotten honest feedback before, or they are aware but missing skills on how to control their bodies and deliver a safe and comfortable experience for their partners.

Here’s a wonderful script recommended by Allstar Kay Newhouse for what you can say when they ask you to dance:

“I’m sorry I cant dance with you.” maybe also: “but how are you? it’s nice to see you, my friend.” (sometimes we can connect wtih one another in conversation if they dancing doesn’t work.)

If they ask why: “I would like to dance with you (if that part is true), but I can’t/won’t because I can’t do it safely.” or “I don’t know how to dance with you in a way that doesn’t hurt me.”

AND –>> no assigning fault, no assinging blame, no telling them what they could do differently unless they ask for your help on that. That part is for a teacher, or for someone they would like advice from.  Bc that part is teaching on the floor, which they didn’t ask for.

Work from the assumption that they don’t want you to get hurt either. You’re making that possible for both of you by declining, and maybe giving them reason to do some fixing.


Read on for these topics in Part 2:

  • How to ask high demand dancers
  • When your partner doesn’t stretch
  • How to survive a rough lead
  • How to work with a follower with no frame
  • How to dance with past generations
  • How to hear a weak/whisper lead
  • How to get your partner’s attention
  • How to increase your chances of a second dance
  • How to handle a follower who is a “player”
  • How to gracefully decline during a dance
  • How to practice your homework
  • How to do partner profiling
  • How to handle “no”
  • How to handle discomfort
The sequel to last week's "What do I do if..." guide! #wcscoachscorner #techniquestacticsstrategies

3 Responses to “Tactical Social Dancing: Part 1”

  1. Paul Diffendaffer January 26, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Fabulous advice. I will be pointing my students to these much needed Coache’s Corner articles.

  2. Love this article and how you make all your concepts fit into a system.

  3. I dream of the day when a line of follows will queue up to dance with me. I have not had this happen but last year at Sweet Side (2016) two professional follows just could not wait to dance with me and instead of forming a line they playfully kept cutting in on each other multiple times to dance with me during one song. I was beginning to think this was some sort of “mercy dance” and I started thinking maybe they were just “faking it” despite the obvious joy, smiles and (perhaps) a smidgeon of “dance + lust = chemistry.” Their radiance was such that I privately asked one of them afterwards if she really enjoyed the dance that much and she dreamily replied affirmative.

    At the time I was dancing at the assigned 200 level.

    When an eagle soars it always returns to the nest to feed the next generation. Perhaps it remembers that its kind all started out in the nest and if it were not for those who can fly, none of its kind would have ever fledged. They live, even if by instinct, to nurture the next generation.

    If the day comes that followers have queued up to dance with me, I am going to walk over to the sidelines where the beginners are and ask several if they will please dance with me. Actually what I really dream about is the day when a queue of beginners will line up to dance with me. That’s a line-up that insures survival of the species!

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