Tactical Social Dancing Part 2

Last week, I published Part 1, which you really should read first, to get the context of Part 2. If you had a chance to read it already, something to notice in both articles is how often the words “technique needed” are mentioned.

When we lay out advice like this, it really stands out how many of these tactics have techniques attached to them. Even if you are familiar with the tactical advice topics, it is highly unlikely that you have heard/collected/absorbed the techniques associated with them.

I hope you use this article as a roadmap or a checklist to go hunting for the techniques you are missing.

What are Tactics?

“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!

This is the part where you REALLY should go back and read the intro of Part 1


When your partner doesn’t stretch

Elasticity is a fundamental characteristic of WCS. Together, you and your partner form a machine that needs elasticity to function well (technique needed). If one side of your partnership is slacking (pun intended), it is up to the other partner to make up the difference (technique needed).

Yes, we are all responsible for frame matching, but if your partner is slack, you need to back up to acquire tension. If your partner is rigid, you should be able to “self-boing” (technique needed) to help the team. Bottom line? There is a metric ton of technique available that will make compensating for this much more comfortable so you won’t feel trapped for 3 minutes. You could start with 7 Habits of Highly Effective Swing Dancers, or teachers can check out the Swing Literacy Dancer Development Program.

How to survive a rough lead

There exists a common myth that followers should relax their connection when faced with a rough (male) leader. (I have never heard a complaint about a rough female leader.)

This dangerous advice is one of the leading causes of injury. Good partnership aims to integrate both partners as one, so the name of the game is “frame matching”. You need to reciprocate the connection you are offered (technique needed): If he is light, lighten up. If he is strong, tone up to match his strength.

If you relax with a strong leader, not only are you refusing to match/reciprocate/connect, but when you disassociate your arm from your core, you put yourself at risk. He will inevitably pull harder in an effort to “feel” you. But if you match his connection, he will not feel the need to try harder to lead you – it will be effortless so he will likely calm down, and if he doesn’t, at least the dance will be survivable.

Do not, however, “lean back”, or hold your frame tight while hanging your weight back. This will only serve to make you feel heavy, which will prompt him to jerk you harder. Stay agile and responsive (technique needed), allow the slingshot to do the work (technique needed). A strong lead who is pulling you off time is “fixable”, but this requires more advanced techniques. The easiest way to adapt is to abandon your timing and just allow the dance to flow as best you can. The more you try to force it, the more it will feel like a fight.

How to ask high demand dancers

There’s a whole article on How/when to Ask Pros to Dance. But here are a few tips:

First, don’t form a line. See last week’s article, Part 1. Every dancer has their personal limit of how many dances they can do in a row. Don’t assume that a partner can handle “just one more”, if they are panting and dripping with sweat. If they are sprinting off the floor, do not do the desperate shoulder grab – this is inconsiderate and almost guaranteed to elicit a “no”.

Give them space – maybe approach them towards the end of the song with something like, “I don’t mean to rush your break, but when you’re ready, would you like to dance?” It’s a good idea to get on their radar before entering the dance space – “Save me a dance later?” can be suggested at the bar, in the elevator, at the entrance, or during class.

Regardless of your level, don’t be afraid to ask – there is no minimum level requirement to dance with anybody. At a social dance, skill has nothing to do with value. You are just as worthy as the dancers more skilled than you.

How to work with a follower with no frame

Ah, frame…one of the most misunderstood skills in WCS. Followers often do not get thorough enough instruction on frame in the beginning for it to be functional, so the majority of followers (even up to Advanced and AllStar level) are actually to some degree frame-deficient.

But I think most of you are wondering about the more beginner follower who seems to understand inertia and timing, but is a wet noodle when it comes to compressing and turning, amiright?

If you are familiar with our kissing/magnet/lateral connection material from the Swing Literacy Development Method, or if you have studied our video, The 8th Habit, you are already well-equipped to handle this situation.

Right from the first time you touch this follower, make sure to put positive pressure on their hands, not just slack, relaxed handhold (technique needed). This will set the tone for the dance and unconsciously teach them how to listen to you.

This will help a little, but until they learn the rest of their fundamentals, you will need more tactics: Know that this follow will not feel preps or lateral leads on time, so you need to allow more time for them to complete them. Try to lead more from other structure points such as hips and shoulders, which are harder to ignore.

Whatever you do, do not complain, criticize or correct on the dance floor. This will only backfire and reflect badly on you. Suck it up!

How to dance with dancers from “past generations”

Remember, WCS isn’t just as only old as YouTube; it’s a 50+year-old American cultural dance. In North America, it is likely you will run into social dancers who started in the 90’s or early 2000’s.

Because WCS constantly evolves, this means that the dance style/accent looks and feels different now than it did then. But like language, having different accents does not disable you from sharing conversation. Just identify the main differences so you can understand each other and be understood.

WCS used to be much faster, which meant it was danced closer, in a shorter slot, using more posting, more footwork, and less stretch and body shaping (technique needed). So if you are a from a recent generation (within the past 5-7 years), in order to dance with a partner from an earlier generation, try to adjust by using shorter slots, posting, and footwork (technique needed).

If you are dancing with someone from a more recent generation than you, understand that they are aiming for more stretch, flow, and body movement. It’s all about listening to each other and managing your expectations.

How to hear a weak/whisper lead

Followers often ask how they can possibly stretch off of a leader who is super light. Remember, elasticity is the name of the game, which requires tension, which requires counterbalance. You can absolutely stretch yourself (techniques needed) and get counterbalance from every leader – it’s a matter of reciprocation: If they are strong, counterbalance more. If they are weak, counterbalance less (techniques needed). Your normal elastic band should decrease in strength: lighten your tension so you can “hear” their whisper. Don’t expect every leader to speak at the same volume.

How to handle a follower who is a “player”

No, not “playa”, I mean a follower who likes to play – he/she interprets the music and accepts all invitation leads you throw at them. I can relate to this follower!

The thing to remember is that playing is not the same as hijacking. Hijacking is stealing or interrupting the lead – when uninvited play disrupts the leaders’ flow.

But not all playing is hijacking. Followers are free to play with synchopations and body isolations to their heart’s content as long as it doesn’t disrupt the lead. As long as (she) goes where the leader leads and when, (she) gets to be the one to decide how (she) moves there (techniques needed). There is a whole chapter I can dedicate to this topic, in fact, that’s what the followers’ styling video series, Got Play? Followers’ Liberation for WCS is for.

But for now, leader, what you need to know is that your follower might be playing on you because you are unwittingly giving invitations to do so. Your dance should be neither 100% assertive leading nor 100% “initiation” leading – it should be a healthy, balanced conversation (techniques needed). It’s possible your “initiation leads” are being interpreted as invitations to play, or that your follower is fed up with being lectured at.

If you have an agenda with a certain pattern and you want to dictate how it finishes, make sure you are leading more assertively, but balance those patterns out with a healthy dose of open-ended patterns where the followers gets to choose, so you can have a balanced conversation.

How to gracefully decline during a dance

I don’t mean decline an invitation to dance, I mean decline to do something within the dance.

Not everyone is comfortable with ducks, dips, drops, slides, squats, body rolls, invitation leads, pirouettes, etc. Followers, it will be useful for you to learn to recognize the setups/preps for the moves you prefer to avoid.

Followers can usually see a dip set up coming a mile away – you could increase your grip on your leader, slow your core travel, keep your feet under you, or even brace yourself from being lowered (technique needed). You can always turn a pirouette into a chaine turn and triple out of it (technique needed) – you aren’t required to spin on one foot. An invitation lead is not a demand or requirement. You can step out of a slide, squat under a duck, and lift the leader’s arm if you don’t want to limbo under it.

Whatever you do, finish with a big smile and musical styling, so they don’t mistake your declination of the move as rejection of them. You might follow up with, “I’m not up for those tonight”, or “I wasn’t quite ready for that”, or even more blunt, “That didn’t feel right, so I bailed for safety”. These are all “I” messages that will hopefully make the leader think twice about how (he) leads them.

How to do partner profiling

The word “profiling” has a negative connotation only in the context of policing, but the word “profile” simply means to summarize and create a snapshot image of someone’s traits.

The first 15 seconds at the beginning of a dance are chock-full of valuable data. You can assess your partner’s connection, balance, timing, frame, and elasticity all before your first pattern (technique needed). You are creating a profile of your partner’s useable skills (in that moment).

This info should dictate how to handle this partner for the rest of the dance. If you detect that the followers is not very balanced and has a weak frame, plan on avoiding leading multiple spins. If the leader doesn’t stretch you during the starter step, chances are they’re not going to be able to during whips, and you can expect little stretch off anchors too, so prepare your body accordingly (technique needed).

People change, moods change, circumstances change, which means you have to give people the benefit of the doubt and assess each and every dance – don’t “save” the profile for someone – they might present differently the next time you dance.

How to handle “no”

Handling rejection is part of standard adulting. Hopefully the “no’s” you get are graceful and compassionate, but I know there are still some people who are manners-deficient.

Regardless of how well they manage their delivery, the meaning of their “no” is not always malicious. They usually are saying no because they mean “not right now”, because they need a break, just declined someone else, or don’t like the song. I will often say no if the song is inappropriate for the person asking me (ie. too fast for a beginner). 99% of the time, you should not take “no” personally.

Also remember that everyone has the right to decline a dance without judgement. There is a slight possibility they have a reason for declining a dance with you – if you notice they decline you habitually, take a moment and self-reflect. Maybe your last dance with them was not so pleasant? Did you get carried away with dips or hijacks? Check your hygiene habits. Get feedback on your partnering skills in a private lesson or peer practice session. Making some changes might gain you more Yes’s from all partners, not just this one.

Be sure to accept “no” gracefully, brush it off and don’t let it affect the rest of your night. “Ok, catch me later then?” is a gentle, open-ended proposal that invites the person to return the invitation when they are ready. Don’t pursue the person during the party – let them approach you, or wait to ask at the next party.

How to handle discomfort

This is a topic that deserves its own article, but briefly… You need to decide on your  personal boundaries, both physical and social. While there are commonly held social norms, don’t assume that everyone’s boundaries are the same.

For example, I personally am not bothered when leaders look down, because I know they are usually concentrating or intimidated. But some women feel offended because they feel that the leader is staring at her chest.

If you are concerned about a particular behaviour that you are not sure is acceptable in the dance, ask your teacher. If your partner does something once that might be interpreted as inappropriate, assess the situation first before reacting: Was it an accident? Were they even aware that it happened? If it wasn’t intentional, you might not even need to bring it up.

If something your partner is doing repeatedly or intentionally makes you feel uncomfortable, you  do need to take responsibility for speaking up. Not only for your own comfort, but for the comfort of their future partners. “<Wince> Could you please try not to squeeze with your fingers?” Speaking up does not have to be angry or accusatory. Stick to the facts, state how you feel, and make a request. If they react poorly, don’t take it personally – at least you tried.

If the situation escalates or the behavior continues despite your request, time to report it to the host, who should be able to deal with the person directly.

I want to reiterate: the person deserves the benefit of the doubt first, then a chance to learn and make it right. If it doesn’t get better, it is your responsibility to speak up, for the sake of yourself and the community. Be part of the solution.

When your partner tries to teach you on the floor

Ah, the ultimate social dance crime! Under the guise  of “trying to be helpful”, some partners allow their need to control the situation outweigh their empathy and social agreements.

I have often fantasized that a referee could step in and issue yellow cards and red cards like they do in soccer. But in the absence of that system, dancers need to stand up for themselves. I elaborate on this topic in the article, Pep Talk for the Girls, Part 2.

Now, keep in mind, that “teaching” about a safety request is completely acceptable and encouraged. For example, if I leader is reaching for your hip and keeps “missing”, you need to speak up and show him where he needs to put his hand. If a follower keeps squeezing her elbow down on your forearm in closed position, the leader needs to reposition it with an explanation of how it is hurting him.

But for all those circumstances that don’t involve safety and therefore unsolicited feedback is inappropriate, what should you say? Here’s a list to choose from, depending on the circumstances.
Note that none of these phrases offer an apology. Do not apologize!

  • “I’m just trying my best.”
  • “I’m just doing what you lead.”
  • “Oh, it felt like that was what you wanted.”
  • “Oh, you mean you didn’t mean to lead that?” <with genuine bewilderment>
  • “Can we just skip it and move on?”
  • “Thanks, I’ll ask my instructor about that.” <then change the subject>
  • “Can we just dance?”
  • “You’re not trying to give me unsolicited advice, are you?” <said teasingly>
  • “When you’re done with your feedback for me, can I have a turn?”


When the leader accuses you

Somewhere along the line, some (almost exclusively male) leaders never got the memo that their role is only to orchestrate and cause movement.

Because they were in a class where the followers were taught their footwork and movement solo first, they learned that followers were supposed to memorize their part of the pattern and execute it on a cue. This implied lesson may not be their fault, but it is counterproductive to social dancing. The result is that some male leaders sometimes blame their follower when their move goes awry.

First of all, blame is unwelcome in social dancing, just as it is in social conversation. But if he happens to accuse you, check yourself first: were you listening? Were you managing your connection correctly? Did you wait to be lead? Did you follow your inertia? If not, take the feedback (as rude as it was) and make adjustments. If the answer to these questions is yes and his blame is unwarranted, speak up and never apologize: “Oh, I didn’t feel the lead on that one”, “I just tried to follow your lead”, “That felt like that’s what you wanted”, “I will happily as soon as you lead it”. Be sure to deliver with a genuine smile, or at least with a neutral, non-judgemental tone and facial expression.

How to increase your chances of a second dance

Second dances aren’t necessarily back-to-back. It’s not common in WCS for a partner to ask you to stay with them for a second song, but sometimes if you are really connecting it’s nice.

But I’m talking about getting a second dance later in the evening. Being a good sport, big smiles, positive vibes, encouraging reactions, all leave your partner with a good feeling that will make them want to come back for more.

Sometime it might feel like you bombed the dance and want a “do-over”. If the song you danced to was lame or unknown, you might suggest trying again later to a more familiar song. You could also laugh it off by saying, “thanks for helping me shake out my cobwebs, can we try again later?” You could throw out a general warm fuzzy invitation: “I always love our dances – come and find me for a dance anytime”.

Remember that many dancers like to “work the room”, trying to dance with as many people as possible once, before “going back for seconds”. This doesn’t mean they are not interested in dancing with you again – they just have a method.

Whatever you do, don’t be a stalker. If I just danced with you 2 songs ago, I am guaranteed not going to ask you for another dance just because you are standing nearby. I’m going to find a “fresh” partner, and when I’ve danced with all of them, only then will you appear “fresh” again to me.

How to practice your homework

Yes, there is an entire article on this one, so the tactics I want to mention here are more how not to practice your homework.

You get homework from the notes you took from your last private lesson, workshop, or instructional video. Yes, you should be practicing personal movement skills on your own, but solo practice alone will not achieve your goals. A mirror is useful, but once you get the visual feedback you need, you should be weaning yourself off it. Solo movement won’t easily translate into your social dancing without progressing through an intermediary stage: practice your solo movement while physically managing an object, such as a rope or a glass of water (which represents your responsibility to your partner).

Don’t just video yourself practicing with a partner for feedback: also video yourself in authentic social dancing to get an accurate record of how your dancing looks when you are not focusing on it.

Do not treat a social dance the same way you treat a practice dance: During a social dance, don’t repeat the choreographed combo from class over and over again because she’s “not getting it”. Clearly you are missing skills that will not be learned by torturing your follower through insistent repetition. Don’t be so self-absorbed in your homework that you ignore your partner – your partners deserve your full attention.


Continue on to Part 3!

Salivating for Part 3 of this series? Here you go! #wcscoachscorner #techniquestacticsstrategies #askthecoach


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