Written by Richard Lindsay (social dancer)
Lots of people take dance classes; lots of different types of people with a wide range of motivational reasons and varying levels of ambition. This applies to all types of dance classes but in particular to social dances, especially partner dances. My own particular experience has been gained from an active attendance of—and to a lesser extent teaching of—Cuban (Casino, Son, Chachachá, Danzón), other Latin American (Bachata, Merengue) and Northern American (Swing/Lindy Hop) social dances.
Dance classes are important to me. I have attended some form of regular dance classes for around ten years now and, for the most part, I really enjoy them. But not always…
Especially not when dance parasites are lurking around.
Before the accusations are directed my way, I refuse to be identified as a “dance class snob” or an “elitist.”
I am not a snob.
I acknowledge and actively embrace the reality that dance class students—and the social dance scene as a whole—are a mixed group with varying levels of dedication and learning ambition.
Not everybody wants to become and advanced student, not everybody wants to teach, we all want to have fun and we set our own personal rules. And that’s great!
These social dances are largely simple and can be enjoyed with very little technique; a few basic steps and moves are enough for anyone to have fun dancing all night on the dance floor.
It’s very important to remember that much of what we learn in class emerged on the dance floor instinctively. Many Cuban “casineros” will never have had a formal lesson in their life, many of the “mambo/salsa” dancers of the New York/Palladium scene, just like the first Lindy Hop club dancers of the 1930’s, learned to dance from practical experience, just copying their friends out on the dance floor.
Dance classes are not absolutely necessary for what we do.
For me personally, the attendance of social dance events is the be-all and end-all. I don’t care much for choreographed shows, I don’t like dance competitions. Social dance is just that: a social event for interaction with other dancers. It’s about improvisation on the dance floor, based on the understanding of a few basic structural rules, and it’s about having fun. It’s just as much about having a beer and a chat with friend from the scene between dances.
Let me be clear: If you are a part of the social scene but do not attend regular classes, you are in reality much more typical and more representative of the spirit of social dance than people like me (long-term dedicated, ambitious students). I’m an obsessive nerd, I admit it! But, importantly, only in class and not on the dance floor.
Whatever your technical level or however many (or few) variations of figure X, Y or Z you know, as an active social dancer, whatever your level of proficiency, you are the life and soul of the social dance scene and I salute you!
Thus, I hope I have established that this is not an elitist attack on beginner-level social dancers or social dancers who never take any formal lessons.
For the purpose of this essay (rant!) and for simplicity’s sake, I will be (deliberately over-generalising and) breaking down dance students as a whole into three categories based on my observations:
- Long-term dedicated, ambitious students
- Casual short-term students
- Long-term PARASITES
So, who are the students in these groups?
Group 1: Long-term dedicated, ambitious students
It will come as no surprise that I, the author, consider myself a member of this group. What characterises me, then?
- I work hard during the day and really appreciate my spare time and want to make the most of it.
- Dance is a hobby which I need to take relatively seriously in order to get the most satisfaction out of my pastime.
- I attend classes to learn and enjoy a challenge. A large part of the attraction of dance classes is the learning experience and the sense of achievement gained from progressing.
- I attend classes regularly and am in it for the long-run. I take time out to practice at home and, above all, on the dance floor at social dance events.
- I am interested in technique; I pay attention closely to the teacher when the basics are explained so that I can perform all the elements of the dance in the most proficient and comfortable way for myself and my partner.
- For me, progress is much more than simply adding new moves to the repertoire. I understand that a solid basic technique is the key to my capacity to amplify my range of figures and variations as I progress.
- I revise the syllabus of potential classes and sign up based on my level of experience and ability. I do my best to contribute to the group and ensure we all progress and enjoy our learning experience together.
I am not a dance class parasite.
Group 2: Casual short-term students
- If I m a casual short-term dance student, who am I?
- I will typically attend a short cycle of beginners’ classes.
- I will learn a small repertoire of figures with a minimum of technical insight (*1).
- I will abandon classes after the first cycle of beginners’ lessons. I may disappear from the scene completely but I may continue to attend social dance events regularly, becoming an active member of the scene. Given the empirical nature of social dance, as a “casual, short-term student” I may also become a proficient and capable social dancer, simply as a result of the hours and minutes I amass on the dance floor and depending on my talent and instincts.
- That said, I have no real active interest in technique and I am happy with a very basic repertoire of moves.
- I have fun on the dance floor but recognise that I have no interest in advanced learning. I remain a valuable member of the dance scene as a regularly attendee of social events, or I move on.
I do not continue attending classes which are of no interest to me. I am not a dance class parasite.
Group 3: Long-term dance class PARASITES
The dance class PARASITE: who am I?
- Seemingly, dance is my only hobby.
- I regularly attend classes; often several classes each week.
- I am typically in dance class much more frequently than I can be seen at social dance events.
- I have repeatedly demonstrated that I have little or no interest in technique. I attended the cycle of beginners’ classes, doing like most do; I copied the moves the teacher demonstrated as best as I could the first time round. I paid little attention to the tips and suggested corrections that the teacher offered.
- My group has progressed to several higher levels of the syllabus since we started out together but I have refused to correct any of my bad habits.
- I have seriously deficiencies when it comes to basic technique. This prevents me from being able to progress.
- I enjoy the status of long-term student and, having attended classes for X years and/or Y months, I therefore feel I have an entitlement to be considered an “intermediate” or even “advanced student”.
- My lack of discipline means I do not have sufficient control over important basic techniques for leading and following.
- Dancing any kind of more advanced move, such as two-handed figures, faster multiple turns etc., is an unpleasant, uncomfortable experience for my partner and may even be dangerous. As a result, I put others at risk of physical injury.
- I don’t care about any of the above because I am selfish and ignorant.
- My motivation for attending dance classes seems to be largely social. Ironically, I’m rarely seen at social dance events. However, I have some spare time during the week and I need something to do. So, I sign up for dance class and hang around the dance school most of the evening.
- I’m in a delicate position: In my most lucid moments I kind of realise that others in class are there to learn and notice that others are much more proficient than I am. In order to continue to belong, I often have to feign interest. I can turn this to my advantage, though, as I will typically approach the more dedicated students after class to ask them for help. I insist that I am actively interested in “doing it right”, that “I love learning” and “could you show me that move we just did ….”. This extra interaction with other students not only reinforces my status as a member of the group, but I also fill a precious few moments of my spare time. I gain the attention I seek, all for the small price of a little white lie. I don’t care that I am wasting the other students’ time, as I say, I’m selfish.
I am a DANCE CLASS PARASITE.
Here is the thing, folks: Dance classes exist because people want to learn, to receive instruction, to be taught, to advance together. If you sign up for dance classes, you are entering into an agreement with the teacher and other students in which you commit to learning.
A definition of a “class” (*2):
“A group of students who are taught together, usually at a regularly scheduled time and in the same subject.”
There are, of course, secondary effects of regular attendance of dance classes. It is also a social experience. Of course! Sharing an interest leads to the formation of new friendships, for instance. But this shared interest is absolutely imperative as the basis for any other social interaction. This sincere sense of a common hobby is essential in order to establish the unifying basis for any friendship.
But if your prime reason for attending dance classes is another, I suggest you are in the wrong place. And you’re not going to make any friends either!
If you have no genuine interest in learning, if you are unwilling to try your best to implement the knowledge shared by the teacher, you are not only in the wrong place, but you are a massive disruptive influence. You are a leach, you suck the energy from others for your own selfish ends, you restrict the learning potential of the other students and severely curb their enjoyment of their chosen hobby.
The pittance you pay for your classes is not a licence to abuse others. Let’s be frank; dance instructors generally do not make a great amount of money. Typically a dance teacher is just another advanced student of the dance who is enthusiastic about sharing his or her knowledge. Dance teachers are rarely full-time instructors, their motivation is rarely financial. It’s very difficult to make money out of dance classes, especially advanced-level classes, with their typically low attendance numbers.
If you attend an “intermediate” or even “advanced-level” class, it’s very unlikely that the teacher is offering that class because it’s lucrative to do so. In my experience, teachers generally teach classes because they are passionate about the hobby, enjoy teaching to receptive students and because they are interested in expanding their local dance scene—they’re just looking for folk to dance with at the next social!
If you are in class and you have no genuine intention to learn, you’re wasting everybody’s time. You are wasting the teacher’s time and the time of the other students. You are selfish and disruptive: you are a dance class PARASITE.
Please think carefully about your motivation for attending dance classes. If you like to dance and are looking for social interaction, but have no real interest in advanced learning, there are plenty of social dances. Whatever your level, you will be a very welcome member of a vibrant social dance scene. Go out, dance, talk to friends, have a few drinks, dance some more…
But do not (ab)use dance class as a purely social event.
Attend classes to learn. If you don’t want to learn, don’t attend.
DON’T BE A DANCE CLASS PARASITE.
(*1) Speaking from experience as an occasional teacher of Casino and Son, beginners’ classes are difficult for the teacher. It’s easy to put off the beginner with too much technique but also impossible to teach newcomers anything without some basics. It’s about getting the balance right. Beginners’ classes thus typically focus on a couple of basic steps, quickly adding some simple figures or turns so that even the most inexperienced dancer can go out and enjoy a social dance event.
About the author:
Richard Lindsay was born in 1973 in Barnsley, in the industrial North of England, United Kingdom. He is married with no children. Nowadays, he has a permanent base in Germany but also spends much of the year on the island of Tenerife. He earns his money as a freelance translator and is a fluent speaker of English, German and Spanish. He actively pursues several diverse hobbies in his spare time. Other than being a self-confessed “language nerd”, Richard is a keen musician (singer, guitarist and composer), a Stormtrooper (Star Wars ‘costumer’ and member of the 501st Legion) and enthusiastic social dancer.
Since taking his first beginner class in Cuban Casino around 10 years ago, he has been hooked on Cuban social dance. In recent years he has also taught occasional classes.
Most recently he has discovered a new dance addiction and has started learning Lindy Hop.