“Social Dancer” can mean many things in dance-lingo. It can mean someone who is serious about learning improvised lead-follow dancing. It can means someone who is welcoming to beginners.
It also sometimes gets used to describe non-serious dancers who view the dancefloor as a ‘social’ activity to have fun. These are the people who know a couple basic moves, and don’t really have any desire to learn more or take more classes (sometimes, even any at all!)
They are usually aware that they aren’t ‘amazing’ dancers, and are quite alright with that. These people are still ‘social dancers’, but to differentiate, we will call them ‘basic dancers’.
This article is NOT about people who have an inflated idea of their own skillset, and behave badly towards fellow dancers. Regardless of level, this is an ‘ego’ problem – not to be confused with a dance level issue. Additionally, this does not refer to people who engage in dangerous dance behavior because they are untrained.
This article is about the very-basic dancers who come out, chat, and dance without doing anything complex or crazy.
These basic dancers have been a constant source of debate: Are they hurting the dance scene by driving away advanced, ‘real’ dancers, or are they a very important pillar of the community?
To me, NO dancer is a liability unless they are hurting people or making people feel unsafe or uncomfortable at a dance. It doesn’t matter what level they are; a pro who gropes students is just as much a liability as a complete beginner sticking their hand down someone’s pants. The intermediate dancer who forces their partner into unsafe positions is also liable.
Basic dancers do not equal liability. Rude, disrespectful, and dangerous dancers equal liability.
Basic dancers are not necessarily a ‘dance asset’ based on skill, but they still can contribute to dance in many, many ways.
When I started dancing, I was a ‘basic’ dancer for a long time. I didn’t have money, time, and crazy passion to work on my dancing. I simply went out dancing every bloody week (sometimes several times) because it was fun. I usually brought 7-10 people with me each time. Many of them are now “trained” and “serious” social dancers.
Somewhere along the way, I became a ‘serious’ dancer too. However, it took years – and a lot of opportunity – before I got there. Did that make me a liability during my ‘basic’ years? Would the dance scene have been better off if I had just stayed home?
There are also ‘basic’ dancers in my scene that have been around since before I started. Those ‘basic’ dancers are very often the ones who made me feel welcome and valuable in the scene in the first place. To this day, they still do that to every beginner who walks through the door – without attitude, without judgement. That is a massive contribution to the scene.
Basic dancers are not a liability that is driving away advanced dancers.
Most advanced dancers that I know aren’t against ‘basic’ dancers. They may not be the most thrilling dance of the evening, but they are generally old friends who have been around for a while and are perfectly fun to dance with. Most advanced dancers generally don’t have an issue with dancing with lower-level dancers ‘Basic’ dancers, and are quite lovely people.
If an advanced dancer requires ‘thrill’ to be entertained, they should probably just not dance with basic dancers. Saying ‘no’ for ego reasons is better than saying ‘yes’ and whining about how terrible the dances were – or closeting themselves at home because they feel obligated to take on ‘bad’ dances (in their opinion).
Usually, those people will end up only travelling if their home scene is anything less than world-class. Really, the only thing that will keep those people engaged locally are ‘advanced’ dancers with extensive training. If there’s a lack of dancers fitting that description, they’ll stay home or travel.
It doesn’t matter if there’s a large beginner/intermediate population – only the number of advanced dancers matter. The percentage of ‘basic’ dancers is irrelevant – just the percentage of ‘really good or great’ ones.
If you have 100 dancers, it doesn’t matter if there’s 80 ‘basic’ dancers; it will matter if the other 20 are ‘advanced’. Conversely, if you have 10 ‘basic’ dancers, 85’in-the-middle’ dancers, and 5 ‘advanced’ dancers, that person will likely only care about the 5 advanced people.
There are many ‘solid’ scenes that don’t even support the necessary number of advanced dancers to keep people of this persuasion entertained. Perhaps they’d be OK in Paris for Kizomba, or NYC for Salsa on 2. Maybe San Francisco for WCS, or Rio for Brazilian Zouk. The ‘Meccas’ of the dances. But in a normal scene? Probably not.
It’s not the basic dancers driving them away – it’s a lack of people fulfilling their expectations. Even in a very healthy social dance community that also has a low percentage of ‘basic’ dancers, this can happen quite easily.
There’s nothing wrong with those people, but their standards are not linked to the number of basic dancers. It’s linked to their travelling congress exposure, and the insanely high level of dances that they’ve grown attached to in those settings. That’s why we have ‘event withdrawl’ when we return home.
Many of us can still have plenty of fun at our local scene, but there is a reason we pay hundreds of dollars for that amazing Congress experience. For some, that experience begins to eat at their expectations when they return home and feel constricted by the level of partners available.
Basic dancers are not obligated to ‘learn more’.
First of all, we can’t tell if someone is currently learning based on their skill level alone. Some people have an easier time learning than others.
Second, if they’re not learning currently, we don’t know why. Maybe they’re injured, don’t have time, or are financially struggling. Maybe it’s something else.
Third, even if they actually don’t care about taking more lessons, it doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable or are somehow inferior. Some people just have other life priorities.
A person’s obligations on the dance floor are very simple:
- Treat your fellow dancers with dignity and respect
- Have fun and be civil
- Don’t hurt or harass anyone
- Dance within your limits
There is no obligation to take more classes. There is no obligation to be great. There is no obligation to keep up with what that super-serious dancer is doing.
If you don’t enjoy dancing with a ‘basic’ dancer, simply say ‘no’ nicely.
Go about your business, and dance with the people that fulfill you. It’s not necessarily the most generous view of dance, but it’s a heck of a lot better than judging another person. You’re entitled to dance in a way that makes you happy – regardless of how popular it makes you with other people.
But, own your decision. Don’t scapegoat the other person who is literally out to just have a fun time and connect with people. They haven’t done anything wrong.
Many ‘basic’ dancers have tons of the true ‘social dance‘ attitude. So do many of the ‘serious’ dancers I know. What makes me sad are the dancers from both camps who choose to talk badly of their fellow dancers – forgetting that these are people we are choosing to spend our time with.
If there is a lack of ‘Advanced’ dancers, don’t blame the ‘Basic’ dancers.
There’s nothing wrong with basic. Most people who start dancing will never become ‘advanced’ dancers because it simply isn’t important enough to them.
Instead of talking about how ‘basic’ dancers are killing the scene, shift the conversation. Shift the mindset to how the current generation of advanced dancers can inspire and lift up promising or motivated new talent – rather than tear down those who are happy as-is.
Find a group of people willing to get the training, and form a group. Create a practice session where people work on their skills. Approach a beloved teacher to create a semi-private class for a group that really wants to improve. Encourage people to take privates. Organize a trip by one of your favourite artists to your city.
If you really want to ‘build’ a scene, focus on motivating people UP, not pushing a certain subset of the dance population DOWN. Be a leader, a motivator, and someone who inspires their fellow social dancers. You never know which ‘Basic’ dancers are going to wake up one day, and decide to become a kick-ass ‘Serious’ dancer.