I wrote an article a few days ago on being a generous dancer, and there was a question that came out of that post from several people: does being a generous dancer mean I have to dance with everyone?
No, it doesn’t.
Being a generous dancer is about giving it your all, and treating people with respect. It does not mean accepting every dance, putting yourself in harm’s way, tolerating bad behavior, or dancing with every single person. In many larger scenes, it’s not even possible to dance with every person in the room!
If we hold ourselves to the expectation that we MUST dance with everyone and MUST accept every dance, we are setting ourselves up to sabotage our own attempt at generosity – and our happiness as a dancer. Dancing with people is a choice – and it’s best to make that choice with joy and eagerness than begrudging obligation.
Accepting Every Dance
Some dancers have a personal code that they will accept every dance offered to them. If that’s you, that’s great! Way to be an accepting dancer! But, ‘always accepting’ is not the only way to be a gracious partner – and it’s by no means required to view yourself as a generous and gracious partner.
Rather than accepting every dance, your goal should be to enrich every dance that you do accept. If you need a break, water, or just aren’t feeling the song or partner – that’s cool. If you want to dance with them later, that’s cool too – go grab them. But, don’t be the guy or girl who accepts a dance out of duty and makes their partner feel like the whole song is a burden.
Keeping Yourself Safe
Being generous and gracious also does not mean putting yourself in harm’s way during a dance. It does not mean injuring yourself by trying to follow something dangerous, or throwing out your back catching a rogue self-dipping follow. You can be gracious and generous without putting yourself in the line of fire.
Think of it this way: beginners can be very generous and gracious, but they usually make mistakes at least once in a while. Yet, we don’t find them any less generous for not following a certain move or doing something wrong. Why is it somehow unacceptable for you to choose not to follow or lead a certain move? It’s not; it’s called respecting your own boundaries.
Tolerating Bad Behavior
Like everything else, there is a line between being gracious and tolerating bad behavior. You do not need to tolerate insults, on-floor teaching, groping, harassment, or a repetitively dangerous lead at any time. You always have the freedom to walk away. If it’s a matter of a rough lead or follow, ask them nicely not to do the behavior that you are finding uncomfortable. If they don’t change, walk away.
At that point, it’s about being generous and respectful of yourself – not your partner.
Dancing with Everyone
It’s a great, noble idea to dance with every person – but very often it’s not possible, or desirable. That’s also fine. You can only dance with a select group of people and still be generous – as long as you are being kind and respectful to everyone you meet. If you have an injury or don’t enjoy certain partners, that’s fine – and natural. If you prefer to dance one song to be nice, do it – but it’s not an obligation. You can decline a dance and still be kind and generous.
Beginners can be Fun, Too!
Now, there are a subset of people who dislike dancing with beginners. Fine, that’s OK. You’re allowed to dance with whoever you want. Some people say that beginners are more likely to aggravate their injuries. Although I’ve personally found early-intermediate the most dangerous, you know your body best and I respect that. I totally advocate dancing with people who will not injure you.
However, if your decision not to dance with beginners is because they are ‘boring’ or ‘uninteresting’, please note that at one time, you were one too. At one time, there were advanced dancers who could make your night by being kind and having fun with you. Having fun with a dance doesn’t have to do with your patterns or expertise – it has to do with enjoying the other person’s company. Besides, that beginner might turn into your favorite advanced partner in a few months or years. I’d suggest looking at fostering beginners as your contribution to giving back to your scene – and learn how to have fun dancing with them. It’s possible – trust me. I love beginners. They’re so open and free of all the ego of advanced dancers, and they’re SO eager to make their partner happy.
Some people also say that if they danced with all the beginners, they’d spend their whole night dancing with people that weren’t their favorites because they’re in a large scene and they want to dance with their friends. Well, if you’re spending your whole night in dances that don’t make you happy, you’re not being generous with yourself. You can dance the night away with whoever you want – I just don’t necessarily think the entire night should be spent avoiding beginners.
You need to have your fun in a night out dancing – however that is done. Maybe for you it’s fostering beginners for the first 30 minutes. Maybe it’s accepting every time someone asks you. Maybe it’s being kind to your friends and talking a lot on the sidelines. It could be dancing with one partner for 30 minutes before switching to the next one. Maybe it’s spending the time making every beginner feel welcome. Or, perhaps it’s simply you seeking out the dances you can be wild, crazy passionate about.
It’s all fine. Really, all of it. But whatever it is, treat all fellow dancers with respect – whether you dance with them or not. They are all people. You don’t have to dance with them all, but you should treat them all like people.