It can be very hard to stay calm when you meet an arrogant dancer. Their “I’ve got this” and “I’m awesome” mentality can be grating for partners.
Very often, arrogant dancers get conflated with dance snobs. But, I feel the two are different. Whereas snobs are consumed by how crappy everyone else is, arrogant dancers are generally preoccupied with keeping up their own reputation.
The difference between dance snobs and some ‘arrogant’ dancers
The dance snob tends to focus on why everyone else sucks. They may roll their eyes at beginners, accuse others of not working hard enough, and more. Their focus is on how no one is good enough for them.
In contrast, the arrogant dancer tends to be most occupied with their own reputation. They desire to look good, feel good, and be good. There’s also a desire to mask any flaws or weaknesses, and present themselves as the ‘perfect’ dancer.
For example, a dance snob may blame all mistakes in a workshop on their partner. The ‘arrogant’ dancer will pretend that they made a mistake simply because they weren’t paying attention.
But, the focus that arrogant dancers place on their own perfection sometimes hints at a possible hidden fear.
The anxious root
For all their posturing, many ‘arrogant’ dancers are incredibly scared of being imperfect. It can be a crippling source of anxiety. Behind the ‘perfect’ facade, many arrogant dancers suffer from the same anxiety problems as dancers with low self confidence.
The only difference is that arrogant dancers try to hide their anxiety about screwing up by presenting ‘perfection’ and ‘confidence’, while insecure dancers apologize constantly as a way to explain why they’re so ‘bad’.
That is why I try really, really hard to not get angry at ‘arrogant’ dancers.
Now granted, not every arrogant dancer suffers from anxiety. Some legitimately just think they’re amazing (whether or not they actually are). But, I prefer to give people who appear arrogant the benefit of the doubt. Whether you’d like to do the same is up to you.
Other anxious reactions
I’ve seen (and had) a lot of different reactions to anxiety. Not all show up as arrogance. Here are four of the most common I’ve seen:
The freak-out, where anxiety literally paralyzes a person in the face of something new, challenging, or otherwise out of their comfort zone. Often, these are the people we typically read and understand as ‘anxious’.
- Examples: hyperventilation, shaking, or even crying from frustration
The not-right-now, where they say they’ll do it ‘later’ to escape the pressure of performing in front of people. We often label these people as uncommitted, or know-it-alls. Very often, these people have no problem practicing a skill alone; they just don’t want you watching.
- Examples: saying they’re ‘tired’ or ‘will practice later;’ trying things only once or twice rather than using all the practice time; listening to advice, but saying they’ll apply it ‘later’
The ‘I’ve got it! I don’t need your advice’, where students are so afraid of looking bad in front of the teacher that they unconsciously reject the advice they need. Often, they get the reputation of being arrogant. But, it can often be insecurity driving the ‘arrogance’.
- Examples: saying “I already know that” or “I did that when you weren’t watching;” aborting a movement halfway through because they “already got it”
The ‘Let me help other people instead,‘ where focusing on others helps to calm the anxiety sufferer down. We either view these people as incredibly giving, or as focusing too much on their partner’s development instead of their own.
- Examples: giving feedback to a partner instead of focusing on what they can do better; asking a teacher to “look at their partner” as a way to get feedback for themselves
Coping with anxiety
I understand the desire to ‘look capable’ in workshops and dancing. It was one of the things that I struggled with most – especially when I began transitioning from social dancer to teacher.
From experience, I can also say that it’s possible to manage the anxiety – even if it never goes away. I still get very anxious when I’m in the position of ‘student’, and struggle with the need to ‘prove’ myself on the social floor.
What helped me most was awareness, and conscious avoidance of default behaviors when I feel anxious.
For example, practicing new skills in front of people was a big hurdle for me. I had to constantly remind myself that I love it when students are willing to try (and fail) at new skills in class because it shows me they’re learning. Even that simple mindset change helped me get over the practice-in-public fear.
One friend found it useful to create a ‘goal’ of failing. For example, she would practice a new skill until she had failed at it (accidentally) at least 30 times. By turning the number of failed attempts into a measure of dedication to eventual success.
If your anxiety is particularly severe, keep in mind that not everyone is in a position to manage their own anxiety. Some people need professional help to create coping strategies. This isn’t help that any dance teacher (or dance blog) is in a position to provide.
If you are someone who doesn’t deal with this anxiety, please try to have patience for those who do. Instead of assuming a person is arrogant, recognize that they may be dealing with something under the surface.
Patience and understanding is something that we can all cultivate in ourselves. We can all afford to be less judgmental of the people we dance with. It costs us nothing, and can create a better experience for everyone.
So, the next time you come across that guy with the puffed-up chest in class, remember that he might be terrified of screwing up. And, you have the power to help him slowly learn that screwing up is OK by showing patience and understanding.
The next time you see that girl who says she “gets it” even if she doesn’t, remember that she may have fought a truckload of anxiety to even dance in public. She may be trying to “fake it ’til she makes it”. You have the ability to make her feel OK admitting she doesn’t know it all yet by accepting mistakes with grace (both hers and your own).
Do you have any stories of anxiety, or thoughts to share? Leave them in the comments.