Social teaching in partner dancing, which includes Salsa, Kizomba, Bachata, Zouk, and other styles, can be a frustrating thing for both beginners and experienced dancers alike. Attempting to teach or correct someone on the dance floor is generally considered bad etiquette and is likely to be met with annoyance and resistance. This can also be for dance classes. Instead, the dance floor should be a place to have fun, enjoy the music, and connect with dance partners without the pressure of instruction.
Social dancing includes Salsa parties, Balls, Congresses, Festivals & Salsa Club Nights, anywhere Salsa dancing is Social. Trying to teach or correct someone on the social dance floor unsolicited is ‘always’ a bad idea, most people find this very annoying, off-putting & unwarranted, it's a quick way to get turned down for another dance.
There are specific guidelines to follow:
Social Floor Etiquette: Teaching or correcting someone in the middle of the dance floor disrupts the flow of the dance and can be off-putting. It is best to reserve instructional moments for off-the-floor discussions with mutual agreement. Social dancing should focus on having fun and fostering a positive atmosphere.
Practice vs. Social Dancing: Social dancing is not the same as practice time. While social dancing aids learning, it should primarily be about enjoying the dance and the connection with the partner.
Correction in Classes: In structured dance classes, it's not advisable for students or helpers to try and teach or correct their partners during the instructional phase. Doing so takes away from the learning experience provided by the instructor. Unless explicitly asked for feedback during the practice phase, it's best to avoid giving unsolicited corrections.
Feedback and Encouragement: Instead of offering corrections, it's important to provide positive reinforcement and encouragement to dance partners. Negative feedback or unsolicited corrections may discourage people from dancing and hinder their progress.
The Leader's Role: The leader's responsibility is to support, encourage, and help the follower feel safe. It's essential to focus on leading well and not attempt to fix the follower's mistakes during the dance.
The Follower's Role: The follower's primary role is to follow the lead, even if mistakes occur. Trying to correct the leader's mistakes during the dance is discouraged.
Back-Leading: In certain situations during classes, followers might help the lead by providing subtle guidance (back-leading) to help them learn a movement. However, this should be used sparingly and with caution, ensuring that the lead can develop their skills without becoming overly reliant on back-leading.
Reasons Not to Teach Socially: Social dance events are not the appropriate place for teaching, as it can lead to frustration, bad habits, and discouragement among newer dancers. Instead, encouraging them to invest in proper classes with qualified instructors will lead to better learning outcomes and more enjoyable social dancing experiences.
Creating a Positive Environment: Fostering a positive and fun environment in social dancing allows people to learn faster without feeling criticized or judged. This positive atmosphere enhances the overall experience and encourages more people to participate and enjoy dancing.
It is generally considered impolite to engage in teaching or correcting others directly on the dance floor. However, if both individuals willingly agree to work on something together, it is acceptable to do so discreetly off to the side of the main dancing area.
Engaging in teaching or correction at the center of the dance floor is particularly discouraged, as it disrupts the flow of the social dance and can lead to a negative reputation. In such cases, the atmosphere of social dancing is compromised, and the joyous energy on the dance floor may come to a halt. Picture a scene where everyone is immersed in the dance, relishing the music and having a great time, only to witness two people right in the middle, seemingly stuck in a lesson or lecture. This not only appears awkward from the outside but can also evoke uncomfortable feelings for those involved.
Unintentionally turning the dance floor into a classroom can lead to being declined for future dances, as it goes against the fundamental purpose of social dancing, which is to foster connections, enjoyment, and spontaneous expression. Therefore, it is crucial to be mindful of the social context and respect the space as a platform for shared delight and camaraderie, rather than a place for instructional interventions.
The moment you walk on the dance floor you are ‘dancing’ and should be able to lead and follow without even saying a word. Yes even if you are an actual dance teacher! don't do it! This is why we have dance classes.
If someone is teaching you, and you really do not like it, or your dance partner is showing no consideration in some other way, then politely excuse yourself off the dance floor.
Practice is always recommended as well, finding a suitable partner to practice with is great, just remember social dancing aids with learning tremediously, but it's not a practice time as such.
Social dancing should be just that, having fun and enjoying that 3-4 minutes with your dance partner.
Correcting People in Classes
If you are a student or helper in a running class, avoid trying to teach, or correct your partner, this is even a worse place to try and do this, because you can end up with a partner who might feel stuck with you, and possibly want to avoid you.
Usually teachers will have an instruction phase, often swap partners around and then have a practice phase. The worse imaginable place to try and teach is in the instruction phase because you are robbing the student 'your current dance partner' from learning from the instructor. Unless your partner directly asks for feedback in the practice phase, 'Avoid Giving Any', also you might be able to help them later but only if they agree.
It’s better to just dance and let people make mistakes, making mistakes is okay because this is part of the learning process, it doesn't in any way have to be perfect either, people are not always there to be perfect, some are there just to have fun. People pick up & learn information in stages and that needs to be respected too.
Feedback or correction can often be taken as criticism or leave them with the feeling they can't get anything right or it could also just be negative or wrong information, this can cause people to give up dancing altogether and no one wants that! You need to look after your dance partner, give positive reinforcement & encouragement.
It's always better to get the instructor involved in helping, or we recommend taking a private lessons.
We are all learning this amazing dance no matter what your level is, remember to have fun with it, that’s after all, a good reason to dance. I'm sure we have or will experienced the above, it even happens at higher levels, take it with a 'grain of salt' if it happens to you.
The Leaders Role
The leads role is to support, encourage and help the follower feel safe. If something happens or goes wrong it is the fault of the lead and you need to lead better. Not focus on fixing the follower, this is not your role. Also you are only there to 'guide' as a suggestion, do not 'force' a movement.
Guys remember to have fun & dance with beginners & keep it simple for them, remember they will be good in no time. A truly advanced leader will be able to dance with anyone at ‘any level’ and she will follow because he will be dancing to ‘her level’, not his own. We very much recommend doing shines, but if you notice your partner is just stuck there doing more than 3 or 4 basic steps, go back to partner-work.
Most of all remember to look out for your dance partner & have fun.
The Followers Role
The followers role is to follow your partner, even if he gets it wrong just go with the lead in what it's communicating. Sometimes it can be hard to let go and just follow, however following is ‘always’ better option than trying to fix your partners mistakes.
The lead is one of the hardest thing to learn in Salsa and take many many hours practice and you will be remembered when he gets really good. You can always focus on your styling & body-movement within the dance if its not challenging.
Remember to have fun and dance with new people including beginners, they don’t often stay beginners very long.
During classes only! Followers can try this to help with a back lead. If you are a higher level than your partner or you are ahead of the guy in the class which is often the case, because learning to lead a movement is often harder, you can help a little with "back leading".
Back-leading is simply helping moving the direction without the lead and guide the guys lead as you go, but don't over do it, because once he gets the movement he needs to work on how to lead it properly (yes it usually backwards, movement before lead).
Overall, start by following, if he struggles add a little back-lead, this helps the guy get the pattern or movement, but once he starts to get it, turn off your back-lead and go into full following mode and see what happens.
Again if the lead isn't working at all, call on one of the teachers to help. Turn patterns without a good lead & follow, is meaningless dance communication, it’s like talking garbage. "Garbage in, garbage out".
Reasons Not to Teach
The reasons why we do it are different for all of us, most of us just want to share the love for the Music and Dance, I 100% agree that Social Dance is not the place for teaching, I often call it social teaching.
The Sad part is that 3 bad things develop from this;
1. Newer dancers get fed up (quickly) and never come back
2. Dancers develop bad habits (quickly) when it comes to leading and following techniques
3. They never learn properly and deep down they know it (eventually they give up) or pretend that they don't care.
People are always asking us (teachers) to teach them at socials. I usually do teach on the side (the basics) and I then say; "Relax and have fun, if you want to learn properly and dance good, invest in classes with good instructors."
4. You'll get more dances, if you're all about the fun, more people will ask you to dance!
Emotions & Frustration
On occasion we have a newer dancer tell us that one of the intermediates gets frustrated with the beginners. While you are working on your dancing, be aware of what emotion that you may be projecting, beginning dancers tend to take it more personal. If you are frustrated with yourself, they may think it is them that you are frustrated with.
Let's face it, having lots of partners to dance with can be a lot of fun, especially come party-time. The more comfortable people are, the more often they will come. Everybody has fun.
In summary, social teaching during partner dancing can hinder the enjoyment and learning process for dancers. It's essential to respect the social dance floor as a space for connection, fun, and creativity, leaving formal instruction to dance classes and qualified instructors. Encouraging a positive and supportive atmosphere will ultimately enhance everyone's dance experience and contribute to a thriving dance community.
Article written by from Reuben, a Professional Salsa Dance Teacher,
New Zealand Pro Champion & Director of ‘Salsa Latina’ in Christchurch New Zealand.
Paragraph “Reasons not to Teach"; Written by Alfonso, Salsa Teacher Dunedin now living back in Peru.