I assume that you’re reading this post and all my other blog posts because you want to know how to be a better dancer. This does of course raise a question: how do you know if you’re a good dancer?
It’s an important question. If you do not know what you’re trying to achieve, then how will you know if you’re there? How will you even know if you’re working towards it?
With these questions in mind I thought it is worth talking about how you can tell if you’re a good dancer.
The obvious way to tell is through gradings and competitions. If you have worked your way up a number of levels or won a lot of competitions, then you would think that that makes you a good dancer. At least it makes you good at dancing in certain situations: when there is a set routine to follow, when you’re dancing with someone you know or under pressure. For you this might be enough. And if it is, then you know exactly what you’re aiming for: more levels and first places under your belt. The good thing about this approach is that you know full well when you’ve achieved your goal or how much further there is to go.
Is this the only way to tell if you’re a good social dancer? What if you’re not interested in competitions or gradings?
I have mentioned Tim Ferris a few times before because he sets an excellent example of how you can manage your time, and do what you want. He actually dances Tango and quickly progressed from beginner to winning some serious competitions. You can read more about it in his famous book – The Four Hour Work Week.
I have found his writing very interesting, but some people hate his attitude toward dance. Basically, Tim does focus on the competition side of things. People like Mari Johnson, another blogger on dance (specifically Tango), are quite hostile toward Tim’s positions. You can read the blog here, but Mari basically argues that Tango is not something to simply master. There is another element to it that is more like an experience that is essential to proper Tango. I think you can say the same of all social dancing.
But what is it?
I have always been suspicious of competitions too as an absolute measure, but love them for the focus they give me. I would be so lazy without them. This has made me pay attention to other measures. I came across one at a special dance class I went to once. This night they had a guest teacher in. This teacher ran a brilliant class. He went through some great moves and matched them to some really well chosen music. I was so impressed that I looked him up on the school’s website. On his profile it said that he was known as ‘The best man in Melbourne (the city in which he lived) to dance with.’ That sentence left a real impression, and I cnan still remember the feeling that I had when I read it. It was the obvious key element of knowing you’re a good social dancer – what the other person experiences when dancing with you.
The only issue with that is that people are always polite. Well not always, but often. This means you can’t rely on them so you need something else that you can trust and that you can use to determine if you are indeed a good dancer.
After talking to a few other dancers I think the key is looking for a balance between three things: you, your partner and the music. When you and your partner are in sync with each other and the music, you get a certain feeling. It is a really positive feeling too. It is similar to surfing, where you feel that your body as extended to include the board and the wave. If you have surfed before, then you know what I mean. If not, then it is like your physical self-awareness increases – you can feel not just your body, but that of your partner and the music.
I have never had this experience without the person I am dancing with also having it. So I would argue that the more frequently you experience this feeling, the better the dancer you are.
Obviously, you might not get it if you’re partner is not at that level yet. It is partner dancing after all. That’s why I say it’s related to the frequency of the experience. So if you’re looking for a way to measure how good a dancer you are, then think about how often you have that feeling of unification between you, your partner and the music.