Deep In The Fiction We Live

So… I had something happen again this weekend, something that I’ve experienced a couple of times before, and it’s gotten me thinking. You know what happens when I get to thinking, right? I get to writing. Bear with me a little bit today – I have some thoughts to process through.

Last Friday night I had gone out to a dance party. The ratio wasn’t good at the start of the party – we’re talking like over 2:1 women to men as the night began, so I had my work cut out for me. As the night wore on and people started leaving to head back home the ratio got better, so I had a little more time to relax and talk to people instead of just dancing the whole time.

There was a group of people who I had never met before who had come to the dance. Three ladies and one guy – I’m pretty sure the guy said he was married to one of the three ladies, but I can’t remember for sure, so don’t quote me on that. Since I didn’t know who they were, as the night progressed and the ratio of men to women improved enough to give me a chance to talk to people, I opted to put on my Royal Dance Court Member hat and go introduce myself to them and see if I could figure out their dance story. It turns out that I really hadn’t ever seen them before, since they were all students and friends from a franchise studio chain, and that dance party was their first outing to see what the dance scene was like in other parts of the Dance Kingdom. They had all gone out together because they hadn’t been sure what to expect when dancing in non-franchise studios, so they figured they could at least have safety in numbers.

I ended up talking to one of the girls in his group for a few minutes longer than the others. She was younger than the rest, and extremely chatty (which I didn’t know when I started talking to her), so I got stuck in a conversation until I could find a convenient point to make my exit. I ended up just kind of nodded along with what she was saying and occasionally asked a related question to let her know that I was paying attention. I know what you’re thinking – I would make such a well-trained boyfriend if I had free time for that sort of thing, right?

Anyway, she’s talking all about the dance classes she takes at her home studio, and goes on and on about how she’s one of the few students in the super-mega-advanced-higher-than-Gold+-level classes, so she really knows all the high-level figures and cool stuff that her friends that she came with don’t know. The dance styles that she claims to be best at are Cha-Cha, Samba and Tango. Also, she mentioned that she didn’t really dance at parties with any Lead who wasn’t an instructor, because apparently other Leads didn’t know how to handle how advanced she was. My first thought when she said that was that it would be a huge problem for her at this party, since we were not at her home studio and no instructors that she knew were anywhere nearby. I kept that to myself though.

Eventually I managed to extricate myself from that conversation with an excuse that I needed to go dance with someone else. Because I am nice, I filed the information I learned away for later. As you probably well know by now, I am not a fan of Cha-Cha or Samba, but I consider myself to be pretty OK at Tango. Later on in the evening when a Tango comes on I head over to where that girl is sitting and ask her if she wants to dance the Tango with me, since she had said it was one of the styles she was best at. I figured that she would be excited to do one of her best styles while at this party to make a name for herself.

Do you know what she said when I asked her to dance though? She said no to me.

I was a bit shocked by that. I had thought that since she had never met me before, it would feel more comfortable for her if I chose a dance style that she specifically mentioned. After all, she had made a point of emphasizing during that earlier conversation how advanced she was, so while I wouldn’t have started out with anything too crazy since we would both need a little time to acclimate to each other as dance partners, I probably would have been willing to throw in some Tango figures that were flashier if the dance seemed to be going well. But no, she just didn’t want to dance the Tango with me at all. Huh.

Don’t feel bad for me about that – there were still more than enough ladies at the party, and I was able to find another partner who wanted to dance with me without even trying very hard. I was confused about the encounter though, so several songs later when I decided to take a break I wandered over to where she was and talked with her again. She never really gave me a reason for why she didn’t want to dance the Tango with me in that discussion. I probably should have pressed harder, but the DJ announced that a Foxtrot was the next dance, so instead of continuing to talk I asked if she wanted to try doing a Foxtrot instead of a Tango.

She turned me down again! This time, she pointed to one of her friends from the group that she came with and told me that her friend was really good at Foxtrot. I didn’t know what to make of that, but I went with her advice and asked her friend if she wanted to give the Foxtrot a try. We had already danced together once that evening, so I had a good feeling that she would say yes to another dance with me. Despite the praise I had been told of how good this girl was at Foxtrot, the girl seemed really unsure of herself as we danced together, so I ended up having to keep what I did really simple.

With this second denial for a dance, I was starting to wonder if this girl was really Simon Peter in disguise and I had to watch out for a third before the night was over. After dancing for a few more songs, I ended up going over to tell Sparkledancer about this strange situation. Sparkledancer just thought that it was funny, and made jokes that the girl must have a crush on me or something, so she was actually just nervous to go out and dance with me. I didn’t think that was the case, but I wasn’t in any hurry to try things again. The night wore on, and much much later in the evening there was a slower East Coast Swing number coming on. I happened to be standing on the side of the room near where that group of four was again when that happened. I hadn’t planned on it, it was totally by chance that time.

Since the party wasn’t going to go on much longer, I decided to give it one last try. This time the girl actually agreed to dance with me! So we went out on the floor, and I started off simply enough to gauge her skills. I quickly found out that this girl liked to do whatever she wanted, rather than waiting for a lead from me or staying on time with the music. There were a couple of points in the song when she just turned herself without any cue from me. I guess she just felt like there should have been a turn for her at that point in the song, so she just went for it. Fair enough… that’s fine, I guess I can work around that. She also liked to turn really fast, much more like a turn in a Latin dance. The problem with that was that turning so fast ended with her just standing there looking at me before we got to the right beat in the music where she would go into her next triple step.

Also, apparently she didn’t really feel like leaving her arms available for me to grab. After some of the turns, whether led by me or done on her own, I would need to grab her hand when she got around so that I could try to lead her into the next figure. When I would reach for her hand, I would find that neither of her arms were in a place where I could get them safely. There were several times when I had to abandon the figure I would have otherwise gone into because I wasn’t able to re-establish a connection between us.

I did my best to make the dance entertaining at least, and I managed to get her to laugh with me throughout the song with my (self-proclaimed) witty banter.. But what I was able to do with her was not super advanced by any stretch of the imagination. She went back to her group of friends and I went off to dance with other people, and that was the only dance that we did together.

At the end of the night, I got to talk with the guy that was part of that little group before the four of them left. He was super excited about getting to dance at the party, and had gotten a business card so that he had all the information on how to find the studio’s calendar online so that he could come to other events there. I recommended a few other studios that were nearby the area that he said he lived in so that he could check those out as well. Obviously I also recommended that he come to the next dance party that my Royal Dance Court group put on. Shameless self promotion, you know.

Soon the three ladies that came with him to the party came to collect him, and we said goodbye for the night. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see them again, but I hope that the four of them end up going out again to other social dances, and they are able to make connections with the bigger ballroom world. I know that the franchise studios like to keep all their students segregated, but I want to believe deep down in my heart that we can all dance together for fun.

So what is it that has been bothering me about this whole situation? I suppose that it can be broken down into two pieces. First off, I have been wondering if this girl (and other ladies in the past who have told me similar things about the proficiency levels they dance at) spent time telling me all about all of the high-level classes that she was taking at her home studio as a way to try to influence how I might dance with her if we danced together. Secondly, and probably the one that has made me scratch my head more, I have been wondering if this girl could honestly claim to be super advanced if she is really only able to dance with one of her instructors, as she also told me.

The influence thought that I have been having is, I believe, pretty easy to grasp. As you might be aware, in the world of ballroom dancing there is only one partner who gets to lead. Because of that, the second person in the mix only gets so much of a say in what figures, techniques, floorcraft, etc. that the couple uses when out on the floor. I can imagine that at a dance party where most of the attendees are relatively new dancers, someone who does spend their time studying more advanced points might just get bored.

I can imagine it, because I have certainly been through it myself. After all, I will moderate what I do in a social dance to better fit the abilities and experience of my partner. If my partner is new, or has never even seen a dance style before but for some reason wants to try it with me, I will limit myself to the absolute basics to try to help my partner out. If I have the opportunity to dance with someone like my dance partner Sparkledancer, who I know has worked on more advanced figures and techniques (I happen to know in this case because I was most likely there with her when she learned to do it), then I can ‘up my game’ so to speak to make things more interesting. More interesting for both of us, of course – not necessarily just for her.

But what do you do when you meet someone new at a dance party? If I haven’t seen the person around, how would I know what sorts of dances they have spent time working on before I decide to step onto the floor with them? Is that where it might be appropriate for a Follower to tell the Lead what kind of experience she has had? After all, in this specific situation, I thought I had picked an appropriate dance style to try with the new girl I had talked to because she told me it was one of the styles that she was best at. She obviously didn’t want to do it with me, but it was information that I had gotten because she had specifically mentioned it. If I never go to her studio to even see the classes going on, how else would I know that she was in those classes if she doesn’t verbally tell me?

There is a part of me in the back of my brain that says that I would be able to figure out whether a Follower knows more than just the basics of a dance style if I were to go out and dance with them. I’m not sure if that part of me is just my ego trying to convince myself that I am super cool, or if that is actually an ability that I have, but there is merit to the thought. If you’ve been out social dancing in the past, you probably know whether you can feel the difference between a partner who is more advanced based on how they hold their frame and the confidence with which they move, versus a more remedial dancer who doesn’t move in that manner. I’d like to imagine that most everyone can tell the difference.

But it is certainly easier if a potential dance partner would just say to me ‘Hey dude, I’m pretty good at the Polka.’ or ‘Hey dude, I’ve never done Mambo before.’ when we meet. Then I would know that if a Polka came on, we could dance together, but if a Mambo came on I should find a different partner. No guesswork involved.

So, I have to ask – was she telling me all that information when we first talked because she wanted to give me an idea of her skill level as a dancer, or because she was trying to impress me? Or maybe there’s some third option that I haven’t thought of. I don’t know.

Then there’s the second point, of whether the girl could actually claim to be a super advanced dancer if she admitted that she was only able to dance with one of the instructors at her home studio. I will admit, I am not a very good Follower, but if that were the part I had opted to study for long periods of time (and drop serious amounts of money on studying), I would want to be sure that I could do that part with more than just a select few people.

Now it would have been one thing if she had told me that she danced competitively, and there were figures that she was only comfortable performing with her competitive partner/teacher. That would totally make sense. After all, there are certain things that I would only put effort into doing when I dance with Sparkledancer, and other things I wouldn’t even consider doing at all if I were dancing with some random lady I didn’t know at a social dance. So I would understand someone making a claim like that. But to make a blanket claim that she couldn’t dance with anyone who wasn’t her instructor sounds to me like she is claiming not to be a good at following. That’s the first place my mind went when I heard that.

The dance that I ended up doing with her didn’t really change my opinion either. It didn’t really feel like we were dancing together, rather it felt like we were sometimes dancing similar figures near one another. It would be one thing if I had been trying to do non-syllabus figures that she hadn’t known and she had needed to improvise to just stay in the dance. It’s another thing entirely for a lady to just turn herself at points I’m not leading. That makes it seem like she never really needed me to dance in the first place. Do you find yourself going into figures without waiting for your partner to lead them? Is there a reason that you would do that? I mean, if I know that ladies do that for a reason, I might be able to work with that in the future.

Plus there was the awkward pauses that ended up being in the dance because the girl felt the need to whip herself around in her turns much faster than the tempo of the song called for. I like a good awkward moment as much as the next guy, but I normally aim for those for comedic purposes. When they happen in a dance and I can’t find a way to make a joke out of the moment, the awkward pause doesn’t seem quite as good. I know that musicality is a hard skill for an instructor to train their students in. My coach Lord Dormamu has told me that he feels that musicality is either something a student has or doesn’t, and there really isn’t much that he can do to help the student if they don’t have it in them already. But I would think that she should have been able to tell that the tempo of the dance was rather slow, so the turns didn’t need to happen at the speed of light in order to finish them before her next steps.

So why would she have done them so fast? Did her instructor tell her to turn as fast as she could anytime that she needed to turn? Was she trying to impress me with her turning ability? Or is it just that she was nervous and defaulted to turning the way that she spends most of her time turning, which would be like a Latin dance turn rather than a Swing dance turn. I don’t know the answer to that either. All I have is speculation which, while fun, doesn’t really help me out.

Anyway, those are the questions that I am left with. A) Do ladies tell men about all the high-level classes that they take in order to influence the way the men lead during a social dance? And B) do you consider a partner to be high level if the only person they say they can dance with is their instructor? Those questions have been in my head all week. Hopefully getting my thoughts out in writing can clear them out of my head and make room for other dance thoughts. What do you think?

On a happier note, I hear that National Ballroom Dance Week starts tomorrow! Yay! I don’t follow much of what the organization that created this Week has to say, but I saw a sign up at a studio I was at a few weeks ago telling me about it, so I looked it up. Did you know that National Ballroom Dance Week is actually ten days long? Yeah, for reals, that’s a fun fact that you can go tell other people you know. Get a calendar, am I right?

My Royal Dance Court group is going to help put on a dance party this Saturday with a studio in the area to celebrate National Ballroom Dance Week though, since it is a point we can use to promote the event. We couldn’t see any rules preventing us from using National Ballroom Dance Week in our advertisements, so we’re totally doing it! Hopefully we’ll get a ton of people to come out. Will you be there? If you are, come find me and we can have a long philosophical discussion about the questions I wrote about. I promise that it’ll be fun!

4 thoughts on “Deep In The Fiction We Live

  1. This was an interesting situation. My two cents from my days at a franchise – a lot of dancers at a franchise can be moved through levels without really spending a lot of time at one or the other. From the comment she made about other leaders who are not her instructor being more or less inadequate to dance with her makes me think she doesn’t really know how to follow.

    I have had an experience with a similar dancer – the franchise told her she was really advanced and won all the time. They didn’t tell her she was almost always uncontested and that was why she almost always came first. She was told she was an open-level dancer, so she was disappointed to come to a non-franchise studio and discover she couldn’t do steps that are usually bronze. She also couldn’t dance any steps on her own without her instructor.

    It happens. Not saying this is the situation of the lady you encountered, but it is a situation that happens in franchises.

    1. Thank you. That possibility honestly hadn’t crossed my mind.

      I was once a part of a franchise studio as well, and I saw people who clearly weren’t ready allowed to attend higher level classes while I was there as well, so I should have considered that might have been the case. I always thought that it was unfair, because my instructor made me wait to attend higher level classes until I could prove that I was ready. I forget that not everyone had an instructor who made them do that. Maybe you’re right, maybe that’s how she made it to such high-level classes. If I ever see her again, I will keep that in mind. 🙂

  2. So this is just wild speculation but I kind of think Sparkledancer may have been on to something. It sounds like you had been dancing for awhile before going over to talk with them. And, from how you’ve described yourself and your dancing, I’m thinking you probably are pretty easy to notice on the floor. And maybe she just felt the need to inflate her skills a bit to try and impress you and maybe not really expecting you to ask her to dance.
    It is just hard for me to think that someone could have such a high opinion of themselves but maybe it is possible. If she spends a lot of money at the Franchise and takes a lot of lessons, they could have convinced her that’s she super talented and special. Or maybe she just naturally has a big ego and so the instructors don’t really try to teach her to follow – just let her do what she wants as long as she’s happy and spending money.
    It does seem like an odd situation though.

    1. Odd is right. I was talking with Sparkledancer about it again after she read what I wrote (she’s the only person I know IRL who knows about this site). She told me another theory she had, that possibly the girl was a little intimidated by going out to this dance party at a non-franchise studio, not necessarily intimidated by me per se. If she had never been to a non-franchise party before, then seeing the way everyone danced at the party would look so different from the way the franchise parties go. Sparkledancer theorized that maybe she was emphasizing all the high level classes she is taking as a way to convince herself that she would fit in at the party.

      I mean, when I was at a franchise studio and started going out to other non-franchise locations to dance, I remember feeling out of place. We were all dancing ballroom dances, but it was kind of like… speaking different dialects of the same language. So, maybe that was actually why she did it? Without being able to talk to her again, I’ll probably never know.

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