Patience as an active tool in social dancing (Part 2)

One topic I come across on a regular basis when talking with other dances is patience. Many dance teachers find it’s one of the most important qualities in dancing and learning; this came up in my conversations with lambazouk master Ricardo Ferrari (interview to come), kizomba teacher Kirsi Van Sol (read her insights for dancing in Lisbon & Porto) and many others.

This, and my personal ups & downs with patience, lead me to write about this topic. Welcome to Part 2 of the Patience-series! 

Last week I already started with talking about long-term patience and perseverance in the long road of developing as a social dancer:

“Be patient” - the (way too) long road from zero to hero (Part 1)


Patience works with us, as well as against us, in short term too; not just the way we learn and develop in the long run, but also how we act and react each moment on the dance floor. Impatience has a way with interfering with our social dancing. This post is all about how to improve your social dance experience by mustering up some more patience.



(Im)patience on the dance floor

Being patient on the dance floor is one of the most fundamental things. Someone might refer to this as waiting - but to me the word ‘waiting’ has a clearly too inactive feel to it. When you’re dancing, you are active and engaged in one task; you’re not passively waiting. And it is perhaps this stream of activities that can build up a level of impatience. You’re thinking about your next move, letting your focus drift and causing a ripple in your dance at the same time.

Do you often notice yourself:

  • Feeling that you need to excessively pull your partner / you're partner is pulling you.
  • Being off-time with the music.
  • Find yourself out of balance or having your weight on the wrong foot.
  • Feeling anxious about the next move and not being able to focus what you’re doing right now.
  • Having trouble smoothly transferring from one move to another and feeling that social dancing is bumpy.

While any of the statements above can be a result of a number of things, they're all are traits of impatient social dancers. Whether you’re a leader or a follower, it’s imperative in social dancing to have patience, to be present at that moment, to be connected to your partner and focused on the task at hand.

Patience for leaders

Leaders don’t have the luxury of just living in the moment. They have the added responsibility of planning the dance and thinking forward. They’re listening to when the next musical accent is, thinking what the next movement would be and how to smoothly segue into it. It's quite typical for beginner (and even more advanced) leaders to feel they’re in a hurry to get to the next move in time with the music. If you feel you're getting late, the odds are you’re already late. The music is unforgiving - the beat won’t stretch longer just because you're a little late.

Here’s where patience has its role to play too; there's no point in rushing if you’re already late. So take your time. It doesn’t matter if you do the basic step 15 times before getting into to the next move, your partner will appreciate a calm and clear lead over the one that’s done in a rush. It’s not fair to the follower to have her make up for your lost time, either.

Understanding the rhythm, timing of each lead and how to smoothly transfer from one move to another is something that takes time to learn. You won't learn it on the spot. On the dance floor you need to focus on your partner and focus on that moment. Be patient not only in the moment, but also with yourself (read the Part 1 of Patience series). Respect the level you’re in and try to avoid leading moves or patterns you’re not yet comfortable with. The followers will thank you for it!



Patience for followers

Followers - perhaps even more - struggle with patience. Once the follower starts to learn and recognize more and more patterns in social dancing, that’s when their patience tested. The dance floor is a battleground where the most patient followers win!

To be the ultimate follower, you need to be able to focus on what is happening right now. Even if you have a vast knowledge of infinite number steps and patterns, and can almost guess what will happen on the next beat, you need to be able to hold it in. Your focus should not be in guessing what is about to happen - it does not matter! Your focus should be in "now", in connecting with your partner and finishing each move.

In fact, the follower doesn't even really know when and how one move finishes and another one starts. The odds are you’ll end up messing up if you start assuming “this is the end of the movement”, “this is the musical note he’s hitting”, “this move is followed by that move”, “this is where I always go forward / backward”. Have patience and follow through what you are doing; be sensitive to your leader’s moves all the time, not just when you think one movement is ending.

Patience at different speeds

For both leaders and followers, patience comes to play with each step. Especially when the dynamics of the music change or when the song is exceptionally slow or fast.

Slow music

If the music is slow, it takes skill and patience to really sink your teeth into each step. Your balance and focus is put to test. This is the time to dance every beat until the end with no hurry, stretch your body movements and use the elasticity of the music, let it feel in the dance.

There are no winners when you finish a step before the beat lands there. In fact, it makes it hard to move on to the next movement if you’ve finished your step too quickly and have already started to transfer your weight too early. So make sure you pay attention to the timing. Also slow does not mean "lazy" - you can actively dance even the slowest of songs. However, if the music is just plain boring, then skip that song!


Fast music

I see people often have trouble with fast tracks, the upbeat salsas, sembas or lambazouks. Dancing to a faster beat takes every bit as much patience. It’s quite normal to feel you’re in a hurry, to you feel like you’re running and not dancing. But why run? During one song, the rhythm is (usually) constant - it doesn’t make sense to gallop, and be late, one entire song. Try to put as much care, devotion and patience into each step. Really listen to the beat and use it diligently.

The pace, whether slow or fast, will determine what you can do and how long your movements and steps can be. Simplify your patterns if you feel you’re running late. Don’t aim to outpace yourself, adjust your dancing to the music. If you find yourself thinking “OMG, I need to get all the way from here to there in such a short amount of time”, stop right there; take each step as they come and focus on what you’re doing now, not where you think you need to get. Take a deep breath, there’s no rush.