Dancing without expectations

There are many things about social dancing that lights the spark in my eyes;

Creating the first connection with a dance partner.
The triumphs, surprises and even fails in leading & following.
Sharing a unique moment that could not be reproduced completely even if we tried.

With the enjoyment of social dancing comes its challenges - and mysteries. Why one dance with the same person, even in the same place or the same music, can be a triumph once and another time the magic is >puff< gone.

Even when both dancers are comfortable with their moves, even if you like the song, the floor is smooth, you're feeling good, the moon & stars are aligned and whatnot, the dance may still not turn out to how you thought it would.

But what were you imagining? What are you expecting from your partner? And what if your dance partners expectations different than yours? 

Expectation is the root of all heartache.
— William Shakespeare

Setting expectations - what's ok to expect on the dance floor?

It's common to have expectations at the start of each dance. You may know the person you invite for a dance from before, or even if you don't you may have seen him or her dance, and build some expectations based on it. That's ok and very natural.

In a typical social dance, some things are ok to be expected, in my opinion:

  • You both know at least basic steps (otherwise it's another story... and hard to begin the dance altogether).
  • One person will lead and the other will follow.
  • Both will make an intentional effort to not hurt the other person (physically or otherwise) or put them in danger.

These things should be clear to everybody and are a good premise to every dance. But that’s not all we expect, is it? Sometimes it’s hard to live up to the expectations and they can ruin a perfectly good dance - even the whole night.

Overcoming expectations

Those of us who’ve danced a while tend to get all comfortably set in our routines and in our personal way of dancing. We develop and foster our preferences as well as pet peeves. We know the music we like and the people we most enjoy dancing with - and the combinations of the two as well.

Better safe than sorry, yes?

No. I’ve noticed that having less expectations (or not having expectations at all) can uplift your dance experience. It does take some effort, as setting expectations (even very small ones) is the pre-set condition, to me at least. I made some notes here that have helped me to remove - or to not focus - on my expectations. This has geared me up for more better dances; each & every time I go out dancing.



Be a master of your own dance

Yes, "it takes two to tango". But even though you're having the dance together with another person, you're not expecting that person to dance it for you!? If you feel you're not enjoying yourself or having the best dance of your life then first give yourself a chance to do your part better. Whenever you’re giving your best effort, the other person will have an easier time to give theirs too! Small streams of improvement & focus will soon together make a roaring river.

Break routines

When you're beginning to learn a dance it's hard to differentiate between different ways to lead a single move vs. leading different moves. The more you progress, the more you develop your "move library". And you begin to get accustomed to certain typical combinations of movements (“the elastico is always followed by the basic step”) or typical interpretations of music (“there’s always the chicote / cambré at the break in the music”).

Routines are good as it makes it easier to lead and follow; being able to react fast & effortlessly is based on doing repetition after repetition (building your muscle memory). But don't get ahead of yourself, and don't condition your body that each move always goes the same way.

When you're social dancing take each moment as it comes. This may be easier for the follower than the leader, but it helps both to learn to separate each step, and each motion that step is build of and to focus on those - one motion at a time. Leaders can also try a "break the routine" exercises; really try to e.g. start the dance differently as you usually do and to avoid your favorite combinations - we all have those, followers too with our styling. 

Don't fear making mistakes

Things don't always go like you planned. Even if (you think) you're the expert. A mistake may turn into something beautiful or original, or just something that makes you laugh. Read more at Mistakes - a hidden shortcut to learning >

Connect; converse

Dance is a conversation. And at its best it's definitely not a one-sided monologue; "I lead, you follow - period". Nope. When the dance conversation flows naturally you’re in the heart of the magic!

Be open to something different

“People from ... dance school / city / country always dance like that.”
“I've never danced with ... before, I better move to the other part of the dance floor.”
“This person looks like a beginner / like a teacher.”
“I don’t know any Rio Zouk / Lambazouk / Black Zouk / Mzouk / Whatever Zouk so I better avoid that.”
"None of my friends are going to that party, might as well skip it."

There is no "one size fits all" formula in leading or following. You may have different ways to move, different body shapes, dance frames and postures, different levels of comfort in how close you want to be to your partner. Not all dancers are innately 100% compatible, and that’s fine! But it's not fine to just avoid something because you expect you're not going to like it. Give it a try before judging it. You might be missing out on something special if you build up all kinds of preconditions and false expectations.

Be present

There's a lot of different things we may be expecting to happen when we dance someone. We’re looking forward to getting a certain feeling or emotion (“I’m going to feel good/sexy/strong…”), anticipating doing specific  a move, or even expecting the dance with that person will be x songs long. Instead of waiting for whatever we expect, let's just be present in that moment and enjoy whatever really is happening.

Listen to the music and let if flow through your body. When you give 100% of your that moment to the other person and that dance, it will certainly uplift that moment.

How to be present? One exercise is to dance blindfolded - either the leader or the follower puts on the blindfold. Don’t try this in the party though! Some helpful tips in this story: Patience as an active tool in social dancing >


How do you deal with your expectations?

What are your experiences with setting expectations? Share in the comments your stories or tips!