Been rejected lately? Have you ever asked someone to dance and got a very reluctant “yes” or a hesitant or flat out “no” and wonder why? Have you had the experience of approaching a person to ask for a dance and they quickly engage in conversation with someone else or they pull out their cell phone and act as though they’re making an important call or responding to an important text message? When you ask someone to dance, you want them to say “yes.” If you’re hearing “no” to your dance requests more often than usual, you may have created your own bastion of rejection and not even know it. You may have done things that made people decide that you’ll never get a dance from them and you may not know what the egregious act was that got you blacklisted, so to speak, in the first place.
The Steppin’ environment is usually a friendly and very cordial environment where the expectation is that you adhere to general rules/boundaries/norms of behavior to maintain a pleasant dance environment. You’re even allowed to break a few of the rules and still be “tolerated”. There are, however, some areas that as a lead you should never violate to ensure that you continue hearing “yes” when asking for a dance.
Listed below are some helpful tips for helping lead dancers get a “yes” to their dance requests.
- Don’t forget your personal hygiene – PLEASE!!!!
Steppin’, and any other partnering dance requires close contact at times. It goes without saying then, that as a lead, at the very least you present yourself socially ready to dance. You don’t want poor hygiene to be a factor in determining whether or not you have a good time. Poor hygiene guarantees you limited activity in any participatory endeavor, especially couple’s dancing. The “poor hygiene alert” will spread quickly, you’ll be tolerated for a while, but your legacy will eventually catch up with you. If you don’t want folks to stay away from you, put in the time to smell good and look good. Deodorant or antiperspirant, cologne or body oils (not too much), and mint-flavored gum or breath mints – especially if you’re a smoker – go a long way in helping you keep your partner focused on the dance experience instead of looking forward to the end of the song and moving on.
- Keep your lead smooth, not rough.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a woman complain about a rough lead I’d be pretty well off now. As a lead, you should dance with your partner like they’re a person, not like you’re slinging metal weights around in the gym. One of the struggles I have to overcome coming behind a rough lead is getting the follow to relax and allow me to lead. Some leads believe that they’re being firm in their lead and can’t discern the difference between rough and firm. If you lead your partner into a move, yet she doesn’t have freedom of movement while attempting to execute the move, your lead may be too rough or too confining. This takes away from the smooth, rhythmic flow of the dance and can make your partner very uncomfortable. In leading, you should be able to apply the right amount of pressure to guide and lead your partner, but give them enough freedom of movement to execute the move smoothly and effortlessly. Do not squeeze your partner’s hand too tightly (I call it the Kung-fu grip) and refrain from slinging her around the floor making her feel like her arms might be pulled from the sockets. If you want another dance that evening or in the not too distant future, it’s in your best interest to make her feel safe while she’s dancing with you.
- Be mindful of your partner’s safety
Always remember that whenever you’re executing dance moves as the lead that you have enough space around you to do so. The fastest way to lose the trust of the follow is to run her into others and jeopardize her safety. Many of the events we attend have very crowded dance floors and the risk of injury is significantly greater than in a classroom environment. We can all attest to the many times we’ve had to apologize or be apologized to for bumping into another person while dancing, as well as the floor level hazards of feet getting tangled up with others while dancing. As a lead you must be mindful of these important realities and adjust accordingly. Your partner will appreciate your heightened awareness of your immediate environment and your genuine concern for their safety.
- Refrain from teaching.
There is a time and place for everything. Unless you’re in a classroom “teaching” environment, it’s best to just dance and enjoy the music unless your partner specifically asks you for advice. I’ve been doing some form of urban social dancing for the past 40 years and I know that most people are just looking for a fun dance. Follows don’t want the leading telling them what they’re about to do, or doing the annoying “counting cadence” as they attempt a move. Additionally, when as a lead you’re on the floor teaching a move, you could be giving her the wrong advice, or you may be correcting a technique that only caters to your leading style. If the follow didn’t ask for the teaching session, advice or tip in the first place, you’ll most likely be getting a “NO” from her in the future, or at best you’ll simply be “tolerated” as a lead due to the shortage of them. In other instances, they either couldn’t avoid you, or they didn’t know how to say “NO” to you. If you’re a competent lead, you should be able to lead her into the move you wanted without telling her what move you’re about to do. And if she fails to perform the attempted move you, should be able to explain what you wanted (if she asks) as well as demonstrate the move.
- Don’t criticize or fuss with a partner.
This is the absolute best way to ensure that you never get a dance, EVER! I’ve seen leads belittle the follow, talk down to them, yell at them or make subtle changes in their body language or facial expressions to convey their dissatisfaction with the dance they were getting. Failure to properly follow the lead into a move, or the inability to interpret the leads signals is followed by comments such as “what do you think you’re doing?!!”, or “I hope you don’t work like you step!” With some couples I’ve actually heard the “tsk” of exasperation and seen dances evolve into full-blown arguments right there on the floor. If one partner has been dancing longer than the other, the more experienced partner needs to exercise patience and understanding. Don’t allow your passion and desire for your partner to learn to become obsessive to the point that you and the dance become a turnoff to them. Avoid publicly displaying dissatisfaction in the dance through your verbal and non-verbal communications if you want to avoid rejection.
- Try…to stay dry.
If you know that you have the tendency to become wringing wet from dancing to the point that sweat is literally flying off your body, or you become sweat-drenched to the point that your clothes stick to you, you should carry one or two extra shirts to change into during the course of an event. If you don’t have an extra shirt, then at least be considerate of your partner and limit your moves so that they don’t have to touch you any more than they have to. Any move that requires close body contact (carousels, dips, leans, etc.) should be avoided. Don’t make your partner experience an unnecessary, uncomfortable and downright messy dance encounter. A sweaty lead is both undesirable and kinda’ yucky too!
- Keep your hands to yourself.
Don’t “feel up” your partner. I’ve seen this happen many, many times. I’ve even had an instance where a person I was dancing with thought that I was touching them inappropriately and I apologized, but I was embarrassed for the rest of the dance ( I’ve danced with her several times since). Where the lead places his hands and what he does with his hands are important. If you think you’re being slick, think again. Even newbies know when they’re being violated. If she moves your hand from one area to another, she has told you where she feels comfortable with your hand resting…leave it there. Save yourself the embarrassment of an incident and use your hands to effectively lead the dance. If you’re a “feeler”, word will indeed travel fast and you’ll get “NO” to a dance request faster than you can fix your mouth to make it. And at that point, your reputation on the sets is ruined. You’ll quickly become be the dancer every woman knows to avoid.
- Respect the space of a partner.
I’ve seen women walk off the floor when they’re uncomfortable because the lead violated the space of the follow. In some instances, the gentleman had even taken the dance to an entirely different level mentally, and it was quite noticeable in their slacks (if you get my drift). Ladies are looking for an enjoyable dance while on the floor, not an exotic sexual experience. You should expect ladies to pull away from you if you get too close, and it won’t matter what move you attempt to lead them into. You won’t be able to bring them close to you for the remainder of the dance. I’ve often recommended to ladies that if they’re uncomfortable in the dance advise the lead that they are. If their discomfort is disregarded by the lead, respectfully end the dance and walk away (I’ve seen women feign ignorance of the attempted move, then they do an entirely different move to keep the lead at bay – every time – and it worked!!). To ensure that you get to dance with that person again, it’s best to keep the dancing distance comfortable for both parties.
- Be engaged in the dance – or at the very least, respectable.
Every dance may not be a great one or even an enjoyable one, but every dance deserves a level of respect between the lead and the follow. Your partner deserves this respect, especially if they aren’t as proficient in the dance as you are, and they should have your undivided attention for the duration of the dance. They are watching you as you talk with others or engage in behaviors that clearly convey a lack of interest in the dance. This can be one of the most uncomfortable experiences for any dancer, but especially for a newbie. Not only did you hurt your partner’s feelings, you look like a loser to onlookers watching the event unfold. They see themselves having the same experience with you, or they don’t care for how you treated another human being, so that yes you thought you would get from others at her table becomes an emphatic “NO”. And remember, what goes around comes around…that the very person you disrespected can become an exceptional dancer and you’ll never get an opportunity to dance with them ever again because of how you treated them during the initial encounter.
- Don’t become a side-show.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. If Steppin’ is a partner dance, then both the lead AND the follow should receive maximum enjoyment while engaged in the dance. Leads should focus on their partner, making sure they are enjoying themselves and getting the most satisfaction from the dance as possible. There have been way too many instances in which I’ve seen a lead “perform” for the onlookers at an event and left their partner wanting. If your partner doesn’t know any footwork or doesn’t know how to freestyle and improvise, don’t go into a performance of your own and have her just watching you. You have no idea of how annoying and uncomfortable you’re making the dance when you care more about what the onlookers are seeing than how your partner feels while they’re dancing with you… which leads to my next “Don’t”…
- Don’t believe your own hype, it’s not just about you.
In short, get over yourself. You might be the best dancer in the room, but if you’re attitude sucks, or you tend to crave attention, you’ll quickly be assessed as a dancer that many may not care to dance with, EVER! Additionally – especially for my gentlemen friends – don’t dance with other men if there are women in the room who haven’t danced or have had very few dances at a social event. This is probably one of the most irritating scenes for women to watch while attending the sets, and these displays of selfish talent help follows form an opinion of who you are, as a person and a dancer. You can appear self-indulging and narcissistic when that may not have been your intention at all.
- Limit your trick moves if your partner doesn’t get them.
A surefire way to frustrate a follower is to attempt multiple moves that your partner may not get, especially after you’ve done it repeatedly. If the follow can’t get the move(s), simplify the dance a bit or try to explain what you were attempting to do. As leads we all have a different “feel”. As follows move from lead to lead, the style and feel of the lead varies and they need time to adjust. It may take an entire song for a follow to get a feel for your lead. Signals will also vary from lead to lead. Be mindful of the adjustment period of a follow and don’t frustrate them by continuing to perform complicated moves that they aren’t comfortable with. A solid rule of thumb for giving a follow a move is: if you can’t demonstrate or explain the move then don’t ask your partner to execute it. A good lead will always dance to the level of their partner…sometimes less is more.
- Give other leads a chance – don’t monopolize a dance.
The rule of thumb for me is typically one or two dances with one partner (after I open the floor with my significant other) and move on. Early in my steppin’ tenure I made the mistake of dancing with partners for multiple dances, sometimes creating a rift between the person I was dancing with and their significant other. It may not be your intention to cause dissention, but you can do so inadvertently as well as wear out your welcome. If you enjoyed the dance with a particular person, just tell them you’d like to get another dance later (if possible). Chances are that if the dance was great for the both of you, they will make the effort to find you!
- Maintain a positive disposition
If you’re a great lead dancer, or just a lead with great timing, you’ll garner more respect and admiration from follows than you realize. You should be fully aware of the high regard in which you’re held as well as the damage that you can cause a person because your personal disposition leaves much to be desired. The best “gift” you can offer a follow in the dance is the gift of kindness followed by the gift of consideration. See the dance from the perspective of the partner, and then give them what they need to become a more fulfilled dancer. They will become better dancers and people for it, you’ll always be a “preferred dance” for them, and the Steppin community as a whole will benefit from it.
These are some of the “no-no’s” I think leads should avoid to ensure their success as a dancer. I’m sure I’ve missed a few and that you can come up with your own list of reasons why leads get rejected. Feel free to share the behaviors you think leads need to stop. Leave a comment below and if it’s a good one, I’ll give you a shout-out and add it to the list!
Share the information if you know of a lead that can benefit from it. If we can all be better, we should do better. Let’s keep the Steppin’ environment positive, healthy and vibrant!!