Each week, Hugo Miguez and Stacy Kay post Tuesday Tips, advice from the pros to the larger Westie community about everything from dance etiquette to great ways to learn in workshops. We at Wandering Westie are looking to expand upon these with stories from our own Westies each week – proof of these tips in action!

When I started social dancing, I thought I was the shit. I learned in a pattern-driven environment, so I thought “man, look at these awesome patterns I can throw at follows, and they’ll think I’m so cool!” To everyone I danced with then, I’m sorry. I recently watched video back of myself. I’m even more sorry.

[Truth: No follow will walk away from a dance and say “man, that guy had such great patterns!” Not one.]

Worst of all, I’d get frustrated with myself when there’d be a mistake in the partnership. Because clearly, it’s my fault. I could have led it better. This was visible to my follows. They would think they messed up. And I’m pretty sure this is what led to an unpleasant/intimidating combination reputation for me to members of my burgeoning dance community. As unpleasant as dancing with an ego-laden newcomer is, the worst thing is that I don’t think I smiled at them. I was too in my own head.

A year+ later, this is what I cringe about most in my dance education. And those who’ve met me or danced with me now know that this has demonstrably changed, and thank goodness–that’s probably why we’re friends. But when I realized I was doing this, I was told one thing, and it was about that distinctly frustrated, neutral, unreadable look I’d have on my face when I was dancing with someone. So I started smiling instead.

My school’s community is fairly new at WCS – I learned there a couple years ago when the club was first founded – and I’m the only one actively competing on the event circuit. And for a long time, I don’t know if they knew how much I love dancing with all of them, both in my ego-driven newcomer and more-centered Wandering Westie phases. And this is largely because no matter how much fun I was having, I was thinking about my own improvement. This phrase could be hit here and here, that turn should have been tighter, why is my whip-4 turning out? What’s wrong with me? All my dances felt the same. They all felt like I was trying too hard, both heaping unrealistic expectations on myself and on them. What turned my dancing was I started listening to the connection I was given, not trying to superimpose my movement on my partner.

WCS is, to me, the greatest dance in the world because it is such a dynamic conversation. And much like a verbal conversation, it has two threads of dialogue, two roles interacting. It is one’s duty to interact with that other role with the technique and skill set you have and know. Sure, almost everyone goes through the phase where they learn a new fun movement, or a compelling styling choice, and they throw them everywhere (most people remember the era of the ronde jambe as they were learning WCS, at least where I’m from) until they learn to be conservative with them.

But social dance time is not your dedicated solo-movement-practice-time. It’s your time to focus on interacting, gaining experience in dialogue, and-yes-trying to throw those things in there if you’re interested in it. But keeping those things in the back of your mind to be called upon when needed, not at the forefront where your partner should be, is paramount to an enjoyable social dance.

As I type this, I’m doing a rolling-through-the-foot drill I learned at J&J O’Rama while trying to get my body to actually stand up straight for the first time in 21 years. You can practice WCS anywhere. And if you’re like me, whenever a song comes on that’s even vaguely danceable, you’re choreographing in your head, and you wake up/go to sleep thinking about this dance and the things you want to work on today.

This is why I advocate heavily that connection is the single most important thing in WCS. Connection is how you hear the other person. Social dance time is practice time, too! It’s just practice with the partner-essential skills. Hearing someone else. Adapting to their style of body movement. Working to make the dance a good and comfortable shared experience. This is what makes WCS, WCS. We don’t take our social dancing too seriously, we just want to have fun. Coming from a ballroom scene where Social Dance Club often turned into an extended competitive open practice with our competitive partners, I love the carefree, improvisational nature of WCS social dancing and the ability to actively create and form connections with anyone thanks to the skills it fosters. Even if you’re worried about practicing for competitions, competitions are judging you as much on how you look and move as how well you partner — with a stranger, probably! — with someone else. So you’re getting practice either way!

When I’m on the dance floor, chances are I’m cracking up in laughter like once or twice a dance, whether it’s a goofy mistake we make or some wonderful fun thing we manage to pull off – just letting all the emotion be out and loose when dancing helps my partner do the same. Shooting someone a smile helps them calm down and be themselves, and not have their mind running through a gauntlet of anxious possibilities about how they’re being perceived. And in the end, as leaders and followers, we just want our partner to be happy, comfortable, and giving their all in the dance.

I hope I curbed the intimidation thing. I definitely still think I’m awesome — nothing is humbling me that easily, no matter how much it’s needed. But I think I’m awesome because I have felt a dramatic increase in comfortable connection and general breath within the dance – a willingness to listen and communicate, which is cooler than any pattern or styling. As a lead, I am defaulting to “speaking.” When my follow speaks, I better listen, they don’t always do that. As a follow, I better be listening to the directions my lead is giving, so I can find the best places to embellish and jump into the conversation and get the lead to react. Put practice aside for now – you have the rest of your day for your new footwork and your patternwork. Sometimes, that new thing will come out anyway, organically. Just talk, listen, smile, enjoy what you create, and remember why you do this. It’s fun to connect with others. Don’t forget to show it.

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Hugo Miguez and Stacy Kay are renowned for their precision, variety, and teaching methods within West Coast Swing. Since 2011, they have taken the circuit by storm with their Classic routines and are re-defining the learning process of the dance world. They will lead you through energetic dances while sharing their advice on all things dance. Hugo and Stacy reside in sunny Clearwater, Florida and travel as competitors, judges, and choreographers for numerous events in different dance styles. Both continue to share their passion for dance and enjoy working with all levels of experiences. They work with top professionals in many different dance styles distinctly furthering their education and experience. Their philosophy is to introduce and foster fresh, comprehensive dance knowledge for their students by giving more of themselves within every experience. They can be reached at www.hugoandstacy.dance.

One Reply to “Tuesday Tip #004 – Connect With Just a Smile”

  1. Of course, I know you folks are already teaching these ideas along with your regular classes but I would go further, and I do, by offering this subject as a class itself. Maybe once to beginners, then again to intermediates, and then maybe by having your advance classes come down and demonstrate the ideas for real.

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