Anyone who knows me knows that I love getting the opportunity to dance with the professionals in our field. The feeling is euphoric, and it’s inspiring to challenge yourself and grow as a dancer. Similar to a work setting when dealing with established professionals, social decorum must be kept in mind. This post will outline social etiquette when interacting with pros in three areas – when dancing, asking for competition feedback, and socializing with the pros.
Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions!
Often there’s an intimidation factor when it comes to dancing with pros. People often have this idea in their head that they’ll be judged on their dancing right there while social dancing and fear they won’t be “good enough” to dance with the pros. Stop right there! Remember a) the pros are human too! They do make mistakes, but how they recover from them is what makes them professionals and b) they love to dance! They wouldn’t be traveling, teaching, judging, and SOCIAL DANCING, if they didn’t. Plus, they will adapt to you as a partner no matter what level you are. So don’t miss out on a great opportunity to dance with some of the best dancers in our field.
Use Your Words
Listen, like any partner they want respect and you want respect. To this day, I still get irked by leads who simply extend their hand without asking the question, “Would you like to dance?” or “May I have this dance?” Sounds stuffy and formal I know, but simply extending your hand to your potential partner or staring at the person isn’t going to make you more desirable to dance with. 😉 When it’s an appropriate time, make sure you invite the pro to dance with a proper invitation (no mailing necessary. 😉 ) Champion dancer Stacy Kay suggests using the invitation, “I’d love to dance with you tonight if you get a chance/can fit me into your dance card.”
Timing is Everything
The amount of work at conventions varies for each pro, so keep this in mind when asking for a dance or their time. Some of them could be teaching private lessons and dancing in an invitational and a routine. Others could be teaching workshops, private lessons, judging, and competing. Therefore each pro’s energy is completely different. Here are Champion Tessa Cunningham Munroe’s tips from her fantastic Coach’s Corner blog on when to ask:
Times to hold off asking: (seemingly obvious, but shocking how many people make these faux-pas)
-while the Pro is eating
-when you see the Pro “bolting” off the floor, likely trying to escape to the bathroom or for air!
-while the Pro is right in the middle of a dance with someone else
-when the Pro is collecting their belongings to call it a night
-avoid “lining up” or “queuing” to dance with a Pro. I’m not a carnival ride you bought a ticket for. ?
Great times to ask:
-During or shortly after your private lesson with them
-Sunday, when everyone’s more relaxed.
-Right after they return from a “refreshment” break
-Right after you’ve just had an awesome dance with a trusted friend, so your confidence is high.
-When they are walking out to the floor with someone else – ask if you can have the next song.
Be respectful of WHEN and HOW you ask pros to dance, but don’t be afraid to ask. We’re all human.
The one that stands out to me is “avoid ‘lining up’ or ‘queuing’ to dance with a Pro. I’m not a carnival ride you bought a ticket for. ” From a non-pro perspective, I’m also not a fan of “physical lines” of dancers waiting to dance with a pro. I respect that others want to dance with them. If the pro themselves tell me, “Hey, I have a few others who already asked me first; find me later,” that’s completely understandable. However, seeing a physical queue can be a little disheartening for the both the pro and the people who want to dance with them. A social ballroom floor isn’t speed dating or like Tessa said “a carnival ride” you bought a ticket for. Respect the pro and respect the other dancers. If others are waiting to dance with them, find another partner and wait for a better time to ask for a dance.
Breaktime = Me-Time
Pros work all weekend at conventions, and sometimes it’s nice to take a break and catch up with people they don’t often see. Kay says, “Don’t interrupt if they are taking a self moment sometimes to have a conversation or sometimes to just decompress. Not all pros are as extroverted and outgoing as they may seem;they need a moment to emotionally and physically cool down. Wait for the conversation to end or for them to stop whatever they were doing on their phone. “
“Funny seeing you here!”
Strolling around the hotel at an event and running into a pro can feel like it’s Oscars night in Hollywood. You’ll see them in the lobby, share elevator rides, and walk down the same hall. If you strike up a mini conversation during non-social dance hours, it’s a great opportunity to ask them for a dance. “Mention I’d love to get a dance with you tonight if you’ll be out. Most pros will remember you and seek you out IF they see you in the ballroom, however this does not entitle you to a dance,” says Kay.
Meals for pros depend on what the event staff provides. Sometimes, a hospitality suite (a central hub for pros to decompress and find refreshments/food) is provided. Sometimes restaurants are nearby. If the hotel is in an obscure location and food might not even be easy to find! Bottom line, pros cherish their meal/snack time. Stacy says,“… sometimes lunch is the only time a pro has to decompress between judging lessons and workshops. If they are eating a light snack feel free to say, ‘I’d love to dance whenever you’re finished with your snack.’ “
Brad Whelan gave the most awesome advice at Jack and Jill O’ Rama last year when talking to the amateur leads about dancing with the pro follows in a ProAm Jack and Jill, “Gentlemen, you’ve been given the keys to a Ferrari; drive safely.” That’s exactly what dancing with a pro can feel like: driving a luxury car. You wouldn’t drive a Ferrari through a mud puddle, would you? Same goes for dancing with a pro (or anyone). Just because you think they might know how to do a trick or advanced pattern doesn’t mean your pro partner will feel comfortable doing it in that particular dance. They might be tired, working through an injury, or just want to chill and jam versus “stepping full throttle on the gas.” Adapt to your partner and give them the best dance that you can!“So … how’d I do?”
One of the reasons you might be seeking out a pro is to get feedback about your competition dancing, especially if they were a judge for your division/heat.
I mentioned in this in the Competition 101 post (include link) I wrote a few weeks ago, but it’s best to wait for the appropriate time to ask for critiques on your competition dancing. If they’re about to judge another division or in need of a quick break (refer to Tessa’s when-to-ask tips again!) hold off until you see that the judge is free from their judging duties. Like I stated, dance weekends can be busy for the staff, so take a beat and wait for them to get back to you.I’ll pass the torch back to Stacy, my pro collaborator on this post for more advice on getting comp critiques.
Keep it Social!
“…sometimes when you’re over the top in your praise, you’re just subconsciously keeping yourself small. You’re elevating someone so high that you disown the parts of yourself that are just as great.” – Ashley Stahl, Career Coach on putting celebrities on pedestals
West Coast Swing is a social dance, so let’s keep it that way! I want to encourage dancers to socialize with the staff! In the creative arts field, to have such accessibility to mentors and established pros is rare. You don’t see many musical artists taking master classes from Beyoncé do you? I’ve heard through the grapevine that people are intimidated and hesitant to talk to the staff because they are the people judging and teaching them all weekend. Nonsense! They are there to help you in a lot of capacities beyond dancing. Some of my coaches have become dear friends, and it’s because we create a partnership of respect and camaraderie. They know what it’s like to just start out and want to excel on our circuit. I’ve had some pros tell me that some of the attendees regard them as a “celebrity/ trophy” or people play “pro BINGO” rather than get to know them as mentors. Get to know the history. I’ve had some amazing “fireside chats” with pros, and I got to learn about their journey and how they progressed in dance. It inspires and motivates me to continue on my own path. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to get to know the people you look up to. 🙂
Last-minute tips from Stacy
Some things that are always misunderstood by newbies is why we don’t dance RIGHT when social dancing starts at the beginning of the night. Why do we wait until 2am to come out? It’s because we haven’t stopped since 9 or 10 a.m. – LITERALLY. Sometimes we don’t even eat lunch. Events are fun and we are so thankful we get to do this for a living, but it doesn’t make it any less hard work. Sometimes we have floor trials, 2-3 hours of workshops, 2-3 hours of judging, 4 private lessons, our own Champions Jack & Jill or Strictly Swing, plus Pro/Am routines and a classic performance. No joke, it’s non-stop.
The first time we get to breathe is after Champions Jack & Jill or Strictly Swing at 10 p.m. or 12 a.m., depending on the event. I want to eat dinner and decompress, then dance 🙂 Unhappy/tired/hungry pros do not make fun social dancers, trust me. Happy pros = Happy attendees = Fun events.