This is more of a personal observation of the current trend that seems to be on the rise in the social dance setting, particularly, though not exclusively, in the Cuban Salsa scene. Might be quite a touchy subject too, but perhaps it is time to release this opinion to see if anyone else feels the same way at all.
First of all, what is Social Dancing anyway? The way we understand it is that Social Dancing is partner dancing that is informal, relaxed, and danced for the enjoyment of the partners – rather than to meet the criteria of a dance school or an audience. Social Dancing is danced for enjoyment, socialisation, recreation and health. The test for social dancing success lies in how much the dance partners have enjoyed the dance – not how they have danced in the eyes of others or how “correctly” they have danced. It is understood that Social Dancing has no standardised teaching or learning curriculum. Social dance teachers teach steps and techniques they have come to prefer or what they hunch their students will prefer. The steps and techniques taught by one instructor can vary considerably from those taught by someone else. Social Dancing is also dynamic. The types of social dances and styles change with the times and correlate with the dynamic change of the music.
So why is it that more and more people are now leaning heavily towards “looking good” rather than “feeling good”? This can be seen for example with the rapid rise of ‘performance teams’ and ‘choreography/styling classes’ in dance schools and at congresses. Nothing wrong with learning techniques of course, but when you start to care more about the way you look than the way you feel, then that is the moment you are actually moving away from the art of social dancing; when it is not about your connection with your partner anymore, that you constantly feel the need to perform to an audience on social dance floor. This can become problematic.
Because performance teams and choreography classes open up people’s world to cool and fancy moves, and because we naturally are wanting to emulate the professional dancers we follow, now we can see more and more dancers at festivals showing off their acquired skills on the social dance floor. They want to wow the audience with the amazing tricks and display of hyper flexibility. The problem by doing this is, not only that they risk losing the connection with their partner, but also these kind of exaggerated moves most of the times are just not transferable to the social setting.
Performing calls for big movements. On the stage, this is a requirement so that the audience can see and feel involved. People who perform tend to have larger frames, to do more exaggerated body isolations, to take bigger steps, to extend the arms longer, etc. In the social setting, for a follower, this can actually be uncomfortable as it can knock off their balance. Also it might cause them to feel not being listened to or cared for, because the leader does stuff outside a comfortable range of motion, sometimes done with unnecessary extra force. For a leader, exaggerated extended arm thrown in randomly by a follower can be really annoying and make it difficult to lead. When these moves are executed without good technique and communication, then this can actually take away the best things about Social Dancing which can only be felt, like subtlety, softness, kindness, resonance, and co-creativity.
This could be one of the reasons why more and more people are moving away from Salsa and go for Bachata or Kizomba instead, which in theory proposes better connection with your partner because it requires you to dance closer (until they too perform exaggerated movements on the dance floor and turn dancers away because of it).
Social Dancing is always about the communication between you and your partner. The small and lovely things that can transpire between the two dancers often can’t be seen, but it can evoke emotions of the two people involved, like you’ve been let into a private moment. It’s intoxicating and leaves you wanting more. Can this simply be achieved by a display of capability? We think not. Obviously, well executed fancy moves can add a spectacular highlight to the dance, but it is much more than that. What about the steps in between, the facial expressions to convey the feeling, a well placed pause, a moment of stillness that can hold so much tension that the atmosphere is almost tangible? Surely this is the true art of Social Dancing?
In an ideal world, a dancer would have both performance and social dance capabilities, and these rare creatures are the ones who make it pro, all the way to the top, but they are that: a rarity. Don’t let it stop you though! Just remember one thing in your journey, as Martha Graham famously said, “Great dancers are not great because of the talent, they are great because of their passion.” Don’t let your passion disappear because you favour looking good over feeling good.