Advice 3
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Women and the Etiquette of Social Dance

It is time now for me to step into my Wizened Wizard of Dance role. I am about to offer some suggestions based on experiences from the course of my dance career.  I honestly wish someone had spelled out these thoughts for me when I was learning because, quite frankly, at one time or another I made every mistake that I am about to discuss.

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Rule One: Be Gentle

Where do you suppose the word "gentleman" comes from ? You must be careful to not hurt a lady while dancing. Women are smaller and they are vulnerable to getting hurt. Men often do not realize their own power and many times your leads are very painful. When a lady dance instructor warns you in class that you have used too much power, she is giving you valuable advice.

One of my favorite sayings is that a woman who is balanced in the first place doesn't need a lot of power to move her and a woman who isn't balanced will only do worse if you try to "make" her move, i.e. overpower her.

For example, when a woman falls, it is often because the man tries to lead something she doesn’t have the skill to handle properly. She hesitates, but the man forces her to move faster than her skill-level can react. She can't get her feet under her fast enough because she doesn‘t even know where to put them, so she falls. It is dangerous when a man supplies enough strength to "make" a woman move. Even worse, once you start to use power on a woman, then she begins to tense or freeze up. Now that she is afraid of you, she becomes even heavier on their feet.

Turning on your power is an inappropriate solution that does nothing but reinforce her fear. Let a woman move at her own speed even if it means occasionally getting off the beat of the music; don't use extra force to move her faster. Once a woman starts to trust you won’t overpower her, she will relax a little and become faster naturally as the result of practicing.

Personally speaking, I have been hurt badly twice when dancing the lady’s part in class. Once a man jerked me off balance when I was teaching the relationship of arm tension to hip motion in Whip. I felt something give in my lower back. A little while later I fell to the floor with back spasms. I had to be carried to my car. I spent a week in bed totally unable to move with lower back pain. All because a man didn’t listen in class. This is one reason some men are called "jerks".

Another time in a dangerous Western Swing move called the Rope, I nearly had my arm ripped out of my shoulder. I was unable to play basketball for a month because I couldn‘t raise my arm past a certain point. If a 200 pound man like me can get hurt this badly, just imagine what a stupid mistake could do to a lady. Be careful; be gentle.

But unquestionably I learned the lesson of a lifetime in 1984 on the night I danced the woman's role in class for the first time.  Due to an emergency situation - 16 men and only 7 women - I decided to dance as a 'follow'.  The third man I danced with nearly murdered me!  After I danced with him several more times, I realized this brute was the reason we had so few women in the class.  Without my knowledge, each week this guy had hurt several women who now refused to come back to class.  No wonder we had so few women in the class!  (Read more about the story: Valuable Lesson)

Believe it or not, when I confronted this guy, he was actually mortified to discover he had been hurting women.  In addition to many other interesting discoveries, I realized it was true that men
are often too rough because they honestly do not know their own strength.  Many times in class I have coached men to ease up. The nice guys take my advice in stride and improve quickly in this area.  As they say, a word to the wise is sufficient.

Men Who Play Rough

Sometimes however it seems like men deliberately don't listen.  They seem to take delight in hurting women and go too far.  Let's face it - there are angry men in this world.   Take as an example this true story of a man who stepped much too far across the line of decency. This letter was sent to me in July, 1999, by a lady student. 

As you know, Tuesday at the Longhorn is "SSQQ" night. Well, last night seemed like a typical night. Many of us were there, dancing and having a good time. Then came the whip music. Normally that’s no big deal. There’s always a little two-step, a little polka, a little waltz, a little swing, and then a whip set. That’s when I always sit down to take a breather, since I have had absolutely no whip lessons. None. So I was just sitting, enjoying the rest, when a guy came up and asked me to dance. "No, thank you," I replied, "I don’t know how to whip." To which came  "Aw, come on," and "It’s really easy". All the time I continued to say "No, thank you."

He then said, "Well why don’t you just let me show you a few steps." So taking him at his word (what an idiot), I walked to the dance floor. BIG MISTAKE! First of all, those whip sets are long, and secondly, he proceeded to throw me around like a sack of potatoes. I mean, he jerked me up, down, over, and under, and I lost count of how many times my feet came up off the ground! I realize that I’m no spring chicken anymore, but he would have destroyed the joints of a 20-year old with these moves! Not to mention all the nasty, sleazy moves he tried. Every time I would try to pull away from him or tell him to stop he would just laugh and not let go of my arm. When that song was over I just stormed over to my chair and the jackass had the nerve to tell me to save him a two-step. If I’d had my wits about me, I would have ground my boot into his instep!

A fellow from ssqq told me he has seen that guy before at other places and he does the same thing to other women.

Well, all I can say is I felt like whip got it’s name from "whiplash"! I couldn’t even turn my head last night it was so sore. And that’s coming from a woman who went through childbirth 3 times with no drugs - and one of those was a 37- hour labor! So I am no wuss. (I’m not really sure how to spell that, but I’m still not one!) He just really ran me through through the mill.

Now you know why I just had to thank SSQQ. It is an incredible place for many reasons. But it’s the respect for other people that’s taught along with dancing that, and I think I can speak for many women, that is really appreciated.

This particular woman is lovely, gracious, and intelligent. I have never seen her treat someone disrespectfully. Most of the time I see her laughing and smiling. Any normal man would take pride at having a lady like her accept his offer to dance. Whatever this guy was trying to accomplish is beyond me. Meanness of this nature is difficult to comprehend. 

I might this creep continued to bother different women at the Longhorn to the extent he became such a public menace that we gave him his own web site: Longhorn Jackass

Women appreciate gentleness more than you can ever imagine. Getting roughed up is definitely not their idea of fun. That pulling pigtails stuff is strictly myth. Treat them like a lady and you will be rewarded in kind.

I would like to add another letter written to me by SSQQ Staff Member Patrick Steerman.  In this letter he covers many themes of dance etiquette in a clear and concise way:

With great amusement I read all of the letters on your website regarding the "Longhorn Jackass". These guys have been around as long as I have been dancing. I remember one, who I will call John (not his real name), who you probably know, who took lessons at every dance studio in town. He would come to the old Wild West and try to dance Whip and Two Step with anyone he could get out on the floor. All women lived in fear of being asked to dance with him. His problem of course was that he thought he was a great dancer. John had taken lessons for years and once told a group of us that Mario, Sr. told him that in three or four months he would be as good as Mario, Junior.  So, under the belief that he was a great dancer, John would drag beginners out on the floor and try to teach them how to dance - most experienced dancers wouldn't dance with him at all (Sharon Crawford was one of these).

Since these types of men are always around, I believe the women writing the letters should stop talking and do something. They have to bear some responsibility for what happens. No one can make you dance and keep you on the dance floor - most of us do not wish to hurt someone's feelings but if you dance with this guy a second time or do not walk off the floor the first time - it's your fault. Dance is supposed to be fun - if you are not having fun dancing with someone, just stop and walk off the floor.

Better yet, don't agree to dance with the Longhorn Jackass a second time. Some of the letters say that once on the floor they tried to walk off but he would not let them - I have never seen anyone held against their will on the dance floor. They may not want to hurt his feelings but that is what it takes. That is what eventually happened to the guy I call John - few women would dance with him.  Many told John that they wouldn't dance with him because he was too rough and didn't lead moves they could follow. This was a surprise to John but when enough people told him this he finally got the message. I know several women instructors who would dance with him but gave him a very frank warning before stepping onto the floor - "If you dance rough and sling me around, I will walk off the dance floor" - he got the message and eventually became a fair dancer.

This is an extreme measure but necessary if what the women say is true. Of course I have trouble following my own advice. There are many women around town who ask me to dance and I do so even though I would rather not. There is one woman who I use to see out at clubs and at C&W and Whip competitions. Since she was around when Sharon and I competed, she always comes straight to me and asks me to dance. She has trouble spinning and refuses to hold-up her own arm. To make things worst, she always waits until the fastest two step or polka. It's bad enough that I have to "drag" her around the floor and cheat my footwork because she takes extra beats to complete her spins, but she does not follow my lead most of the time. She looks at me and says "I like to do that turn - is that okay?" - which is opposite to what was lead and results in a "busted" pattern. I just look at her and say - "sure, that's fine with me". I am polite and dance with her once per night - two if I can't get out of it.

My rule is that I will dance with anyone once a night. I don't care how bad they are, I just can't say no... unless they are too drunk to walk (been there done that). On occasion, I have stopped in the middle of the dance and said something like "We must be hearing the beat differently" or "Sorry, you may not be recognizing some of my leads, let's try again later".

So you might advise the SSQQ women that this problem will always be there - it's up to you them do something about it.  Also, since the women say the Longhorn guy was leading advanced Whip patterns from SSQQ, instructors should be on the lookout for him and other "rough" dancers, in class and at practice parties, and try to talk to them about their style and technique - maybe talk them into repeating some classes.

Pat Steerman
August, 2000

(Rick Archer's Note: "Ditto" and "Amen" to everything Patrick said above!  What an awesome letter.

Women need to understand that even in a large city like Houston there is a 'Dance Community'.  If you stick to one dance hall, you will eventually recognize the same dancers are there all the time.  Women hold the cards - men don't learn to dance because they want to learn to dance.  They learn to dance so they can get women in their arms.  That's the name of the game. 

So if a series of women put their foot down and refuse to be man-handled, even thick-headed men like the Longhorn Jackass and Patrick Steerman's 'John' character will eventually get the message.

Men are a gigantic training experiment run by women.  As far as I can tell, men need women more than women need men.  Especially Single Men.  They don't want to admit it, but when their sex drive hits the 'urgent' stage, this puts them at a strong disadvantage in the dating game.  Women should be able to dictate how they wish to be treated.  As long as this situation remains intact, women have the power to insist that men treat them gently on the dance floor.  Otherwise they should freeze the jerks out.

Let me add that any male reader of this article needs to learn the "Rules" and abide by them.  If he does this, then he will be way ahead of the game.)

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Rule Two : Do Not Dance above a Woman's Skill Level

At Practice Nights I feel like murdering men who try to double turn women who obviously do not know how to double turn. This is a very dangerous thing to do. Women can easily fall and get hurt in this situation.

Look at it this way : Pretend you are having a bad dream and somehow you get stuck dancing the woman’s part. Now the roles are reversed. Try to imagine how well you would do if someone tried to double turn you to the speed of the music when you weren’t expecting it ? What do suppose would happen ? My guess is you would not turn very well. You would either lock your arms and stop cold on the spot or you would stumble. You might even say, "I don’t know how to turn. Why are you turning me ?"

Now take the bad dream further… you lock your arms and try to stop because you are out of control, but your tormenter decides you need a little help and uses even more power to make you start turning again. Now you would probably fall. This scenario actually happens to women.

Watching the poor women flounder, I can't help but wonder what enters these men's minds...if a lady doesn't know how to double turn in the first place, what good does it do to keep trying ? Don’t men know that double turns are difficult to learn ? He might think he's impressing her by teaching her something she doesn‘t know, but in reality what he accomplishes is scaring his partner to death !

A man should treat his partner as if he is taking her to Astroworld for the first time. There are some rides she is interested in, some rides she is scared to death of, and some rides she isn’t sure about. The smart man will start on the easy rides and gradually take her on more difficult rides to discover what her comfort zone is. Eventually you will come to one ride your lady friend does not want to ride. The thought goes through your head that if she knew more about the ride, she would be less reluctant. My hunch is she will trust you one time. If this ride turns out to be fun, she will listen to you again. If you use poor judgement however and she gets scared, her courage level will drop and the rest of the day will be much less fun.

I suggest when you dance with a woman, you start easy and increase the difficulty of patterns. Once you determine her skill level, you have the right to take her just barely out of her comfort zone into the unknown. If she handles it, try something else. If she doesn’t handle it well, back off.

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Women do actually enjoy being tested; they simply ask that you give them a fighting chance. Do not dance over their head !

A woman wants to feel safe. She wants to feel like you will protect her, yet if here you go violating her trust, how can she possibly have fun ? If you continually put a lady in situations where she is out of control, you can not possibly win a woman’s appreciation with this strategy. You are completely missing the whole point of the man’s role in dancing : women want to enjoy the ride and the slightest thought of getting hurt ruins all the fun.

Dance at her level, not yours. She will thank you and give you the smile that you deserve.

Rule Three : Speed Kills !

The faster the music, the more careful the man has to be. When I do the lady’s part in dance class, occasionally a man will give me the correct lead, but too early or too late. The lead only works if I am on a certain foot; delivering the lead ahead of time throws me off balance. Since we never play the music too fast in class, I usually have enough time to recover my balance despite the mistake. However at Practice Night, especially when the music gets faster and the lady does not know the move is coming, moves that worked in class have a bad habit of falling apart !

An experienced leader learns to sense what foot the lady is on. He learns not simply to rely on the beat of the music to guess when to lead, but feels where his partner is in the move as well. A dance lead is like a gentle form of judo. The man senses the lady’s momentum, then delivers a well-timed lead that reverses her momentum without her even realizing what has happened. When this is done well, the lady smiles because it is fun to change directions and be surprised.

However when the lead is wrong or delivered at the wrong time, then the lady loses her balance. So much for that smile. Only experience and practice can teach a man to sense what foot the woman is on, but some guys decide to lose their temper instead.

Sometimes the men get frustrated and blame the woman. If the move didn't work, it is because the man didn't have a precise enough lead, the woman didn't have enough skill, or perhaps the music was simply too fast for both of them.

No matter what the reason, at this point some men start to use more strength. This is what I call the Karate Kid approach : breaking bricks and bludgeoning a woman into doing a move. As I have said repeatedly, power has no place in dancing !  It makes no sense to ever force a woman to move faster than she wants to. What is missing is the finesse of a proper lead delivered at the right moment. Remember that word : finesse.

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During my 201 Nights in a Row of Whip dancing, one of the most valuable things I learned was that advanced patterns require a series of leads that need to be delivered at rat-a-tat speed. Only practice can give a man the skill to deliver these quick, subtle leads at precisely the right time for 6, 7, maybe 10 beats in a row. If a man has to think about his lead, the time it takes to give a conscious command to your hands will often delay the lead just enough to throw the lady off-balance. On tricky moves, repetition and practice can give the man what is called "Muscle Memory" : a series of footwork and leads linked together that occur without the man even needing to think about it.

Every dance has a speed where everything is comfortable. When the music gets much faster, however, moves that worked at one speed have a bad habit of not working very well at all at the higher speed. For one thing, the man has much less time to think about his leads. Leads have to be delivered with lightning-precision.

If the man's muscle memory is weak, his leads may be delivered late or improperly, and the woman may stumble. In addition, the woman’s skill may not be strong enough for a higher speed. Even correctly-delivered leads may not be enough if the lady can’t move her feet fast enough.

Another thing men may not realize is that faster music changes a move. The man may have been told this move takes 6 beats to complete. What he wasn’t told is the move takes 6 beats to complete at normal speeds, but might take 7 beats to complete at a faster speed. This also means he may need to learn a trick on how to hold one extra beat since almost all patterns require an even number of beats to complete.

When I was learning to dance, one of my worst sins was using more power to try to "catch the train". I was dancing to a fast song and I realized if my partner turned just a little faster we could catch the beat, so...Pow ! I would turn up the juice. We would catch that beat, but the lady’s eyes would be rolling in their sockets.

Even worse, not one woman ever thanked me. In all those years I never heard a woman say as we walked back to our seats, "You know, Rick, that was a fast song. For a second I thought on that one turn I wasn’t going to make it. Fortunately out of nowhere you sensed my dilemma and just beat the absolute stuffing out of me, but, damn, it was all worth it just to catch that beat !".

How rude of those ungrateful wretches ! 

Fortunately, somewhere along the line it occurred to me to let the lady turn at the speed she was comfortable at even if it added a beat or two to the pattern. I got a lot more smiles after that insight, believe me.

In general, fast music causes accidents if the man isn’t careful. Moves that work at slower speeds may become risky as the tempo increases. Men like to try dancing to fast music, but they forget that when they dance out of control it is usually their partner who gets hurt. You need to factor her safety into the mix.

If you wish to dance to fast music, stick to moves that are within your ability to lead.

Don't Be Dangerous !

Earlier in Rule 2 I discussed the need to "Be Gentle". Forgive me please as I cover similar ideas again, but I can not emphasize enough times that women actually get hurt sometimes when they dance. Bruises, bumps, and twinges they can live with. You might be surprised to know that in my opinion women encounter more pain when they dance than men do in an average pickup basketball game. In dancing, men jerk women's arms, squeeze their hands, bop them in the head, step on their feet, knock them off balance, and muscle them around. Fortunately however women are pretty good sports about it, especially if they think the man is trying to get better. That hope of eventual improvement keeps the ladies hanging in there.

Where women draw the line... and I agree with this position... is when they sense they are in danger of actually getting hurt. Even if it doesn't happen, the fear of it happening still spoils the moment. A woman can't have fun if she is worrying about getting hurt.

For example, sometimes men try acrobatic stunts without warning the woman. Or a man might needlessly risk her safety by trying a dangerous acrobatic move when the floor is too crowded.

One of the stupidest things men do is try moves they don't have a clue about without warning the woman. This is the dance equivalent of letting a kid play with matches or knives. I know of two occasions where women have been badly hurt by men trying moves they copied from a more experienced dancer.

The first occasion was a Whip move called "Behind the Back" back in the 80s. A man named Michael Miles saw a move on the dance floor that looked pretty flashy. Even though he had only seen the move one time and without warning his partner, Judy Price, he tried to repeat the move at regular speed. He nearly broke Judy's arm. No one had explained to him that a woman's arm has to be straightened downwards before bringing it back up. Furthermore there has to be proper spacing between bodies for the arm to raise naturally. He came very close to dislocating her shoulder. I might add the maneuver he actually did use is almost the equivalent of that wrestling trick you see in Police episodes where the cop twists the bad guy's wrist, then shoves his hand way up his back deep into his shoulder blade, then slams him face down on the hood of police car. What Michael did was That Dangerous !!

The second occasion was a nasty little Western Swing move called the "Beaumont Roll". Even when the woman knows the move is coming it is still tough to lead. An unknown man saw me use the move with Sharon Crawford at Wild West back in the 80s. It involves a judo-style wrist twist... the woman actually has to turn to avoid being hurt. If she turns at the right instant, it doesn't hurt a bit. However if she is taken by surprise, usually her momentum takes her past the point where she should begin her turn. Now the pain in her wrist hurts a lot plus she usually loses her balance badly to the point where the man needs to catch her. The move is That Dangerous !  So some idiot sees me do it without realizing I verbally warned Sharon it was coming. He tries it with some hapless victim and nearly kills her. I just happened to be watching. He picked her up off the floor apologizing profusely. To his credit he helped her to her seat and sat with her as she recovered. He realized he had foolishly risked the lady's safety.

All I want you the Reader to understand is that many advanced moves rely on split-second timing. If the woman receives the lead even a fraction early or late, she can easily be knocked off balance. As long as she isn't taken too much by surprise or she isn't moving too fast, she won't be hurt. But once she has been hurt by you, she gets very cautious. No woman wants to be hurt. As a result, many women start to back-lead. Back-Leading can lead to even bigger problems.

Parallels to Back-Leading can be seen in sports. If a football Quarterback has been blind-sided several times, he starts to look for the pass rushers instead of look for his receivers. He starts to "dance" in the pocket and get happy feet trying to avoid the danger. His effectiveness is obviously diminished.

Or a baseball slugger who gets hit in the head with a pitch starts to bail out at the plate. He is so worried about getting hit again he flinches instead of remaining calm and watching the pitch. Any coach will recognize this bad habit quickly, but curing it is another story.

Back-Leading is where a woman anticipates a move and goes to the spot without it really being led properly. This is a pretty good trick when the woman is experienced and the man is a weak leader who doesn't know many moves. I tell my women in class that a woman should try to follow a man a couple times until she sees what his style is. If he doesn't lead well, then she should try to cover for him. Unfortunately this trick mostly works only with Beginner men.

The problem of Back-Leading comes when the man starts to use more power in his lead at the same time the moves get more complex. Now it becomes easier for the woman to guess wrong at the same time as his power is great enough to knock her badly out of control. All I can say is back-leading can be dangerous if the man has a strong lead - she is taking a real chance.

It might help if both the man and the woman remember I said earlier that "Leading" is supposed to be a form of "Gentle Judo". The art of Judo uses an attacker's momentum to the defender's advantage. In dancing, a good lead creates a woman's momentum, then a sudden lead change will change the direction of her momentum. At its best, Leading can create patterns the woman has never seen before. Even though she doesn't know where she is going, if she "Follows" well, she can be successful anyway if she has confidence in her partner and lets him guide her.

However in back-leading, the woman puts herself deliberately into a pattern. If she guesses wrong, she is likely to be on the wrong foot when the judo-style lead kicks in. If she had been on the correct foot, she would have spun beautifully and enjoyed herself. Now because she has put herself out of position, she stumbles. If the lead is powerful, she can easily fall.

The man should not be blamed all the time. This is an example of someone else suddenly grabbing the steering wheel which of course is how accidents happen. On the other hand, if he has hurt the woman several times recently, you can assume he created a climate of fear which led to her gun-shy behavior.

Let me give you guys some advice (isn't that what this article is about ?). I lead very well. It is my profession. You wouldn't pay me to give you any dance tips if my women stumbled at the same frequency as your women. Well, here we go.

I am a strong leader. When women trust me, I give them quick, definite pulls, pushes, and nudges that instantly  change their momentum. One reason they trust me when we dance is they know I am in control. They know even if they make a mistake I have the ability to rescue them in one way or another. Plus they know I won't hurt their feelings if they mess up. As a result, they relax and let me drive.

However I am experienced enough to know when a woman is back-leading. I also know she is in more danger if I use my strong leads. When I sense a woman is back-leading, I switch to less force and less complicated moves. We may not be as flashy, but usually the woman doesn't care. If she is back-leading, she is saying to me, "I just want to dance without getting hurt". Fine. I accept that.

When I was younger, we did what I wanted. Now that I am older, I just want to make sure she is still smiling when the dance is over. I have the strength and the skill to lead women through complicated patterns at great speeds, but I now know it will jar her bones and rattle her nerves even if she trusts me. As a result, my showoff moments are limited to only the most skilled and trusting of the women I dance with.

Competition Dancing, Performing, and Exhibitions are places where people try the most complex patterns. However these complex patterns are rehearsed plus the woman knows when they are coming. Then the judges wink and pretend those patterns are "leadable". Oh sure.

Unfortunately Social Dancing, i.e. dancing with people you may or may not know very well, requires moves that can be led and followed. Obviously women are happier when they are not afraid of being hurt and feel safer when they know the patterns that are being led.

No one likes to be out of control. You men would be shocked at how terrifying it is to be out of control in a difficult pattern. One woman described to me her loss of balance in a dance mistake felt similar to a time when her car did a 360 degree spin after hitting a patch of ice. As a result, a man should be very cautious in his approach to leading advanced moves. Remember the man'sgoal should be to win her confidence and her smile. If she can't trust a man on the dance floor, she isn't going to trust him very much off it either. Then he has missed the whole point of dancing which is to show women he is not only fun to be with, but also safe - the whole package.

Look out for the girls on the dance floor and you will be rewarded.

On Page 4 of Advice to Men, we cover 4 more of the Do and Don'ts of Social Dancing.
Click here for Page 4.

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