Boy Meets Girl: Welcome to the
Wonderful World of Social Dance!
Written by Rick Archer, July 2006
As we are fond of saying, Slow Dance leads to Romance.
Social Dance is unquestionably one of the finest skills for
meeting people ever devised. It is no surprise that many of
the most successful social gatherings include the use of
dance to break the ice.
Although certainly there are other ways to bridge that
awkward tension of meeting between two strangers, Social
Dancing stands supreme in this regard. Dancing has been
known to melt fences faster than Cupid on a good dart day.
For a man, Social Dancing puts him into situations where he can
meet many single women. Dancing allows the man a golden opportunity
to approach an interesting woman he does not even know. Certainly
men have been known to cringe at the thought of asking a woman to
dance and the concomitant risk of rejection. However, most men would
also agree it is much easier to ask a lady to dance than to undergo
the painful awkwardness of making conversation with a total stranger
at a bar, a party, or other places of chance meetings. Best of all a
man has a chance to put a lovely woman in his arms instantly. He may
barely even know her, but suddenly there she is. Now that is
wonderful… What a pleasure!
For a woman, Dancing is also a graceful way to meet men. A woman can
learn so much about a man simply by dancing with him. Is he gentle?
Is he considerate or is he a Showboat? Does he protect her or does
he take chances with her safety? How does she feel in his arms? Does
she feel excited or does she feel bored? Does she feel safe or does
she feel insecure? When there are mistakes, does he become critical
or does he encourage? Is he a gentleman or is he scary? At the
song's end, a lady has a pretty good idea about what kind of man she
has met. With the ice broken and strong impressions formed, a lady
knows whether to smile warmly, evenly, or get up and run in future
Dancing is an activity that can be approached from so many different
levels. At the top of pyramid, you have the fabulously gifted
dancers in costumes and gowns displaying breath-taking athleticism.
At the base of the pyramid, you have the beginners stepping on feet,
jerking arms, and dancing off the beat. Certainly even from these
humble beginnings future Dance Champions have emerged, but the vast
majority of students are perfectly content to never rise any higher.
Isn't it this way with all human activity?
The ski slopes are much more crowded at the base of the mountain
than they are on the Black Diamonds at the top. For every Olympic
skier, there are thousands of wannabes at different stages on the
ladder. Some people want to be the best while others just want to
have a good time. Where Volleyball is played there are the skilled
athletes who spike, block, and set, and then there are the putzers
who are perfectly content to lob the ball over the net and dodge any
ball hit with steam.
Dancing is no different. A few respond to the ethereal call of the
Muse Terpsichore and seek excellence while the vast majority see
Dance as a necessary evil on New Year's Eve or as a time-effective
way to seek their next romance. Obviously different people bring
different motivations to the dance floor.
In Social Dance, all the glory goes to the performers as they glide
in perfect union across the floor or risk life and limb with
death-defying lifts. These gifted dancers serve as an inspiration to
everyone! However certainly there is room in World of Dance to
include as "Dancers" even the far less gifted. I am willing to
accept as fellow members into the Dancers Union the poor couple who
nearly kill each other attempting a Twostep at the Last Call for
Alcohol Saloon. They won't make anyone think of Baryshnikov, but if
their rhythmically-impaired struggle out on the dance floor brings a
smile to their faces, that's good enough for me.
In my thirty years of teaching, I suppose I have watched more than
60,000 people take their shot at learning to Social Dance. Some of
these people actually got "hooked" on dancing and decided to pursue
the sport to the point of excellence, but the vast majority were
perfectly content to learn just enough to be able dance for the fun
For example, recently a couple I know from my daughter's school
showed up to take a private lesson in Salsa. It seems they were the
only Gringos invited to an upcoming Latino wedding. As an expression
of respect to the people who had invited them, this couple wished to
be able to get out on the floor at least once and not make fools of
themselves. I thought that was pretty cool. The husband, a
non-dancer, was a good sport. He had no rhythm, his leads were weak,
and his footwork was unreliable. In a nutshell, he didn't show much
natural ability. However he brightened considerably when I told him
on a scale of 10, he would earn 7 points simply for getting out
there. I added he would get another valuable point if he were able
to smile the entire time he was on the floor no matter how many
mistakes he made. With the bar lowered, this gentleman tried much
harder. By the end of the hour, he was no Astaire, but his wife was
smiling. Another success story.
This is niche that SSQQ has claimed in the World of Dance - teaching
ordinary people how to dance well in a short period of time for a
reasonable amount of money. Our emphasis has always been on "Group"
dance lessons. After all, dancing is a "Social" activity. Can you
think of a better way to teach a student how to dance with lots of
people than a Group Dance Class?
For thirty years using Group Dance Classes, SSQQ has concentrated on
teaching normal human beings how to dance with skill at nightclubs
and social situations such as parties and weddings. I of course
admire the instructors who train serious dancers to perform and
compete, yet at the same time I am sure everyone in the dance
community agrees there is a time and place for recreational social
dance as well. Not everyone has to aspire to dance greatness,
especially those who learn to learn to dance as a way to meet people
or to simply have fun Twostepping at Rodeo parties.
There might be a twinge of regret in my decision to concentrate on
Group Classes here at SSQQ. Like any good coach or teacher, I take
my job seriously and want my students to become excellent dancers.
But my wishes don't always jive with those of my students.
For example, on the Dark Side, their commitment level is not always
very high. For example, not long ago I had a West Coast Swing
student named Jean show up religiously for seven straight weeks of
dance lessons. She concentrated, she asked intelligent questions,
and she stayed after class to practice on a consistent basis. She
was the best dancer in the class.
Then Jean missed Week Eight. She missed Week Nine. When she wasn't
there for the start of Week Ten, I asked a lady who worked with Jean
where she was. It turns out Jean had met a boy and was now in love.
Uh Oh. So much for dance lessons. Sayonara, Jean.
The incident with Jean was certainly not a first. Not by a long
shot! Since Dancing is one of the premier skills of all-time for the
purposes of meeting people of the opposite sex, many dance students
are there for the sole purpose of scouting for a boyfriend or a
girlfriend. Frequently when they do indeed meet someone, they have a
habit of disappearing from the dance scene faster than it takes to
blink an eye. In fact, I coined a phrase, "Marriage is the Death of
Dance", for this exact phenomenon.
Another frustration at my end of the business is deciding how hard
we can push students to improve. Many times in my career I have
watched 'Art' take a back seat to 'Fun'. Since many of our students
take Social Dancing simply to acquire the most minimal skills
necessary to get out on the floor, it makes no sense for me to take
the drill sergeant approach. In Group Dance Classes, students have
just so much patience for criticism. With this in mind, I have
learned to let many things slide. I stick to the important things
like footwork, rhythm, and leads, With this in mind, I confess to
professional pain as I observe free arms dangling to the floor,
men's hands nowhere near the correct place on their partner's back,
people dancing too far apart, heels hitting the floor on
ball-changes, and countless other mistakes the Dance Elite would
make only in their worst nightmare.
People ask me my opinion on the effectiveness of Group Lessons
versus Private Lessons. Both situations have much to recommend.
Group Lessons are perfect as vehicles for meeting people and having
fun. Let me add that if you practice enough and take the advanced,
SSQQ can help you become a very good dancer at a very inexpensive
But if money is no object and the purpose is not to meet people,
obviously Private Lessons are better.
Group Dance Classes have their limitations. Many of the mistakes I
listed above are so obvious they could be cleared up quickly in a
private lesson, but I force myself to remember that many students
aspire only as high as making it out on the floor and off again in
one piece. If I were to make a fuss about every mistake that every
student is making, my Group Class would move with the speed of a
glacier. So I deliberately find a balance that my students can live
with between criticism and fun. All good teachers learn this kind of
pacing at some point. Group Classes can do a very effective job of
explaining leads, footwork, timing, and other important
fundamentals. But when it comes to the finer points of technique and
precision, in Group Classes there is a definite point of diminishing
returns. I have discovered the more time spent on details, the more
people start to groan and beg politely for the instructor to shut up
and play some music. Often I have noticed the group would rather
dance clumsily to music than spend the extra time to get it right.
Strike up the Band!
Given this fact, here at SSQQ we have our best luck when we make the
classes fun. But this doesn't mean that a student is prevented from
becoming a great dancer. We have turned out some marvelous dancers
over the years. At the top of the learning curve, if several
students aspire to excellence, they soon discover they can become
pretty good dancers naturally if they will simply take the time to
stay for Practice Night and review what they learned in class that
evening. It is a good compromise.
I remain perplexed by the number of our students who don't make a
point to stay for Practice Night. Readers might be surprised at the
high percentage of students who come to class, then skip practice
and head straight home. This phenomenon amazes me. 'Why are they
even taking this class?' I wonder to myself. After all, once a
student begins to practice on a regular basis, you can see their
progress accelerate exponentially.
If you take our advanced classes and make a pointed effort to attend
Practice Night, I think you can reach the college equivalent of a
Bachelor's or Master's degree in social dance here at SSQQ. But if
you want a PhD in Social Dance, you will need to switch to Private
Group Classes and Practice can take a student just so far. In
sports, the playground can turn out some pretty good basketball
players, but a good coach can help an athlete progress to a much
higher level. One summer when I was a kid, a boy I used to beat one
on one at basketball suddenly started to beat me rather easily after
he joined his high school team. He learned secrets of leverage,
footwork, and defense that effectively turned the tables on me.
Dancing is no different. There are many subtle tricks of the trade.
For example, sometimes the 'obvious' way of dancing a pattern is
nowhere near as effective as unexpected footwork or a different lead
that will bring better results. I believe group classes are
extremely effective for training large numbers of people to become
good dancers. But when it comes to the rarified atmosphere of
competition dancing, there is no substitute for private dance
lessons. Once an individual expresses an interest in taking their
dancing to a much higher level such as exhibitions or competitions,
I quickly assure them that private lessons with a good teacher is
the best route to take.
For the first thirty years, SSQQ has been strictly about Group
Dancing. However the potential for a dance competition training
program here at SSQQ is vast. All we need is for the right teacher
to come along and light the fire. For example, a couple years ago a
gifted instructor named Susie Merrill recruited 20 SSQQ dancers and
turned them into a world championship dance team known as
"Heartbeat". Another gifted instructor named Anita Williams helped
SSQQ students Joel McCleskey and Victor Marquez win individual World
Championships. Recently on a local level, Bryan Spivey and Scott
Ladell have seen their West Coast Swing and Western students perform
very well at dance competitions.
Until this teacher comes along, SSQQ will simply continue to stick
to what we do best - teaching Group Social Dance Lessons and
creating the environment that leads to marriages, friendships, and
healing as well. Did you know SSQQ is quietly very effective at
helping people recover from breakups and divorces? Dancing can help
a struggling person find some much needed friendship and confidence.
For example, many of our students show up dealing with a loss of
some sort. Many people come through our doors recently separated or
At a difficult time like this, our dance studio can be a pretty safe
place. As opposed to the bars where only the strong survive, taking
classes at a dance studio can allow friendships to develop with a
minimum of pressure. During the healing process, a student can have
friends of the opposite sex to take classes with and meet as part of
a large group at a dance club. He or she can still feel part of the
human race for whatever period of time is necessary to mend without
feeling the pressure to get serious. Later when the jagged nerves
start to heal and the wounded self-esteem makes a comeback, the
person will usually know exactly which one of those "friends" would
be the perfect person to begin seeing more of.
And if their relationship deepens and their interest in dancing
fades away, we have to learn to accept that our students will have
to move on. Good will and fond memories may bring them back some
day. Or perhaps like Charlotte's Web they will send someone to take
their place. Maybe it will be a friend, a neighbor, a colleague at
work, or a grownup child just out of college looking to have some
fun and meet people.
All Teachers, dance or otherwise, must accept our students are given
to us for a while, then we have to let them go. For the most part,
it is our job to first show them how to avoid crippling their
partner, then get them on out the floor, give them some
encouragement, and watch them go to work
We should also say thanks for the occasional gifted students that
come our way. And let us cross our fingers and hope that Dancing
becomes a very important part of their life. Then perhaps our gifted
ones will fight to stay with us if and when Cupid decides to spin
his clever magic again. The world can always use a few more great