WEST COAST SWINGLet's Hear It For Tepid Social Dancing!

© 1997

by Kelly Buckwalter

Nine out of ten times that Iím asked to teach a series of workshops somewhere Iím requested to teach one entitled "Hot Competition Moves!" I cringe every time I hear that phrase. Not that I have anything personal against "hot competition moves" by themselves. Itís just that I prefer to see them performed by hot competition dancers at hot competitions rather than by average social dancers at local swing dances. Why? Because by nature, hot competition moves are often very difficult, require excellent technique, involve a degree of risk to the human body (usually mine!), and most importantly, are not necessarily leadable.

I think it is wonderful to see some of the current top competitors strut their stuff in competitions, exhibitions, or with appropriate partners on the social floor. Itís very entertaining to watch new, difficult, and complicated combinations done well. Such creativity provides interest for those of us who think weíve almost seen it all, and helps to set higher standards.

What I do not like about these types of workshops is that it gives the impression that these moves are what the average social dancer should be trying to execute on the social dance floor. No matter what an instructor says to a class, participants will always attempt to try their new material that night on some unsuspecting partner (who could really blame them?).

Now here's where I'll probably get a lot of people mad at me. Usually "hot competition moves" translate into patterns, not syncopations. As a result, the largest group of offenders then becomes leaders who are usually men. So before all you guys call and write to me about insensitive women who impose fancy syncopations on you and refuse to follow, and attempt to back-lead you through 22 count underarm turns, let me stop you right here. I agree with you. Such followers are insensitive and rude. But rarely do they hurt you with their insensitivity, right? My focus here is on PAIN. I know Iím silly, but I simply donít like it.

I don't enjoy constantly being wrapped up in complicated, tricky moves that involve oddly placed stops and starts, and then constantly re-wrapped in the other direction with one hand twisted behind my back and another twisted behind my neck and then constantly spun until Iím snapped back into an esoteric wrap that continues on an on, for three minutes. Now, occasionally such moves, or portions of such moves, are entertaining. Especially when theyíre executed cleanly by "hot" competition dancers. No problemo. These leaders make me look good (thank you!), and they also fit the move to the music.

When, however, an average social dancer has just learned said move 30 minutes ago in a workshop and then proceeds to practice the same twisty-turny, tricky, esoteric 42 count combo on me to "Baby Likes to Rock It" at 166 beats a minute, and then hits a line when the music doesnít break, and then misses a break because they are in the middle of executing (I use the literal meaning here...) said "hot" move, I do take exception!

Since many "hot" competition moves require advanced knowledge of the step and are therefore not very leadable theyíre not often appropriate in a social context. Social dancers, by definition, practice social moves...moves that work within the norms of lead and follow, and within the parameters of the music.

For those of you who wish to incorporate "hot" moves into your social dancing, it wouldn't hurt to warn your partner ahead of time, or practice it (now thereís a novel idea!) with a willing guinea pig to slow music a couple hundred times before inserting it into one's social repertoire.

So what kind of workshops do I like to teach? My favorite workshops deal with technique. I personally think a great basic whip is about as "hot" as you can get. I feel people are really getting their moneyís worth from technique classes. After that, a workshop on "Tepid Social Dancing Moves" is my next choice. I even got one promoter to put that title on a flyer!

I think "tepid social moves" are the glue that holds us all together. Flashy moves are great for regular partners to accent, show off, push the envelope, etc. But I donít want a steady diet of that in my social dancing. I want time to play with my partner and actually listen to the music. Thatís a little difficult when youíre all wrapped up without any movement options except your eyebrows! Easy going intermediate patterns allow people to listen more to the music and relate more to one another, and isnít that the point?

One of my favorite dancers is Jack Carey. I think one of the fanciest "moves" he does is a whip to closed, with a tuck and turn, and back to closed. But you know what? He plays with me and the music, and since Iím not all wrapped up, Iíve got a certain freedom of expression with him that I donít always get with partners obsessing with patterns. His dancing is never boring because he constantly entertains me with his sense of rhythm and teamwork, and even though he uses "basics," his dancing is very sophisticated. All his moves are lead-follow; he never, never hurts me; he pays attention to me; and we actually have fun!

The key here folks is good judgment. If you really watch great competitive dancers when they dance socially, you might notice that when they have a good follower that likes to spin, but can't syncopate to save her life, they pull out all the stops and provide a whirlwind show of "hot" movesÖtotally appropriate. But if theyíre dancing with a partner who doesnít spin well, but is great with syncopations and body isolations, then they are equally at ease (and equally entertaining) simply dancing the basics! The difference is that the really great dancers use good judgment. They know when to do what and with whom to do it with. In other words, they know their abilities, their partnerís abilities, and are able to fit it all to the music!

Instructors are often pressured to teach "hot," "new" moves. Such terms sell classes and workshops. I see it as my job as an instructor to educate people that learning moves doesnít really serve you as much as learning to dance. This has not been easy. People who donít know any better often claim teachers who teach the basics "fill" their classes with "useless drills" because they donít "have enough material!" These kind of comments can be very disheartening to a good instructor. The mind set that is constantly focused on new "stuff" (whether itís patterns or syncopations) loses out on the ability to improve technique and quality.

I believe providing workshops where participants can never hope to really master the material and incorporate it successfully into their social dancing doesnít do social dancers a service. So ask your local teachers and promoters for "hot competition moves" and that's what youíll get. Ask them to teach you to dance, and maybe youíll find thatís a whole lot more rewarding.

So let's hear it for workshops that offer truly leadable, social, easy going "tepid" moves and leave the "hot" stuff for private lessons, routines, and regular partners! (Boy, am I going to get mail on this one...)

Kelly Buckwalter, from the San Francisco area, is US Open Classic and Jack & Jill Champion. You can purchase her popular and extremely instructive video tapes by calling (707) 544-8184.