Reading the title you might be thinking “What do you mean, of course I want to be a social dancer!”, but it’s not as straightforward as you may think.
From what I have heard from locals, true social dance in the Latin American countries looks like learning to dance from the people around you from a very young age and later going to clubs and bars to simply enjoy the music and have a good time. Think about rural forms of forró, merengue or dominican bachata. Dancing in the streets or at the beach with flip-flops or barefoot is not uncommon.
However when people with a performing arts background, eg ballet, jazz, or contemporary dancers take interest in social dancing, they take some of their world with them. The dances become more technical and therefore more difficult to learn, requiring people to start taking dance classes. The parties move to dance halls with shiny polished floors and allow the use of high heels. What we nowadays see as brazilian zouk, LA style salsa or sensual bachata is already a fusion between social dance and performing arts.
|True Social Dance||Dance in Performing Arts|
|1. Main purpose is to enjoy music, have fun and socialise.||1. Main purpose is to tell a story, convey a message, create a piece of art.|
|2. Everyone can dance, regardless of age or fitness level.||2. Dancers require additional training (body conditioning) to be able to do the moves.|
|3. You learn at parties or home from family and friends.||3. You learn at a dance school from trained professionals.|
|4. Connection between dancers is more important than technique.||4. Correct technique is very important and trained for years.|
|5. You don’t need to warm up before dancing.||5. Classes require a thorough warm-up before and stretching after.|
|6. You dance in a way that is comfortable and fun for both partners.||6. Moves need to look good for the audience, even if they’re difficult to do.|
To illustrate what I mean, let’s imagine a scale where on one end on the left there is true social dance and on the right there is performing arts, representing the extremes. In bigger Latin American cities, Europe, North America, Australia and other places, social dancers nowadays fall somewhere close to the middle point and depending on their preferences, lean more towards left or right, taking elements from both sides.
To give examples among the more known bachata couples who are actively teaching now, I would say Marco and Sara demos fall to the right side towards performing arts. They are using complex moves that require lots of space on the dance floor and very good balance and mobility from the follower. It makes sense for them because Sara Panero has a background in ballet.
On the other hand, Ataca and Alemana demos, in my opinion, fall left from the centre and are closer to social dance, since their way of dancing can be done at a crowded party and seems to focus more on the connection between dancers.
Why am I talking about it in the first place? Because it’s important for you to know where you fall on the scale. Understanding this helps you set relevant goals, choose the right teachers and avoid wasting time on training something that’s not important to you.
In case you are not sure which side you lean more towards, here are some hints. Whenever you’re at a party and find yourself thinking “he’s not leading anything interesting to me” or you feel disappointed and annoyed when your partner can’t follow your more complex figures, you might be falling towards the performance art side.
On the other hand, if going to workshops and taking classes is boring to you and you would much rather just learn the basics, get quickly to the parties and go from there, you might be more of a social dancer.
It is also vital to know that there is a time and place for elements from each side. A social dance party is NOT a place for acrobatic show moves, since there is usually not enough space and you don’t know if your partner can execute such moves safely without hurting themselves.
If performing arts elements appeal to you, it would be recommended to join a choreography team or find a capable dance partner with whom you can practice more difficult stuff outside of parties. Of course it’s possible to dance in a more showy way at a social as well, and a lot of people do, but you have to know for sure that whoever you invite for a dance is able to do all the dips, cambrés and head movements you wish to do and wants to dance like this.
To sum up, neither of these approaches is better than the other or “one of them bad and other good” – they’re simply different. Doing some self-reflection about which mindset appeals to you more helps you get clarity on which direction to take on your dance journey and know the right time and place for both types of dancing.
Let me know which type of dancer you are down in the comments!