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Do You Want to Be a Social Dancer or a Performing Artist?

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I have a theory about two different directions that social dancers can gravitate towards, which influences their dance style and what artists they like. Becoming aware of where you fall on the scale might help you set more relevant goals, choose the right classes and instructors and avoid wasting time on training something that’s not important to you. So let’s get into it!

Reading the title you may have 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.

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.
Differences between true social dance and performing arts –

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, I would say Marco and Sara 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.

So take a moment to think where you fall on this scale, based on what artists you admire and what type of dance experience you enjoy most.

In case you are not sure, 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 get the general idea and go to socials, 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 more about having fun with your friends and other dancers and 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, I’d 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 type of dancing 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!

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