If you are reading this site, it probably means that you’re fairly serious about west coast swing. That’s awesome! Because this is an activity that you care about, it’s important to think about how to strengthen the community. A stronger community means more dancers, more venues, and better social dancing. So, supporting the community not only gives back, but also directly benefits you!
One of the easiest and yet most significant ways to help the community is by actively seeking to dance with beginners. Everyone—even the current rock stars—had to start as a West Coast Swing beginner, and people only stick around to get better if they feel welcome.
Let’s be honest: west coast is hard, and dancing is intimidating. New leaders can barely keep from tripping over their own feet and are intimidated by better dancers, so it’s hard for them to ask people to dance. New followers have the challenge of trying to follow a thousand different variations within a dance that doesn’t have a single “basic” rhythm, and also tend to come with the expectation that it’s the leader’s responsibility to ask for a dance. In both cases, it’s all too easy for the newer dancers to be wallflowers, and that’s no fun. It’s a short step from “I didn’t dance that night” to “I’m not coming back.” The only reliable way to avoid that fate? As the experienced dancer, you have to take the initiative to bring the new folks onto the floor.
Dancing with beginners means more than just asking your partner onto the floor. Leaders: it’s up to you whether your follower has a good time. You may think you’re a hotshot that can lead anyone through your crazy trick pattern, but if that move doesn’t work, your follower is going to feel bad about her dancing and won’t be inclined to come back. For a new dancer, a song full of side passes and push breaks is plenty of adventure. So, give your follower a dance that she can excel at, and enjoy the experience with her!
Followers: your new leader probably can’t find an anchor to save his life. This is not the time to show off your amazing abilities to play, to redirect the pattern, or to change the rhythm. It’s just going to make him feel even more lost than he already is. You can help your leader have his best dance possible by keeping it clean. Have clear anchors, dance squarely on the beat, and practice recovering from mistimed leads. If you can leave your leader thinking that you did everything he asked for, you will have a happy leader. Enjoy helping him experience the fun of a lead-follow dance!
And for both leaders and followers: smile! Your partner knows that you’re a better dancer and is worried about giving you a bad dance. Let them know that you’re having fun. There is a time and place for developing technique, and God knows your beginner will need it in spades. But, you’ll never have the opportunity to watch them become a better dancer if you don’t encourage them to stay during that awkward starting phase.
The bottom line is that communities that encourage new dancers survive. Those that don’t, don’t. Dance with beginners.