Tips for Partner Practice

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

Although there is a ton of work that you can do to practice WCS on your own, there are some things that simply aren’t possible without a partner. Other elements of the dance can be practiced independently but can be learned more efficiently with a partner. So, having a practice partner can be a huge benefit in learning this dance.

The following list suggests some “best practices” for working with a partner. Like all relationships, a practice partnership requires effort from both sides in order to keep working. These suggestions are aimed at helping you develop and sustain that relationship.

  • Communicate! If you only take one idea away from this post, remember that communication is essential to a good practice partnership. Both partners need to feel comfortable in discussing what their needs and expectations are for the partnership. If the two of you can’t communicate in an effective manner, then the partnership is only one confrontation away from collapsing.
  • Identify your goals. Each partner needs to know what the other person hopes to gain from the practice time. This is important both for feeling like your time is not being wasted and for being able to help your partner get what he or she needs out of the practice.
  • Be respectful of skill differences. Practice partnerships will inevitably have skill differences, whether in overall ability in the dance or in specific areas. Both partners need to be respectful of those differences.

    If you are the more-skilled partner, be cognizant of your partner’s abilities. If you want to work on pot-stirs but you have a novice partner, trying to force through the move will not make either of you feel good. Likewise, be careful not to inflate your skill when giving feedback. Chances are both of you are still less-than-pro dancers, so always make sure that you are not doing anything to pull your partner off before criticizing his or her dancing.

    If you are the less-skilled partner, you need to take responsibility for your own comfort zone. If your partner is giving you feedback and you are not in a position to take it—whether because you are mentally exhausted, physically sore, or any other reason—you need to speak up and let your partner know that it will have to wait until later. Likewise, if your partner is asking you to do something that is well beyond your abilities, be honest and let him or her know.

  • Focus on each person in turn. Each partner should have the opportunity to work on what they want to. A great way to do this is to take turns: one partner directs the action for 15 minutes, then the other partner takes the next 15. Your partner may ask you to lead nothing but side passes for 15 minutes; if that’s what he or she needs, then let them! (But be smart about physically demanding tasks like spinning; no follower wants to do barrel rolls non-stop for 15 minutes.)
  • Determine how you want to give and receive feedback. Some partnerships thrive when each partner can call out the other for inadequate performance; for other partnerships, that’s a recipe for disaster. Talk to your partner about when and what kind of advice you want. You may want your partner to say nothing unless you ask for comments, or you may want your partner to interject whenever you perform a nervous habit. You don’t have to have the same expectation, but you do need to know and follow each other’s preferences.
  • Have fun! And, if you’re not having fun, talk to your partner about it! Remember that your partner benefits from working with you too, so it’s in the best interests of both of you to keep your practice relationship enjoyable. Your partner is not a mind-reader, so be honest about what you need in order to keep enjoying the time to improve together.
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