The Fun Partners: people who are always a joy to social dance with. They bring light to their partner’s eyes, and make every song a joy.
But, what is it about these people who make them so much fun?
In travel and dance, I have noticed that fun partners share a few common traits with each other. This is by no means a list of required traits, nor is it a list of the only traits. But, it is what I have observed in the social dance scene.
1. They make an effort to know people
Fun partners do more than establish a relationship for a single song – they establish a relationship to the other person! This can be as simple as learning someone’s name, or giving people you’ve seen before a warm welcome to the room when they walk in. Basically, they make an effort to connect with people outside of only social dancing – even if it’s only in a small way.
2. They respect timing
To respect timing doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re always dancing ‘on’ the beat. To respect timing means to respect the speed of the current song – but to also take into account the partner whom you’re dancing with.
As a lead, it means making sure to not out-pace a follow and to give them breathing room after a complex sequence. As a follow, it means responding to a lead – not simply keeping time regardless of what the lead is doing.
3. They respect level
Fun dance partners dance to their partner’s level – not above. These are people who can find the fun in whatever it is their partner is able to do, rather than holding partners to a high standard that they are not currently capable of reaching.
They recognize that the key to a great dance is making the dance feel like two equals – even if one person is far more skilled than the other. And, they recognize the only way to do this is to make the other person feel capable and good – rather than outpaced and stressed.
Fun partners are aware of what is going on around them. These are people who are taking the time to make sure that the movements and direction of travel are appropriate for the floor – especially in more showy dances.
These are the leaders who avoid movements that have the potential of collision. These are the follows who help the lead navigate safely by giving physical feedback when there’s a problem the lead can’t see.
5. They’re Blame-Free
This is a big one. The most fun dancers are ones that can let go of ‘doing it right’ on the dance floor – both in terms of themselves and their partner. In relation to the partner, it means not blaming a partner for ‘being bad’ when something goes wrong.
In relation to oneself, it means recognizing that mistakes are normal and OK. This means that the partner does not feel the need to ‘hold up’ the other person’s ego for fear of discouragement. It means mistakes are allowed to happen, and that there is no self-blame or partner-blame.
After all, shit happens. Laugh, and move on.
6. They Play
Fun partners are willing to take risk and play with the dance. Taking risk does not mean being dangerous; it means going into unfamiliar territory where you’re not completely comfortable.
For some, that may be trying a footwork syncopation that they’ve seen. Or, it could be taking a break from constant movement to experiment with a new movement idea. Or, it could be pausing to do something very simple that just ‘fits’ that part of the dance.
Basically, ‘playing’ means breaking the dance’s mold and experimenting with something new, fun, or innovative.
This can also include ‘going with it’ when things go wrong. Instead of breaking up an unexpected movement, go with it and see where it ends up. Maybe you’ll create something new. This can be one of the most fun parts of dancing!
7. They Listen to the Music
Fun dancers are aware of the music that is playing – beyond its basic count. Instead of being a slave to the same repetitive beat, they’re aware that music has nuances that can be ‘hit’ or taken advantage of. And yes, this is a learnable skill.
Of course, this does not mean you have to hit every single sound in the music. That’s exhausting. It’s possible to plan (particularly if you’re newer to music or dance) for a particular emphasis you know is coming.
For leads, it means avoiding ‘pattern defaulting’, where you simply do patterns that you haven’t done yet that song to the rhythm. Even if you’re using your ‘default patterns’, a dancer who is listening to music will use those patterns when the music calls for it.
Follows, you can take advantage of this one too, by accenting the music within your own body.
8. They Adjust to their Partner’s Comfort
The reason that some people are ‘creepy’ or ‘uncomfortable’ often has a lot to do with how they interact with their partner’s personal space. A fun partner educates themselves on the body language and silent cues of dance so that they are able to adjust to the other person’s comfort level.
Once again, this is a learnable skill. There’s also one caveat: this behavior must be done willingly and without asks. If a person has to ‘ask’ you to back off verbally, you’ve probably already made them a little uncomfortable. The best thing to do is apologize and attempt to correct the behavior. It’s not blame (see #5), but respect also means listening and applying things that can make your partner more comfortable. Even if you don’t agree with their ask or reasoning, the less comfortable dancer sets the rules when it comes to personal boundaries.
9. They Care About the Dance
This is probably one of the most important ones on this list. Fun partners really care about the dance.
Usually, this manifests itself in their willingness to take class and improve. It’s an amazing feeling as a partner to have dances with the same person, and to feel that person grow as a dancer over weeks or months. It’s wonderful to hear their passion when they talk, and it makes them very endearing.
This doesn’t mean that you must make dance your priority in order to be a fun partner, but engagement with the dance allows you to improve your knowledge, grasp, and interaction with partners in that genre.
Part of this is also the fact that partners tend to react better to someone who shows that they really care about the dance. It takes a lot of pressure off the relationship between two people dancing if they both know the other person really wants to dance as opposed to socialize. It also keeps your dance relationships with locals ‘fresh’ because you’re always bringing something new to the table.
10. They Stay Humble
The less you ‘expect’ from your dances and the more humble you stay, the more fun you will be as a dance partner.
There are many wonderful beginners who are tons of fun, who quickly become far less fun once they acquire dance prowess. Why? Because they now feel entitled to good dances, and feel that because they’ve gotten better they deserve good dances.
The most fun partners are the ones that keep this in check. This is most apparent between a more experienced dancer who is dancing with a beginner. If the experienced dancer stays humble, both they and the beginner can have a wonderful experience. But, as soon as ‘the bored face’ pops into the dance, the fun is sucked right out and deposited.
Humble dancers ask what they can contribute to the dance to make it good – not the other way around. Everyone does this with pros; they aim to make the pro feel that they’re a good dancer. But, a lot of us forget to do this to less experienced partner. Impress them too! They’ll like it!!
As you can probably tell, a lot of these don’t have to do with technical skill. Why? Because fun does not have to be technical! Obviously, the more technical skill you have, the easier it is to impress more partners. It also allows you to better apply some of the concepts in this article. But, we all know beginner or intermediate dancers who are well-loved because they are fun as partners.
Your level is not an impediment to you being a fun partner. The few things on this list that are somewhat skill-based can be learned if you’re not sure how to do them yet.
You have the capacity to be a fun dancer – even if you’re not yet feeling like one yet. Give yourself the permission and room to grow, and you’ll soon find that you are also a fun partner!