The number one piece of advice for social dancing is, don’t teach on the social dance floor. This is doubly true if you’re not a teacher! I often have dance partners who will ask me for “pointers,” or to teach them one thing or another, or even to point out their dance deficiencies during a social. I will always politely decline. (On occasion, if the person is either persistent or very serious about learning, I may take them aside off the dance floor to help them with what they’ve requested.) Unsolicited advice – even when intended as well-meaning – is never welcome and always risky to offer. Besides, more often than not, the person offering the benefit of their self-identified knowledge may not actually have the proper foundation from which to appropriately provide the guidance, even if it was necessary. Bottom line: there is a time and a place for correcting and improving dance skills and choreography, and that is the class, studio, or rehearsal.
The faux-pas complement to teaching on the social dance floor is a common epithet that I’ve heard more than once pass from one partner to another (and both leaders and followers are equally guilty): “You’re doing it wrong”—“it” referring to a particular piece of choreography or a specific pattern or combination of moves. What is typically “wrong” is that the other person likely did not execute the pattern precisely as it was taught in some prior studio lesson. It could also be that the leader attempted to lead a combination that he had in his mind, and the follower didn’t (read: wasn’t able to) accurately read the leader’s mind. Flipping that scenario, a follower expected a certain lead pattern that the leader didn’t deliver.
The basic principle of lead-follow dances is not that the couple executes a series of prescribed, ritualized, patterns in a specific order. Rather, it is that both partners respond equally to each other and to the music. This means that in certain cases, the leader follow the follower, and in others, the follower leads the leader (and these are not the same). Each must be tuned-in to the other and be able to respond in an instant to any deviation from what might have been expected. That’s what makes the dance interesting, challenging, elevating, and engaging.
If a follower is not able to follow a particular lead, it may be because they haven’t yet reached a skill level to be able to follow at the required level. Or it could mean that the leader didn’t adequately communicate what they thought they had. In either case, what the leader led or what the follower followed isn’t “wrong.” It is the dance as it’s being danced, in the moment, to the music, with that partner. And that’s not wrong.