“I’m so bored.” “What happened to all of the good dancers?” “This isn’t as fun as it used to be.” “Maybe it’s time for me to take a break.”
Over the past several months I have heard all of the above from a few of the most experienced social dancers in my local Latin dance community. While there is always an expected amount of complaining that takes place on and around the social dance floor, it is almost shocking to hear these kinds of comments spoken by people who have been seriously involved in Latin dancing for years. As this kind of dissatisfied grumbling seems to be growing louder and louder, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at some of the current dynamics at work on the Latin social dance floor.
Wherever you happen to live, I think it is safe to say that the Latin dance community is a fairly fluid one. At any given time you are sure to find a mix of eager newcomers, savvy street dancers, people that just want to “have fun,” and seasoned “salsa elders” all doing their thing on the Latin dance floor.
In most cities the “salsa elders” are the glue that hold the Latin dance community together and provide it with its heartbeat. In addition to being experienced dancers, these people invest their time, energy, and souls into growing their local Latin dance communities. They may not be the flashiest or most “studio–groomed” dancers in the room, but they are the folks that have been bitten by the Latin dancing bug and love nothing more than to pass that bug along to anyone they happen to meet.
So –why is it that some members of this seasoned, passionate group are now opting to bow out of the communities they helped to create? I would suggest that there are three main factors which may be prompting experienced dancers to call it quits:
- 1) The rise of the “faux professional” dancer
- 2) The emergence of dance class warfare
- 3) The ever looming threat of sheer boredom.
The Rise of the “Faux Professional” Dancer:
When I first began dancing in early 2008 everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives on the Latin social dance floor. There wasn’t a lot of angst as to whether you were dancing “on 1” or “on 2” and few dancers paid excessive attention to the kind of music being played. People did not care what brand of dance shoes you were wearing and no one expected you to bust out into an elaborate Pachanga shine pattern when there was a break in the music.
Flashing forward seven years later, the Latin social dance floor experience has changed quite a bit. It’s still a lot of fun, but there is an undeniable level of tension and anxiety that was not present in the past. In my humble opinion, some of this anxiety has been created by what I call “faux professional” dancers.
Faux professional dancers seem to be everywhere you turn on the social dance floor these days. These dancers prefer to dance only with fellow dancers from their performance team or dance school, and only to certain kinds of music. They often have an intense desire to emulate current YouTube “Stars of Dance” and seem to find the local dance community to be lacking in the quality of dancer which they envision themselves to be.
The widespread emergence of the faux professionals has unfortunately caused some formerly enthusiastic social dancers to have more and more negative experiences on the Latin social dance floor. For example, female social dancers often encounter faux professional males who rudely thrust “1” or “2” fingers in their faces in place of extending a gentle hand to politely ask for a dance. Similarly, some of the experienced male Leads long in demand on the dance floor, are now regularly turned down when they ask faux professional ladies for a dance. While these experienced Leads’ moves might have satisfied “ordinary” female dancers in the past, these same moves are no longer challenging enough to satisfy the faux professional female dancer.
There is nothing wrong with taking one’s dancing seriously, but at its core, dancing is supposed to be an expression of joy. While it makes sense to be selective and narrowly focused when performing, this makes little sense on the social dance floor. When the social dance floor turns into a performance showcase, some experienced dancers begin to take their exit.
Dance Class Warfare:
At local community dance events there seems to be a battle of the dance school T-shirts, with different dance teams or schools staking out specific parts of the dance floor. As someone who currently receives training from multiple instructors, this “dance class warfare” has brought a level of anxiety into my dance life that I never anticipated.
I have been accused of being disloyal by some of my oldest dance friends, and have been made to feel like a traitor for seeking to fulfill my personal dancing goals under the guidance of multiple instructors. While I have managed to move past this competitive tension, some of my friends have not. Some of my friends have chosen sides, while a few have chosen to “take a break” from dancing altogether.
With the prevalent, never-ending nature of social media, some of the rival dance camps take every opportunity to virtually poke each other in the eye, further contributing to division in a formerly tight knit dance community. Local dance teachers seem to take turns falling in and out of favor, with once popular teachers unable to attract enough students to fill a class.
For some long term dancers this kind of drama has ruined the dance community they used to love. It’s becoming more and more common to find experienced dancers who used to spend hours burning up the dance floor happily exchanging their dance shoes for tennis rackets, golf clubs, and bicycles.
The threat of boredom looms ominously over any activity someone has done for any significant length of time, particularly with essentially the same group of people. Even if you love Latin dancing with all of your heart, at times it becomes difficult to stave off the sense of boredom and repetition which eventually prompts some long term dancers to call it quits.
Even though I am a Latin dance freak, I must admit that from time to time I become bored while on the social dance floor. I become bored with my own “moves”, I become bored with the familiar patterns of various dance partners, and I become especially bored with the stale, recycled music played by some Latin DJs.
For me, the surefire way to defeat any rising sense of boredom is to learn something new. Even though I have been dancing for over seven years, I have never stopped taking dance lessons. When I began to feel stifled by linear dancing, I sought out lessons in Casino, Rueda de Casino, and Cuban Son. I can honestly say that this was one of the best decisions of my “dance life” as I became instantly stimulated by the new movements, music, and people that came into my life when I broadened my dance horizons.
When I look around at the long-term social dancers who are still actively involved in our local dance community, the vast majority of these are people who have learned to dance in multiple styles or timings. On the other hand, dancers who stopped learning new things have either faded away from the scene altogether, or simply make sporadic guest appearances from time to time at local dance events. The absence of the energy and experience brought by these long term dancers creates a void that can be felt throughout the entire local social dance community.
A thriving social dance community requires a steady influx of enthusiastic newcomers intermixed with a stable core of passionate, experienced social dancers. While it is inevitable that some seasoned dancers will fade out of the social dance community for one reason or another over the years, their departure should be made on their own terms.
In order to preserve the joy and pure human connection that lies at the root of Latin social dancing we must do our best to keep experienced dancers actively involved in the Latin dance community. These people are the lifeblood of our community and we should not allow false showmanship, competition, or needless boredom to drive experienced dancers into an early retirement from the Latin social dance floor.