Changing Partners

When a dance partnership is a romantic partnership as well, problems may arise in both Group Classes and Private Lessons. This section of the FAQ focuses on couples enrolling in Group Classes.

Changing partners is a good idea

… or How to avoid jealousy at a social dance

Learning to dance (or developing any hobby together) is good for couples – it can have really positive influences on your relationship. We are not opposed to people learning with their boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Not at all.

However, even happy couples demonstrate unusual, unexpected, and unsavory behavior, especially during their first few months of dancing and of learning what to expect at social dances. We use partner changes during class as one of the built-in ways to help couples work through potential envy/jealousy, but in a structured setting.

We have seen jealousy or even anger play out many times at social dances, usually when the boyfriend (who is still learning at a very respectable pace and enjoys dancing, etc) sees his girlfriend dance with some other man who has more skills than the boyfriend. The boyfriend gets jealous/angry. The girlfriend did not think it was a big deal to have a dance with another guy, so she thinks the boyfriend is over reacting. They have a fight with each other (usually privately but sometimes not) and neither one ends up having a good evening.

By getting used to changing partners in a more structured environment like a dance class, each person in the relationship becomes more accustomed to the idea that their boyfriend/girlfriend may dance with other people, and that dancing with someone else is not a threat to their relationship.

Do I have to change partners?

In Group Classes, we ask class participants to change partners frequently. You do not need to change partners every time, especially if you’re right in the middle of figuring something out.

But I enrolled with my boyfriend/girlfriend

Since taking any kind of class together is a great thing for romantic partners, it makes sense to want to spend time together during class. In order to learn to dance well, however, changing partners is a very good idea.

How often should I change partners, then?

Dancing one-out-of-three or one-out-of-four partner changes with your romantic partner is a decent ratio for couples who want to spend more time dancing with each other during class and still actually become good dancers.

What do you mean “Still actually become good dancers?”

Learning to move well and to dance well requires feeling the ways in which other people move and realizing how your own movements affect other people – whether your are the Lead or the Follow.

When you limit your dancing to only one person, it is incredibly likely that each person ends up covering for some missing aspect of the other person’s dance abilities. That missing element is quickly discovered and easily addressed when you dance with other people. In turn, dancing with your ‘regular’ partner becomes much more enjoyable.

Spending too much time with just one partner results in slower learning and falling behind the rest of the class in terms of understanding and owning the skills and material in class. (You may be an exception – there are always exceptions – but we are drawing from personal experience and from what we have seen while teaching.)

It is a good idea for romantic couples to spend a higher fraction of class time dancing with other people than with their romantic partner (see How often should I change partners, then?, above).

But this class is like a date for us

We are happy to be a part of your evening out together. However, dance class is a different experience than a restaurant, club, or movie theater.

Even though couples may enroll together, you will develop your skills as dancers more quickly if you remember that you are enrolled in a class. That is, in addition to spending time together, the purpose of class should include developing new skills.

In order to partner dance well, you need to develop brand new skills and continually refine those skills. Like many other classes where couples may enroll together (pottery, acting, writing, martial arts), we focus on cultivating your skills. We structure classes so you can develop new skills quickly and refine your existing skills. This happens, in part, through dancing with other people in class.

While partner dancing is a romantic activity for many people, and dance class may feel very different than classes like English 207, Chem 109, or a real estate seminar, dance class is still a class. You will learn new skills. You will refine existing skills. Dance class equips you with the skills to enjoy a future romantic evening out dancing.

It feels strange to dance with someone else

We are sensitive to how awkward or strange it may feel (initially) to dance with other people when you are involved in a relationship. However, social dancing is an activity where it is appropriate for couples to dance with other people. Social dance participants tend to adhere to certain rules of Etiquette.

We recognize that partner dancing class is a unique kind of class. Developing the skills to partner dance requires physical interaction with the other participants in class, potentially making class participation itself feel like an activity to be done only as a couple.

Changing partners during class gets you comfortable with what you will discover when you attend social dance events. Despite the seemingly-apparent romance displayed by the dancers at these events, for most of them, it is just dancing.

I want to dance with boyfriend/girlfriend the whole time

If you really want to have an enjoyable, romantic, night-on-the-town-dancing-as-a-couple experience in the future, you need to train for it in dance class. In dance class, you develop and refine your dance skills, which involves becoming skilled Leads and Follows, which involves dancing with as many other people as practical.

What if we are frustrated with each other during class?

Dance teachers have witnessed many times when romantic couples become frustrated or verbally hostile and rude with each other during group lessons. That dynamic makes the lesson experience and dancing in general much less enjoyable for both people in the couple, the teacher, and everyone else in class or nearby.

A dance lesson can bring out the best and worst in romantic couples. Taking time apart during the group lesson by changing partners regularly tames the frustration that might otherwise appear. When one person understands the movements or patterns more quickly than the other, frustration is often an unfortunate side effect. It happens with even the happiest of couples. If you are prone to becoming frustrated in dance class, be prepared to handle that emotion constructively.

Will I embarass myself by dancing with other people?

Perhaps your boyfriend/girlfriend had to convince you to start dancing or to take a class. Maybe you can already dance, but you are only comfortable (so far) with each other.

Dancing with other people in class requires you to hone your skills and to dance well, which will cause you to become more confident in your skills more quickly.

Leading well and following well require the confidence that you know what you’re doing, as well as actually knowing what you’re doing. We employ many strategies – including partner changes – for you to develop greater confidence in you skills as well as to develop your actual skills.

I think it works pretty well with my boyfriend/girlfriend

If you only dance with your romantic partner, you could become pretty confident at being a not-very-good Lead or Follow. You would not be aware that you need to address some deficiency in your leading or following (harsh, weak, sloppy, forceful, grabbing, pinching, painful, ambiguous, confusing, inattentive, etc). If you only dance with each other, how would you know it is supposed to be any different?

Hey, it actually works with another person

When you realize that genuine leading and following is possible with new partner, it means you are actually developing your skills. Let this strengthen your confidence as well, making you a better dancer.

By dancing with other people, you begin to really understand what it feels like to dance with a good Lead/Follow. You are less likely to tolerate poor leading/following from your romantic partner. Everyone in class begins to expect good leading/following, and everyone works to meet that expectation, making everyone better dancers.

Last Edited: 03 August 2011 at 9:28pm

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