You’re not pushing me hard enough.’ ‘You need to make your frame stronger.’ ‘That’s not where you step.’ Sound familiar? The urge to teach arises every time we grow impatient with our partner, giving rise to thoughts like: ‘this was EASY for me! Why can’t they see what to do? It’s OBVIOUS.’
While I feel your pain, and have been there myself, the fact is that trying to make them ‘get it faster’ will inevitably do more harm than good. Here’s why.
1. It puts extra pressure on them.
Assuming they aren’t deliberately trying to wreck your day, they are already struggling to understand the step as best as they can. Adding your voice will only add to their frustration, because they know you are growing impatient. And that can throw off their focus, making them take even longer.
2. It can be humiliating.
Many dancers, especially male dancers, are sensitive to being criticized by their partner, because it tells them they aren’t doing a very good job. And looking bad in front of others is the absolute last thing they want.
While some people might take to this kind of negative reinforcement, most dancers will find it demoralizing. Some may even feel they need to defend themselves by nit-picking you back!
3. It could be wrong!
Let’s face it; your instructor has been training in this dance a LOT longer than you have, and has learned not only what needs to be explained, but how to explain it as well. Even if you are repeating what they said in different words, that’s all that’s needed to create a bad habit.
Example: Some followers tell their leaders to ‘push them harder’, then wonder why they start maneuvering with their arms instead of leading from their core like they’re supposed to. To avoid making the situation worse, ask the instructor about the step – without bringing up your partner.
4. It could be too much at once.
Your partner can only focus on one thing at a time – add more, and they’re likely to forget something more important. So consider holding your tongue the next time you want to suggest they add more heel leads, rise and fall, and contra-body action all at once.
5. It assumes you’re already doing everything perfectly.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone critique their partner, only to discover they were at least half of the problem. Avoid a case of ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease by focusing on what you can do to improve your end of the partnership.
And if you feel like you’ve got everything figured out, why not ask the instructor for more? There’s always more you can work on that won’t ruin what you’re partner is trying to do.
So, can I EVER make a suggestion?
If you absolutely can’t complete the step without your partner changing something, use the gentlest language possible:
- Describe in terms of your own experience: ‘I feel like I’m being pushed off balance here.’
- Ask if they would like a friendly suggestion before going ahead.
- Make a suggestion in the form a question: ‘Would it it help if…?’ ‘What if you tried…?’
- Ask the instructor a question that will clarify what your partner is having trouble with.
These all give your partner a chance to work out the problem at their own pace, without feeling they are being rushed. And that creates a more fun dance experience for both of you.