“So there’s a whole, uh, laundry list of tips for doing well at a competition, and uh, interacting with a dance partner. As it turns out, interacting with a dance partner is a lot like having a life partner in the sense that you’re stuck with them, uh, until something terrible happens and, well that’s we call them your dance wife. I don’t like those terms myself, but they’re on t-shirts, too, you can find, uh, I’m, uh, you know, ‘I heart my dance wife’, uh. Uh, so, there are some rules, though, like there are rules for being in a real relationship. Rule one is that you, um, never ever want to correct your partner, if you can help it, because if they are your dance partner, then that means that you two are probably at the same dance level, which means that if they are doing something stupid, you are also doing something stupid, probably even more stupid than them, because you are the kind of person who wants to correct them, and you probably never realize the stupid things you are doing yourself, and you never get called out on because your dance partner doesn’t want to do the same thing, so your dance partner because it’s rude and you are probably the one to make a mistake in the first place. They’re probably doing just fine. So there’s that.”
The informant is a PhD student at the University of Southern California, studying linguistics. He is also a member—and next year’s president—of the University of Southern California’s Ballroom and Latin Dance Team. He specializes in the American Smooth dances (Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Tango, and Foxtrot), though also knows the International Latin dances and many social dances, like Hustle and Salsa. He has been in the USC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team for 2 years, and did ballroom dance at the University of Michigan for 2 years. He competes in the Silver and Gold level Smooth dances, and has placed highly in numerous competitions.
The collection was made after asking the informant about certain customs of ballroom dance for when you are interacting with your dance partner. What he speaks of is a common concept among many ballroom dance couples, and is considered necessary for a successful dance partnership.
Ballroom dancing is different than many other dance forms, because it is entirely danced with a partner. If there is solo work, it is in connection with what your partner is doing. How dancing with a partner works in ballroom dancing is that there is one person who is designated as the “lead” and one who is the “follow.” Leads are generally male and follows are generally female, but that is certainly not exclusive. As the names suggest, it is the leads job to lead the follow in the many dance. The lead is in charge of moving the couple around the dance floor, deciding what moves to do where, and matching the tempo of the music. The follows job is to follow all of this, without any verbal communication with the lead. All the follow has to go on are hand signals and what ballroom dancers call “connection” which is the tension between the two dancers’ hands which allows the lead to move the follow where he will.
A dance partner, as the informant explains, is often compared to a life partner because of the amount understanding and respect that must be felt by both dancers. Even the least active dance couple is still required to be in incredibly close quarters with their dance partner for at least a few hours, and the most active dance partners practice a few hours a day together. Any anger or mistrust can escalate quickly and dissolve the partnership as easily as any relationship. That is why dance partners are often referred to as “dance wife” and “dance husband” as the informant says.
One of the main guidelines to a successful partnership is to never correct your dance partner. This is not something anyone is officially taught, but something that can only be learned by listening to other couples mention it or watching how they work together. Each dance couple has a different dynamic, yes, but all of the very successful partnerships, the ones that last for years, have this in common. It is as the informant says: if you are correcting your dance partner, than you are likely doing something even worse because you are focusing on them not yourself. There must be come constructive criticism during practices, especially if one person is teaching the other a new move, but the corrections should never be constant and should never get personal. This will lead to the deterioration of the partnership over time.