I recently had a dance with an out-of-town dancer that stuck in my mind as the best dance of the night. It wasn’t because he had particularly remarkable moves, although he was a more than competent dancer. The reason why that dance stayed with me is that, despite being on a very crowded dance floor, for that song, I never once worried about running into another dancer or being stepped on or otherwise accidentally abused. My partner was considerate, he carefully controlled the space we were taking up on the floor, and he protected me from less courteous dancers. In short, he did exactly what a good lead should do.
Unfortunately, these gentlemen are becoming rare breaths of fresh air, rather than being the norm in the Ottawa scene. Mindfulness of how much space one takes up, of how other dancers are moving, and who you might be bumping into (or flinging your partner into) is, in many cases, either non-existent, or, more rarely, trumped by a desire to show off with flashy moves and styling.
The good news for you guys is that, since the bar is set so low, you can distinguish yourselves from the vast majority of dancers without having to learn any new moves, just by being courteous and dancing defensively. Here are some guidelines to get you started:
- Be space-aware
If the floor is crowded, dance small. Keep your traveling to a minimum, use body movement as styling instead of leg or arm sweeps, and lead smaller, and keep your partner’s traveling steps small.
If there aren’t many dancers on the floor, you have more freedom of movement – just make sure you find an empty spot – but keep an eye out: if the floor is empty at the start of the song, it may fill up within a minute. Be mindful of dancers coming onto the floor around you or other dancers traveling across the floor – the dance floor belongs to everyone, and as it fills up you need to take up less space.
- Look before you lead
This applies even in an empty room, but it’s all the more important on a crowded floor. If you’re leading any move that involves your partner traveling around you (such as a cross-body lead), always look over your shoulder to make sure she has the room to travel, and that you’re not leading her into another couple, a chair or a wall. If the move you want to do could put your partner in harm’s way, minimize the distance your partner travels or stop the move entirely and do something else. Also: people are less predictable because they move. Walls and chairs don’t leap in front of you out of nowhere. There is no excuse for leading your partner into an inanimate object – ever.
- Protect your space and your partner
On top of minding how and where you lead your partner, you need to be aware of how others are moving around you. Is an aggressive or unaware dancer repeatedly coming into your space? Is there a lady hell-bent on clotheslining everyone within reach with her arm styling? Always be aware of potential hazards, and react accordingly – by traveling to a less crowded spot, putting your arm out to protect your partner during traveling turns, and making sure those around you respect your space.
This is not to say that ladies don’t also need to keep their own safety and that of their partner in mind. In fact, there will probably be a separate defensive dancing article just for ladies. However, in my experience, the vast majority of dance accidents can be prevented by the lead being aware of the space around him and protecting his partner.
Got a “defensive dancing” tip to share? Leave it below!