Lessons From the Year That Partner Dancing Was Cancelled

Woman's legs and her dance shoes

2020 was the year of dancing by ourselves. The year of living-room Zoom classes and footwork practice, and congresses postponed again and again.

It’s the year the world stopped partner dancing—and yet it’s a year that has made me fall further in love with it. I’ve taken classes in dance history and learned about things that, prior to lockdown, I wouldn’t even have known to research. I’ve signed up for courses with incredible teachers from around the world. And even more importantly, I’ve felt connected to my dance community and found ways to stay happy.

Here are some of the things that a year of lockdowns has made me remember about dancing:

Partner Dancing Helps Us Connect With People

Connection is a human need; we feel lost and alone without it. And every time we partner dance, we connect with other people, no matter their backgrounds or our cultural norms.

We don’t need words to synchronise our breathing in Brazilian zouk or play with timing in kizomba. There’s no need to tell each other that we’re going to do a body roll in bachata, a caminada in tango, or a false cross-body in salsa. We just know, because we’re connected with our partner.

Yet that’s not the only way dancing unites us. It turns us into a community with shared interests and experiences. We not only have fun together but also support, empathise with, and care for each other. And in a world where social media is full of conspiracy theories and sales copy, there is something pure and wholesome about our social connections on the dance floor.

The first in-person solo dance class I attended this year, wearing a mask and carrying hand sanitiser, gave me a moment of catharsis. Emotions rushed over me; my tension and stress disappeared. But it wasn’t the dancing that caused this: it was hearing laughter without the audio distortion of a Zoom call with poor internet connection.

Happy, laughing couple dancing salsa

Credit: Alex Goncharov / Shutterstock.com

Partner Dancing Lets Us Live in the Moment

Whether it’s reliving an embarrassing moment or worrying about things that might not even happen, overthinking things is human nature. And a global pandemic, forced business closures, and economic depression has made this year far more stressful than usual.

But dancing is a remedy for the anxiety caused by an always-on world. We can escape from 24-hour news, 8 pm work emails on our phones, and annoying notifications from that mindfulness app that doesn’t help anyway.

When we dance, we give ourselves permission to not think beyond the next eight bars of a song—if that! We feel, we connect, we give priority to our senses and our emotions. We live in the moment, because it makes us better dancers but it also makes us feel alive.

Partner Dancing Creates Structure That’s Not Restricting

If ever a year were a time warp, it’s 2020. September has felt like March. A month has dragged along as if it were a whole year. We have spent days measuring time by whether it was the right hour of the day to applaud medical workers, by which age group was allowed to go for a walk, or by how many hours were left until curfew.

Dancing adds routine to our lives. Tuesday isn’t the same as every other day, because it’s the day with West Coast swing classes. Sunday is when the salsa party starts at 7 pm instead of 11 pm. Saturday is the day we wake up late, because we danced kizomba until the early hours on Friday.

But unlike work or studies, dancing doesn’t restrict us, and neither does it bore us. We’re not forced to skip dinner with our friends, like we do when a project goes wrong. We can always decide not to go to a dance class or party. Dancing may add structure and routine to our lives, but it’s we who choose it and are in control of it.

Partner Dancing Gives Us Goals That Aren’t Obligations

“Man is a goal-seeking animal”: that phrase was reportedly said by Aristotle, although like many Instagram-friendly quotes, it’s been disputed. There’s truth in it, though: setting goals is powerful, almost addictive. Achieving them releases dopamine into our brain and gives meaning to our actions.

Conversely, goals can also make us unhappy and kill creativity. They put pressure on us, and when we’re rewarded or punished for them, we’re actually less likely to achieve them.

When we dance, however, there’s no prize for learning new footwork or successfully leading a complex move. We won’t get a pay rise or fail an exam. And that makes achieving these things far more satisfying.

Smiling couple are dancing bachata at home during lockdown

Partner Dancing Is Good for Our Bodies

We’ve all woken up bruised, our feet throbbing and our body exhausted after a weekend of dancing. Many of us have injured our necks or shoulders, or we’ve had our toes stomped on. Some of us have limped off the dance floor with cuts.

Yet dancing is also good for our bodies: it flushes us with dopamine and serotonin. It ushers us away from our laptops and trains us to have better posture. It keeps us active. And it prods us to stretch and work out so that we can comfortably do cambrés and improve our spin technique. Dancing feels good emotionally, but it’s also good for us physically.

Partner Dancing Encourages Us to Be Empathetic and Caring

That new dancer who feels nervous? The person who constantly has a sweaty t-shirt? The lead who’s trying hard, but still can’t find the one in salsa music? We empathise with them. We understand how they feel and want to reassure them that it’s okay.

And when we’re on the dance floor with a partner, we want to make them smile. We hope they’ll enjoy the moment, and we adapt if we suspect that they don’t like something.

Even as politics makes the world feel more polarised, dancing encourages us to be considerate of others. We take joy not in being right, but in making another person feel good.

Partner Dancing Brings Joy Into Our Lives

Dancing makes us smile. We don’t do it because we have to or we should. We do it because it brings us constant surprises, laughter, satisfaction, connection, and most importantly of all, happiness.

Even though I haven’t been able to go social dancing this year, I’ve spent many evenings dancing alone to my playlists. The music has allowed me to ignore the strange, post-apocalyptic world in which we haven’t been allowed to leave our flats or hug our friends, and instead feel at peace.

2020 has come to an end, and although we have months without dancing yet to come, the end is in sight. Vaccines are being rolled out, and countries are being declared COVID-19-free. And I can’t wait to dance with friends and strangers again, sharing smiles and laughter as I think of nothing more than the next few beats of the song.

Enjoyed this article? Read:
Dancing in a Mask: Myths, Truths & Tips
Two women dance bachata while wearing medical masks

Close holds, laboured breathing, and significant physical contact: COVID-19 has brought a new meaning to "dangerous dancing". It's no longer Read more

How to Avoid Going Dizzy in Spins: 3 Tips for Latin Dancers
Smiling woman spins when dancing salsa

You're spinning, once, twice, and—oh dear, the room is spinning faster than you are. Your partner's face is blurred, you Read more

5 Things to Bear in Mind When Teaching Online Dance Classes
Headphones and phone with zoom app

Whether you've been teaching for a month or a decade, online dance classes require different skills, mindsets, and equipment. As Read more

Will Online Latin Dance Classes Mean Female Teachers Finally Get Equal Recognition?

Not everyone is losing out in the COVID-19 dance world. On the face of it, the global pandemic has devastated Read more

Tanya is a social dancer who adores role-swapping. A non-stop traveller, she loves how dancing allows her to meet people no matter where she goes.