Should You Give Tips & Corrections When Social Dancing?

Smiling couples dance salsa outdoors
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You can see that newer dancer struggling. You know that this one tip could help them drastically improve. Perhaps it’s even the dance equivalent of a cheat code: “Run out of moves? Break apart for shines.”

But think before you speak: when you give unsolicited tips and corrections on the dance floor, you can undermine a dancer’s confidence and spoil their evening.

Why You Should Almost Never Give Corrections

I admire your desire to give a fellow dancer some tips. You want to help them improve so that they—and their partners—can have even more fun. You’re doing it solely because you want to support and encourage them.

And sometimes, a fellow dancer will gratefully listen to those tips and implement them into their dancing. They’ll say that this advice transformed their dance experience. Who wouldn’t want to help a dancer achieve that?

The problem is that many people don’t respond that way. Sometimes, even people who think they like unsolicited feedback discover, when it happens to them, that they hate it.

Feedback can be misinterpreted. Your partner might think that you aren’t enjoying dancing with them. They could feel overwhelmed by how much they have to remember. You might be commenting on something they already know they don’t do well but are slowly working on.

Well-intention feedback can leave timid and unconfident dancers feeling crushed, or send them into a spiral of self-doubt and nerves. Even though you want to help them, you may be better off staying silent.

Besides, you might unknowingly be giving them bad or contradictory advice. Unless you’re a teacher, it can be hard to know the root cause of someone’s mistake—or if they are actually making a mistake. Don’t be like the dancer who tried to teach me bachata timing after I added a syncopation to my basic.

Beginner lead dances kizomba with smiling follow

Credit: Nicole Glass Photography / Shutterstock.com

When You Should Give Tips and Suggestions

There are few hard-and-fast rules in dance, other than being respectful and trying to dance in time. Even though giving unsolicited corrections and tips is generally not a good idea, on some occasions it’s okay. In fact, in the next three examples, it’s more than okay—it’s essential.

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1. If There’s a Safety Issue

Your lead forgot to lower your outside arm during a hammerlock? Your follow is so heavy that you’re at risk of muscle strain? The two of you keep bumping into other couples? Speak up. When bad dancing puts the health and safety of you, your partner, or other people at risk, it needs to be mentioned.

Don’t be mean, though. Be clear, friendly and encouraging.

2. If You’re Uncomfortable

If you suddenly feel uncomfortable, then say so. Perhaps someone touching your neck makes you nervous, or maybe they are holding you so tight you feel like a prisoner. Politely ask them not to do it. Remember, though, that it’s probably unintentional.  There’s no need to get angry at them unless they refuse to listen.

3. If Something Was Disrespectful

What’s considered disrespectful often varies from country to country. All the same, if you feel that your partner is being disrespectful, speak up. Perhaps they’re touching you in a way that you think is inappropriate. Maybe you’re resisting a move and they’re trying to force it. Or it could be that they keep trying to dance closer than you want. Whatever it is, assertively state your boundaries. And if they don’t adjust their behaviour, feel free to walk off the dance floor.

4. If Someone Asked You—And You Don’t Mind

Sometimes, your dance partner wants feedback. If they ask you for advice, and you don’t mind, then it’s fine to give it. On the other hand, it’s also fine to refuse and suggest they ask a teacher.

If you are happy to give feedback, treat it as a one-off occasion. Compliment them if they the move or movement well later on, but don’t take their request as an invitation to give them tips and corrections all the time.

5. If You’re 100% Sure Your Partner Would Welcome Your Help

If someone tells you they’re frustrated because a move doesn’t work, or if they try the same move five times in one dance and their face drops each time it fails, then they probably would appreciate a small pointer. Similarly, if they tell you how much they like getting feedback, and you know they’ve got a thick skin, one quick tip would probably go down well.

But play it safe: ask first. If they say yes, present it as a suggestion. Stick to small things. And don’t pursue it further unless they ask you to.

Your wish to help out fellow dancers is admirable—but sometimes the best way to help them out to stay quiet. So next time you feel yourself tempted to make a suggestion, think twice: is it really necessary?

Feature photo credit: Vasyl Rohan / Shutterstock.com

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Ella Baila is the alias of a bachata teacher. She dabbles in most Afro-Latin dances and is blues-curious.