*Posted Friday, February 8, 2013
I had already been teaching salsa dancing for a few years, and had established what I believed to be a good system for learning. My classes were held at several different community centers and at Cañada College in Redwood City. My rules changed accordingly.
Most of the community center students were taking the class with their significant others for fun, while the community college students enrolled primarily to meet the degree requirement. As per government mandate, college students were expected to achieve certain learning outcomes. Although I recommended that switching partners was necessary, it was optional in my community center classes; it was mandatory in my college courses. I required that my college students switch partners, make eye contact, introduce themselves, shake hands, and be respectful and courteous to each other at all times.
Tom and Barbara were enrolled in one of my community center classes. Looking back, I think they enrolled as a last chance effort to revive their exhausted relationship. Tom insisted that he and Barbara not switch partners. Tom wasn’t confident leading. Why should he be? He was a beginner. Because of his insecurity and nervousness, he forced Barbara to dance with only him for the entire hour. The worst part was that they would constantly argue, complain about each other to me, and make the rest of the students feel uncomfortable with their out-loud rudeness and immaturity (and they were both in their mid-fifties!). In his frustration, Tom eventually ended up storming out of class after the third or fourth lesson, and Barbara reluctantly followed him out to their car. They didn’t come back.
Difficulties and frustration between partners may be minimized and/or prevented. I always explain the importance of switching partners on the first day of class. To lead, you need to learn to adjust to your partners’ abilities and disabilities, friendly or not-so-friendly faces, and wide variety of personality quirks. Leaders must develop confidence, which cannot possibly be accomplished by practicing with only one partner. To follow, you need to learn to adjust to the strength or weakness of the lead, which may be accompanied by a good or bad attitude, and good or bad breath, or body odor! Followers must learn to let go of the idea of leading. (I know… it was the hardest thing for me to do too!) Followers must learn to wait for the lead, not only because it is polite and correct, but because it may also help prevent injury. Learning to follow requires practicing with a variety of different partners.
For leaders and followers alike, insecurity and nervousness dissipates over time with consistent practice, and perfection develops with multiple partners. For your own good, you will be required to switch partners! Questions, comments, and criticisms won’t be focused on only one person for the entire duration of class if you adhere to the rule of switching partners. And know that if you did come to class as a couple, and you want to leave as a happy couple, it’s best to switch partners!
The Moral of the Story: Throughout our lifetime, we are constantly switching partners—at work, at home, in school, at the gym, on the dance floor, everywhere! It may be exciting for some of us, but it may be a little scary for some of us too. Change affects us in peculiar ways. We are all unique. We have all experienced death, divorce, disease, and general dissatisfaction with some aspect of our lives, and it affects all of us differently. Rather than dwell on what we do not like and cannot change, shift your focus on what is great about your partners in life. Focus on what you appreciate about your partners. Focus on what you can do to improve your partnerships. Handle your partners with care. Be considerate.