Social dancing and rejection

A person who attends a weekly dance felt the group was becoming cliquish. In particular, this person would invite someone to dance, the person would decline (which the poster had no problem with), and then the person would dance the dance with someone else. The poster felt snubbed, said this happens more often than it used to, and wanted to know how to fix it.

I answered:

I used to be part of a weekly open dance group (renaissance dance). Two factors that were challenging for us were:

  1. Some people were there to dance; others were there to socialize.

  2. Among the people who were there to dance, some were there to "up their game" and some didn't care if things went wrong so long as people seemed to be having fun.

Dance involves other people -- at least a partner, but sometimes a set. If you're an experienced dancer who's focusing on dancing well, you might be frustrated if half the people in your set don't really know the dance and aren't in the right place at the right time (so the figure doesn't work). You might also find it not very much fun to have to guide your partner through the dance. I'm not saying any of this is right or wrong; I'm just saying that it happens. We saw it too. So if the person you're asking is much more advanced than you and is taking a more focused approach, and that person knows about the imbalance between the two of you, that person might decline your invitation.

The answer isn't to enforce an "everyone dances with everybody else" rule with dance cards to keep track and stuff. The answer is to find ways to help everybody meet their needs while encouraging a more open attitude. Here are some things we did:

  • For the first hour, we taught all dances (with walk-throughs, I mean, not just calling). We encouraged beginners to come early. For the second hour we played it by ear, usually doing a mix of teaching, calling without teaching first, and no calling.

  • As implied by the previous point, we sometimes announced a dance as "for those who know". While nobody was checking skills on the way onto the dance floor, the clear understanding was that for this dance, we wanted just people who could do the dance without messing other people up. Our dances were usually 3-4 minutes long, so this was not a burden on those sitting out. Some watched and considered it educational, some watched while chatting quietly with other bystanders, and some took the opportunity to get another drink of water or take a bio break.

  • Some of our attendees were there mainly to socialize with their friends, and secondarily to dance a few dances throughout the night. This meant that side conversations could interfere with teaching or calling (or even just dancing). We booked the room across the hall for socializing, made sure there were places to sit, and made sure that it was easy to see into and hear the main room from there so people could say "hey, I want to dance that" and jump in.

  • We did a mix of partner/set dances and line dances (bransles, in our case), and a mix of easy, moderate, and difficult dances. We encouraged everybody to dance the easy dances and line dances (where the effect of errors was much reduced). By the way, putting one of those harder, more-fragile dances right after an energetic easy dance that you've encouraged everyone to do can cause people with less endurance (who might be your less-experienced dancers) to self-select out.

What we found was that most people were happy to help teach and lead those less experienced than them -- most of the time. But many people wanted a chance to dance well, to get the thrill of getting that 8-person figure right, to dance a dance with like-minded people. By using those "for those who know" dances judiciously, we were able to channel that into one or two dances a night and they seemed more open to dancing with just about anybody the rest of the time.

You might not have the power to change the format of your dances, of course. Meanwhile, you have a problem specific to you and you want to solve that. I suggest that you find one person who you respect and who seems willing to help you (a friend, the instructor, etc) and privately ask that person if you're doing something wrong. Most people are not going to volunteer that feedback, because it's awkward and uncomfortable and because not all people welcome such feedback. So take the initiative, but do it in a non-demanding way, and don't do it in the middle of the dance. (Before, after, or between practices, so you're not taking someone away from the dancing to have this conversation with you.)