Learning to dance is like learning to drive a car. It is so much easier to do when there are fewer people dancing/driving in your vicinity. I decided this, driving home in rush hour traffic last night, after a fairly lengthy conversation with someone about the challenge of learning to drive a manual car first. We weren’t saying it was impossible, just that it was one more layer of skill to learn and mesh. And yes, I did eventually master it, and I can drive a manual car.
There are so many things to think about when just learning to drive. Reading the car, and understanding how it will respond to inputs. Gas and brake pedals, clutch (if applicable), steering wheel. How does it feel when it accelerates; when it brakes? What are the special quirks of your car.
And then there are the rules of the road, which you can study in a book or a class until your face is blue, but there is no substitute for getting behind the wheel and trying to apply them. They can be hard to keep them all in mind, and in order.
And once you’ve got both of those levels straight, throw in the special situation of rush hour traffic. What’s a newbie to do when they are still trying to intuit how fast the car stops when you slam the breaks?
With dancing, the first level is the steps and the partnering. (I’m curious whether anyone disagrees that these are the two fundamental skills to social dancing.) When learning a dance, you learn the timing, the rhythm, the steps. And hopefully, you learn to partner someone while doing it. The feel of a variation, the individuality of each partner, the sense of the music, the life of the dance.
The next step is to learn the rules and etiquette of the dance venue. There are some that as far as I can tell don’t tend to vary. Things like “the fast lane is on the outside”. On the other hand, as I have traveled between the bay area dance scene and a few events in Utah (maybe Utah is particularly different?), I have found myself asking things like: Do they use dance cards? Are follows allowed to ask leads to dance? Are ladies allowed to dance with other ladies? Do people switch partners? This isn’t an exact analogy with the rules of the road for driving, since you can get ticketed for not following those, and many of them are more than just social constructs, but I say close enough.
And of course, floor-craft is so important to enjoying a dance on a crowded floor. It will make it more enjoyable for you and your partner, and everyone around you. But learning to apply the subtlties of floorcraft is a lot to think about when you are still working on not stepping on your partner.
And so, learning to dance is much like learning to drive. There are crucial, fundamental skills that can really only be learned by practice, but until the more advanced skills are mastered, a crowded dance floor or road offers a particular challenge. Not to say that they ever become easy, just that these situations are so much more manageable once the basics are like breathing.