This is part of an essay that Timmie Wong wrote for social dance 1 at Stanford. The references to “you” are directed at Richard Powers, since he is normally the sole reader of our quarterly dance essays. Timmie has graciously shared this and a number of other pieces of his with me, and I would like to share some of his insights with you. The only change I made to this essay was to select a portion of a larger piece to feature.
From Timmie: I’d like to note that the whole “stride uneven” thing is actually something that I (and other dancers probably) embrace now, as it makes a lot of sense once you get into viewing waltz as a “he orbits around, then she orbits around” type of dance, and helps you travel less.
The Three Types of Dance Partners
First off, some background: though this is my first dance class at Stanford, this isn’t the first time I’ve done social dance. We actually had dance as part of our curriculum in the middle school that I attended—swing for eighth grade, and *grin*…square dancing for seventh grade. So when we first started off with swing, it was a nice way to really ease into the class, since I had already had previous experience (at times I even got bored!). I’m an engineer, but I’ve done a tiny bit of popping, gliding, and liquid in the past, as well as a fair bit of freehand glowsticking, so I’m not at all uncomfortable with moving my body around.
I suppose I should say something about the partner dynamic I experienced in this class. I think I can divide my experiences into three very rough categories. First, there are those people whom you dance with and it just works—everything fits, the movements complement each other, and…well, you both have fun too! And, since things feel so comfortable, it’s easy to experiment with new things that may or may not work out in the end.
But while that’s all fine and dandy, there are also those times when things don’t work out quite as well. I found quite a few partners who basically got the gist of things, but had a little trouble on the details here and there (understandable, given that most of us are new to this). Especially with swing (given my previous experience), I tried to analyze what wasn’t working and give my partner something to focus on in order to improve. Even very small pointers (“really make sure you travel forward on count 5”) were often helpful. On occasion I even counted out the beats so that my partner could follow it better.
But there’s a third category of partner I had where I found myself having to analyze what I could work on myself. If someone misinterpreted a figure I intended to lead, for example, I had to figure out what I could do to make it a little more obvious (“maybe if I change the position of my right hand a little on beat 4, she’ll know what to expect”). I think one of my most helpful partners was someone who was stumbling a little to waltz with me, and said something about me taking really long steps! Until that point I had felt somewhat frantic doing waltz because there was always this sense of having to catch up to my partner—I always had to elongate my steps on the first three counts in order to get all the way around and past them. But after hearing this comment, I tried shortening my stride a bit and…for some reason, it worked! I think the key was that I was making my stride a little too uneven—taking huge steps on the first three counts and then not traveling enough on the second three counts. So evening it up made things much smoother (and I imagine much easier on my partners!).
But all in all, it was interesting to have these three different kinds of partnering experiences—with all of them being necessary in some way for improving as a dancer!
The last thing I want to hit on is a bit more philosophical. I know that in your talks with us you’ve mentioned the importance of being more tolerant and accepting of situations that might not be exactly what one might want at the time—not only in social dance but in life as well. I think this is great advice, and something that people should do more often. But I’d also like to share that it is also possible to overdo this mantra and become too accommodating, to the point where one’s own needs are not met out of a fear of being too “selfish”. I myself constantly struggle with this issue—I find that it is very difficult for me to voice my own wants, even if others may be happy to oblige—and it has gotten me into some manner of emotional turmoil in the not-too-distant past.
Of course, my situation is necessarily different from everyone else’s, and I don’t mean to be a downer by shooting down your advice (quite the contrary). But, I felt that I should voice my own personal viewpoint on this issue.
–Timothy “Timm[ie]” Wong