Oh, the Dances You Will Have!

Being a bunch of analogies about the kinds of dances you may experience, none of which are called “the conversation.” **

As always, I will add to this list as I think of new ones or as they are suggested.

“Good floor, good music, good partner, good dancing.”
–Willie Desatoff, original-era Southern California swing dancer, or Robert White, depending (see footnotes)***

The Fun Ones!

Those that can be fulfilling to both partners.

The Writing Team
A leader begins telling a story; the follower adds characters, drama, description, detail, (often going back and forth with the leader), and can even alter the plot, assuming the leader is listening to her. This is, I believe, a combination of two things: (1) The leader leading in ways that make the follower feel comfortable adding styling/variation and (2) the leader paying attention to what the follower is doing and allowing that to influence what he leads.

The Roller Coaster
When a leader leads a bunch of crazy moves on a follower, demanding so much attention on the lead/follow aspect of the dance that there’s not much room for followers to variate. Though this can be stifling to a follower’s artistic expression, it can also be fun, because it’s more or less an amusement ride. You know, as long as it’s comfortable.

The Spotlight
On the other side, these are the dances where the leader gets an electric follower setting everything around them on fire. A smart leader just takes a back seat, becomes the dancing equivalent of a hype-man, and lets the magic happen. A few will understand exactly what I mean when I say “Nina Gilkenson Blue Dress Dance.”

The Pleasure Cruise
A old-timer’s social dance: a bunch of basic movements, maybe a fancy thing once or twice, but maybe not. A dance about just enjoying the music, the partner, and the way you feel together. Sailing lightly and politely.

The Nirvana
The dance that happens at 2:37 a.m. at a Saturday Late Night when all the stars align and you are the greatest leader and follower who ever existed ever.

The Happy Exhibitionists
The all-skate song or spotlight in a competition that goes incredibly well, and you realize that there is a part of you that can dance well in front of people. If you haven’t had one yet, don’t worry. I promise it’s possible for you.

The Do-I-Have-to-Cut-a-Bitch?
In honor of Jerry Almonte. The dance where, even though something or someone is attacking you, you rise above it and throw down on that dance floor. (The “bitch” in this equation can be many things, such as low self-esteem, or your dance nemesis, Steve.)

The Surprise
When you have a dance with someone and you were almost positive it was going to be a weird/bad experience going into it, but it turned out to be fun as hell.

The Enabler
The dance that happens when you dance with someone with the opposite dance personality that you have, and they bring out a new side of you. For instance, an “introverted” dancer dancing with someone very expressive might suddenly find themselves flinging their arms around, shouting at the top of their lungs, and might possibly end the night hanging from the chandeliers, naked, singing sea shanties. That’s an extreme example, though.

Taking the Exam
A dance with a much more advanced dancer than yourself that shows you what you are capable of.

Giving the Exam
A dance with a much less advanced dancer than yourself that shows you what you are capable of.

The “F___ It” Dance
Where you throw away everything but your gut reactions, (and, hopefully, attention to your partner’s comfort. That’s key.)

[By the way, several of the old-timer followers, like Norma Miller and Jean Veloz, reportedly had really bad sailor mouths. We bet Irine Thomas did, too. We could see that.]

The Down-The-Rabbit-Hole Dance
Dancing with the person doing the “f___ it” dance.

The Paginini
Paginini was a violinist who was so good he wrote pieces of music whose main goal was simply to show off what a badass he was with a violin. A Paginini dance is a dance where you simply show off/enjoy all the hard stuff you can perfectly lead/follow/style. Indulgent? Yes. But it can also be fun/fulfilling for both people involved, which is our only criterion on this list. (Bonus points for doing this to Benny Goodman’s “Caprice XXIV,” a swung version of a Paganini piece.) Am I a nerd? Yes.

The Baton
When a person who can lead and follow finds another, and passes off the roles back and forth throughout the dance.

The Massage
A dance with someone who is so comfortable and relaxed that it makes you realize how much you’ve been overworking lately.

The Renewal of Vows
The dance you have with your regular partner that just reminds you how much you love dancing with them.

The Flashback
When you dance with someone you used to dance with in your old home town years go and suddenly you start dancing the same way. And it feels a little bit like going home.

The Time Machine
When you dance with an old-timer, and realize how different it is than the way you dance, and perhaps certain things make even more sense than they did before.

The Mating Dance
The incredible dance you have with someone who can be the most mediocre leader/follower in the world, you don’t care, because you find that person extremely attractive and just enjoy being in their arms for three minutes.

The Dixieland Jam Session
Imagine a dixieland jazz band’s final climatic chorus—clarinets, trumpets, trombones all soloing, creating what should be white noise, but because it all soars around the same melody, ends up making sense. There is a similar effect when two or more people solo Charleston around each other and use each other to inspire one another.

Your Jam Dance
The dance you have to your favorite song that goes perfectly well. Triple points if it’s in a contest, with all that added pressure.

The Not-So-Fun Ones!

Those that can *easily* not be fun or fulfilling for one or both partners.

The Lecture
Remember the “conversation” we all hope to have in a dance? What if one person was the only one doing the talking, or allowed to do the talking? And what if they brought hand outs?

The Peacock
This is a specific form of the previous dance where the leader/follower shows off—the other partner is expected to hold them up, support them, and fix things, all to make the other dancer seem incredibly gifted, and make themselves look like ass. Worse: bored ass.

The Ironic Dance
Ever dance with someone who seems to be trying really hard not to care about the dance that’s happening?

The Ooompah Dance
This dance is a modern phenomenon (“mah na mah na”?) that happens when you’re dancing to a smoothed out late 1930s swing song, and your partner can’t get a Charleston pulse out of their dancing.

The Escaped Gorilla
You’re dancing with someone who seems to lead by yanking things with their furry bicep.

The Traffic Accident
A dance to a fast song where the leader and follower have different ideas of how to dance to uptempo music, or perhaps no idea how to dance to uptempo music.

The Wrong Time Machine
When you dance with an old-timer man and he says something to you like “Thanks for the dance. You can follow pretty well for a big girl.”

The Broken Dance
The dance (or night of dancing) (or year of dancing?) you have, where, despite years of doing them, you suddenly can’t do a swing out anymore. Or lead/follow. Or dance. Period. You’re just broken.

The Skunk Dance
The dance with the person who wears perfume, lotion, Axe body spray, or any other fragrant substance in bulk that rubs off on you and makes your next partner look strangely at you throughout the dance. Or, worse, the person who doesn’t wear deodorant, and the scent that rubs off on you is not manufactured at Chanel. It’s straight up B.O.

The Giraffe and the Penguin
Pulling off severe height differences effortlessly is (sadly) most often an advanced dancers skill, especially in Pure Balboa. It can lead to some uncomfortable dances if both partners aren’t doing their parts to make it work (and, ironically, not trying too hard to change their fundamental dancing is one of the best ways to make it work).

The Existential Dilemma Dance
The dance that happens when a leader gives a follower so much open room and time, with no direction, (and possibly even occasionally points to the follower with a look that says “Do something! It’s your time to shine!”) that the pressure makes it annoying, rather than inspiring, for the follower to add anything.

(Obviously, not all followers are this way, but many of them find a lot of space/time without direction to be not as helpful as space/time with some direction. After all, a leader doesn’t have this problem often–the moves a leader leads gives direction on what footwork can be added styling-wise. This is why leaders don’t necessarily understand the existential dilemma followers have when a leader just stands there, pulses and looks at them, waiting for them to do something amazing.)

The Possible Felony
The dance that happens with the sketchy person in the Blues room who takes advantage of the sensual nature of the dance. You can try to shower afterwards, but you may never feel clean again. The great blues dancer is one who respects both the sensual nature of the dance and one’s partner in that dance. Great blues dances only happen if both partners are comfortable expressing themselves.

The Phone-In
The dance with someone (often teachers or advanced dancers in the scene) who, for various reasons, only give about 50% effort. Sometimes it’s straight up condescension, other times, it’s legit, like it’s the fiftieth dance the teacher has had in a row, and they know you probably won’t have a chance to dance with them if they don’t at that moment, and they feel that maybe you’ll at least enjoy the feeling of their leading/following, even if they have the vague look on their face of herring. Still though, it’s not necessarily satisfying.

The Black Ice Dance
The dance you have when you suddenly hit an invisible patch of dance wax or otherwise slicky part of the floor, and thus spend more time looking out for yourself and partner rather than actually expressing yourselves to the music. This is just a more specific example of any dance where the floor conditions keep you from getting the most out of a dance. Which brings us to:

The Gauntlet
Trying to dance in a space full of kicks, rapid-fire swing-outs in your direction, and overall people “feeling it”, saying they’re sorry over their shoulder, and then kicking you again.

The Jacked Jill
(Or, to be fair, the Jacked Jack.) The dance with a Jack and Jill partner who is trying way too hard to win this contest.

The Albatross
The dance with the partner who just isn’t leading/following—like, at all. And so you do twice as much work to make it all happen.

The Ex Dance
The awkward dance with a recent ex done mostly to assure each other that you’re civil with one another and that there are no hard feelings, at least on the dance floor. Also sometimes to assure that guilty feet do have rhythm. (I know, right?)

The Greased-Watermelon Dance
Sweat is a natural part of swing dancing, more so for some than for others. So, the existence of sweat should not make or break a dance (Though, this one time, I think it was Nina, got a drop of some guy’s sweat right in her open mouth. True story.) However, the clothing choices one makes when one does sweat a lot is what’s important. Women should not wear open-backed shirts if they sweat a lot, and everyone who sweats should monitor their shirts and change into dry ones, and bring a hand towel to a dance.

The Root Canal Dance
The dance you have where you’ve just accepted a dance and then it turns out the song is one that gives you the same feeling of enjoyment as a root canal.

The Paddy Wagon
The dance where you haul around a drunkard for three minutes. (Or get hauled by).

What have I missed?
Let me know in the comments section below. Also, I’ll admit some of these analogies are just goofy—I’m open to better ones (and, some of the above aren’t even analogies.)

** — Only because a “conversation,” though one way of describing what happens sometimes when a leader and follower play off of each other, has perhaps become too much of a go-to word to describe dynamics that are slightly more complicated.

It’s still perfectly applicable in certain situations, and I’ll still probably use it in class, I just wanted to challenge myself.

***–A clarification: (Just to be precise.) So, the quote as we have it on video is “Good floor, good music, good dancing. Bad floor, bad music, bad dancing.” However, this was a common quote from him, and for Bal Jam one year I interviewed him and Lila and seem to recall “partner” was part of the picture. In hindsight, I may be remembering wrong. However, now it’s a philosophical dilemma–because I believe the addition of “good partner” is an even greater truth than the original. So maybe I should just add my name to the quote and take credit for an incredible dance quote, Duchamp style?

If so, then the epigram should go like this:

“Good floor, good music, good dancing.”–Willie Desatoff.

“Willie forgot one key ingredient. It should go ‘Good floor, good music, good partner, good dancing.’ There, that’s it.”
–Robert White

65 responses to “Oh, the Dances You Will Have!”

  1. I’d like to propose “The Felonious Punk” as an alternate title for “The Possible Felony.”

    Also, one should not forget “The ABG Dance,” where a lead accidentally touches a follow’s chest, both dancers turn red, the leader apologizes, and you somehow finish the dance, pretending like it didn’t happen. Awkward…

    • I totally got sugar pushed via ABG once. Neither one of us were paying attention for a brief moment and then there was a long awkward pause as we tried to process in our brains what just happened.

      • Not paying attention in a sugar push is risky; one time, I was dancing with a fairly new follow, and she didn’t give much counter pressure when I went to stop her, and I wasn’t paying enough attention to what was happening, so the sugar push got a little too close, to the point that we almost ended up accidentally kissing. Thankfully we were both able to just laugh it off. We called it the “Gimme Some Sugar Push.”

  2. The “Danceturbator”
    A dancer who when dancing with a partner only dances for their own pleasure. They do not listen to their partner, they do not give their partner any meaningful connection, basically ignoring the person at the end of their arm.

  3. The half-time walkoff – When the lead decides that the follow isn’t good enough and just walks off mid dance!!
    I heard a case of this quite recently.

      • Absolutely.
        I also remember a tale of a follow walking off after warning a lead for the 2nd time not to do a certain move. He did it again and off she went.
        No, it wasn’t me!!! 8-)

        • I did that once. I was dancing with this really drunk woman, and she wanted me to do some specific move which seems to involve her twisting my hand in an uncomfortable way, which is especially bad because of my carpal tunnel issues. I said don’t do that again. 15 seconds later, she did it again and I walked off the floor. She is the one person who I will absolutely refuse to dance with ever again (she doesn’t come out often, but when she does she always seems to be drunk).

      • @chris, was she favoring an injury? because I don’t see any reason for a dancer with a shoulder injury, or, say, a broken finger to finish out a dance with some who is repeatedly hurting them despite an explicit request for consideration. Lead OR follow.

        • Yes, I agree! Good for that follower—and I would argue, whether she was injured or not. We as “modern nice people” I think, worry about how it would look to walk off the dance floor if something about the dance is not-at-all-pleasing.

          But I don’t think that should be the case–you’re out to have a good time, not get injured or molested. Leads and Followers should know that stopping the dance is ALWAYS an option.

      • No she wasn’t injured. I’d have to check with her, but I think it was just a very unpleasant move. She gave him the yellow card and then followed it with the red!! What I personally would like to know is whether he got the hint and dropped it from his repertoire.

    • Yep, I had that happen to me with an old timer who first tried to teach me moves I didn’t know, when I couldn’t get it said “I am trying to lead you!” then walked off in disgust. I am a new dancer, but not that bad.

  4. I’m kindof in love with this post.

    You can also classify The Exam under the Not-So-Fun ones – that dance with the much more advanced dancer in which they showed you exactly how much you DON’T know.

  5. This is genius and so well written. It was a pleasure to read – thank you, Bobby. (Also, @Gabrielle, Danceturbator is a great addition!)

  6. Love it, Boobs.

    I’d add:

    The Ego Boost – A dance with a less advanced dancer who is obviously having a totally awesome time dancing with you, and you with them.

  7. loved this post! – and experienced some examples just last night (one great rollercoaster!) I might add to the Not So Fun category, The Coach – the dancer who, unasked, teaches you things on the social dancefloor – no fun regardless of your level! I’d include here dancers who actually call out instructions… “duck!!” :)

  8. How about “Running On Empty” – dancing to a fast song despite not having the energy to maintain the dance?

  9. Bravo! You’ve just assured your posterity in dance classes the world over. Also, I admire the size of your balls for publishing another analogy post after the trickiness that the last one offered you. What a comeback!

  10. Great stuff. I totally agree with the “Ego-boost” above – it more than makes up for the ego-bashing you get when a more experienced partner appears to be struggling to contain their boredom!

  11. How about… The revelation!

    For unknown reasons it has been known for dance partners to decide that indeed this is the moment to reveal feelings, important information to you and therefore leads/back leads moves which increase opportunity of the revelation!

    Folowed by …The esacpe artist!

    This is used when one has accidently aggreed to an undesirable revelation dance and therefore creates every opportunity to keep physical distance throughout the dance!

  12. This was a grin-worthy accompaniment to my morning coffee, though I do have to send an obligatory raspberry your way for propagating the sketchy blues-dancer stereotype ;P

    • Tell you what, I thought it was perfectly respectful, but just to be sure, I’ll add a little something to it.

      Let me know if it still propogates. I hate propogating.

        • True that. Take note, people: no matter what swing dance it is, if you feel molested by your partner, I think it’s safe to say they are doing it wrong.

      • Im guessing that you added the last 2 sentences, which dont really balance the use of “in the blues room”. ive seen way creepier things at lindy events, then at blues ones, but so far salsa events take the cake.

        also, great blues dances should be about expressing the content of the music, dancing well with your partner, and having fun; no different then any other dance. (i just hate it when people emote all over me)

  13. If you wish to expand, there are a lot of that involve extra people. Here are a few that come to mind.

    The Bumper Car Ride

    The dance where you and your partner know the next pair(s) over and friendly collisions of the “Oh look you got in the way of my butt again” sort become a goal.

    The Call on Hold

    The dance where your partner has to speak with someone who just walked by, but your partner doesn’t want to stop dancing, so the dance gets toned down and angled to allow your partner to speak for a bit and then picks up again when the conversation ends.

    The King/(Queen) of the Mountain

    The dance that has become an impromptu steal session and keeping your partner from the circling jackals, or getting him/her back if you failed, is the new game.

  14. Bwahaha…these are tremendous.

    So, I don’t know if it happened to Nina as well, but the droplet of sweat in the mouth DEFINITELY happened to me. Worst. Moment. of Dancing. Ever. I thought I was going to vomit to death.

  15. Excellent post! How about:
    The “Squirrel!!!” – Where one partner is obviously distracted by anything and everything else happening on the floor, checking out potential partners for their next dance, waving hello/goodbye, or paying attention to anything else besides the dance at hand.

  16. How about the “Unexpected Turbulence” — where you, the follower, are subjected to a nonconsensual aerial in the middle of a social dance floor, accomplished by brute force lifting, and possibly flipping, on the part of the lead.

  17. I’d like to nominate The Shoulders of Giants. When you dance with someone who is better than you and because of that (and an extra gift/love of giving they have) they make you feel like you can dance way beyond your ability.

    This has happened to me so often – and I’ve also been able to give it to other people (mainly because dancing is actually really easy and lots of people are way more awesome dancers than they give themselves credit for).

  18. The Guardian – When you happen to be dancing next to an oldtimer so you and your partner make sure to give them lots of space, and that the crazy couple kicking in every direction on your other side doesn’t get anywhere near them.

    • The Guardian could also be the safe, comfy partner you pick to dance with after the “Oh god, I just agreed to dance with a really yucky person because I felt bad saying no” dance.

      • I call that the “Cleanse the Palate” dance. The one that gets the nasty taste out of you mouth when you’ve had a bad dance.
        On the giving end of that is “The Rescue”—when you see someone dancing with the creeper, and make sure you get them for the next song.

  19. The Dance(s) You Didn’t Have

    You’ll never know how this one would have turned out because you didn’t ask the person to dance.

    • Variation – Ostracism
      You’ll never know because they said no more than once, so you stop asking. Or they pointedly avoid eye contact so you never get the chance to ask. Or either of these following a Broken Dance or other Not-So-Fun dance.

  20. Speedbumps dance:

    Where the follow really… and mean REALLY likes to turn and spin, and nothing can stop her.
    When you try an reel her in, she keeps turning and… thubathubathubathuba Speedbumps!

    Related to ABG dance… TO THE MAX!

  21. The quarter dance:

    Where when you ask someone to dance at the beginning of the dance, they say yes. You head to the dance floor and they keep stopping to talk to people, one after another, and by the time you get on the floor there is a quarter of the song left.

  22. The horse-whisperer:

    Where the partner keep counting in your ear… but is not a beginner but rather has no sense of the rhythm or timing of the song.

  23. The Cinderella dance:

    The dance with the incredible lead, during which over the course of a 3-minute song you develop a massive dance crush and are left breathless by the end. Often happens while dancing blues with someone who never would have been your type otherwise.

    • I had one of these recently…it was fantastic :) I don’t even blues dance. Ever. But I did this once, and BAM, I fell in love LOL

  24. How about “The Test”, under the “Not so enjoyable dances”? “The Test” is a version of the “Phone It In” dance with someone who you’ve taken lessons with or a teacher in the dance scene, where he/she not only does not seem to be enjoying the dance but actually seems to be judging or critiquing your dance, and you walk away feeling like you’ve received a failing grade.

  25. The “in case you can’t hear the singer” dance, where your follow (or lead, i dunno) is singing the whole dance.

    Or the “stare dance” where your partner is staring with intensity at every friggin moment.

  26. The Play-By-Play

    Where the (usually) lead gives verbal cues to the follow. Y’know, just in case, s/he can’t figure it out based on the lead itself.

    The Dance Like No One’s Watching Dance

    Where you are dancing with a good friend, it’s gotten towards the tailend of the dance, and you guys decide it’s about high time someone {guido fist-pumped} while lindy hopping.
    **Insert any silly dance move in the brackets.

  27. Let’s not forget “The Dr. Seuss”, where you and a friend forget about actual dancing and make up very silly moves that don’t exist. This is especially enjoyable when you’re having a bad night or are in a bad mood.

  28. […] with quite a few people who turned out to be remarkably drunk, (“The Paddy Wagon”, as Bobby White puts it). I’ve danced with big hairy men.  I’ve danced with perpetual critics, and follows who […]

  29. ‘Improv casting call’: when your partner is determined that together you will give the drama performance of a lifetime upon the dance floor, encompassing the many faces of theatre: comedy (surprise peekaboo moves), pantomime (I’m behind you! Or am I?…), danger (cling to me if you want to LIVE!) and tragedy (look at my face, the trumpet solo is divine! Let us weep together!) You are expected to provide appropriate facial reactions throughout. Acting is reacting, darling.

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