How to practice with a partner without falling out

Even though classes and dances have all been cancelled for social distancing some of you may be lucky enough to have a dance partner at home to practice with. If you do there is a wealth of material available for you out there. However we know that lots of couples struggle to work on their dancing outside of class because it ends badly. So we thought this would be a good time to give you our best tips for practicing with your significant other without falling out!

We think we are uniquely qualified for this because we dance and teach together and we’ve been married for 7 years. TLDR when we first started dating we had a lot of arguments about dancing. We’d been working together before that just fine but as soon as we started dating it became a real struggle. Eventually we developed our own process for avoiding arguments and we think it’s really effective. We’re both very stubborn so if this works for us it will definitely work for you too.

Why is working with someone you care about so hard?

Working on your dancing with someone that you’re very close to can be more difficult than working with someone that you hardly know. This is one of the many reasons why we rotate partners in classes.

A few possible reasons: Maybe we feel like we can be more direct with our partner whereas with someone else we might make an effort to be polite or try not to hurt their feelings. Your partner is someone you rely on to validate and support you when you are feeling vulnerable so getting negative feedback from that person can actually hurt more or make you angry or defensive. 

Our Four Step Process

To set the scene, let’s say you’ve decided to work on videos from workshops you’ve attended or a specific skill like fast dancing. You start practicing and sooner or later you hit a snag, something isn’t working. Here’s what needs to happen next:

1. Take Responsibility

Appreciate that problems are rarely just one person’s fault. This is true no matter what–no matter which role you’re dancing, even if one of you is much more experienced than the other. In a partner dance everything is connected so even if you’re certain that you know what your partner is ‘doing wrong’, they may be doing it in response to something that you’re doing–so who’s fault is it then? It’s not important! 

You must assume that both of you are partially responsible for creating the problem and that both of you can help fix the problem. If it helps it might be a good time to clarify your goals. If your goal is to dance well together, then, again, it’s not about who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ even if you could accurately assess that. It’s about both of you doing what you can to try to make the dance work.

2. Don’t Blame Your Partner

If you have fully embraced step 1, then step 2 should be a no brainier. But sometimes we need to stop to make sure that our language reflects the idea that no one is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. For example you might catch yourself saying something like: “You’re doing that thing with your arm again” or “No, you’re supposed to go this way”. Both of these statements are examples of partner blaming. As soon as you catch yourself saying something like this STOP. Remember that whatever you are noticing is partially your fault. Focus on stating the problem in a neutral way “hmm that didn’t feel quite right” or “I think we can do that better”. If this sounds like beating around the bush you may need to review step one.

3. Focus on Yourself

Once you’ve acknowledged that something isn’t working right (in a lovely non-blamey way) you can get to work on making it better. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ your partner you are first going to focus on yourself. Think of something that you yourself could try to do differently to fix the problem and then try it. Mention the things that you are trying to your partner. It’s important to talk about it so that your partner can appreciate that you are trying to make changes to your own dancing before suggesting that they change what they are doing. They can also make changes to what they’re doing and talk about what they’re trying.

If you have both had the chance to try fixing the problem by identifying ways to change your own dancing, at that point you may proceed to suggesting changes to your partner. However, you must always start by focusing on yourself first. You cannot skip that step.

4. Try All Suggestions

This becomes most important if you get to a point where you are suggesting changes to your partner. It is very important that both of you try everything that is suggested. If you are happy to suggest changes to your partner and expect that they will try those ideas then you must also be willing to modify your dancing in the ways that they suggest.

And that’s it :) The most difficult part is remembering these rules and sticking to the process. Practice until you get it right and you should be able to avoid most arguments. If this makes a difference to how you practice at home let us know. We’d love to hear from you!

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