“Well, I’m sorry you had to experience that,” she says as the song ends and we prepare to part ways. We’ve just had a fun foxtrot, a little rough around the footwork edges, but overall quite enjoyable.
“No, no, no, that was great!” I respond. She shakes her head at the floor and turns away; I still have her hand, so instead of letting go, I gently hold it in both of mine and turn her around. “Hey, seriously, you never need to apologize for dancing! Heck, I had a great time and it was fun!” We smile, she thanks me, and we’re on our way to finding new partners for the rumba that has just begun.
This is hardly the first or last time I’ll experience something like this, so I want to take this month’s article to talk about the ubiquitous “sorry.”
Mostly, I think these “sorry!” responses come from a place where dancers think that anybody above their level must be dancing some semblance of perfection. The immediate assumption then, is that the less proficient partner is in some way to blame for any mistakes that occur. Everyone makes mistakes while dancing. Often, that’s what makes it fun! I like to experiment with my dances, trying something I saw earlier to see if I can stumble onto the footwork (often literally) or play with different handholds. I mess up a lot.
Along a similar vein, it’s easy to get intimidated by good dancers on the floor. You see them lead some crazy amalgamation or use some fancy footwork. Then suddenly you think that there’s no way they could possibly have fun dancing with you because they could be having a dance that’s so much better with someone else. While that might make sense intuitively, it’s really not true. Dances are almost always the most fun for me (and yes, this is a data point of one) when my partner is engaged with me and the music, we’re talking and having a good time, and we’re able to get through the dance in one piece. It’s not about fancy tricks or high level technique; save that for the comp floor.
Everyone starts somewhere in dance, and it’s usually at the very bottom, with nothing more than a group lesson or two in their back pocket. I vividly remember being new to dance and how appallingly bad I sometimes felt on the floor. Everyone around me was dancing steps I’d never learned, and half of the time I messed up the few that I did know. I should just get off the floor and make it more enjoyable for everyone, right? Wrong. More proficient dancers have all been through that stage, and we know that the only way to get to the other side is to just keep on dancing, especially with those who you think are well beyond your skill level. Dancing with them will teach you about dance. Upper-level dancers had countless people help them when they were new to dance; now it’s their turn to pay the favor forward!
Of course, there are some cases where it is entirely appropriate to say you’re sorry, mostly when you cause physical pain of some sort. Stepped on their toes? Sorry. Hit that other couple at full ramming speed in quickstep? Probably a good idea to apologize. For many of the situations listed above, however, there’s probably something better.
So what’s a person to do? I always like the “Hey, I didn’t quite get that, could we try it again?” approach if something specific goes awry, and the ever-loved “Thank you so much for dancing with me” for basically everything else. Because, at the end of the day, we’re all very privileged to have a community of interesting, talented people willing to let us into their personal space for the purpose of creating something together. Given that, “Thank you” seems much more appropriate than “sorry.”