The social dancing mistakes you might make if you’re on a performance team

I have struggled mightily with this blog and the question of whether I should talk about performance teams.

Performance teams are a highly controversial and complex topic. Many people think they are great, and many people really do not. I’m not actually sure how many people on performance teams know this, but many people who do not dance on performance teams dislike the teams, ranging on a spectrum from “yeah I’m uncertain if performing is problematic” to “I really fucking hate performance teams.” The majority of people I know who care about social dancing a lot fall somewhere on this spectrum.

Because this is so  controversial — and because I personally have pretty strong feelings on the “dislike” end of the spectrum — I have hesitated to write about performance teams on the blog. But I think I have found a way to address performance teams in a productive and loving way:

I am going to share what I believe I have discerned are the most common problematic that performers exhibit.

Of course, I do not mean to say that everyone who joins performance team develops problematic habits. Some don’t. Some do, and then outgrow them. Everybody is different. But there are common trends in the performance team world, and I figure, if you’re on a performance team and you care about the quality of your social dancing, then maybe this post could give you a helpful heads up of common bad habits (or what I think are bad habits) to watch out for.

Here they are:

1. Caring more about the way you look than the way you feel

Admittedly, this is a bit of a chicken and egg problem. Do people prioritize the way they look after they join performance teams, or do they join performance teams because they prioritize the way that they look? My guess is that it’s different for everybody and probably a bit of both.

Performance teams open up people’s worlds in terms of cool, flashy moves they can do. This is especially a problem for leaders. Flashy moves can be great if they are executed with good technique and communication, and if the music calls for it. They are not quite so great if this is the focus of a dance. Thinking about the audience more than your partner’s experience of your lead (or follow) takes away from the things that can feel  best about dancing: subtlety, softness, kindness, resonance, co-creativity.

For followers, the major problem here is LADIES STYLING. For the love of God (especially sensual bachata dancers), know this: the more time you spend dramatically throwing your arms around, the less time you spend paying attention to your partner. Of course it’s possible to integrate styling into the dance in a way that is attentive and caretaking to you both – this is something I work very hard to do. But many followers who like to perform focus more on themselves than on the people they’re dancing with.

2. Focusing on moves, not on communicating

This is similar but not the same as the point before. In the point above, the dancers are focused on moves for the sake of the audience. In this point, the dancers care about each other, but, in my opinion, by focusing on moves they’re kind of doing it wrong.

I know a handful of leaders who used to be incredibly lovely social dancers. But they were self-conscious about their dancing – as they were new to dance – so they joined performance teams. Once they did they gained some confidence. The confidence came from this great arsenal of cool tricks with which they thought they could could impress their followers.

This, in my opinion, is a mistake.

I am much more impressed by listening, by patience, by taking time with the music and each other, by connection. I am, to be clear, also impressed by cool moves and when they are executed properly I’m happy as a clam. Some leaders who focus on the “cool moves” stuff I find incredibly fun. But I also find it kind of sad that people think they need to be flashy and do moves to be impressive – whereas they could simply focus on the quality of their connection, and most partners would be overjoyed. For the record, it’s the latter category that I’ve noticed tend to get queues of people waiting to dance with them.

3. Exaggerated, overly large movements

Performing calls for big movements. On stages, this is what sells. So performance teams condition people to move in ways that are quite big.

People who perform tend to have larger frames, to do more exaggerated body isolations, to take bigger steps, and etc. Literally everything they do can get bigger. (This applies to performance teams and also performance couples. For the record, the majority of famous bachata performers are terrible at this.)

I find this, as a follower, to be pretty uncomfortable, as it knocks me off balance. This also has the effect of making me feel like I’m not being listened to or cared for, because the leader is giving me stuff to do that is outside a comfortable range of motion. If I’m dancing a bachata and in the first couple seconds of a dance my ribs or hips are isolated out to the fullest extent of their motion, or farther, I brace myself for the rest of the dance.

I also find this, as a social dancer, to be kind of obvious and boring. Performance teams, I find, often direct people’s attention away from the small, lovely things that can transpire between them. Often these things are not seen. Given the right leader I can time a subtle chest pop or even just an inhalation, and they’ll notice and it’ll be great. Or they will do the same, and I’ll notice, and it’ll be great.

Big movements are easy. Small movements require much more technique, much more responsiveness, much more listening. I much prefer being led with one finger and having to move one centimeter than being shoved over to the side. Much. This is a personal preference, but I also think it tends to be the preference of a lot of people I know who have been dancing for a while and really prize the value of communicating and connection in social dance.

4. Too forceful

Forcefulness is probably my major gripe with performance teams (and, again for the record, those famous bachata leaders).

I’m not sure why it so much enters the equation once people start performing, but they tend to — both leaders and followers — put a lot more energy into their movements. It has to do with the need to make large movements happen quickly, I think, as well as make sure their partner is doing the same.

The problem with  forcefulness is that it can be uncomfortable. It can cause injuries. It can force your partner to be on the defensive throughout the entire dance, so as to protect their hands, backs, and shoulders. It’s really not necessary. Not at all. Of course you’ll encounter some partners who need more energy from you. But not everybody will be this way.

So if you’re on a performance team, you may simply wish to check yourself. Listen closely and calibrate your energy to meet that of your partner. Or ask people if the amount of energy in your frame has changed. Try downramping your energy at a social and see what happens. See if people can still follow you. There’s quite a good chance they will. Those are just some suggestions – none of which you have to take.


So that’s it for now. These are the four most common negative changes I see people undergo when the join performance teams. This isn’t to say that positive ones can’t happen as well. My aim in the post has simply been to raise some flags for people to look out for, should they perform and want to make sure their social dancing continues to improve too.

If you want to read more about my theories of connection and how to lead and follow well, take a look at Maximizing the Purity of Your Connection.

It’s probably clear that I really am not a huge fan of performance teams. Really not. Dancing for me is beautiful first and foremost because it connects us, because we listen, because we are present with and taking care of one another. I find that these things fade when people join performance teams, and therefore I lose a lot of what I value most about the dance.

There are plenty of other people in the world who don’t have the same preferences as me, however. So if you disagree with me or don’t resonate with my approach to dance, that’s super cool! Difference is what makes the world go ’round.

Disagree with me, enlighten me, challenge me, as always. Let me know what you think <3


7 Comments, RSS

  1. Marcia March 31, 2017 @ 4:08 am

    I can add more to that list. From what I see, teams don’t know a lot about music because they practice to the same song over and over again. Another is that they tend to stick with just themselves instead of interacting with people who are just social dancers or people from different teams. I think that can be under the “not communicating” part of your article because there is no connection to the music or to others. Just the way I see it.

    • Stefani April 4, 2017 @ 8:56 pm

      Yes, i agree 🙂

  2. Ricardo Linnell March 31, 2017 @ 5:48 am

    Aplauso! Aplauso! Aplauso! This is coming from a performer of over 12 years!

  3. Jim Renn March 31, 2017 @ 7:50 am

    Very eloquently stated Stefani, my thoughts almost to the letter. I am and have always been motivated first by the music, secondly by the partnership relationship on the floor. My rule as a dancer and instructor has always been – rule number one for fellas: Take care of your lady (a very simple but deep thought process), rule number one for ladies, make us both look good. Of course that is an over-simplification, and very much a symbiotic relationship. Thanks for sharing!

  4. […] has as opposed to how it feels. I wrote about this problem for performance teams at great length in this blog post, so I won’t belabor the point too much here. I will say this: the majority of […]

  5. STEPHEN FRANKEWICZ May 20, 2017 @ 8:57 pm

    Hi Stefani, I just discovered you today from a lady friend who posted your blog about why you don’t dance Bachata any more …! Which was a good read if not a little sad (seems to me that ANY man who tries to kiss you deserves a slap on the face, IMHO)!

    I am a single white male in my mid 50’s and I got into Ballroom social dancing in February of 2008. Since that time I have been a part of several ballroom studios and at least one Latin dance studio. I have learned and performed 4 solo performances (with a partner) and I have performed on 10 different performance teams, which I really enjoyed doing! I have no interest in competing, I believe it really takes the fun and enjoyment out of dancing (as a participant) as a whole.

    My reason(s) for getting on any performance team was that it was a way to learn new dance steps (some that could be used socially and some that could not, because of the choreography) without paying the cost of $75.00 to $150.00 any hour for private dance lessons. Performing with these teams certainly increased my self confidence and abilities, techniques, etc. to become that better dancer! All of my instructors always took the time to emphasize what we could take to the dance floor in a social dance setting.

    I had no idea of the animosity or dislike (to its various degrees) that social dancers had towards performance teams that you are describing. I live in Jacksonville, FL, more of a large, small town mentality than of a large city attitude (population is over 1 million). I have performed my swing solo routine in a Latin dance studio, my Salsa, Bachata and Rueda teams performed in Ballroom studios, Latin dance studios, 3 Orlando Congress’ as well as in public for a half time filler for a talent show in downtown Jacksonville (outdoor stage, lots of non dancers and the mayor at that time)!

    After each and every performance I had always received good feedback and a general sense of community from dancers and non dancers alike. Perhaps what you have experienced is possibly geographical? Or just geographical on my part, as I have not had the opportunity to dance anywhere else outside of Florida at this time. That is not to say that I disagree with what you have experienced, in that I have seen what you are talking about in varying degrees in social dancing!

    As a musician (started playing trumpet in 5th grade, earned a Bachelors degree in Jazz performance on trumpet from the University of North Florida) and a reasonably accomplished Audio engineer for live performances, I truly do understand that it is all about the music as the time clock and all that a dancer should be closely intertwined with the song they are dancing to, which I find not enough dancers do! Also, Ballroom, and to just a little lesser degree Latin instructors as made it well known that it is the lead’s responsibility to make the follower look the best she can!

    However, the down side of performance teams and their low cost to teaching ratio is that many of the students are beginners who cannot or will not absorb (TMI perhaps) all of the wisdom, knowledge and understanding brought to bear in the teaching and performance of the choreography! In that regard, I can see how you have experienced your talking points above, just not set in stone for all members!!

    It was and still is crucial to me to have that personal communication with my dance partner on every team that I performed with and in my social dancing! Sometimes, though, I would have a team partner too inexperienced to fully understand this concept nor have a desire to improve upon it. I do believe it does come down to what the motive of the individual is for joining a team and or social dancing. Those, like you and me, who really enjoy all of the nuances of partner dancing do have to deal with those whose motives are just to hook up for a one nighter or other less honorable intentions.

    I don’t have the answer for how to weed those people out of the social dance scene, but I do think we should stop being all PC about it. Without being mean, give verbal feedback to that dance partner, with the intent of helping them! If they take offense, then don’t dance with them again! A man who tries to kiss you without your permission does deserve a slap in the face! If he does it enough times no one will dance with him. I have had the opportunity make some space between me and my partner, but I think I can count maybe three women who I told them “we are not finishing this dance nor will I dance with you again!”

    At that point I don’t care if I have offended that person nor do I care what anyone else has to say or think about it! Boundaries are there for a reason, regardless of our gender. I apologize for being so long winded so I’ll close with this story.

    Last Monday I went to a group Cha Cha class at my current studio. Although there were several women that I did not know, one of them did not like the closed position with me when I rotated in to dance the lesson. Before we started she let me put my right hand behind her on her shoulder blade, but, the moment the instructor counted the group in to dance, I felt this strong push against me with her left arm, so much so I barely had my fingertips under her arm. When I told her that I need to have my hand on her shoulder blade to exercise the proper frame, she told me I was too close! So, I dropped my right arm altogether and led with my left hand. I did this for the rest of the lesson.

    After class, I told my instructor what had happened. Apparently she did see what was going on for herself and didn’t have much feedback for me other than “I’m sorry you experienced that.” Several days later she called me to tell me that the woman in question emailed her, saying she didn’t like being told what to do by another student, wants her money back and will not be back to that studio. I told my instructor that if that woman was that bothered by this situation, she really doesn’t need to be involved with partner dancing. Some people just are not cut out for dancing but they come out to socials anyways and that is on them!

  6. DJ Vamp May 26, 2017 @ 10:25 pm

    Actually I love your thoughts because they totally match with mine. When I read this, I think I copied your brain without even being here from a leaders point of view.

    That is why I gonna link your homepage on mine 🙂 Since I am quite a bad folliwer 😀

    Some things I see a bit differently:
    a) Performance teams tend to lead to what you described. However, performance teams also take a lot of time to slowly and precisely cut a song of musical art into pieces, trying to match what is presented. That is some really important work for people to understand how to dance musically – even if it is just a choreography
    b) I dont think that many men dance sensual figure based just because they think it is totally cool.

    I think they do not know any other way because nobody teaches them. Most dance teachers – especially in Bachata Sensual – propagate this just because they never learned anything else. Nowadays, they are even only learning Bachata Sensual – a specific style of one single dance – which is not sufficient at all for a social dancer as you described.

    These are serious problems to deal with. I try my best 😀

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