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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Wolfgram

100 Pieces of Unsolicited Dance Advice

Wherever you are on your dance journey, there have probably been countless little anecdotes or pieces of advice that have changed the way you move. This list is not meant to be exhaustive or complete in any sense; just a selection of words of wisdom that I’ve found important or impactful, either to myself or others. It’s intended for leads, follows, competitors and social dancers alike. My deepest thank you goes out to any of the teachers or coaches who have ever said one of these to me. You’ve bettered me as a dancer and a person and I am eternally grateful for it.

  1. Carry a shoe brush, shoe glue, and painkillers in your dance bag; you’ll be the most popular person in the room.

  2. Practice like you’ve never won, perform like you’ve never lost.

  3. If you want a successful partnership, be willing to do 80% of the work.

  4. When you social dance, be silly. The most memorable dances are hardly ever the most exact.

  5. There is a fine line between confident and arrogant. Find it.

  6. Just because you don’t have a partner doesn’t mean you can’t improve.

  7. Oftentimes, good posture is all you need to final in bronze.

  8. Dancing should be gentle. Leads, stop pushing your partner. Follows, stop expecting to be pushed.

  9. Check where there’s wear and tear on your practice shoes. It can tell you your weight placement, how you’re driving, and if there are any imbalances between your left and right feet.

  10. Ask the best person in the room to dance. They’ve been at it long enough that if they actually don’t want to dance with you, they’ll be comfortable saying ‘no thank you.’

  11. If something went wrong, always assume it was your fault.

  12. Don’t wear velvet unless everyone knows you’re the best dancer on the floor.

  13. During a lesson, give complete and total charity to your coaches. You can evaluate whether or not the information is correct after the session.

  14. Shine your shoes. Judges notice.

  15. Workout and eat healthy. The better you feel in your body, the better you’ll dance.

  16. When you’re standing on the sidelines, angle yourself slightly towards your partner. It’ll make you look more connected and create the illusion of chemistry.

  17. You’re never too good to practice your basics. Choreography can’t hide bad technique.

  18. Get hairspray out of your hair post-comp with a solution of 1 part water and 1 part conditioner. No need for a full shower.

  19. If your partner doesn’t show up to practice, practice isn’t cancelled. It’s just solo.

  20. Video yourself often and use mirrors to your advantage.

  21. When you spin, imagine a heavy ballast just beneath the floor anchored to your center of gravity.

  22. You can’t do jive kicks in a triple swing without looking stupid.

  23. Practice while you wait for the bus. Everyone who thinks it’s weird will forget about you in 5 minutes.

  24. If they didn’t follow it, you didn’t lead it right.

  25. No matter how hard you dance, the judges might only look at you for 3 seconds. Make them worthwhile.

  26. Learn the syllabus, you’ll never stop dancing it. All open choreography is, in some form, adapted from the syllabus.

  27. There’s no such thing as unfair judging. You should be so much better than the rest of the floor that any judge would be an idiot to not mark you first.

  28. When you dance, feel like your skeleton is lifting up and your muscles are pushing down.

  29. Practice makes permanent, not perfect. Drilling it 1,000 times will only help if you’re doing it right.

  30. Vow to learn something from every lesson. Every teacher has something good to say.

  31. Show your number. It’s your fault if the judges don’t see it

  32. Follows: say “yes, and.” The dance is a conversation, not a set of orders for you to obey.

  33. You’re only allowed to break the rules after you master them.

  34. If someone corrects you, they either care about your growth and want you to be better, or they’re wildly insecure about their own movement. Either way, take it with a smile.

  35. Learn the opposite role. It’s good cross-training and a great humbler.

  36. Until the very highest levels, couples win not because of how many things they do well, but how few things they do wrong. Be clean above all else.

  37. Never be ashamed of your dancing. Everyone looked like a buffoon at some point.

  38. You can get dates at a social dance, but if that’s the reason you’re there, everyone will know and they’ll think you’re a creep.

  39. Looking sharp is not about moving faster, it’s about stopping faster.

  40. Smile. The judges are here because they want to see you have fun.

  41. If you’re better than the person you’re dancing with, never dance down to their level. Everyone deserves 100% of what you can give.

  42. Never take your frustration out on your partner; constantly remind yourself that you’re on the same team and lucky to have them.

  43. Listen to the music. Dancing is about what you do between the beats.

  44. Make eye contact with your partner, the judges, and the audience. Hold it long enough to notice the color of their eyes.

  45. Leads: wear black socks. For the love of God, wear black socks.

  46. Learn to love dancing with newbies and bad dancers, and take it as a challenge. A great artist can make something beautiful with very few supplies.

  47. Vary who you dance with as much as possible. If you gravitate to the same person for every Cha Cha, you’ll find it harder and harder to Cha Cha with anyone else.

  48. You’re dancing the moment you get off the plane. You never know where you’ll see a judge.

  49. Almost everything you need to work on can be practiced without a partner there.

  50. When you touch yourself in a dance, hyperextend your fingers and use your palms. You’re trying to look sensual, not wash your hair.

  51. Always use the restroom before you put on your dress or your tailcoat.

  52. To teach is to learn. Make yourself available to newer dancers.

  53. If you can’t do your choreography without your partner, you don’t know your choreography. If you don’t know your choreography, you’ll never be able to do it well.

  54. If you’re dancing open and don’t have choreography, replace your single turns with doubles or triples, then do a sequence of 3 bronze syllabus moves followed by a dip. Nobody will know the difference.

  55. Never feel obligated to dance with someone. It’s okay to want to sit down for this song or to have someone else in mind for it.

  56. If you’re paying them, your teachers work for you. Don’t be afraid to redirect your lesson.

  57. Follows: you are just as responsible for creating a good dance as the lead is. Take the initiative.

  58. If you’re spinning really, really fast, spotting is optional. In all other cases, spot your turns.

  59. Don’t date your partner. Either marry them or stay 100% platonic, anything in-between will explode in your face.

  60. Your body is 60% water. Move like it.

  61. Some teachers will describe things mechanically and others will tell you to feel the energy of the universe. Be able to speak both languages.

  62. No matter how awkward you are, if you can do the basic of at least one dance, you’re officially the coolest person at every wedding.

  63. Take notes, both with your partner and individually. If you don’t, you’ll forget 50% of what you learn in a lesson.

  64. Great couples have a signature, a move that everyone knows is their move. Find a signature.

  65. Whether you are leading or following, you are constantly listening to your partner. Pay attention.

  66. Try on as many dresses as you can. You’re doing research to see what colors and cuts look good on your body for when you eventually have one custom made.

  67. You will hate the way your dancing looks until you decide not to. Dancing newcomer or champ will make no difference.

  68. Dance through the floor, not on top of it.

  69. When brushing your shoes, do it with quick, short strokes instead of digging in. Brush in multiple directions to avoid gouging through the suede.

  70. Palms up presents your partner, palms down presents yourself.

  71. When you roll out, imagine you are saying “Thank you.” Not “you’re welcome.” People can tell.

  72. If the rules say “No costumes below silver” and you’re wearing a costume below silver, no one is going to stop you, but they will judge you and sneer behind your back.

  73. Are you an airplane? No? Then don’t use airplane arms when you walk out on the floor.

  74. Be like a duck: your upper body should be still and calm while your legs work like crazy.

  75. When you dance, exhale. Feel like you’re constantly letting go. Tension is the enemy.

  76. Follows: your heel turn will always exit with the same leg you started with.

  77. If you forget your choreography, don’t panic. Just breathe out and make eye contact with your partner.

  78. Rehearse your bow. There will be a competition where they introduce you in the final, and it will surprise you.

  79. At some point, you will be the best dance someone has ever had. Don't take it for granted.

  80. For every hour you spend in a lesson, you should spend 10 practicing what you learned from it.

  81. Don't dance like nobody's watching, dance like everyone's watching.

  82. Reach with your index finger and your shoulder will rise. Reach with your pinkie and it will stay down.

  83. When in doubt, you need more bobby pins.

  84. Always be kind to the invigilator. It doesn’t matter who’s right, just smile and apologize.

  85. Practice both sides. Neurologically speaking, improving your worse side will also improve your dominant one.

  86. Leads: never complain about how bad your feet hurt. You will lose that battle every time.

  87. Stalk your friends on o2cm. Congratulate them as soon as you see the results.

  88. Putting a little water or hairspray on the bottoms of your shoes will improve your traction but is technically illegal at many comps. Sweat, however, is free game.

  89. For every decent arm styling, there’s 99 goofy ones that had to be tried to get there.

  90. Buy dedicated practice wear. You'll take it more seriously if you're dressed appropriately.

  91. Learn your partner’s favorite snack and keep one handy in your dance bag. Sometimes a chocolate bar is all it takes to turn a bad day around.

  92. When you dance, keep your shoulders beneath your collarbones.

  93. Be extra careful on a Silver floor. Everyone on it has an ego, brand new choreography, and no desire to floorcraft.

  94. Cheer loudly, and perform specifically to the people who will cheer for you the most.

  95. Warm up before every lesson and every practice. It shows your coach and your partner that you care.

  96. Before you dance, focus your eyes by taking the light into your pupils.

  97. Leads: wearing both a tie-bar and a vest is redundant. Pick one or you’ll wind up looking silly.

  98. Have all of your affairs in order before you touch your partner.

  99. From time to time, watch videos without the sound on. A dancer is only musical if you can tell what dance they’re doing without hearing the song.

  100. The best competitive dancers are known for their control. The best social dancers are known for their patience.

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