• Jonathan Wolfgram

How to Find a Dance Partner, Pt. 1

So you’re looking for a dance partner.


First off, congratulations! Looking for a partner is a time of excitement where you get to explore new opportunities — you dance with different people, train with new coaches, and eventually meet the person you could be dancing with for the next several years. With that in mind, it can also be long and arduous, and frankly, you have no idea how long it will take you to find a partner. Some people find an incredible new dance partner within a week of beginning their search while others fly around the globe for years at a time looking for the perfect match.


How the search goes depends on countless variables, only some of which are in your control — where are you located, what are you looking for, what is your availability, etc. And while much of the partner hunt is a luck-based game outside of your influence, there are plenty of elements you have direct control over and can optimize to give yourself the best shot at finding a good partner.


This piece is entirely about that: the preliminary hunt. How do you rig the dice to get the greatest number of tryouts you can. In another piece (Pt. 2), I’ll write about the tryout process and how to know which partner is right for you, but today we’re just talking about getting contacts and finding tryouts.


But before any of that, let me first clear up a point of terminology. When you have a “tryout,” I want you to think about it in the literal sense of the word. You and another person are meeting up to dance together and “try it out” — you’re experimenting to see if there’s something worth pursuing between the two of you, almost like a first date. The key here is that all tryouts are mutual. They are not auditioning to be your partner and you are not auditioning to be their partner. Putting either one of you in that position of power before the tryout begins sets a dangerous precedent and can start a partnership on rocky ground.


Before setting up any tryouts, however, you need to know what you are looking for and what you’re willing to give. A few questions to consider before you start networking:


· How much flexibility do you have in your schedule?


· How much money are you able to spend, both in looking for a partner and after you have one?


· Are you willing to move?


· Are there any coaches you are tied to?


· What are your minimums? How many lessons, competitions, and practice hours do you need to have?


· What styles do you dance and what levels do you dance them at?


· What are you looking for in a partner?


· And finally, which of these answers are concrete and which will you fold on for “the right partner?”


I encourage you to write them down, since as the tryout process goes on longer and longer, you may get more frustrated and loosen up on a few. Having confident answers to these is important — yes, it’ll affect your tryouts and partnering decisions, but moreso than that, they’re the kind of questions coaches, mentors, and contacts will ask you when they start to aid in your search.


Word of Mouth


This leads us to the first key in finding a partner: you need to tell everyone.


That means friends, coaches, and that one dude you did a TBA with at a competition two years ago. Frankly, tell anybody in the dance world who will listen! You cannot be shy about your partner hunt. Most people are, but if only your inner circle knows you’re looking, you are limiting the pool of potential partners to a fraction of what it could be.


Expanding your circle to more connections and the connections of those connections will open a wealth of opportunities, many of which would not have surfaced otherwise. This not only exposes you to a wider crowd of leads and follows searching for people like you, but it puts you in touch with potential partners who are “invisible,” meaning they’re either not looking for a partner or not public about it. The reality is most of the leads or follows you try out with will not be actively looking — a lot of them have been without a partner for a year or more and are on the fence about coming back.


But if they’re not actively looking, how do you find them? Well, you don’t. But you can find their coaches, their rivals, or even their friends — the ones that see the sentimental dance videos and hear about how much they miss ballroom. Some of the people you dance with will be looking for a partner, but others will be effectively “coming out of retirement” to do your tryout. Based on both my experience and talking to my mentors, the latter is often more common than the former.


But don’t just let people hear about your partner hunt — let them see it! Hang around local dance studios to do some solo practice, especially the ones you don’t regularly train at. Pay a floor fee during a busier time of day where you’re more likely to be seen. If you come back several times, people will talk. If there are any available students at the studio, they’ll hear about you


Stacking the deck in your favor is all about visibility. Some of that visibility will come from word of mouth, but there are plenty of other ways to get your name out in the dance world…


Social Media


Post on Instagram, Facebook, every social media platform you can. Create a personal ad detailing your location and dance experience, ask people to contact you directly, and share it publicly. That way, the people who get in touch with you will already know your basic information and still be interested in a tryout.


You can even pay to have this ad promoted. Throw a few dollars into a Facebook or Instagram promotion and set your target audience — it’s wise to target people interested in ballroom dancing, in your area, and in the appropriate age range. It can expand your pool to people completely disconnected from your network and give you better odds still.


But while public Facebook posts will absolutely help, posting in private Facebook groups dedicated to partner searches is often far more effective. Many of these groups number in the tens of thousands of members and are made largely of — surprise, surprise — other people looking for partners! Getting traffic and visibility on these pages can be a task in itself due to a high volume of posts, but people that get dozens of DMs from groups like this have a few things in common: they post high-quality videos of their dancing, and list their accomplishments in a clean, orderly fashion. If you can do one or both of these, you’re likely to get a lot more use out of private groups.


The last meaningful place to leave an online presence are the websites centered entirely around finding ballroom dance partners. Many of them are local (NYC has a ton) but not oft-frequented — considerably more people make their connections through Facebook or coaches. That said, it only takes 20 minutes to make a profile and let it sit, so it can only serve you.


Realistically, very few of the pieces you can do yourself will work, but it’s all a matter of having as many lines in the water as you can.


But at the end of the day, you can’t just pull up Tinder and say in your bio that you’re on here looking for a dance partner (believe me, I’ve tried). The vast majority of tryouts you have will not be found by your own direct efforts. They will come from your greatest resource in the partner hunt: coaches.


Coaches


Finding potential partners is a game of networking, and most of the heavy lifting in terms of finding dancers and setting up tryouts will be done by coaches, teachers, and anyone with who you take lessons. Your coaches are at the sweet spot they are still accessible but highly connected to the dance community. If there are locals looking for a dance partner, your coaches will know them, or at least, know who to talk to to find them.


Most will help you off a combination of the goodness in their heart and a desire to develop the local dance community, but there is an added incentive: if they find you someone, it often means they get another talented new couple to coach. They may find you a distant connection or may set you up with a student of their own, but either way, they’re encouraging more dancing in the local scene.


If you have a good relationship with your coaches, the overwhelming majority of your tryouts will be connected to you via one of them. Then, like with social media, we want to have as many lines in the water as possible.


Take with lots of different coaches and treat your lessons with newer ones as tryouts in themselves. You want to make a good impression so they’ll connect you to their better students.


An upside of tryouts set up by coaches is the skill level, height, and compatibility have already been considered by them. If you’re looking for a Standard partner, for example, it’s highly unlikely a coach will try to pair you with someone a foot taller than you and three levels lower in skill. There is already a degree of viability to the tryout that you won’t get every time with strangers on the internet.


But so much of your partner hunt will be based on luck. Who your coaches know, who sees your social media posts, and who bumps into you at the studio are all out of your control — it’s all about giving yourself the best odds you can to open lots of opportunities for luck to strike. If all goes well, you’ll have an abundance of tryouts.


What to do when you get those tryouts, however, is a topic for another month in Pt. 2.


(Written for Sheer Dance Magazine April 2021)



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