What is the most difficult social dance?
May 25, 2009 8:37 PM   Subscribe

What kind of social dancing is the most difficult to learn? I'm wondering about which lead-follow partner dances are the most difficult, and what makes them so tough. I'd curious about the difficulty for both learning the basics of a dance (so that one could lead or follow socially), as well as learning a dance at a high level suitable for top-tier competition.
posted by philosophygeek to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Irish set dancing is pretty darn hard. If you do it right you are doing some pretty complicated and intricate steps while you are dancing in your square. It's pretty tough.
posted by sully75 at 9:08 PM on May 25, 2009

Balboa is structurally simple but usually danced quite fast, and requires a positive and precise lead and a very alert follow.
posted by nicwolff at 9:20 PM on May 25, 2009

I once tried to learn to follow Argentine Tango, and found it much, much harder than any of the other forms of partner dance I've done - I don't really know enough about it to say why, but maybe someone else here can explain (or tell me I just had a crappy teacher?).
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:19 PM on May 25, 2009

2nding Tango - I've picked up a number of the basic ballroom dances fairly quickly, and although I got the basic step of Tango pretty quick, it also made it plain to see that I was light years away from the technique that the pros I've seen doing it have. As far as I could understand it, it involves a massive deal of structured improvisation, for lack of a better way of putting it, and a very high level of connection with the partner to pick up on the necessary ques to keep the motion going.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:21 PM on May 25, 2009

I've learned the lead part in swing (inc some balboa) and then Argentine Tango - both for about a year so far. I'm glad I did it in that order, because the swing lead is usually quite clear in terms of "apply force here, now, and your follow does the move". Tango is often more about what your core is doing.

Tango has fewer steps to learn than swing, but is much, much harder because of the slowness and the "passione". You learn the Walk in the first lesson, but can spend a lifetime perfecting it. Swing is for the party, Tango is for the two of you alone. FWIW my swing teachers weren't interested in learning any other dance EXCEPT tango.

I'm told that I'm a good lead. There are lots of factors that go into it, but the most important, I think, is to have good connection (which takes both of you) and for the lead to be clear and considered with his steps. I think leads should move kind of inexorably, like a silverback gorilla (don't laugh!), and your follow has no option but to come along for the ride. This takes core strength and balance.

Bad leads do a bit too much shoving and lurching, and keep everything a bit of a suprise at the last minute. Bad follows don't make connection (so they NEED a bit of shoving), don't have their own balance, and second-guess what steps you're doing. That's why it's easy to learn bad habits dancing with other beginners, and why it's important to dance with a variety of people. In our tango class there are people who stay with the same partner all the time. They are always the worst dancers (unless they are super-awesome and gearing up for a competition together).
posted by cogat at 11:33 PM on May 25, 2009

I think it depends on the dancer -- for example, I'm pretty good (and a fast learner) at things ranging from Scandinavian folk dancing (for a tricky Scandi dance, try the hambo), to Irish set dancing, to tango and swing, but for the life of me I will never, apparently, be able to salsa in a way that doesn't look and feel awful.
posted by obliquicity at 6:10 AM on May 26, 2009

Oh, definitely some of the Scandi turning dances, which are tricky enough to do socially but have all these layers of style to do well. I'm thinking particularly of the one (some kind of pols?) with an unusual hand-hold (lady's inside hand in a fist, gent holds her wrist) where the couple does a dip during one of the turns.
posted by nonane at 8:46 AM on May 26, 2009

Agreeing on tango. (I also find polka hard, but that's mostly because I hate it.)
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:16 AM on May 26, 2009

Thanks for the responses so far. Can anyone comment on how the structured improvisation of tango compares to the play within west coast swing? I've heard that the latter makes WCS a really tricky dance to master, but I don't know enough about tango to compare the two.
posted by philosophygeek at 10:16 AM on May 26, 2009

Well, the play of WCS (or, say, lindy) is added on to the basics of the dance by two people who are both competent dancers; the dance's structure is reasonably simple to allow for space to add in whatever you like through a good lead-follow connection and good communication skills. It's an interaction, and eventually you can let go of a lot of the basic steps in favor of whatever interaction you're having, but you begin with predefined steps and can always go back to that if you want or need to. Argentine Tango, as far as I could tell, sort of starts with the lead-follow connection and improvisation.
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:46 PM on May 26, 2009

I've talked to ten-dance champions about this (people who do top-tier competition in ten different partnership dances), and have some lesser experience of my own, and I'd say that it comes down to what stage of proficiency you happen to at, or want to take it to. Contrast even two very similar dances - waltz and foxtrot for example. Of these two, waltz is probably the easier one for the beginner, but soon becomes the more difficult at intermediate stages, then becomes the easier again at more advanced stages, and so on. It's always changing.

The thing with these dances is that no-matter how far you take it, you're always doing a dumbed-down simplification of what it could be, and where the lions share of those over-simplifications lie depends largely on how advanced you are, and your own strengths and weaknesses, so the difficulty of the dances relative to each other is always changing.

I'd suggest that travelling dances (quickstep, ballroom samba, etc) will tend to be more difficult (for the lead) than more stationary dances (swing, rumba, etc) because there is more floorcrafting involved on a crowded floor, and it usually also needs to happen more rapidly, but this kind of observation is a fairly simple and broad brush. (On the other hand, the question lends itself to that kind of generalization).

For the follow, at a beginner level the dances with fewer points of contact may be harder (eg it's harder to go wrong in a closed frame than when the lead is through one hand only). Unlike floorcraft however, I'd suggest this is only a significant difference at early stages.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:07 PM on May 26, 2009

I'd also give samba as an example where it's fairly easy to explain why it can be difficult - there are a lot of different rhythms that you're constantly switching between, you have to transmit/receive that through a limited connection, and most of these rhythms [are supposed to] have your feet and body moving to different rhythms simultaneously. And it's fast.

Can anyone comment on how the structured improvisation of tango compares to the play within west coast swing? I've heard that the latter makes WCS a really tricky dance to master, but I don't know enough about tango to compare the two.

I'd say they're just different words for the same thing. This happens in all social dances at the modest and higher levels, or else they'd get stunningly boring as a social activity. When people are fluent in the language, they use it playfully, and as fluency grows, so does the extent to which they're able to play. If that's not happening - in any social dance - then likely either you're not fluent enough yet, or you're doing a performance rather than social activity.

You might ask "well duh, but in which dance do would you get to a playful level of fluency the soonest?", I'd guess at swing, but it probably depends on the dancers.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:09 PM on May 26, 2009

I don't suppose a breakdance battle counts as social or partner dancing.
posted by box at 7:35 PM on May 26, 2009

I feel fairly well qualified to answer this having danced at least a little of almost every partner dance mentioned above (except breakdancing and line dancing) and a lot of swing, latin, and ballroom dancing.

I think your answer depends a lot on which of the two areas you are focusing on: difficulty of achieving basic ability vs. difficulty of becoming top-tier competitive. There is a also a distinction to be drawn between being great at improvisational lead-and-followed dancing vs. competing with a pre-choreographed routine.

For begining to learn a dance - things that make a dance harder:
-fast songs make a dance much harder to learn since there is less time to decide a move, lead it, have the follow understand, and then do the move. (e.g. salsa, balboa, and quickstep are all danced to very fast music. Cha cha, east coast swing, and lindy are also danced to reasonably fast music. blues dancing, argentine tango allow much more time between each move.)

-This is made even worse the more the two of you have to move during the basic moves. Fast Lindy is very difficult for this reason since you are basically running in circles around each other.

-less connection between partners makes it harder to dance. The more points of contact between you and your partner the easier in general it is to lead a move. In general I don't think this is a major factor in making any one dance much harder than others since many dances switch in and out of closed position (a sturdy position with both of the leads hands directing the follow.)

-Existence of moves that miscommunication leads to stumbling/falling. In salsa and lindy except maybe in dips if the follow misinterprets a lead the move wont work but no one will trip over the other person. In my experience dances where you are much closer such as argentine, slow foxtrot, and other ballroom dances it is much more unpleasant every time one of you makes a mistake.

I'd say that Lindy has one of the most difficult basics of any of the dances. Argentine has an easier basic, but is more challenging to master the set of basic moves.
posted by vegetableagony at 9:21 PM on June 5, 2009

Now on to what makes a dance hard to master at the competition level.

A dance like the waltz can be done at its most simple level with very little effort, but to compete at the highest level people have broken down the motion and tried to perfect each of the tiniest aspects of the motion. You can do the same with almost any dance, so what it comes down to is where is the bar set for competing, how much dancing have the pro's done to get where they are. One dance might have a simple foundation on which you can build a lot, while another has a complex base without much more to add to it.

I think the best way to look at this is how long it would take to become competition level at each dance. I love lindy a lot, but it doesn't seem as developed at the competition level as some other social dances like salsa, argentine, or any of the ballroom dances. I've seen people get up tot he competition level after 1-2 years of dedicated effort, while at ballroom I've seen people practice 10 hours a week for 4 years and still not be at the top of even the amateur competitions let alone the pro.

I don't know the competition levels of salsa and argentine quite as closely, but both dances have extremely dedicated followings. When you look at a pro level salsa dancer many have danced since they were young kids and can do spins and precision hips and footwork that seem much more complex than what I've seen at lindy competitions.

Also pro west coast dancer's never cease to take my breath away.

Sorry at this point I am probably rambling and have offened all sorts of different people, but I hope I have raised some of the relevant considerations even if people disagree with my assortments.

If you have any more specific questions let me know.
posted by vegetableagony at 9:36 PM on June 5, 2009

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