The One About the Arm Yanker

Dear Dance Diva,

I am a professional competitive ballroom dancer and instructor. One of my responsibilities is to staff social parties hosted by the studio where I work. The parties are open to the public and a few months ago I injured my shoulder from dancing with a gentleman at one who is not a student of mine or anyone else at our studio. To my knowledge he does not take lessons at any of the other studios in town.

Self-taught dancers often make bad choices when leading patterns. While the result is awkward, it’s usually harmless, but this guy yanked on my arm so violently on a turn, I was unable to teach for several days and missed a competition because of it. Fortunately, I’m fine, but it inconvenienced my students and put a serious dent in my income since I don’t get paid if I can’t teach.

When I am partnered with a self-taught gentleman or even a beginner taking lessons, if a problem arises, I pause momentarily and tactfully demonstrate proper technique with correct foot placement, arm position, etc. Most men are apologetic and receptive to correction. Some even decide to take lessons when they realize how much easier dancing is when done correctly. But every once in a while I run into the know-it-all who argues “this is how I learned it” or “this is how I’ve always done it,” etc. and persists in repeating the incorrect technique. Dancing is my livelihood. I work hard to keep my body fit and free from injury, so it is my policy not to dance with these know-it-alls.

I recently politely declined an invitation to dance with the guy mentioned above and he became irate, claiming it was my job to dance with guests who pay cover charges. I explained he’d injured my shoulder the last time we danced and since he repeatedly refuses to take suggestions to improve his lead skills, I can no longer dance with him. I offered to take him on as a student or refer him to another teacher for lessons, but this only made things worse. 

I know I’m not the only female dance pro who has experienced this and I don’t need advice in how to handle the situation. The thing is, he’s been bad-mouthing me around town to anyone in the ballroom community who will listen. My business is largely dependent on word of mouth referrals and maintaining a solid student base is critical to my income. I feel certain he is only representing one side of the story. Would you mind posting this letter so people know the full story? Thanks.

—Keeping It Real

Dear Keeping It Real,

Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve danced with my share of arm-yankers so I feel your pain… literally. I’m happy to post your letter and add my two cents.

To all the gentlemen out there who fancy themselves snappy dancers: If a lady turns down your invitation for a spin around the dance floor and you don’t smell bad or fart uncontrollably, chances are you’re a painful lead. My advice: Find a teacher and take some lessons. You’re welcome.

Dance Diva

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