6 Tips on Dancing Defensively – Part One

For anyone on the dance scene, especially the social dance scene, dancing defensively is key.  It’s not as aggressive as it sounds; dancing defensively describes how an individual dancer is aware of their body and possible ways that could either injury their partner or themselves.  Check out the tips below to learn more.

  • 1. Consent
    • When approaching a potential partner to ask for a dance, enthusiastic verbal consent is vital.  It’s important to not assume that every person present would like to dance.
    • When asked to dance, do not feel pressured to say yes.  You have a right to say no, and you don’t need an excuse or explanation!  Social dancing should be a fun and safe experience.  Declining a dance is not rude.
  • 2. Communicating With Your Partner
    • Let’s be honest.  Communication in general is difficult.  Communication with a stranger is harder.  And, talking to someone on the social dance floor can seem tricky.  It’s important to avoid personal attacks with discussing concerns or preferences during a dance.  As a general rule, using “I feel XXX when YYY” is a great way to express yourself without coming across as harsh.

For instance, “I feel uncomfortable when I’m led into a dip that I’m not expecting” is less threatening than “Don’t do that!”

However, safety ALWAYS comes first. Do not compromise your safety just to avoid a socially ‘awkward’ situation.

  • 3. Shoulder Protection
    • Your shoulder is a ball and socket joint which allows for more movement.  In fact, your shoulder joint has the most range of motion in your body.
    • However, this also means that it is less stable. The shoulder is the most commonly dislocated joint.
    • Most common type of dislocation is anterior; this means that the humerus moves forward out of the joint.
      • This usually occurs because when the arm is abducted and externally rotated, like when you are going for an epic high five. Or, when you’re trying to do turns like shown in this picture.possible dance injury
    • The best injury prevention is to keep your arm in front of your body.  Don’t have a ‘floppy arm.’ Instead, it should be actively engaged and ready to accept cues from your partner.
    • The shoulder joint relies on local musculature to maintain a healthy joint capsule and to prevent injury.  The 4 rotator cuff muscles are a main part of the joint capsule.  These muscles are tiny and tend to be weak.  It’s a good idea to strengthening the surround muscles as well.

While this is known as the “Thrower’s Ten,” these exercises are a comprehensive program to strengthen the shoulder.

throwers 10

  • 4. Lead Role Tips

Personally, I have limited experience in the “lead role.”  I consulted with a few friends to determine the most common defensive dancing tips for leads.

    • A big concern among leads is how to handle “self-dips” by a follow. 
      • A self-dip occurs when a follow has initiated a dip that the lead was not ready for. In a worst case scenario this can lead to either dancer (or both) falling.
      • The most important thing is to avoid a “top heavy” feeling by remaining upright.
        • It’s important to react to the change in partnership with the lower body; moving into a squat position is ideal.
          • In the ideal swing position, both dancers should be in a shallow squat position. It is harder to throw off someone’s balance if they are squatting.
        • Expand your base of support by moving your feet wider apart. This increases your stability.
    • As a lead, you should focus on slowing the descent instead of STOPPING the movement fully. If you try to completely stop a motion, it increases your risk of injury.
      • This might sound counterintuitive, but it was a skill emphasized in patient care. If a patient faints or falls, it is safer for both parties to slowly descend to the ground.
    • With any unexpected situation as a dancer, it is important to communicate with your partner. Refer to point 2 for suggestions on how to voice concerns without personally attacking your partner.
      • Examples:
        • “I felt unbalanced when you dipped. If you are interested in dips, please let me know beforehand”
        • “I’m not experienced enough at dips to support a self-dip.”
        • “I felt unsafe with the previous dip.”
  • 5. Follow Role Tips

My dance experience tends to be in the “follow role” where I interpret the energy I receive from a lead and add expression to the partnership.  These are a few of the concerns that I’ve have had myself or heard from others.

    • “Wrenching Turns”
      • During a “wrenching turn,” the follow experiences excessive energy from the lead during a turn that can cause injury.
        • Follows can prevent this by having a strong frame. It’s important that you don’t let your arm get away from your body.
      • During turns, make sure to follow your wrist – this is a great external cue on keeping your frame.
    • Unexpected Dips
      • This goes for both roles, but is very important as a follow. Do NOT expect anyone else to support your body weight.
        • You should be able to support your own weight if the partner breaks the connection.
      • If you feel an unwelcome dip/aerial coming, lower your weight to floor by squatting.
        • Your center of gravity is now lower.  You are harder to move and are more stable.
      • Increase Resistance to the Partnership – not enough to injure either partner
        • You don’t want to injury either partner. Instead, think about keeping your dancing ‘frame’ more rigid.
        • This resistance is usually enough to slow down your partner to prevent an unwanted dip.
    • Verbal Response 
      • Again, communication is key during a social dance. Here are some suggested ways to express your concerns.
        • “I don’t feel comfortable when you do XXX move.”
        • “I’m not familiar with your partnership, so I do not feel safe doing dips or aerials with you.”
  • 6. Crowded Dance Floor 
    • Communicate with Your Partner
      • If either partner notices that the dance floor is getting crowded or seems smaller, tell your partner. Communication is a great way to prevent collisions on a crowded floor.
    • Rules of Floor Space
      • In general, if there is a large and clear dance space, there is more freedom in how ‘large’ your moves can be. “Flashier” moves, like creating long lines with your arms, tend to take up more space.
      • On a smaller dance floor, you need to be respectful and aware of the other dancers on the floor.
        • A good way to do this is to use smaller footwork. Keep all movements within your partnership and avoid creating larger shapes.
    • Situational Awareness
      • It’s important to know where other dancers are to prevent run-ins. You can do this by:
        • Using your peripheral vision (what you can see out of the sides of your eyes when you face forward.)
        • Turn your head when changing directions.
    • Dance is a Partnership – Both Leads and Follows Have a Responsibility to Prevent collisions
      •  Lead
        • It’s important to know where you are sending your partner. For instance, if you plan on opening the connection, make sure the area where your partner will be heading is clear.
          • Be sure to keep an eye out for other partnerships that might potentially use that space.
      • Follow
        • Keep a firm connection and frame.
          • In a way, you a “back-leading.” If you see an obstacle that your partner seems to have missed, feel free to veto that movement.

Defensive dancing is a vital skill.  Applying these tips can prevent dangerous situations, improve partnerships, increase time on the dance floor, and lead to a happier experience.

Keep dancing my friends!

PittStop Lindy Hop 2017


A special thanks to all the instructors and fellow dancers who have helped me along my own defensive dancing journey.

The talented WVU Swing Dance instructors have been a valuable resource in teaching defensive dancing and the importance of consent.  Check out our Facebook Page for more information!

Defensive Dancing: Handling Uncomfortable Situations

What to Do When You Are Uncomfortable






Much of what I have learned about physical therapy and online health/wellness, I have learned from Greg Todd, the founder of Physical Therapy Builder.  He is a fantastic physical therapist whose mission is to help physical therapy students and physical therapists provide patient focused care without becoming overwhelmed.  Greg Todd is also known as a “social media guru,” and I have a lot of thank him for.  I highly suggest his courses, especially Smart Success PT.  In May, I attended Smart Success PT Live, a business, marketing, and branding course by some of the top PT entrepreneurs in the field.

Published by rebekahjamesfactsfitnessfun

I'm a dedicated physical therapy student with a passion for physical therapy, fitness, health and wellness, dance, good food, "geeks," and storytelling. Through my blog, I hope to provide an entertaining health and fitness advice and recommendations. I believe that there is a workout that you'll love for everyone; you just have to find it!

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