Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | Equity Theory of Dancing

Oooh! Ominous title, right? So last night, my wife and I went on an organized Arthur Murray outing to do some country western dancing. Now, I have been dancing country (or so I thought) for most of my life. Because of that, this is the one type of dancing that has proven very difficult because I’m having to break a ton of bad habits. Also, I love country music so when I start to feel the music, there’s a bounce that starts to emerge and my frame goes to shit, which makes for a bad dancing experience.

But this article isn’t to talk about my poor progressive two step, it’s to talk about the Equity Theory of Dancing. In business school, I learned about Equity Theory as it relates to Human Resources. That is, someone may be extremely satisfied in their job, pay rate, etc until they find out what their peers make. That comparison will either make you much more satisfied (you’re paid better) or less satisfied (you’re being short changed). This theory isn’t limited to HR studies, it’s an element of human behavior that’s pervasive throughout all human interactions including dancing.

So after I did a poor job with my dancing, I still didn’t feel horrible about it. I just figured that I need to work on it a bit more. Then, as I was sitting there, I noticed one of our best male dancers, who have been taking lessons for about 5 years, dancing with my instructor (they have competed together before as well). All of a sudden, I started to have all of these feelings of self-doubt about my own abilities. Such thoughts as: Will I ever look that smooth on the dance floor?, Where will I be 5 years down the road?, etc, etc. Effectively, I was continually comparing where I was today to where he is. Rationally, I know that it’s an unfair comparison, but it’s what happened.

So how did I pull myself out of this funk? Another swing on the rhelm of Equity Theory. I then forced myself to pay attention to the dancers that were much worse than me. These are the dancers that have been taking lessons about half or less as much time as myself. Watching them struggle with the most basic of steps made me feel better about myself and my own abilities. Once again, this is an unfair comparison given that I am more experienced than them.

There’s no big revelation from this experience only that if you know that this phenomenon exists, then you can recognize it and truly focus inward and improving your own dancing rather than constantly making unfair comparisons of yourself to others.

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