April 04, 2011

The Nissy ©

Narcissists Get Crowned with a
Nickname: Nissy.

"Nissy" is my nickname for the Narcissists of our dance community. It can be yours too. It's high time we had one.

Narcissism has increased at an alarming rate these last 10 years in our dance community, and the damage has been far reaching. As such, it's important that we who love the dance family become aware of the behavior and its effects. When we do, we can protect ourselves, the joy of our dancing and the joy of others when they are struggling and confused.

So what exactly IS a Narcissist? To put it very simply, it's someone who is ruled by "egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness." Though glamorized in the movies and on TV, the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a social disorder that's extremely destructive, especially in the lives of those that surround them. Because a Narcissist is incapable of putting anyone's needs before their own. Because they only see others as a means to meet their needs and boost their ego/image, their presence comes at a great cost to those in their family, workplace and community. Our community.

Now, do I think every dance scene in the world is flooded with full blown NPD's? No. Not worldwide. But I can bear witness to a number of communities with 50% or more of the people being Nissies. And that number is growing fast for two reasons. First, Nissies tend to attract other Nissies to the dance. They often form a group, known as elitism. Secondly, those who used to have healthy personalities have come to believe that they must mimic Narcissistic behavior in order to be accepted, to win, to be admired, and to be danced with. It's time we admitted the problem, acknowledge the behavior and take action to protect ourselves accordingly, because good partner dancing, amazing partner dancing... worthwhile partner dancing... can never ever be done by a Nissy.

If you Google Narcissism, you'll find a list of traits on a number of websites: ‘haughty body language’, ‘exaggerates their accomplishments,’ ‘uses people without considering what it will cost them’, ‘flatters and enjoys the company of those that admire them, but detests, belittles or ignores those who do not’, etc., etc. But one Narcissist is not like the other.

The textbook type of Narcissist is what they call an "exhibitionist," but there are many other types of Narcissists, including "aggressive," "elitist," and even "sexual." The list is quite extensive. Not all are alike and they aren't always easy to identify, because they are rarely rude in the beginning. They can be charming, charismatic and flirtatious, and others are quiet, reserved or even awkward.

So how can you identify Narcissism in our dance community?

In her book, "Why is it Always About You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism," Sandy Hotchkiss outlines the "deadly sins" a Narcissist will commit. These “deadly sins” have found their way onto our social dance floors, into our workshops, our private lessons and our competitions. I'm sure you'll think of a dancer (or two, or three, and depending on where you live, a whole lot more!) when you read through these characteristics and examples:


A Nissy who is feeling deflated tends to re-inflate by diminishing, debasing or degrading somebody else. Example: They didn't make finals, so they dance in front all night like they won. They'll bad mouth the judges, their partners, or say the event didn't mean anything in the first place. Another example: A teacher makes off-hand, dismissive or rude remarks about another teacher when that teacher is referenced or praised.


The Nissy holds unreasonable expectations of special treatment and automatic compliance to them because they consider themselves special. Any failure to comply with their expectations is considered an attack on their perceived superiority, which often triggers what's called Narcissistic Rage. Example: A high level dancer doesn't make finals, rips off their number, stomps it on the floor and curses. Another example: A couple doesn't place how they thought they should have, and publicly yells at the event director, contest coordinator or competitor liaison.


Nissy's see themselves as perfect using distortion and illusion known as Magical Thinking. They will dump shame onto others who don't support their views. Example: Teachers who teach without real training. They may do well competitively and start teaching immediately. They are amazing at making up rules, sayings and teachings on the spot to protect their views, and will have no issue with referencing other respected instructors as "irrelevant, out of date, nonsensical," etc. etc. Another example: An Event Director will change history, facts and agreements in their heads to save money. They will attempt to shame an instructor, judge or volunteer into accepting lower wages or returns by questioning their value, their time given, etc, etc.


The Nissy does not recognize that others are separate from themselves. Others exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Example: A leader who is off-time dances with a follower who is on-time. The leader wraps his thumb and/or whole hand into a grip around her hand or wrist to control her, despite the rough and dangerous position it puts her hand and arm in. Another example: A promoter finds a competitors' flyers on the flyer table and either removes them and replaces them with their own, or simply places their own on top of the competitor's flyers.


A Nissy inflates their sense of superiority in the face of another person's skills or attention by using contempt against them. Example: A dancer takes his partner and dances in front, blocking a birthday girl having her birthday dance. Another example: A good dancer is in town. The Nissy, used to being the center of attention, asks the better dancer to dance but grimaces, looks bored or overpowers the better dancer in order to publicly diminish the better dancer.


Can take many forms, but always involves the exploitation of others without regard to their feelings or interest. They put the other in a subservient position where resistance would be difficult or even impossible. The subservience is not so much real as assumed. Example: A leader sees his follower as the subservient. Instead of the follower being danced, they are danced around. The leader expands while the follower contracts.


As I write about the sin of EXPLOITATION, I'm struck once again with the fact that the largest percentage of Nissies in our community are men. (Nissy women are quickly catching up, but it started with the men.) And no wonder. To lead a woman in Abstract Improvisation is a Narcissists’ dream. And I believe it's why talented women are leaving our sport in droves, but the ones replacing them are women who are wounded themselves... enablers... women and girls who base their identity on the approval of men, not an internal sense of power and worth. This has to be stopped.

Now that I've used a lot of big words, and have probably scared you a little, I've gone ahead and made it a little more simple. Here are some “less wordy” ways to pinpoint a Nissy in your dance community:

They Dance in Front

No matter what level they are, they believe people want to see them dance more than better or more respected dancers. They will not give way to a champion dancer, and some will actually run into the champion dancer in order to make them obtain more room.

They Appear Supremely Confident

They stand out on the social and competition floor with their fantastically stylish dress, cocky attitudes and triumphant glow. Judges constantly put them in because they APPEAR successful, despite horrific errors in lead, follow, timing and footwork. Drop your eyes to a dancer's feet and count with the music. You will be surprised how many make finals with a four (or three, or three and three quarters) count push break, if they are even on beat at all.

They Don't Take Lessons

Nissies believe they can take one workshop and teach it the next day. They think they are an expert in the dance a month in. If they do take, it's with another Nissy, and they don't get any better, just more arrogant on the floor.

They Have Terrible Floor Craft

They will not recognize another couple's established slot, even if part of the couple is an established dancer of a higher level. Again, the world exists to serve them, so your slot is their slot, should they need it.

They are Easily Disagreeable

If you, as a partner, do not smile, help show them off, help them win or do exactly as they expect, they will become moody, pouty, impatient and even angry, no matter what their level. The higher the level, it seems, the more this happens, but it may depend on location.

They Point the Finger

It is always someone else's fault. If they don't make finals, it's the judges, the music or their partner's fault. If they don't place, their partner didn't give it all they had or the judges were mean spirited, unfair and out to “get them.”

Their Partner Isn't Seen

If a Nissy is dancing with someone who ISN'T another Nissy, then the healthy person is overpowered, overshadowed and in general thrown around. If the partner ever tries to shine, the Nissy will not light up in delight at the creativity of their partner, but rather, will look annoyed, interrupted or impatient unless their partner’s actions are helping them win.

You probably have a few in mind, but honestly, there are a lot more that just aren't easy to spot. You’ll figure them out over time. After all, the more powerful in the community they are, the more they know the criteria I just listed is easy to spot.

The true NPD's that have been around for awhile are charming, witty and can talk their way out of everything. They sound amazing. They sound brilliant. They can clown and make you laugh. They make you feel so very special when you're around them. They make you want to fight for them. They make you feel like they were wronged if they don’t get their way. But after being within close quarters of them for a while, during a private lesson, workshop or meeting… when you walk away, you have a small tiny fear of their disapproval, of getting on their bad side, or a need and a determination to stay on their good side. You don't glow with self improvement. You don't feel empowered. You are left wanting... wanting to be around them again, wanting to be like them and wanting to have their approval.

But here’s the thing. As I said before:

"A narcissist is not capable of putting the organization's
(i.e., studio's, club's, partner's, community's)
needs before his or her own needs."

Remember that. And remember that their “needs” aren't normal or healthy needs, like the need for ‘unquestioning’ worship or praise, or the need to win, no matter how it’s done or what the cost is to the event, their competitors and sometimes even their partners. A Nissy promoter “needs” their community to accept no one but the teachers and pros only they deem worthy. A Nissy DJ “needs” to be the only DJ in town and a Nissy club owner “needs” the other clubs to either shut down or not interfere with their nights and their “money,” no matter how it limits the community, weakens it or divides it.

I have seen studios literally close because of Nissies. I have seen entire clubs shut down because of Nissies. I have seen dancers injured and put out for more than a year because of Nissies. I have seen the words of a Nissy stay with a person for decades and eat away at them. The Nissies have wreaked havoc upon our communities across the planet. Why?

The Nissies have great power when it comes to the unsuspecting public. We don’t expect underhanded tactics. We don’t expect that the rules of common decency aren’t held by everyone. We don’t believe it when we hear they've tried to run others out of town, or placed their dances on top of the only successful night others go to. We who are healthy in swing tend to believe the best in people, and we don’t see Nissies coming. Rules don’t apply to Nissies. They truly, honestly and 100% believe they have the right to destroy anyone in anyway who stands between them and what they want.

Bottom line?

Nissies don't build a community;
they create their own.

I encourage you to watch for the Nissy or Nissies on your dance floor. Remember, they can only wreak havoc when they descend upon the “unsuspecting” public. But if you are on the lookout, you can avoid much of their devastation.

Watch for them. They are the people you feel driven to please. They are the people you feel like you never get a good dance with, no matter how hard you try, and you feel like it's all your fault… because they are “just SO good!” (sarcasm intended). They are the people who, quite often, seem “cool” or “in.”  And above all, know that it will take bravery to identify them.

Understand that Nissies do not take it well when you no longer hold them in admiration, and most of their followers or enablers will have learned well not to question them. Often your community will not want to support you in your first separation efforts. It’s difficult to label anyone when everyone around you is in ‘hero-worship’ mode, but it can be done.

Once you start to suspect someone, especially someone who seems incredibly charming and well-loved, you may want to second guess yourself. Don’t. Your gut is one of the greatest gifts we’ve all been given. And believe me, once you finally do admit that they are a Nissy, or in a Nissy-like stage, I promise you… it will save yourself a great deal of stress you didn't realize you had! Trust me. And you'll enjoy your dancing a whole lot more. Believe me.

And then, once you know who they are, I encourage you... do not feed into their frenzy. Don't bother dancing with them unless you must. You can say yes when they ask you, but most of the time they expect others to make the effort to dance with them. Don’t bother chasing after them. It’s just not worth it, on any level. Re-read their characteristics. Get to know the consequences that come with interacting with a Nissy. That’s not what partner dancing is about.

I am aware that many Nissies feel the need to ask the better dancers in the room, just to prove they can out-dance them. I always turn these leaders down. I can see them coming a mile away, and it’s just not worth my physical health to put my technical abilities in the blender of their sub par novice thrashings or their narcissistic rage.  But a Nissy is the only kind of dancer I will turn down. I’ll dance with anyone of any level, novice and newcomer included, who treats me with respect.

We all deserve respect on the dance floor. It’s a non-negotiable in partner dancing. No matter who you are or what level of experience you have, your physical, mental and emotional well being should be respected on the dance floor. And when that’s missing from one of the partners, damage almost always follows. From feeling discarded, ugly or demeaned to sprained wrists, backs and shoulders, the dangers and risks are more than you can imagine. Until it happens to you. So try not to pursue their attention if you can. It’ll save you a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” story of your own.

On the plus side of things, Nissies are usually attracted to one another. They travel in little groups or packs, and gather in the same clubs and locations. As such, I recommend you find a monthly or a weekly dance where they don't feel special and then enjoy dancing with normal, healthy and more satisfying dancers. Try the same method with conventions too- most are riddled with Nissies nowadays, but there are still certain events where Nissies just wouldn’t be “showcased.” So it helps to look for the places Nissies are avoiding, and enjoy them yourself. Who in the world wants to dance with a partner who is absolutely NOT interested in you, protecting your needs, your physical well being on the dance floor? Dancing’s better when the person wants to dance with you, not at you.

I’m serious. Let me emphasis this again:

Partner dancing is, at its very core, an agreement between two people to love, respect and honor one another on the dance floor in order to create and enjoy a beautiful, intimate, exciting and fun experience that dancing on our own cannot create.

The Nissy will never know the potential gifts of partner dancing beyond that of being "seen" and gaining power. When two Nissies draw each other, they are in total bliss. Both want extreme exposure and both go for it… whether it mean knocking others out of their way, rolling on the floor or sticking out their tongues to get it. But that’s the kind of bliss only two Nissies would ever take pleasure in. And it's not what partner dancing is all about.

If you want your partner to see you and dance with you, just say NO to the Nissy.

Katherine Krok Eastvold

From the bestselling book Telling the Truth:
The Groundbreaking Articles that Saved West Coast Swing