Let's Dance - How to avoid the pitfalls of social Salsa Dancing.
Hittin the floor
“Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.”
Whatever the reason is you’re there. You’ve paid your money, told a few friends and maybe - depending on your initial level of enthusiasm – you’ve watched a few videos online. You have a story, you’re at a particular stage of life, and you’re on the dance floor staring at a room filled with other dubious faces ready to start your first Salsa class. You’re in a room filled with people who have all arrived at the same destination but have come from vastly different origins. Maybe you saw Salsa on TV and thought it was something you had to try; or you stumbled across an online video; you’ve come out of a terrible life experience or relationship and are looking for some confidence; you could be looking for that special someone you feel you’ve never found or simply looking to increase your networks. Or maybe none of this applies to you, you just like dancing.
Whatever the reason you find yourself holding hands with a complete stranger as you both count one, two, three – five, six, seven under your breath in an attempt to get your feet and hands to do what your brain is demanding. Believe me I can relate, learning to dance can be no easy feat. Those of you reading this article that are obsessed with dancing and are out most nights doing your thang may have forgotten how intimidating it can be. My story on how I stumbled across Salsa is really no different to most people. One night a good friend invited me to some Salsa party where I was assured there would be “a lot of honeys and some great music.” Well both were in attendance. As I stood on the side of the dance floor looking at smiling hands and feet flying all over the place I suddenly felt as though I was missing out on some genuine fun. Not to mention the impressive live band that was simply hypnotising. A few months later I was watching YouTube videos and signing up to my first beginner’s class. When I first started taking lessons the thought of trying to take what I was learning in class to the social dance floor was accompanied by my own self confidence pointing its finger and laughing at me as though it was an insurmountable task. It wasn’t just the dance that was intimidating. My headspace was not well, I was not well, my confidence was at an all time low and I was reeling from a significant negative life experience. I was looking for a life raft and I found it in quick, quick slow. Fast forward 18 months, countless classes, the occasional workshop, new friends, various pairs of dance shoes and there is rarely an event I don’t try to get to filled with people I know and ladies who I love to dance with. Not to mention some genuinely good people.
Now let me be clear right from the beginning; I am no expert when it comes to the dance floor - far from it. But in the time that I’ve been learning to shake my thang, I have learned some rather invaluable lessons – all of them the hard way – and being a narcissistic, out of work freelance writer who often feels the need to sit for hours at a keyboard to keep my brain from exploding, I felt the need to share with those of you who are mustering the courage to hit the social floor. So in this brief collection of words take heed that what you are reading is a collection of hints and tips taken directly from a dance nerd who learned the hard way. Oh and all the lads out there, some of the things you will read are taken directly from some of the many conversations I have had with some of Adelaide’s most beautiful dancers (looks to the sky and day dreams a little). Oh and ladies anything directed to you will be an attempt to introduce you to the male psyche when it comes to dancing – hard I know but it does exist. Ok lads lets go, (ladies still read):
Ok so have you ever attempted to talk to a pretty girl at a pub or club and been given the cold shoulder mixed with a lukewarm head tilt? I’m hearing ya. But remember asking a girl to dance is NOT the same as hitting on her. In fact if you are Salsa dancing for the purpose of trying to hit on women and find yourself some ‘tail’ then go somewhere else, that’s not cool. It is however a great place to make new friends and if you happen to meet ‘the one’ (I hate that phrase, does it really exist? oh hang on I digress) then good luck to you. My dance instructor once said to me “If you come to Salsa to pick up you’re starting on the wrong foot.” I love it, irony and double entendre. So if you’re shit scared about asking a girl to dance here are some tips.
1. Before you ask, check her body language. Think about it for a second; it makes perfect sense. Essentially what is dancing? It’s your body’s expression of what you’re feeling on the inside, an artistic and beautiful form of communication where words and grammar are replaced with music and rhythm. Dance is a language and dancing with someone can be intimate, fun, sexy and beautiful without it being weird. Now I don’t claim to know much about women (I mean seriously raise you’re hand if you understand them) but one thing I do know, is that us men are terrible and reading a woman’s body language. Don’t stand and stare just notice how she’s standing or sitting. If she is sitting behind a table talking to a friend rather animated then that might not be the easiest ask. If she is standing on the side of the dance floor alone or with friends watching everyone else dance…green light - go up and ask her to dance – she wants you to. If you want to know if you’re making a girl feel uncomfortable do a quick Google search on body language and read up. Learn the language and read the signs it will help you on the dance floor.
2. Don’t know who to dance with? Ask the first girl you recognise from class. If not, take a minute or two to watch the dance floor and find a girl who seems to be on the same level of development as you. It’s a good start. As you improve and build your confidence ask anyone.
3. And this is the big one; you can take this to the bank. Smile. When you ask a girl to dance don’t be creepy and get in her personal space just be polite and remember to always smile. Again it’s a body language thing, if you smile when you ask it will go a long way. Personally I like to lead a lady by the hand to the dance floor, I think it’s respectful. Also boys we are the leaders, so lead. But again go with what’s comfortable and don’t step into the creepy zone.
So you would’ve heard this from any of your dance instructors so this isn’t anything new. Lads keep it simple. It’s much better to do the basics in time then to try and be flashy and be unable to keep the beat. Remember it’s all about the rhythm and if you can keep good rhythm girls will be asking you to dance, which I must admit feels great.
1. Ok so keep good posture, smile and keep your head up. Look at your lady when you’re dancing, its all about her. Give her all your attention as though she’s the only one on the dance floor. Now boys I can’t emphasise this enough but KEEP YOUR HEAD UP. Now what I am about to tell you actually happened to me on the dance floor, hence my previous point. I was dancing with a lovely girl, and halfway through she stopped to fix her out-fit (it happens) and I stood there waiting. I had my head down (for some reason) and held out both hands to take hers, completely unaware that coincidentally she was bending over to fix her shoes and well you can see where this is going. Both hands went straight onto her breasts! Yes you read it right. I was mortified, and just wanted to hide under which ever rock I could find. She was and is a good friend and a beautiful dancer. To her credit we laughed it off and joke about every time we dance. But I tell you it was a dark day that day my friends. Keep your head up lads!!!
2. Here is the big one that again you can take to the bank. Have good personal grooming and hygiene. Men, whether you like it or not, we stink. It’s a man thing. Girls can get all glowing and sweaty and still smell good; it’s the shampoo they use!! So make sure you have some deodorant with you when you go out social dancing, the ladies will appreciate it and if it’s a big party, I mean huge, take a spare t-shirt when the first is soaked through.
3. Oh and always, always, always thank the lady for the dance. Don’t leave your manners at home. Some girls might not want to stick out the dance with you for whatever reason. Again don’t take it personally, it happens.
So there you go boys, just a few pointers that will go a long way in building your confidence. Also, remember there is no obligation from the girl to say ‘yes’. If you ask and she says ‘no’ don’t take it personally you never know the full story. She could’ve just been dancing for 10 minutes straight and needs a drink, she could have sore feet, or she simply might not feel comfortable dancing with you or god forbid you could SMELL….! I once asked a girl to dance, who I knew really well, and she said no because she had just found out some terrible news about a friend. Sometimes the girl will say ‘no’ don’t be precious, just deal with it. Also some girls hit the dance floor with a mental list of who they want to dance with and what particular dance they want. Calculating I know, but when a good night of social dancing is what will get you through the week, it makes total sense.
So smell good, iron your shirt and dance within your limits and you’ll be on that list.
Ok ladies now it’s your turn.
Ok girls I am going to give you the hot tip. Asking a girl to dance is terrifying. Seriously. You girls are standing there looking and smelling all pretty, it can be very difficult. So if you don’t want to dance with whoever asks you, for what ever reason, say ‘no’ with a smile.
1. Also if you hit the dance floor with someone and you realise very early on he is struggling try and stay until the song finishes. (Unless of course you feel uncomfortable and he is sleazing up on you then get out of dodge). I was once dancing with a girl, who after about a minute or two said “this isn’t working for me,” and walked of leaving me alone on the dance floor like a big fat loser (awww – its all good I’m over it.) If you have to leave the dance try and still be polite even if it isn’t working for you. It certainly put my confidence back a few months but needless to say, six months later I danced with her again and she smiled the whole way through and I dominated the dance floor. Confidence back: Andrew 1, Fear 0.
2. Again I am virtually quoting any dance instructor here but posture is important so look up and keep the space it will help.
Ok so there you have it, not exhaustive but hopefully this will get you started on the dance floor and make the experience of social dancing a little less daunting. This article does come with a word of warning. Dancing will get under your skin and the next thing you know your cranking 4 classes a week and out social dancing every other weekend. So next time your out hitting the dance floor embrace the experience and don’t be scared. Everyone starts somewhere. So I will sign off with words that aren’t mine.
“Dance first. Think later. It's the natural order.” ~Samuel Beckett.