When you first start dancing Salsa in clubs it can be daunting.
You see all these amazing dancers spinning around the floor and feel despondent, wondering if it will ever be you…
You came here to dance, but everyone looks so good, they all appear to know each other and you lose your bottle.
You dance with a few people who look to be roughly at the same level as you, then you leave, feeling wistful and just a bit envious.
Some of them are really good. The result of many years of practice. Watch and learn…they deserve your respect and awe.
The others? Well, most of them are only dancing really simple stuff.
Because they’ve been doing it for much longer than you have, they’ve ironed out some of the wrinkles and got extremely fast and smooth at doing just a few things, and learned how to make them look good.
Very often, they do know each other and dance together a lot. They become familiar with each other’s feel and style. Dancing with a well-known partner is like slipping on a comfortable old boot. It moulds to you, gives in all the right places but still offers enough support.
The trouble is, once you’ve developed this amount of rapport with quite a few different people, you get a bit lazy about finding new people to dance with. It feels like more of an effort to put on the stiff, new, less supple boot.
And unfortunately this level of comfort and confidence on the dancefloor doesn’t happen overnight. It can’t be taught in lessons or practiced solo in your kitchen.
It only happens after many hours of social dancing with a lot of different partners, and the sooner you start the process, the quicker you make the breakthrough.
The challenges of dancing with someone previously unknown are different for men and women. But both really boil down to a fear of rejection – “What if I’m not good enough and make us both look stupid?” “What if he/she can’t wait for it to be over and never wants to dance with me ever again?” “What if they’re out of my league and make it obvious by what they do and what they say?”
If you’re a man, it’s more acceptable for you to do the asking. No less scary, mind – especially if you’re not confident in your dancing just yet.
If you’re a lady that doesn’t let you off the hook. I learned pretty quickly that waiting for guys to ask, even in a club where I was known, would lead to me being stood around like the proverbial wallflower most of the night. So I had to get over my fear if I wanted to have non-stop back-to-back dances all night.
It wasn’t really that hard.
Yes you have moments where you look around the floor feeling totally intimidated by the level of dancing.
Yes, you do get knocked back occasionally, so you just develop a thicker skin.
Yes you do have dances that don’t flow as well as others. Styles vary, as do physical shape and stature – this can affect dance dynamics until you tune into each other.
Yes, very occasionally you have a dance that feels like a bit of car crash. But that can happen with people you dance with every week.
I used to believe the key was in picking dancers at the right level – roughly the same or a bit better than yourself. However I think now it’s more a case of choosing those who are genuinely decent people and will help you to feel comfortable, regardless of how good they are.
The classiest dancers have an ethic of wanting to give back…they remember exactly how it felt when they weren’t so good and they are only too happy to help ease the path and pain for other dancers on their journey.
Many ladies place the entire responsibility for the dance on the man’s shoulders and feel at the mercy of his lead but this needn’t be the case. If you own your technique so you can manage your bodyweight and learn to find the parts of the dance you can “steal” and use for styling without interrupting the flow, you will be easier, lighter and more fun to lead.
Guys in return can give the lady opportunity for shines and work on their lead so it feels comfortable for the lady…the best leads don’t even feel like you’re being led.
I believe the process starts with ourselves.
We have to give ourselves a break, give up on the judging and giving ourselves a hard time for not being perfect. Perfection doesn’t exist in dance…socially or in performance.
Forget the destination and focus on the process, staying rooted in the present moment.
And take responsibility for being the kind of person other dancers will want to share their dances with; warm, genuine, easy going and fun. That means forgiving errors in their leading or following and showing up as an equal collaborator in the dance.
Don’t disempower yourself by making it something that someone else has to fix.
Decide what you want to experience on the dancefloor and give that in spades to as many people as possible…and you’ll be having back-to-back dances before you know it!