So often I see students spend hours learning to dance, yet never actually going out and using it at a salsa club or ballroom dance hall. They’d like to go, but feel afraid to put their skills to the test.
I feel for you, I do. Despite what a lot of people say about dance instructors, we weren't born with some special ability that lets us dance anywhere without a care in the world. We all had to face that fear at some point.
Here is how I faced mine.
From studio to social
As I mentioned in a previous article, I definitely was not a natural when it came to social situations. And before I started ballroom dancing, the closest I came to dancing was the ‘high-school shuffle’ at our grade nine dance.
Needless to say, the prospect of going to a noisy sweaty salsa club filled me with terror (I had yet to get deeper into ballroom dancing, so that wasn’t an option). It took me 2 years of salsa classes to even consider it.
I’ve given advice to folks who get the heebie-jeepies like I did on how much it helps to go dancing with friends. Fortunately, there was one girl who was my age in my class, a Japanese student named Sayaka.
We were both shy, but wanted to improve. Neither of us had been to a salsa club before, but were willing to give it a try. So, on a hot summer night, we headed out together to a salsa club called ‘El Rancho.’
At the club
Nowadays, El Rancho is my favourite salsa club in the city. But it was not the best place for absolute beginners - crowded, sweaty, and deafening, everything I dreaded about social interactions seemed to be right there in that room.
Sayaka and I nervously made our way to a booth and sat down, watching the twirling dancers. Neither of us got asked to dance and honestly, I might have panicked if they had. I doubt we looked very approachable at that point.
Finally, we squeezed out onto the floor for a merengue, and proceeded to annoy all the dancers around us by not looking where we were going, so focused were we on following our syllabus steps. It probably wasn’t that bad, but in my memory, about every 8-count involved at least one person getting trodden on.
We probably danced no more than a half-dozen times that night, but we didn't care. Yes, it had been nerve-wracking, but we’d survived. No one had humiliated us and thrown us out for being the worst dancers in the club. It felt as though we’d slain a dragon.
I’m not going to say it was easy from that point onward - only that now we knew what to expect, and it wasn't as bad as we'd imagined. Each time I went dancing afterwards, my knowledge grew and so did my confidence.
I realized that my social dance fears - like my fear of other social situations - existed mostly in my head. By experiencing what is was really like, I was dispelling those demons that told me I was safer staying within my comfort zone.
Sayaka moved back to Japan not long afterwards, but I owe it to her for helping me get up and face my fears that first time. I hope she’s still dancing too.
About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 16 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. He currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada. Click here to see when he's teaching.