We've done our share of talking over how you can make a good impression at a dance social, so you can start building up dancers who know and like you. But none of that matters much if you don't put them first on the dance floor.
"The only limitations are those you place upon yourself". That's the quote Joy of Dance student Agnieszka Kopka lives by, and a big part of how she overcame her initial shyness of dancing with others at socials.
Everybody wants to dance with the regulars at the ballroom dance hall - the really good dancers that make every dance look simply amazing. But getting on their radar is no easy feat. It takes persistence, experience... And most importantly, some knowledge of how dance socials work.
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.
Dating a dancer can carry plenty of misunderstandings. Without an understanding of the social norms of the ballroom dance world, it’s hardly surprising that, when you see your beau enfolded in the arms of another, smiling as they move together, your first impulse is to grab your partner’s arm pull them off the floor.
Part of dating a dancer means accepting that ballroom dancing follows different rules from your standard bump n’ grind club. So how do you know what’s acceptable and what isn’t?
A summary of ballroom social norms
At your average ballroom or Latin club, it’s very common to dance with multiple partners (although some couples do dance ‘exclusively’). Sometimes they will dance quite closely to each other, either because a particular dance style calls for it, or they are (or want to appear to be) using more advanced technique. You might even see them exchange numbers afterwards! And yet, none of this means they are ‘interested’ in each other. When dating a dancer, adhere to the lyrics of ‘save the last dance for me’.
Why are you jealous?
For a non-dancer dating a dancer, it’s easy to get a feeling that something isn’t right when watching your partner dancing with others. And yet, those feelings can often be distorted, causing you to take rash actions, like shouting at your partner in public.
To test your feelings, take this 3-step approach:
- Ask: Are there any facts that support the way I feel? For example, are they flirting with their dance partner off the dance floor? Do they have a history of flirting with strangers, and dismissing your complaints about it?
- Ask: Could there be any other reason why my partner and this person seem to be acting so close? Examples include: he’s a long-lost friend, a teacher she used to take lessons with, or she’s just a social person who likes to meet new friends and dance partners!
- Be honest with yourself about any insecurities you may have about your dancing partner. For example, do you have a history of people telling you that you are overreacting, and that this is just part of dating a dancer?
When is it going too far?
Ultimately, you may have to have ‘the awkward conversation’ with your partner. I strongly recommend you avoid accusations or ultimatums, but just tell them how you feel. This gives your partner a chance to tell you their side of the story, which may well save your relationship. And if you still feel what they are doing isn’t right, and they aren’t willing to change, say goodbye: No one is worth compromising your values for.
About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance and his endless seeking for ways to reach new audiences eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada. Click here to see Ian’s current teaching schedule.
In our perfectionist society, we’ve been trained to see mistakes as some terrible defection of character, something to avoid at all costs. In the world of ballroom dance however, missteps are simply another form of growth. And good thing too, because you will make many, many mistakes while dancing. Therefore, you and your partner have no choice but to get used each other’s mistakes. And in the social ballroom scene, some well-timed dance humour is the best way to keep calm and dance on.
Why is dance humour so effective? For one thing, it immediately cuts the tension, replacing what would have been a negative experience with a positive one. Also, well-crafted dance humour can actually raise your partner’s opinion of you, because they see you as a fun, easygoing person to dance with. Of course, poorly planned dance humour can have the opposite effect!
Therefore, follow these rules when unleashing your funny side:
- Always build them up. You can poke fun at yourself, but NEVER at your partner.
- Keep it simple. If your subtlety isn’t understood, it won’t be funny.
- Avoid sarcasm. A lot is missed on a noisy dance floor. If your dance humour could offend someone who takes it literally, don’t use it.
- Err on the side of caution. Unless you REALLY know the other person, say nothing off-colour or personal.
- When in doubt, add a smile or a wink!
- Watch their response. If they don’t give you an answering smile or laugh, shelve the humour.
Here’s a few of my favourites:
- ‘I allow 10 mistakes per dance. Sorry, I’ve already used up 6 of them.’
- ‘I’m going to pretend I meant to do that.’
- ‘Sorry, it’s my first day with my new feet.’
- ‘How did you like my new step?’
- ‘That was an interesting variation, want to do it again?’
- ‘Well, it always worked in cartoons.’
- ‘Sorry, I thought you were getting bored.’
- When you stop your partner from falling: ‘Hey, warn me next time you try a dip!’
- ‘Trying to confuse me, eh?’ *wink*
- Partner accidentally hits you: ‘It’s okay, I probably deserved that.’
- ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing that won’t grow back.’
- ‘I don’t think we’ll have to amputate this time’ *wink*
- Partner steps on your foot: ‘It’s okay, I have a spare.’
- ‘Who taught you my signature move?’
- ‘Okay, if anyone asks, that was a variation.’
- Having trouble with lead and follow: ’Tell you what, I’ll lead this dance, you lead the next one, what do you say?’
- ‘Wait, which dance is this again?’
- ‘Don’t worry, I think everyone saw that.’
- When dodging other, slower couples: ‘We are SO winning this race!’
- On a crowded floor: ‘Let’s just do a lift and thin this crowd out a bit.’
So readers, what’s the best dance humour you’ve heard?
The magic of the dance floor brings together people of all ages, careers, and creeds, as long as they have the steps, and the smile to back it up. So naturally, it’s a great place for finding love, even if you’re normally nervous as a fainting goat anywhere else.
This article is primarily for the fellas, since finding love is the biggest reason most men get into dancing in the first place. A lot of this advice goes both ways however, so stick around ladies!
1. Avoid jumping to conclusions
Dancing creates a safe place where people can let out a more fun, sexier, freer side of themselves. It does not mean they’re looking to take you home at a moment’s notice. Yes, it’s hard to remember that when locked eye-to-eye in your favourite dance. But especially if you’re new to the scene, shelve the suggestive comments and invitations, no exceptions. Nobody wants to dance with someone who doesn’t know where the personal boundaries are.
2. If you're not having fun, you're missing the point
If you go into ballroom dancing with the attitude that you’re going to ‘pick up’, that’s the attitude you will convey, and women will just avoid you. Switch the focus from finding love to just enjoying yourself, at least until you’ve gotten comfortable with the scene and built up some good dance partners. That way, you’ll come across as someone fun, safe and therefore date-worthy, not a creep looking for fast-action.
3. Personality + Dance Ability = Cute Dance Partners!
Dancing is a language spoken with the body (I’m in a very Zen mood), so the better you speak the language, the more interesting ‘conversations’ you can have, and the more people will want to ‘talk’ with you. But if you’re bent on finding love, your personality needs to shine as well.
Take the qualities everyone is drawn to - confidence, a sense of humour, eye contact and a smile - onto the floor with you, and you’ll be amazed how much it boosts your popularity.
4. Be fancy at your own risk
This is not (is it ever?) the time to try out that awesome step or new arm-styling you just learned in that group class last week. Finding love through dancing requires making your partner feel safe in your arms. If you can impress her, without throwing her around like a rag doll, great. But stick with what you know, and know well.
5. When it’s okay to make a move
No matter how much she seems to dig you on the dance floor, take this golden rule for finding love to heart and spare yourself a world of embarrassment: If the only time she flirts with you is on the dance floor, she is NOT interested.
Here’s my personal recommendation on how to ease into romance territory:
- Say some variation of ‘That was great! It’s hard to find someone who makes the dance that easy. Why don’t we exchange numbers so we can let the other know if we’re heading out to a dance that night?’
- If she’s still smiling, invite her back to your table to talk further. It’s okay if she turns this down however - you can always get to know her in a future outing.
- Stay in touch, and stay in the scene, inviting her to join you dancing about once/week.
- From here it’s up to you to judge how warm she is towards you. Maybe she starts talking with you more off the dance floor, so you can suggest moving the conversation to a nearby cafe. Or maybe you let her know you’re in the area if she’d like to grab a bite to eat before the dance. If she says yes to either, odds are in your favour.
Of course, if you’re more experienced in the dating scene, and she’s giving strong signals of interest, you may be able move things along more quickly. Just remember that one-night stands tend to jeopardize a long-term relationship.. and might lead to some awkward encounters on the dance floor later. Good luck!
Ladies, any other ideas for finding love through dance? Fellas, what did you try that helped you get the girl?
About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for almost 20 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance and his endless seeking for ways to reach new audiences eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches ballroom at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Wrapping up our theme on getting more dances and dance partners when social dancing, it’s time to take a look at what actually happens during the dance itself. If you score an awesome dance partner, you’ll want to get more dances from your new friend, right? Then here’s the secret: make sure they have as much fun as you do.
Surprisingly, this doesn’t have to mean you need to dance as well as they do, although of course that helps. Rather a sense of humour and fun, creativity, and courtesy will be the real point scorers for your partner - just like in a romantic relationship.
Only Refuse if You Must
Ladies, unless you’re being asked by Arm-Twisting Arnold or sincerely need to sit one out, NEVER tell a potential partner no. Guys hate being turned down, and frequent refusals will have you dancing alone faster than a rocket sled on rails. If you do turn someone down, back up your excuse by not dancing with someone else until the song changes.
Guys, there’s many reasons why she might not feel like dancing at the moment - most of which have nothing to do with you. If she refuses you a second time however, take the hint and don’t ask again for that evening.
Dance at Your Partner’s Level
Showoffs might look good to a casual bystander, but they are a real turn-off for their partners.
Leaders should start with basic steps and gradually work into more advanced patterns. This is a great way of establishing your partner’s comfort level. Followers, even if you know how to dance 5 turns in a row and arm-style like a pro, restrain yourself until you're sure you won’t overwhelm your partner by doing so. And no back-leading!
Entertain Your Partner
This is where the real chemistry of social dancing comes into play. Understand that for the duration of the song, you can smile, flirt, laugh, and be playful with your partner, even if your husband is standing a few feet away. Let your personality shine through the dance, and show your partner with your face how glad your are to be dancing with them.
I encounter this very rarely, but I guarantee it’s a perfect way to put your partner at ease and have them smiling with you, no matter how much of a beginner either of you are.
Make Light of Mistakes
Be willing to laugh at yourself if you make a misstep. You might say ‘okay if anyone asks, I meant to do that’, or just shrug and smile. Sometimes I like to smile and stick out my tongue as if to say ‘well, THAT could have gone better.’ Your partner can’t be annoyed with your foibles while they’re laughing along with you!
Be VERY careful about calling attention to your partner’s mistakes. Usually smiling to let them know it’s okay is the best course of action.
Last time, we looked at how to make yourself more approachable and more direct when social dancing, scoring yourself more dance partners in the process. Now I’m looking at you, ladies. You know this is the age of equality, and that you can unashamedly ask a gent to dance without getting cut-eye from his friends.
But you don’t want to. It’s fun to have the guys come up to you, to know you’re desirable, at least as a dancing vixen. But it seems like no matter how talented you might be on the floor, they just aren’t willing to make the first move. So let’s break down the barriers that hold them back and find you some partners!
Find the ‘Loading Bays’
After every dance, there’s areas leaders will flock to more than anywhere else, knowing they are most likely to find a willing partner there. This might be a gap between tables, an alcove where people tend to cluster, or just the front of the dance floor. Find your prime piece of real estate in this area, and stake your claim.
Avoid the bar. Good dancers know they will only find newbies there at best - and drunken stilleto-stompers at worst.
Go Solo, and Stand
It’s far more intimidating for a man to approach a group of women sitting together than a single woman standing near the dance floor. If you want to go hang out with your friends, fine - just don’t expect many dances if you do.
Move to the Music
Sway, tap your feet, whatever you like. Let the music absorb you. When I’m looking for a dance partner, my first choice is someone who’s enjoying the music before I even ask. And I know I’m not the only one.
Watch the Dancers
While you’re waiting, you might as well have fun watching the action! Now here’s the difficult part: let your enjoyment show on your face. Show potential partners that even without dancing, you’re having fun. The more you believe it, the more irresistible you become.
By watching the dancing, you can pick out who to say yes to and who to avoid. No one deserves a dance with ‘arm-wrenching Arnold’.
Combine what you’ve learned above with the last article, and you are virtually guaranteed to double the number of dances you’ll get. Just remember that men can be just as nervous about asking as women are about not getting asked. So relax, and get ready for a fun night of social dancing!
(Stay tuned for part 3, where we focus on making your dance experience with your partner so much fun that they’ll ask again and again!)
Going social dancing can feel like a crap-shoot, when it comes to whether it will be a ‘good dance night’. After all, who hasn’t had to endure a string of ladies who all had ‘headaches’, or men who seemed to ask all your friends but you? The key to increasing your social dance popularity isn’t simply learning more dance steps - or wearing less clothes.
Rather, it’s a measure of confidence and approachability, combined with an ability to make your dance partner happy, that keeps them coming back for more.
What to Wear
Your choice of apparel is not just to look good to potential dance partners, but to ensure a comfortable dance as well:
- Avoid long necklaces, and big belt buckles, and be wary of watches, big rings, and brooches. They can catch on your partner’s hair or clothing, or bruise and scratch the skin.
- Low-cut sleeves and clothes that are baggy in the armpits can snag your partner’s hand when he is reaching around for a back connection. Favour closer-fitting clothes instead.
- Gentlemen: Try to minimize how much you carry in your pockets when social dancing - carry cards and cash rather than your whole wallet to save space. Store your belongings in your left pocket to make contact more comfortable with your partner.
Making Yourself Approachable
If you’re going social dancing, you must present yourself as a friendly, approachable person. I know several students who lament they never get enough dances - only to find out later that their would-be partners wanted to ask them, but felt intimidated!
- Say ‘hi!’ and smile. That’s it. When you’re walking over from the parking lot, waiting in line, or passing others on the way to the bathroom, give them this quick acknowledgement. You are already creating the impression of an engaging and fun dancer.
- Move around the edge of the dance floor. Watch the dancers dancing, tap your feet and/or sway to the music. Smile! You now look like someone who’s here to enjoy themselves, and others will want to share that good feeling with you.
- Keep your hands open, and avoid crossing your arms! This is psychological pepper-spray for would-be dance partners. Instead, leave them relaxed at your side or elevate the forearms to waist level, indicating you are ready to dance.
Popping the Question
At most halls for social dancing, both women and men can comfortably ask each other to dance. Of course, HOW you ask will certainly affect your success rate:
- Be clear and direct. Select your partner-to-be, and work your way towards them, making eye contact as you do. If you wander up to your target ambiguously, you risk offending their friends, who hoped you were going to ask them.
- Unless it’s someone you know, it’s usually best to avoid interrupting their conversation to ask. If you’re feeling lucky however, you can move to within a few feet of your target, within their eyesight. If they don’t acknowledge you within a few seconds, they don’t want to be disturbed.
- When it comes to actually asking, keep it short and sweet. A simple ‘care to dance?’ with an arm extended will suffice.
Of course, this is just scratching the surface in terms of making yourself an enjoyable and fun social dance partner. Next time, we’ll look at how women who really don’t like asking can make themselves a guy-magnet. Finally, part 3 will look at both sexes on how to make sure both you and your partner feel great while dancing socially - and keep them coming back for more!