Dancing with Newbies: Who should take the initiative?

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Dancer A: I never dance with beginners

Dancer B: Why?

Dancer A: They suck!

Dancer B: (Speechless)…

Unfortunately some people actually do think this way. And you know what? That’s their prerogative.

I’ve recently started using a new catchphrase for how I behave in many of my interactions in my day to day life and that is “Do whatever the f##k you want”. Obviously I don’t apply this to every situation I encounter in life (I’m not a total di#k 😉 ) but I don’t think people need to be told how to behave in their day to day life (in most situations). However, maybe people should think about their actions a little bit more.

Anyway, back to dancing. We’ve all been beginners before and we know how it felt to go to social dances as a beginner; for many it can be a terrifying and stressful situation. Try reminding yourself, you had very little experience dancing (maybe none other than a single dance class) and you’re suddenly in an environment where everyone dancing (hopefully many of them dancing well), doing combinations that make your head spin and reacting to changes in the music that fill you with awe and admiration and… fear. The fear of knowing that you can’t dance anything like that.

If you dance well now, obviously you got over that initial fear or at least you were able to bear through it, racking up “experience points” by dancing with better and better dancers and getting to where you are now as a dancer. Go You! (Virtual High-5).

You know it’s not easy, as a beginner, to ask someone out to dance. You’re either terrified they’ll say “No” and damage your ego… or you’re terrified they’ll say “Yes” and then you’ll dance badly… and damage your ego. It’s a beautiful dichotomy really.

We need Newbies
Let’s be honest, dance communities, in general, are very dynamic. People come and go constantly so in order for a dance community to grow and develop there needs to be a relatively constant influx of “new blood” to replace those who eventually leave. As more experienced dancers, who have been through the initial discomfort of being beginners, I feel that it’s our responsibility to at least do a “little bit” towards nurturing the development of newbies.

The inspiration for this article came from a post that a friend of mine (thanks Rui) made on his Facebook page asking more experienced dancers to actively ask beginners out to dance. This way, new dancers would get more experience with higher-level dancers, smoothing-out their transition into the dance world.

It sounds like a great idea to me but I don’t think it’s THE solution that is needed. Of course I encourage higher-level dancers to not only accept dances from new dancers but also to show them a great time while doing it. What I mean is to show beginners that you’re having a good time with them. I say this because when I started out I distinctly remember dancing with some high level follows who showed with their facial expressions, just how uninterested they were in the dance. If that’s how you, as an experienced dancer, think it’s acceptable to dance with a beginner, then just don’t bother! Keep your “Resting Bitch Face” to yourself (and I’m talking to both men and women). If you don’t want to dance with a beginner then don’t but if you do, then show them a good time to encourage them as dancers.

Beginners: Do something about it!
I need to be honest, though; I don’t think that getting experienced dancers to actively ask out newbies is a particularly viable solution. For one, it’s putting too much responsibility on them. People dance for fun, not necessarily to become a dance community crusader. Yeah, I think, they “should” dance with newbies but I’m not going to say that they “have to” either. On top of that, I really think that the initiative should come from the beginners themselves.

That’s right “Newbies”, after all that coddling I gave you at the start of this article, now I’m calling you out. You got into this big, scary dance world because you want to learn to dance. Now you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone and actually start dancing socially.

Just imagine yourself as this 18th-century play boy with all these ladies lining up to dance with you and you'll have no problem asking someone out to dance!

Just imagine yourself as this 18th-century playboy with all these ladies lining up to dance with you and you’ll have no problem asking someone out to dance! You de man!

I know how intimidating it is. You see so many great dancers doing so many things that you “feel like” you could never do and it scares you. You don’t want to make a mistake, you don’t want to bore someone for a whole song, you don’t want to step on somebodies toes… it’s performance anxiety at it’s worst. But you know what? We all had to go through it… and we survived. So will you.

You want to get better at dancing and the only way that’s going to happen is if you dance more… so “suck it up” and ask someone out to dance. If you’re a girl, don’t fall into that ridiculously outdated trap of feeling that you should wait for a man to ask you out to dance. The dance community is much more progressive than that. I rarely ask someone to dance anymore because girls know they can approach me and I’ll be happy to dance with them, regardless of their level. If you’re a guy just strut right up to a girl that’s not dancing (but looks like she wants to) and politely ask her to dance. It’s really that easy. 95% of the time, the person you ask will say “YES”. Remember that.

Caveat: Bear in mind please that just because one person agrees to dance with you once, it doesn’t mean they want to spend the night dancing with you. People usually go social dancing because they want to dance with a lot of different people or with their friends. Leave them do that. And remember to always say thank you 😉 . Also bear in mind that sometimes, people will say “No” and that’s their prerogative. They may have a genuine reason, or they may not. Either way, don’t let it bother you and just ask the next person. You’re there to have fun so make sure you do.

We all have a part to play!
The dance community can be a really beautiful thing if we nurture it the right way. Experienced dancers don’t shouldn’t feel they have to go out of their way to ask out beginners but it’s also important that beginners feel that they won’t be constantly turned down. Play your part and the community will grow and develop into something bigger and better.

Keep dancing folks.

18 Comments

  • Dea says:

    I stopped dancing Kizomba and Semba and only occasionally dance Salsa and Bachata because of what you write about and also because of fat shaming. I can cut a rug now, and love to dance. To have men though look me up and down and pass me over just to dance with flat bottomed, flat as**ed skinny minnies over and over. To feel like a piece of meat?
    Umm no thanks, pass.

    • Jonny D says:

      This.

      As a (very) big guy and somebody with a face for radio regardless, it doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m good or not, there seems to be a stigma to dancing with me.

      I’ve been learning Salsa for just over a year now. I’m quite lucky insofar as I have a decent ear for music and have always been fairly flexible and smooth-moving and I’m certainly not a great dancer. But I am a very clear and concise lead as that is what I have focused my main attention on.

      The number of times I get a comment along the lines of “Wow… for a big guy you’ve really got some moves!” or “I didn’t expect an awesome dance with somebody… like… you” – newsflash, that’s NOT a compliment. Either I’m a good lead or I’m not, and that can change dependent on a number of factors (connection with my partner, whether I’m tired or achy, whether I’m enjoying the musical track), but my size has absolutely nothing to do with it!

      So I feel your pain!!! It’s even got to the point where I’m reluctant to ask people for dances now, whereas before I had no issues.

      • Hey Jonny
        If dance has taught me anything is that you never can judge a book by it’s cover. If people are surprised by your dancing ability, leave them be surprised. Keep asking for dances and keep leaving a trail of pleasant surprise in your wake.

  • Artur says:

    Thanks for a great article! I was expecting non-beginner bashing for their unwillingness to dance with beginners. It was great to read the no-guilt paragraph. Personally, I think I have every right to enjoy my night out dancing. And let’s be honest, dancing with a beginner frequently feels more like a chore than entertainment. But I try to do that anyway for several reasons. For one, I’m trying to pay back for the kindness of all those merciful ladies who being awesome dancers still had the patience to dance with me back when I was a beginner. Secondly, because I know that without help of those more advanced there won’t be much of an influx of new dancers in the scene. And with veterans leaving the scene, it will die without influx of new dancers. Thirdly, it actually can be much fun dancing with a beginner. Sometimes more fun than dancing with a bored advanced dancer who acts like nothing in the world can impress her. Many of the beginners are very appreciative and just fun people to spend few minutes with doing mostly basic. However, I have problem with one class of beginners: those who started years ago, never made much progress and still have trouble with the basics. Yet some of them feel it is my job to entertain them with a dance. No, thanks. I don’t expect mastery of anyone. We’re all still learning, we all can improve but that last group should perhaps consider some other form of entertainment.

  • Artur says:

    Oh, and one more thing. Regarding the title of this article. Who should take the initiative? Both. Beginners because it’s their job to get more advanced dancers to dance with them. And advanced dancers because I remember how intimidated I was and sometimes still am to ask for a dance a much better dancer than I am.

  • Amanda says:

    I love dancing with newbies and any other ‘good’ dancer should too. It’s a great opportunity to work on your basics! What I definitely need to work on though is my attitude towards ‘I’ve been dancing long enough that I know what I’m doing’ when really they don’t – type of dancers. I’ve been hurt so many times by people who think they’re super great just because they’re been doing it for a long time. I’ve never been great at telling leads they’re hurting me and generally just avoid them after that first dance. Not a great approach for learning but it does help avoid conflict on the dance floor when we’re all there for fun.

    • Thanks for the comment Amanda. I think it would be great if more people shared your attitude about wanting to dance with beginners. What you say about people with way too much confidence in their own abilities is also something I’ve observed, but they don’t have to be dancing for years to get to that point. You find a lot of dancers with a year under their belt acting like they’re Frankie Martinez and let’s face it… they’re not!

  • bob english says:

    The thing that all dancers need to remember is that we were ALL newbies at one time! Do you love to dance? Does it fill your life with happiness? Do you not want to help a newbie to find the place that dance takes you to? Imagine, if the world had more dancers, the world would need less soldiers!

  • Fred says:

    So, I’ve been dancing for a bit of a while and I am not new to salsa. However, I am not also a “pro” at it. I do not mind dancing with newer dancers cause I would wish to be treated the same way.
    However, I’ve seen that there’s several types of newer dancers: people really interested in the dance and trying, and people who are not really interested, and their attempts at it seem more like a mockery of the art.
    Like, I’ve worked hard, spent a lot of time and money, and I love salsa. So when I dance with somebody, and I notice that they’re at least trying, it’s fine with me if they don’t do well at it, it’s all about fun.
    But when I dance with a learner who’s seemingly just not trying, I feel like my effort and achievement in the dance is being mocked. One can tell when people are just there to be ***holes, and when they’re genuinely giving it a try. I will be more hesitant to dance with the former type of learner, and I will dance with the latter type any time.
    I think many better dancers sometimes find this dynamic on the floor, and don’t like to feel like their achievements are being mocked, but wouldn’t mind people who are sincerely putting forth some effort.

  • Just Keep Dancing says:

    In life, not just dance, if you want to improve at anything, it is on you to take initiative. If someone else takes the initiative for you, they are just being nice. It’s not their obligation to help anyone improve.

    If a beginner excepts this responsibility, they will improve quickly.

    Anybody who wants to better themselves in life must except 100% accountability for their life. The same principle applies to your dance life.

  • Gitagia says:

    Personally. I wld request the advance lot to encourage the new bies by not turning down dance request by beginners. This in most cases kills one morale and the interest to learn more abt the dance. This apples specifically to the advanced lot in Kenyan dance scene. This ain’t a home, but through personal experience.

  • Livia says:

    A few people have mentioned this, but I will flog the dead horse because I feel very strongly about it. I feel that beginners who go social dancing have a responsibility to be capable up to a certain standard. They don’t need to know everything, but they need to at least be able to do the basics well. As a beginner, I attended classes and made sure I could keep time, follow and do basic figures before I even thought about going out social dancing. I have no problem dancing with beginners, but unless it’s a studio “social” aimed at beginners, it irritates me when they cannot keep time or they get annoyed with me when they “lead” something that I haven’t followed (and usually have no way of following) “correctly” according to them.

  • Fred says:

    Perhaps, one other thing we neglect is the question of time. A newer dancer is also usually new to the environment, the venue, the dancers, the social circle(s). etc.
    It is often difficult, and one shouldn’t expect, to simply show up at a new place and just ask or expect people to be lined up to dance with one.
    Sometimes, people have been dancing with each other for years, and sometimes people go to the same dance schools/classes etc. So, it is sometimes going to be tricky to break through some of those social doors, just as a matter of the way we operate as social human beings, and not due to the fact that one is new or learning.
    With time, as one frequents a place and meets folks, things change.
    Personally, I’ve found that that’s one of the good reasons to take classes, and usually venues have some form of classes before the social dancing. It can be a good “tactic” to break into the scene. Those classmates will ask each other to dance, and the more classes one takes, the more friends and potential dance partners one finds.
    I was at a party some weeks ago, and an infrequent female dancer said to me about some other ladies “oh, those people are a clique etc etc, they don’t dance with other folks” etc. But, what that person didn’t know was that “clique” went to the same classes every week! And went together to congresses, shared rooms etc, they’d been doing so for over two or three years! I knew because I often take classes with them!! This person showed up to dance about once every three or so months! Well, how are folks going to know and meet you if you show up once a year?! So, sometimes it’s simply a question of time! New dancers need to learn this, and don’t be discouraged! Remember there are likely plenty of good old human social dynamics at play, too, quite apart from the fact that one is a learner or newbie. It’s happened to me, too! I thought folks were closed. But, when I took classes, went to socials, I realized they weren’t in closed groups at all! It’s again one of those instances to remember the usual refrain, appearances can be deceiving!!!

  • Melissa West-Koistila says:

    I love this article!! I look forward to reading your next one!

  • Rachel says:

    I have a personal “rule” for myself that I’ll always be willing to dance at least once with any guy who asks me (unless I’ve already seen him out on the floor being way too forceful and yanking girls’ arms, or being a creep).. so if a beginner guy asks me to dance, of course I’ll dance with him! I actually like it sometimes, because the beginner guys are trying so hard that they’re often very smooth dancers… maybe they don’t have too many moves, but what they’re doing is nice. 🙂 I also feel that dancing with guys of all different levels helps me learn how different guys lead the same move, and helps me be a smoother dancer. I also feel like advanced guys who often dance with beginner girls are better leads.. They’ve learned how get their idea across really clearly… I’ve noticed that some guys who only dance with girls from their dance classes aren’t real clear leads.. the girls learned the same moves as they did, so the girls are actually doing a lot of it themselves. So I feel that having the guys dance with girls outside their group helps them become better at leading the move so any lady will know what’s happening.

  • Wayne Murray says:

    Thank you for the article, it fits me perfectly. I’m a 60 year old male that can pass for 50, just realized I’m not 40 anymore. Lol. Your comments on what it is like to be a “beginner” are spot on. Out of the comfort zone is more difficult for those with “life experience” because we’ve spent a lifetime becomming comfortable. For me it is important to keep the goal of becomming a competent dancer and getting to the “fun” stage in mind. Knowing that there is an active presence to assist helps greatly. Thank you very much!

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