How To Turn Dance Friends Into Real Friends

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Dance friendships are a funny kind of relationship: we spend hours with people every single week but often barely know them. The endorphins rush; the fun of dancing; the physical closeness and the shared experiences, laughter, and goals – these can make those relationships a precious part of our life.

But some of these friends, if we’re honest, are merely acquaintances that we share a hobby with. And while that isn’t a bad thing, when our life is full of acquaintances in place of friends, it can get a little lonely.

It doesn’t have to be like that, though. Partnered dancing is a social activity and the dance scene is an excellent way to make lasting connections.

So, let’s look at how you make friends on – or, perhaps more accurately, off – the dance floor.

What Makes Friends “Real” Friends?

There are many ways to define friendship. We could talk about really knowing someone: their ambitions, anxieties, flaws, and strengths. Or about supporting them, being there when they need you. About having the ability to hurt them in an argument and, should that happen, considering it worth the emotional investment to rebuild the relationship afterwards. (And not just to avoid awkwardness at dance nights, either.)

Perhaps a good definition of a “real friend” is someone you miss when they’re away, not because you want to dance with them, but because you want to talk to them. It’s someone you would still see if they quit dancing.

But that’s just a description of friendship. There’s another important word in my question: “makes”. Because as corny as it sounds, friendship doesn’t just happen. It’s built.

Let’s get scientific about this: Jeffrey A. Hall recently published a study, How many hours does it take to make a friend?, in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. He found that there are a variety of prerequisites for friendship.

  • You have to spend time together: 50 hours to become a casual friend, 90 to be friends, and 200 to be close friends.
  • That time has to be spent together by choice. Hall found that meeting people outside of scheduled activities (which would include dance classes) was necessary.
  • Friendship also tends to happen within the first three to nine weeks of meeting someone – or not at all.

Now, life isn’t reducible to numbers and I have a theory that the last bullet point is breakable; it just requires us to do something to force the change in our relationship. But this does give us a framework to understanding friendship: they’re people you (enjoy) spending a lot of time with outside of, as well as inside, the dance world.

So, how do we get from seeing someone in dance classes to spending 200 hours with them away from the dance floor – and still liking them?

There’s a closeness to dancing that can translate to off-the-dance-floor friendship – but only if you make it happen. Dance floor smiles can be the first step in forming friendships. Credit: Absolut Kizomba Events, Lisbon

1. Talk to Other Dancers

There are some places around the world where you only dance with your friends. But if you’re in the UK, US, or major cities with a developed dance scene, you can easily dance all night long without saying more than three or four phrases (“Hello”, “Would you like to dance?”, “Yes”, and “Thank you”).

While it might sound obvious, if you’re looking for friendship as well as a good night of dancing, you need to talk to people. Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Not sure how to strike up a conversation? Try a few of these:

Talk about the dance night or the music being played – “Enjoying the music? I love this song! I haven’t heard it in ages…”

  • Ask about the other dances they do – “So, do you just dance salsa or do you do other dances as well?”
  • Ask about the clothing/jewelry they’re wearing or whatever it is they’re drinking – “I love your dress! It’s so hard to find ones that are spin-appropriate.”
  • If you noticed something about their emotional/physical state, and you feel it’s appropriate, ask about it (note: this is best done with someone you’ve met a few times before) – “You seem a little tired. Late night last night?” or “You’re in a really good mood today. Is this your type of music?”
  • Ask where else they dance or where they learnt – “You’ve got a fun dance style. Did you learn around here?”

Of course, these are just ice-breakers. You need to keep the conversation going or strike it up again another time. But, like everything, the first time is always the hardest.

2. Consider Switching Roles

When in my hometown, I always dance with a relative of mine. We go to the same events, dance with the same people, and usually are on the floor for the same percentage of the night. We both (mainly) follow.

Yet there’s a big difference between our dance friends: when she lists hers, they’re all women. When I list mine, they’re all men.

My lack of female friends always made sense, given that I mainly dance with men, but it was also frustrating. However, I found that when I started taking classes as a lead, I suddenly started talking more to the other followers – who were nearly always women.

There are many reasons to switch roles when dancing. Followers, it gives you an opportunity to be more creative, to both improve and express your musicality, and also a new kind of challenge. Leads, you get the delightful, at times relaxing, and often surprising experience of following; the chance to better understand and improve your partner connection; and an insight into the type of choreography that feels good for a follower.

But there’s also one more benefit: it widens your social circle.

3. Invite People to Do Things

Whether it’s in a group or one-on-one, real friendship happens when you get off the dance floor. Now that you’re already chatting to a wide group of people at dance events, it’s time to take the initiative: ask them over for dinner, to grab a coffee or a drink, to go for a hike or a picnic on the beach.

If you’re nervous (perhaps it’s been far more than those three to nine weeks Hall found were the crucial stretch), look for an occasion or dance-related event. Maybe there’s a nearby museum exhibit about dance around the world, a birthday coming up, or even a flamenco show.

Don’t just mention it, though: chances are people will agree but never get around to going. Instead, be proactive. Suggest a date and a time. Create a WhatsApp group. Get the event organised.

Salsa friends turned real-life-friends; posing for a photo after an outdoor theatre production starring one of the group.

4. Make Real Conversation

When you only know someone through the dance world, it can be hard to think of something to talk about that’s not dancing. And while this is fine when you’re at a social or in a class, it becomes more difficult when you’re away from the dance floor. Best case, you end up rehashing subjects and saying goodbye early. Worst case, you either end up gossiping about other dancers (hello, cliques) or sitting there in awkward silence.

You can hang out with a dance friend twice a week for months and yet know nothing about them. And so, to turn a dance friendship into a real friendship, you need to start by filling in the gaps.

Talk about the basics, yes, but don’t just stop there, because “What do you do?” and “Are you from around here?” aren’t always that interesting. Ask questions that tap into people’s emotions and opinions, things like “Do you like it?”, “Why?”, and “Would you make the same choice again?”

Be an active conversationalist. Share information about yourself, ask follow-up questions, and demonstrate curiosity about the person you’re talking to. This is how you turn “What do you do?” into a deep conversation about life goals, best experiences, and anxieties.

Because it’s when you share these deeper, more authentic parts of yourself, that you make friends.

5. Remember That You Don’t Have to Like Everybody

Perhaps a dance friend is happy to talk about themselves but shows no interest in you. Or maybe it turns out they’re quietly sexist or racist. Or it could be that you simply find them boring.

That’s okay. Not everyone you dance with has to become real friends (and some you may even discover you want to downgrade to just someone-you-know). There are people with whom you can have amazing dance chemistry but struggle to hold a conversation with, and that doesn’t devalue how fun it is to dance with them.

However, it’s important that you know who’s just a dance acquaintance and who’s really a friend – because we all need meaningful relationships.

And those acquaintances have the potential to become lifelong friends, if we make the effort to get to know them off the dance floor.

4 Comments

  • Abbey Plotkin says:

    Thanks, Tanya. Been in the Salsa scene about 30 yrs and know a TON of people but very few do I consider REAL friends. Mostly this is because when I was younger, I didn’t WANT to talk. I just wanted to DANCE, DANCE, DANCE and don’t waste my time with conversation!!! Now that I’m OLD and I LIKE to sit out some songs and get to know people, I’m the one that the young kids are thinking, I wish this old broad would SHUT UP and let me go dance!!!! lol Que Sera, Sera!

    • Tanya Newton says:

      Hahaha Abbey, I relate to BOTH younger you and older you!! I think you’re right in that, when we first start dancing, it’s so magical that we just want to dance all night – but it’s good to slow down and make friends along the way, too!

  • Chris says:

    Getting something to eat or drink with a small group before or after a dance event is one of the easier ways to start.

    Traveling involves spending a lot of concentrated time together, which often means getting to know people a lot better.

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