When I first joined the Latin Dance Community I had no idea what to expect. I was introduced to salsa, bachata, and merengue by a few hispanic friends of mine. One was Mexican and a couple others were Salvadoran. None of my friends were professional dancers, but they had grown up dancing and were kind enough to show me. I remember going to salsa clubs with my friends and being extremely nervous about dancing in front of people. I thought they were all staring at me, this tall black guy who obviously had no idea what he was doing. And the idea of asking a girl to dance terrified me. I was completely unaccustomed to leading and its not easy to be a cool soul brotha when you’re nervous. Swag and terror don’t mix.
I grew up in the hip-hop world where the majority of your dancing at clubs involves various levels of grinding, jumping, and booty shaking. There were no step counts to learn, turn patterns to execute, or different styles of music to recognize, and the only leading was directing the girl I danced with to the bar to get a drink. Joining the latin dance community opened my eyes not only to a variety of new ideas and friends, but it helped me grow as a person and gain a level of social confidence I hadn’t experienced before.
The following article is a list of tips geared towards people who may be entering the latin dance community. Some of these are common sense while others are things I learned that I wish I’d known before I started dancing. A few LDC contributors have given their perspectives on dance etiquette that you may find useful, so I won’t repeat those tips.
These are my opinions, but I think they’ll serve anyone who is thinking about joining the community.
(1) Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, etc aren’t just dances for hispanic/latino people, so expect a diverse crowd. The dance community is like the community college of hobbies…there is a little bit of every culture there. These days social media sites like YouTube have likely eliminated the notion that only Hispanics dance Salsa…but that was a stereotype I held before I entered the community (around 2006). I remember the first time I saw an Asian dance salsa…and she was awesome! Her name was Jennifer Tjaden and we later became friends. Watching her dance was like watching a black guy who is good at ice hockey. I was like, ‘Asians dance salsa too?’ Looking back on that moment I’m reminded of how sheltered I’d been from this community, and it showed me that dance isn’t a color or activity owned by this group or that one.
(2) Find a good instructor who teaches you how to dance to the music…not through it. If your instructor teaches you “quick, quick, slow…or step, step, step, hip” instead of numbers, then you need to find a new teacher pronto. Certain dances lend themselves more to ‘dancing with feeling’, but the fundamentals should be rooted in sound theory. The music you dance to has structure and so should your dancing. Yes, you should dance with feeling, but that feeling should be based on structure. Many dancers in the LDC get really annoyed if someone goes off on their own timing because they are ‘dancing with feeling’. Interpreting the music is fine and can definitely add an element of fun to the dance, but you will need to stay engaged with your partner. This is true whether you’re the most elementary dancer to the Mambo King himself, Eddie Torres.
(3) Don’t walk through the dance floor…walk around it. When I was going to hip-hop clubs it was pretty common for people to just walk right through the center of the floor with no hesitation, especially if you were trying to talk to a girl, or dance with her. This is a cardinal sin in the LDC. A big no-no. There are very few things more annoying to social dancers than someone who tries to walk through the dance floor to leave or (God forbid) talk to someone. If you want to say goodbye to someone either wave, or just wait for the song to end. You are not Noah and the dance floor will not magically part for you.
(4) Let down your guard and don’t be afraid to have others be apart of your personal space. Rachel Cassandra has written some really good articles that touch on this topic, “Let’s talk about Intimacy” and “Bridging The Divide: Movement vs. Non-Movement Cultures”. The Brisbane Salsero wrote an article called, “Free Hugs”. These give really good advice and opinions on the subject.
(5) If you see two guys dancing together at a social DON’T FREAK OUT. If you’re homophobic then the latin dance community may not be the place for you. If you love to dance, but the gay lifestyle is against your religion or personal beliefs then it will be in your best interests to keep your opinions to yourself or, at the very least, not attempt a crusade against homosexuality. I remember the first time I saw two guys dancing together and it caught me completely off guard. I had never seen two guys partner dance together.
I wasn’t offended by it, but it definitely was awkward viewing for me. Now after several years of being in the LDC it’s not a big deal at all and I understand it’s just part of the atmosphere at a social. The latin dance community can be an incredibly inclusive place. And I’ve also learned that just because two people of the same-sex might be dancing together it doesn’t mean they’re both gay. That would be an incorrect assumption for both men and women, respectively.
(6) If you see a girl and guy together and they’re obviously a couple, and you want to dance with one of them, you should ask their partner first. And if you know the person you want to dance with don’t just grab them like they’re single and take them to the dance floor! This, in my opinion, is a flagrant LDC foul and usually will highly irritate their spouse. I’ve been the person grabbed before and its not fun having to scold your friend.
(7) Don’t take rejection personally. Everyone gets turned down for a dance at some point. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. Guys, if a girl says ‘no’ when you ask her to dance there could be a myriad of reasons why; her feet hurt, she’s tired, she doesn’t know how to dance, she’s waiting for a friend or boyfriend, she’s drunk (ha)…Yes, there are some girls out there who shy away from dancing with beginners. Is that the most friendly thing to do? No, but its their prerogative. Don’t beg or try to be forceful!
Just smile and say ‘thank you’, and keep having fun. You also don’t want to be that guy who keeps asking the entire night. If you get turned down once, its ok to ask her to dance again after a few songs go by. If she’s no again…then consider her to have a big ‘X’ over her head because if you ask a third time you might go from the friendly guy who is just wanting to have fun to ‘that annoying guy’ who keeps asking me to dance. Some girls have a three strike rule, but the girls I know usually say two is a good rule of thumb.
(8) Don’t record a couple dancing unless you get their permission. Even if you know someone it’s still the polite thing to do. Instructors and performers may not mind, but us regular folks might get suspicious.
(9) Find Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Tango and/or Kizomba songs you like and listen to them in your spare time. This was a HUGE help to me. This will speed up your learning curve because you’ll train your ear to become more familiar with the instruments and rhythms. I had ZERO knowledge of these genres of music when I began dancing, and what knowledge I did have was limited to Gloria Estefan and those guys that sang the Macarena. I got into the community through friends who wanted to try it. A lot of people in the community grow up listening to the music so they’re naturally tuned to the rhythm. If you want to get better you’ll need to begin to feel the music and, more importantly, appreciate it.
Once you find songs you like you can practice dancing to those and you’ll find it much easier to dance to songs you don’t know…in my opinion. I’m not Dominican, but when I hear a bachata song by Joan Soriano or Antony Santos I get the shakes and I have to get up and shake my ghetto booty. Find an artist that makes you want to dance.
(10) Go to a salsa congress. This is a great way to meet a lot of new friends and dance with people you haven’t met before. Rachel Cassandra has written a great article on how to prepare for those called “5 Steps to Maximizing Your Dance Congress Experience“.
Do you have any tips? Perhaps you experienced something upon joining the latin dance community that you didn’t expect?
Let us know :).