You NEED to be OK with Dancing like an Idiot!

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It is probably what holds us back most in life, not just in dancing but in everything we do.

That most irrational of fears, that is powerful enough to paralyze us in our actions and hold us back from achieving what we want. In reality, it’s unfounded and ridiculous. In practice, it’s crippling.

I am, of course, speaking about THE FEAR THAT EVERYBODY’S WATCHING!!!!

I feel like I’m being watched
Most people have felt this, if not when dancing then when doing something (virtually anything) in a public setting. The fear that everybody around is not only watching us but also judging us, is strong enough to stop us from attempting anything where there is a risk (real or merely conceived) of failure.

I’m not going to attempt to get into the psychology of it but if you’re reading this then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s the fear that stopped me, on my first night at a salsa club, from asking anyone other than my girlfriend to dance (until it was almost the last song of the night and I danced with a stranger for the last 30 seconds of a song… oh yeah, totally fearless!). It’s the fear that overcomes us the first time we ever sing karaoke and it’s the fear that forces many people to resort to “Dutch Courage” in social situations.

It is a futile fear that does a great disservice to the endeavors of mankind!
(Give me an Amen!)

Learning to dance like nobody’s watching
So, how in the name of all that is good and latin are we supposed to overcome this paralyzing fear and become the great salseros that we are destined to be??

Easier said than done, right!

Easier said than done, right!

We’ve all heard this a million times right! It’s one of those stupid motivational phrases that’s supposed to help us break free from the self-imposed chains that are our fears… blah, blah, blah! It’s usually followed by some equally nauseating sentences on a cutesy poster… just like this one…

I'm trying to control my gag reflex!

I’m trying to control my gag reflex!

Normally my response to things like this is to try and hold back my gag reflex.

However, for the purpose of this article I feel it serves a purpose. If we could learn to dance like nobody’s watching we could finally relax into the dance, free up our movements and really starting enjoying the intricacies of the music that moves us. We need that sense of freedom to dance well!

I’m certain that all you’re thinking right now is something along the lines of “But everyone IS watching me when I dance, waiting for me to mess up so they can point and laugh at my failure forcing me to run from the dance-floor, hiding my tears with my hands and later moving to a small, middle-of-nowhere town on a different continent so that I can begin my life anew, vowing to never make the near fatal mistake of dancing in public again”….that’s what you were thinking right!?

Well have no fear, fellow student of dance, for I once again have the solution needed by all of us socially awkward dancers.

Come closer… the secret to learning to dance like nobody’s watching… is to actually dance WHEN nobody’s watching!

The inspiration for this genius piece of advice came to me tonight when I put on some music and decided to practice some shine’s I had seen in a class this week.

So I danced… by myself… in my living room… in front of an audience of NONE! AND I LOOKED LIKE AN ABSOLUTE IDIOT! And that’s exactly what I needed.

When you are genuinely free from the anxiety of being judged by others you don’t care how much of an idiot you look like. You loosen up and the magic starts to happen!

You can practice moves you would never dream of attempting on the dance-floor for fear of making a mistake. You can listen to the music without the worry of having to lead or follow a partner and appreciate the way it changes. You can loosen up all those muscles that automatically tighten up when you’re in public.

This new, relaxed you can now practice the body isolations, shines, rumba or even just the basic steps while enjoying the music, reacting to it organically instead of moving like a clunky, rusted tin-man.

While writing this article I’ve actually stood up a few times, when a song I liked came on ( I have a salsa playlist just for getting me in the mood for writing), and just danced to it; On1, On2, shines, assorted stupidness etc. I lost count of how many times I lost the beat (or my balance) but it doesn’t matter. NOBODY’S WATCHING!

It's good to dance like a crazy fool... at times!

It’s good to dance like a crazy fool… at times!

And here’s the beauty of dancing like and idiot when nobody’s watching. If you do it regularly enough you start getting better at what you practice and amazingly you’ll eventually be able to do it IN PUBLIC!

You’ll become more comfortable with yourself and how you move and that translates to confidence on the dance-floor. There ain’t nothin’ sexier than confidence.

My one caveat for this exercise is that you try and do it in front of a mirror so that you can make sure the movements you’re getting used to aren’t completely… ridiculous ;-)

Get comfortable dancing with more freedom... just not too much!!

Get comfortable dancing with more freedom… just not too much!!

So here’s your homework: lock the door, put on a playlist of some of your favorite salsa songs (the funkier the better), find a few youtube videos of some of your favorite dancers for a little inspiration and just start moving. The music will let you know what you need to do!

Keep dancing folks!



  • David Sander says:

    If you have known weaknesses, this is the time to work on them too. But do have fun and try things out. Watch some of the movements you like at dances and see if you can understand them and replicate them. :)

  • Mick says:

    Ah Richie, brilliant. The closet dancer, you’ve found me. But what if mother walks into the room without knocking?

    At the beginning, in public and in hiding, we all dance like idiots, or more kindly, keen beginners. And, publicly, no one will want to watch, except perhaps to smile and cheer another dance story onto its first page.

    Then we improve, and we have to accept that people do watch. So we persist and the joy meter jumps and drops accordingly, chapter by chapter. (See Chapter 7 entitled, ‘Never dip a partner without catching her’.)

    At some stage we look carefully and find that we have moved into a category where partners happily dance with us, and no one is in any danger.

    Then we dance as if no one is watching, and the closet hinges rust.

    (Richie, I like your articles. Your words and themes are strong enough to communicate the message and hold the reader. Maybe you could try the next one without using all the fonts, bolding and italics?)

    • Haha, thanks Mick, I really appreciate the comment. I’m glad you liked the article.
      As for the fonts and bolding, yeah, I distinctly remember someone telling me to take it easy before haha ;) I’ll tone it down.

  • Gabi Libotean says:

    Great piece Richie :D A truly inspiring article, giving inspiration and motivation to the ones whom doubt themselves. I have just posted your article on our page and shared it all across romanian salsa groups… hope you don’t mind :) here is the link :)
    Keep up the awsome job ;)

  • Wandering Pasia says:

    Richie – big fan of your writing.

    How long would it say it takes to get over “Beginner Hell”.

    Just arrived in Cali, Colombia (after reading about it on your site) and I’m taking lessons but finding it impossible to dance in the main Salsa bars.


  • Marius says:

    Thanks Richie, great article!

    In a culture, where dancing is taught to base on step patterns, the fear of doing things wrong – or doing the wrong things, which resembles to everything that is not the step pattern – is a self made problem.

    We should wonder why, if we know that dancing “like an idiot” will help us improve a great deal, why isn’t that part of the dance class, why isn’t it taught as general principle?

    Because that’s actually the only reason why it feels like being an idiot – because the majority doesn’t do it.

    So my suggestion is: Teach it. Make dancing “like an idiot” become the normal dancing!

    Best regards from a pro idiot ;-)

  • Victor says:

    I only started dancing last year but I have to admit I was stopped for many years before that because I was also embarrassed of seeing myself dance badly even when alone.

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