So I decided to switch things up and post a real article here, rather than my usual random ramblings about my dancing. Let me know what you think!
Rejection stinks. When you ask someone to dance, you want them to say “yes.” But sometimes, without even knowing it, you can do things that make people never want to dance with you again.
Because the salsa scene is usually a friendly one, partners will generally suck it up if the rules you break are not too bad, but some are just taboo.
Here are 12 things to avoid if you want to keep hearing “yes” to your dance requests:
1. Don’t forget to shower and brush your teeth.
Salsa involves close contact with your partner, so the least you can do is make sure that you don’t stink. One of the top complaints dancers in general have about certain partners is poor hygiene, so if you don’t want follows to stay away from you, then make sure you try your best to smell good. If you want to be safe, use deodorant or antiperspirant, cologne, and minty gum or breath mints. (Just be sure not to over-do the cologne, can be equally gross.
2. Don’t be too rough.
Your partner is a person, not an object. There is a difference between being firm and being rough – you should give enough pressure to guide and lead your partner, but not so much that your partner doesn’t have the freedom to move on her own accord. Stay away from using iron grips, and don’t throw your partner around too violently. I have danced with guys whose idea of leading a spin was to fling a follow’s arm up and throw it forward. I spent the entire dance praying my arm wouldn’t break from his reckless leading. A follow needs to feel safe to be willing to dance with you again.
3. Don’t forget to pay attention to your surroundings.
Even if you’re dying to try out a cool new move you just learned, you have to make sure that there is enough space to lead it. Crashing your partner into other couples is not a good way to gain her trust. I have a nasty permanent scar running up the front of my foot, from being lead into another couple’s space and having the follow slice my foot with her stiletto heel.
4. Don’t teach.
Unless your partner specifically asks you for tips, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Social dancing is supposed to be fun, and most follows are just looking for a fun dance. You could also end up giving her the wrong advice, or correcting something that applies only to your leading technique. If the follow did not want the advice to begin with, she may say to avoid future “help.” If you really feel the need to say something, ask her first: “Do you want me to explain how this move works?” etc.
5. Don’t chastise your partner.
The worst dance I have ever had was with a partner who actually “tsk”ed at me. He made comments like, “I can’t believe you can’t even get that move!” I later found out that he was in a lower level of salsa than me, and had been screwing up the moves on his own. You can bet I won’t dance with him anymore, and warn everyone I get a chance to about what a jerk he is. Knowing someone does not give you an excuse to be mean, and follows don’t keep incidents like that to themselves! If you don’t like the way a follow dances, just finish the dance and make a note not to dance with her again.
6. Don’t make follows touch your sweat.
When you are literally wring-your-shirt-out drenched and flicking-sweat-flecks-off your body wet, it’s time to change your shirt. If you don’t have an extra shirt, then the least you can do is be considerate enough to limit your moves that those that do not require the follow to touch you more than they have to. For some reason, leads think it is okay to do spin-yourself-on-your-stomach spins with follows when they are at their sweatiest – trapping the poor follow into running the full length of her arm across the lead’s soaked chest. Forcing a girl to get covered with your sweat is both unnecessary and just plain gross.
7. Don’t feel up you partner.
It should go without saying, but the chest and butt area are off-limits. Even if your fingers unintentionally go where they shouldn’t, do you really expect your follow to believe it was an accident? Some leads try to see what they can get away with, often with new dancers. Don’t try this. If you think you can get away with anything, think again, because follows talk, and you could quickly gain an unflattering reputation.
8. Don’t dance too close.
Some guys think that dances like bachata are just an excuse to grind up against girls. They pull complete strangers so close against them that they can barely breathe, let alone move. The target is usually beginner dancers who don’t know any better. You might get away with one dance like this, but chances are, you won’t get another. Unless you never want to dance with the follow again, keep the dancing to a comfortable distance.
9. Don’t ignore your partner.
Dancing should always involve a level of respect. Even if your partner is not as good as you are, you should at least give her your attention for the duration of the dance. Talking over her shoulder with friends or engaging in other behaviours that clearly demonstrate your lack of interest can not only hurt your partner’s feelings, but can also make you look like a jerk to onlookers. Even if you didn’t want to dance with that partner again anyway, your behavior could disgust the friend she came with, who you do want to dance with. And if, one day, the follow goes on to become an amazing dancer, she will likely remember your rudeness and possibly reject you or treat you the same way.
10. Don’t show off.
Salsa is a partner dance, which means both partners’ levels and enjoyment should be considered. Focus on your partner, not on making yourself and the dance look good for onlookers. If your partner does not know any shines, don’t break into a shine of your own and leave her to stand around and watch you. It can be annoying and uncomfortable for a follow to dance with someone who cares more about what others see than the person he is leading.
11. Don’t keep attempting moves your partner clearly doesn’t get.
It’s good to get a feel for a partner you have never before danced with to get a sense of what she does or doesn’t know how to do. If you try a move three times and the follow still doesn’t get it, you should either give up and move on, or explain what to do if your partner asks for help. Some signals have to be learned, and you will just frustrate a follow if you keep doing moves she isn’t comfortable with.
12. Don’t ask for too many dances.
At maximum, you should be dancing two dances in a row with one partner (unless you came together as an item). If you really enjoy dancing with a particular follow, ask for another dance later on, rather than trying to monopolize her for the entire evening.
These are the main things that I, as a follow, think that leads should avoid if they don’t want to turn off people from wanting to dance with them again. Even before I started taking dance lessons at World Dance Co., I was social dancing salsa for about eight months (and of course, still have my feet in the social/salsa dance scene). While I have tried to cover the major complaints of follows, I have probably missed some.
Can you think of any other behaviours leads should stay away from? Let me know with a comment below, and I might consider incorporating your suggestion into the list.
If you know any leads who could use the advice, share this article with them and make the social dance scene a happier place. 🙂
Want more tips? Check out Salsa Dance Etiquette for Follows.
Note: To make this article easier to write, I have referred to leads as “he” and follows as “she.” I acknowledge that this is not always the case, especially since I sometimes lead both guys and girls. 😛 In fact, at the Vancouver dance studio I take classes at, there are two other girls besides me learning how to lead salsa. 🙂