How to have a great time, even when you’re a newbie.
News flash: you have to actually dance salsa in order to learn salsa. This means getting outside your comfort zone and going to some socials, even if you’re just a newbie. Order a drink. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Getting on the dance floor is your priority.
And just in case this makes you nervous, here are some tips to help you along.
1. Look hot!
I hate to make this number one, but it’s true: spending time on your appearance can do major things for your salsa game.
For one thing, it gets you in the right frame of mind. If you came straight from the office, or just got off the couch, you’re not going to feel as on point. Dressing up gives you confidence, which is essential for putting yourself out there and trying something new.
Also, your appearance really does matter when it comes to picking up dance partners. It’s a nightlife scene, so you need to dress the part, which means actually washing your hair, putting on some lipstick, and definitely using deodorant. You have to look like you care. If you’re not feeling it, it will show.
Bottom line is that you’re going to be in physical contact with a bunch of strangers. Wouldn’t you want them to be clean and presentable, too?
2. Don’t bring a date
When I first started dancing salsa again, I thought it would be a great idea to bring a date. It would be fun for both of us to get outside our comfort zones, I thought. And moral support is always nice.
But I was wrong. The truth is, dancing with people who are more experienced is key if you want to get the hang of salsa. Bringing a date will deter others from wanting to dance with you, which will isolate you and your partner in your little newbie bubble of mistakes and awkwardness.
It’s hard to make progress when both of you are beginners.The guy is the lead, so if he doesn’t know what he’s doing, the dance is going to go nowhere fast. The lady can help out, but if neither one of you has a clue, you’re just going to learn each others’ bad habits and feel awkward.
If you want to eventually feel comfortable salsa dancing it’s important to expand your horizons and get social. If you bring a date, you will miss out on meeting new people who will teach you new things and help you grow as a dancer.
And another reason not to bring a date: you won’t appear to be open to dancing with others, even if you are. Nobody will want to intrude on your time together.
Which leads me to number three…
3. Look available
Just like in any social situation, your body language is important. In salsa, it signals to others whether or not you are open to a dance invitation.
How do you look available? All the normal ways: by smiling, avoiding clustering in groups or pairing off, striking up conversations. Just look like you are having a good time — or actually have one!
Also, pay attention to your position in the room. As a woman, I have found that hanging out close to the dance floor is all the signal I need. Because I am still a beginner and also because I find that in the salsa realm, men like to keep things chivalrous (i.e., opening doors, etc), I am not necessarily comfortable asking someone to dance unless we have danced before, or if they seem shy.
A little caveat here: I am not suggesting that you have no power as a woman dancing salsa to invite a partner. Most of these little rules will fall away once you gain experience. But as a beginner, your dance partner will have to put up with a fair amount of your klutziness. It’s better to be polite and gracious rather than force yourself on someone! And this goes for men, too.
For you guys who are just learning to salsa, here’s some advice from the other side: just go for it. If you are confident and have a plan, and if you’re pleasant to be around, it will be a win-win situation for both parties. Just look for someone who seems to know what they are doing enough to stay with you — or, better yet, someone who might be able to teach you a thing or two.
4. Remember names
When dancing closely with someone else, it’s common courtesy to at least exchange names. Don’t be upset if they don’t remember yours, but do make an effort to remember theirs. When you see them again, you can say hi and call them by name.
Remembering someone’s name lets them know that your interaction left a positive impression. You’ll realize quickly that there are a fair amount of salsa regulars — people who go to every single salsa social they can and have been for years. And they all know each others. Having some friendly faces in the crowd will help you work toward feeling like less of a stranger.
5. Take the time to chat
Most people you talk to will be happy to tell you what they know about the local scene — where their favorite club is, where they recommend taking lessons, and how they overcame challenges. All this is information that may be hard to come by in a world where news and updates seem to travel by word of mouth.
One of my first successful salsa nights was full of this type of information. “Jorge gives the best lesson in town,” someone told me. I made a mental note. Another person said something about a bar that was about to close down, and what the best salsa night in town was. And it was all useful.
What’s more, everyone I talked to understands where I am coming from as a dancer and knows that I am just getting started. They show me new moves and give me positive feedback, which keeps me feeling good about my progress, and keeps me wanting to learn more.
And also, just chill
With all this advice, I’m not trying to say that you need to be fake or act like someone you’re not. But just like any new environment, being open to possibilities will serve you well. Allow your interactions to be natural and try not stress. Building a rapport with your fellow dancers will make the whole thing easier.
In closing, here’s a piece of advice from Marco, someone I danced with recently at Cha! Cha! Cha! in Milwaukie, a town near Portland, OR. He said, “Dancing salsa is like learning to drive. There’s a lot going on at once at first, but eventually you just relax and enjoy the ride.”