Thursday, May 24, 2007

Never Say "Sorry" Again

I was so wide-eyed, I probably looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

I was the new guy in this classy salsa club, lights flashing, music blaring, and a flood of sexy dancers working the scene. The fog machine was going, creating that old school, smokey club feel and the place was all amped up. I was a novice, a brand-new salsero, and I was in awe, just watching and soaking in the scene.

A circle formed around Edie the Salsa Freak and her partner, like the eye wall of a hurricane. The room stopped dancing and watched, blown away by the gyrating hips and sensual moves contrasted with tornado spins and mind-bending combinations. The two dancers were in the zone and people were standing on chairs, cheering and hollering as they hit the final stop in the tune with a dip that would've made a perfect cover for a romance novel. They froze and stared in each others eyes, and the place went berserk.

Then, she walked over to me.

Yes, Edie the Salsa Freak, one of the greatest female dancers around, walked over to me and started dragging me to the floor. Nervous? Scared? You bet. But I wasn't going to say no to her.

As we walked to the floor, I saw people looking at her, wondering who I was and waiting for us to start. I realized they were expecting me to repeat the show. Not happening. It only took a few seconds for them to realize I was her beginning student, and she was giving me a pity dance. Hard on the ego? Yep.

As we danced, I made a ton of mistakes, but I was out there doing my best. As I messed things up I would say, "Sorry," "Oh, sorry," "Shoot, sorry," knowing if she missed anything, it had to be my fault. Knowing her ability, I felt like every minor issue was my mistake, even though she was very encouraging and gracious. Just getting through the song without stepping one anyone or falling felt like a triumph and I must have said "sorry" 10 times in that one dance.

I'll never forget what she told me at our next lesson: "Don," she said in a direct, forceful tone, "no more sorry on the dance floor! Unless you hurt me or someone around you, DO NOT SAY YOU'RE SORRY!" She told me that if I made a mistake, she didn't care; that was part of the process. Just shut up and dance, and over time it would get better. Go on to the next move and pretend everything is great, even if something didn't work. "QUIT SAYING YOU'RE SORRY!" she repeated before we finished.

Fast forward a few years:

Now, I'm instructing with her at her boot camps and teaching my own students. After a day of teaching at a boot camp, we're social dancing at Steven's Steak House and I ask Edie to dance. I know I'm not world class, but I'm confident I can make her look great and have fun, since anything I can lead, she can follow with grace (and more).

We do a complex move and we're slightly off when it ends, and she looks at me and says, "Sorry!" I cracked up. Then she remembered my beginning, and we had a good laugh. I get a bigger kick out of her actually saying sorry knowing I used to take errors personally, but today I make bold mistakes with confidence! And who cares? I'm also constantly improving, and I can often recover from issues without anybody knowing unless I point them out.

So today, here's my rule for "sorry": If I hit, step on, or otherwise hurt someone, then an apology is appropriate. If I make a mistake, too bad. It's a dance, and if I'm relaxed, my partner has a better time. I try to find a way to make my partner look good after the mistake, and recover. Most of the time, my partner doesn't know I made a mistake because I just find a plan B or C and continue. They may not like my lead at that point but unless it hurt, I move on and sometimes I laugh. It's life; stuff happens.

If I ask a woman to dance and she's a beginner, I don't mind if she tells me that fact when we start. After the first few bars I'll figure it out anyway, so she doesn't really need to tell me. When she says "sorry" I often tell her with a grin, "No sorrys on the floor... I might make a mistake, you might make one, but I don't care!" I often continue, "When we practice for 6 months regularly, I expect perfection, until that point it's just a dance so let's have fun until the song ends."

If they hear me over the blare of the music, I can see them relax. Frankly, if I want a high-intensity dance with greater complexity, I'll dance with a partner who I've seen before, rather than a random dance or a woman I know is an improver or a beginner.

So ladies, once a guy asks you, it's his problem if you are less advanced than he hoped or expected. Look, if he wanted someone who was very experienced, he could have watched you dance before asking you. Once he asks, don't worry about your level. You are doing what you can, so smile and enjoy the dance! And if something doesn't work, half the time it's either a poor lead or a weak choice on his part. If he leads you into a triple spin after you struggled with a double, then it's his issue, not yours. Smile and move on, and if he has an attitude, don't dance with him again.

The sooner I learned to stop saying "sorry" for my weak leads, the better off I was. My partner sees me having fun, and often they're relieved when I make an error and don't make much out of it. They realize they have the freedom to miss something without me giving them attitude. It's a dance, things happen, so learn to laugh at yourself and have a good attitude when something doesn't work as you hoped. Your partners will look forward to your dance. Even if you are wide eyed and in awe.
The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a
thing makes it happen.
-Frank Lloyd Wright


  1. I myself made the same mistake when stepping incorrectly . This is a very good tip. Thanks Don

  2. I whole heartedly concur. I don't mind her telling me that she's a beginner. It reminds me to keep my crazy moves in check. But I just tell her, so long as I walk away with all ten toes, then there's no sorry in Salsa.

    And I don't mind dancing with the beginners either. I look at it as an investment in future dance partners. I am still quite aware that I was a beginner too. But I've had some wonderful ladies that helped me get through the rough spots, I figure thatI can pass it forward.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero