Friday, June 8, 2007

Dancing for the Guys

Ever see guys giving their male friends "high fives" when they leave the floor?
They smile and tell him how great he looked, especially if he did some fancy shines and put the woman through a large set of turn patterns. Sometimes, impressing the guys just isn't the best thing.

Impressing our partners is my definition of success! I'm not going to dance with the guys, so their opinion is of limited value.

In other words, she felt great dancing with you and felt that you provided her an excellent showcase for her dancing. It's how great your partner looked with you, not how great you looked on your own. There is a huge difference.

If you happen to also impress the guys, that is cool, as long as the focus was directed toward your partner and your excellence is reflected with hers. What I want, is for the guys to look at me and say, "Why is SHE dancing with HIM?" Often, the secret is making her feel better about herself when dancing with you, compared to some other more technical leads.

When I was a beginning dancer, I watched Edie the Salsa Freak dance with an "advanced" lead. I was really impressed. This guy made her jump through hoops and she looked like she was having fun...

I had my mouth open with awe as he put Edie through tons of turn patterns, including complex arm twists, fast combinations and lots of spins, including the traditional, "I'll spin her 20 or 30 times because she can do that..."

When they finished I told Edie, "Wow... that guy is amazing" and she looked me in the eye and said "What!?! He paid no attention to me, few of those combinations made sense with the music and he just wanted to show off all his moves." I asked her about the spins and she said, "I know I can spin, and once a guy gets past 6 or 8, I'll do as many as he wants, but it does get boring." She continued, "I mentally get into a state where I'll spin until his arm falls off, but that still doesn't make it fun or interesting, or in any way reflect the music. Past a certain point it's just pointless technique, not dancing."

I was shocked. Here I was watching this guy, all impressed and thinking "Someday, I'll be able to do that." But she wasn't impressed. And today I understand.

If the intense turn patterns matched the feel of the music, and the dance evolved following the ebb and flow of the music, then great! Bring it on. If the lead used contrast--relaxing and then gaining intensity with the music--doing more works great. If he hits the breaks, and gives the lady a chance to breath occasionally, then the intensity might work.

Unfortuantely, many guys perform complex combinations and then get lots of attention from other guys when they leave the floor. They think they are great dancers because their male friends are impressed. HINT: It's a partner dance!!

You'll see a similar effect when the guy is a great spinner and/or has tons of complex solo shines under his belt. While dancing with a partner below his level, he does long involved shines and/or steps back and does solo spinning multiple times in the one dance.

If you are a great spinner, but she is not, it may make sense occasionally to step back and do a triple or quad. A quick flash of your amazing footwork is fine, but most women will be intimidated by that UNLESS the rest of the dance is dedicated to making her look good. A stronger strategy is to dance your solos and shines closer to the level of your partner from a technical point of view. She'll see your advanced solo dancing with stronger follows and realize you were being a gentleman with her. Women love that!

It's okay to lead material that will challenge her occasionally, since women don't want a dance that's dumbed down to the point of boring them. But let her be the star, and save your highly technical solo moves for a partner who is a reasonable match. Use your style and musicality with partners below your level and be sure you are paying attention to the look on their faces during the dance.

You really don't want the guys to be impressed; you want the guys to be impressed with the quality of the women who are lining up to dance with you, because they love the way you make them look and feel.

I can't say it enough. Make your partner look great and the reflection on you will work long after tonight's dance ends.
Others will underestimate us, for although we judge ourselves by what we
feel capable of doing, others judge us only what we have already done.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


  1. Oh wow. As a female, this entire post gets a "Hallelujah, brother!" from me!!!

    And the "HINT: It's a partner dance!!" comment deserves a post all by itself. In a gigantic, bold font. With rainbow colors or something.

    I have danced with too many partners (and I use the term loosely in this case) who literally leave me hanging out there, as if I had been waiting all night for them to take me out to the dance floor just so I could see how fancy their feet are. Or they drag me through a series of moves that they have mastered, yet which leave me gasping for air like a drowning swimmer. And all the while they do it with a self-congratulatory smirk on their face. Ugh.

    Thanks, Don. The blog still rocks. Still sending folks here.

  2. *sigh*
    Another follow chimes in.

    I do appreciate hearing this repeated again from an instructor who is clearly sensitive to the issue.

    But do you think we'll ever get to the root of why this has to be repeated and repeated, generation of dancers after generation of dancers, again and again and again and again and AGAIN????

  3. Maybe... But new dancers are always entering the scene. I doubt it will every completely go away, people still drive crazy even if some have accidents. (I never think it will happen to me...)

    Why: If a guy gets attention from his friends he will do something similar next time. Having my friends tell me how great I am makes me feel good. In the social scene few people say anything negative to other dancers, they point out what they like. (I do the same.)

    It will only change if enough people around them understand the way it should work. Ladies shouldn't dance with these guys much, but even that won't solve the issue as they will grab a beginner and do the same thing, thinking they are impressing her and those around her.

    Musicians have this same issue... a new guy thinks playing 1000 notes will impress everybody. Someone he respects pulls him aside and clues him in... Once he is aware he tends to settle down and start maturing. But that is an ongoing process and never eliminates those who don't know they don't know.

    I don't have the direct answer, so all thoughts on getting to the root are welcomed!

  4. The root: Dudes don't dance with other dudes, so unless they are truly seasoned dancers, they have no idea that something that LOOKS great from afar might not be even remotely related to how something FEELS up close.

    Sort of like movie kisses. No matter how romantic they look on the screen, pan out and you see that they are not even kissing directly on the lips because if you do that you can't see both actors faces, and there are a dozen or more crew members around doing various distracting technical things, and actually the actors themselves have only known each other a week and a half and there is NO chemistry. They're just good actors.

    A poor lead who looks good has the benefit of being a convincing performer. And if his follow manages looks good, too, she should win an Oscar.

    [Note: On further review, this explanation is pretty harsh on leads! I didn't intend it to be! But I still stand by my analogy. The minutiae that occur during a partner dance are lost in the "big picture", which is what we see from the sidelines, and therefore what is a great show isn’t necessarily a great ride.]

  5. P.S. Thanks for the gigantic, bold font, btw. I likey.


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero