Monday, January 16, 2012

Magic of Time: Last One Standing

I've often wished I started dancing younger, but we all start when we start. My advice to everybody is "keep dancing." If you haven't done it yet, start now! Grow a little every year, and enjoy the results.

I think if there were a Gallup poll of all the people in my beginning dance classes, I would have been voted "most likely to be eating Twinkies and watching American Idol reruns" in a few years rather than instructing and/or dancing 3-4 nights per week.

Woody Allen famously said, "80% of success is showing up." If you dance more than a couple years, you'll be amazed at some aspects of the scene. Like most recreational activities, everybody has their own reasons for dancing.

One reality: If you join a beginning class, only a small percentage will still be dancing regularly in a couple years. Beginning classes will still be full of new people, but most of our initial peers will only show up occasionally, and many will be off learning to sky dive, taking art history classes, driving race cars or mastering X-box games.

As you watch any dance scene, you'll see a set of people who barely improve once they reach a certain point. They are comfortable with their level, they enjoy dancing, and any improvement is simply a by-product of having fun. If they continue to social dance, they will get better over time, although their rate of growth may flatten out a bit.

The good news is if you do two things--stay in the game and make regular effort to improve--you can move toward the head of the class in a few years. As you continue to dance, occasionally you’ll run into people you haven’t seen in a year or so, and they will simply be amazed how much you’ve improved. (That’s always fun.) You may not notice it all the time, but they will often be blown away by your progress.

The other very interesting side effect is over time, the social aspects of the dance are magnified. People who ignore you during the first year or two see your face regularly, and they will dance with you even if you are "not at their level" (whatever that is).

There is a social pressure to dance with someone you see regularly, and the stronger dancers will dance with you even if initially they are reluctant. In the beginning they know lots of people will drop out so sometimes they wait to see if you are still around in six months or a year. Dancing with the stronger dancers also improves your dancing. So don't stop showing up, keep being nice and say hi to everybody, even people who turned you down last week (or tonight).

If you are one of the minority who also improve over time, and part of your concept of “showing up” includes taking classes and/or privates, then you get a multiplier effect. Most of your initial peers will drop out, and they will show up every once in a while with the “I want to get back to dancing” feeling. They will be shocked by how much you’ve improved if you simply stayed in the game regularly. Old partners will notice your constant improvement and they will seek you out for dances. Of course, as better partners approach, your level will also improve and it creates a happy, vicious circle.

At a minimum, stay in the game and continue social dancing regularly. If you want to move toward the stronger dancers, then show up and be sure to continue your dance education. It’s all good, and most of it’s simply getting off the couch and showing up at the club and/or a class, rather than sitting and watching TV at home.

Don’t stop dancing, and over time you’ll look around and find yourself way ahead of the pack. For the vast majority of people, simply dancing regularly for a few years will bring tremendous benefits compared to the on again, off again approaches most people take.

Fun is almost built into the equation when you've been around a while. You'll be healthier, happier and have a wide set of friends every time you go out. Enjoy the ride, and keep showing up.
Incompetent are often supremely confident of their abilities. They are blissfully ignorant, because the skills required for competent assessment are also the ones they are missing.
-Dr. David Dunning (Cornell University)
(That translates into: They don't know they don't know. - Unlikely Salsero)

This article was originally published over 3 years ago (Aug 2007).


  1. This is good advice, and I already see it working for me. I believe that women notice, at least subconsciously, which men are there to dance and which are present for the social scene. If a guy dances with everyone, not just the hottest and youngest, and if he's also present at classes and workshops, the women notice and are more willing to dance with him, even if he's not yet one of the top dancers.

  2. Obviously we are on the same page. If women see a guy regularly, and he is constantly improving, they also recognize that. I saw a women who had turned me down a year ago (multiple times), until I stopped asking. She danced with me last week, as if we were old friends.

    Over the year I simply worked on improving myself and danced with people all around her. She saw me a couple times per month so when I asked her last week, she simply said "yes" and we had a good dance.

  3. People drop out of dance classes like crazy. Where I take classes, probably half the people who show up never appear a second time. Stick around for a year, and you'll be in the top 20%ile. After 2 years, you'll easily be in the top 10%ile, maybe top 5%ile.

    I don't know what percentage of success is showing up, but it's more than 80!


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero