Monday, January 14, 2008

Breaking In at an Event or Congress: Part 1

I had the following comment from SnowDancer:

You're giving me a bit of a scare about attending my first congress in Salt Lake
City next month. I'm just an intermediate dancer (1 1/2 years), not a really
great-looking guy either, but I do fine in my local scene (partly by following
your advice to make friends with everyone:-)). I'd hate to think I've spent all
this money to go to an event where I'll get turned down a lot.:-(
Rather than simply reply to his comment, I'd like to clarify: Events tend to be where more people take chances with someone they don't know. The fact that you've done well in your current scene means you are highly likely to do well at the event. If you hadn't already done well in your local scene, an event is a great place to "start over," and build up your game so things will be better back home as well.

Guys have almost no excuses at events, because we can ask, and ask someone else if a lady says "No thank you." Ladies could have it easier because it's the perfect time to be a little bolder and ask for dances from the leads they like. There are so many new faces, it's easier to get dances even if most people stay in their comfort zone and dance with people they already know.

If you are new at an event or don't know many people, it's similar to going to a new club; be friendly with everybody you meet. I look for people with the wrist bands as I'm walking through the hotel (or the venue) and say hello to virtually everybody who is attending the event. If I'm not sure, I say hello anyway, or simple nod hello as I walk by. I know half the people are thinking "Do I know him?" because I have no idea who they are either, but saying hello breaks the ice and when you ask for a dance it's not the first time they've seen your face.

I've asked people in the parking lot, or checking in at the hotel if they are attending the salsa event. If they say yes, I ask which instructors they like, how long have they danced, is this their first time to this event and/or ask them where are they from. Anything to get them talking about themselves.

Figure out your own questions in advance, but remember that "hello" is pretty universal and "Did you travel far?", "Where are you from?", "Have you done this event before?" or "How long have you danced?" all work pretty well. If they have attended in the past, ask them if they have an recommendations for someone attending the event the first time. Most people are very happy to provide advice to others if you ask.

As I said earlier, I don't have to know someone, but I still nod and say hi in the hallways, restaurants, event check-in, and in the classes. If you don't know many people be sure to take as many workshops as possible, especially those at your level.

Use the time before and after the class to say hello to a few people, and expand your network a little with each workshop. Find a few other people around your level, and once you have a few good dances, introduce those people to a few of your partners, even if you don't know them well. People love to dance with people where there is an established connection, even if that connection was only established via an introduction 30 seconds ago. That has a different feel from a stranger saying, "Would you like to dance?"

Another winning strategy is to get a nap in at some point and stay late. People tend to start the evening dancing with those they know. After a couple hours they have already danced with their existing favorites and many will say yes late in the evening. This same strategy works at clubs.

Consider starting with the mindset that you're going to be the most connected person at the event. You're going to get more people together, say hello to more people and be the friendliest person on the scene. They'll remember you introduced them to a good lead if they are a follow, and/or you connected another lead with an appropriate follow. In other words, become one of the people who connects others, and they will remember you and dance with you. Everybody wins if you do it right.

In the end, you may not be the most connected person, but working toward that end will make you remembered. Once you recommend and connect a few people, they generally do the same for you.

As I've stated many times, look for great couples or couples having fun and let them know they look good together, immediately after the dance. Do as much of that as possible. If you ask those people to dance the next day they are very likely to say yes. It doesn't always work, but nothing is perfect. Just be sure you are only saying it when you mean it.

Don't worry about being turned down, it will happen and there are generally plenty of people who aren't dancing, just waiting to be asked. Just say "Next!" (to yourself) and move on. Ladies, this is also the right time to be bolder than normal and ask a few leads if you sit too long. At home you may not ask as much, but you are not at home and it's the perfect time to grab a lead that looks like they would be a fun dance. Most guys love being asked and very few will say no, especially at an event.

Obviously, you can apply these concepts to any new club you attend. I'd love to hear what others do at an event to become a larger part of the social scene and improve their chances of having great dances.

For more tips, check out this article:
Breaking In at an Event or Congress: Part 2

It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person,
"Always do what you are afraid to do."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. Being a bit nervous with my first congress-experience to be had in March I feel a lot better having read your article. Thank you for calming my nerves a bit!

  2. I was also nervous at my first event, but it's a great chance to have a good time, improve your dancing and meet lots of new faces.

    Because there are many people in the same boat, it's easier to break in as long as you are just a little bolder than at home. I'd also recommend you attend any pre-parties if you are there and do anything else you can think of to meet other attendees.

    Please let me know how it goes, and hopefully others will provide additional suggestions.

  3. Don!

    Great comments. I'm currently at the Sydney festival, and reading your comments actually gave me new ideas. I'd like to republish your article if that's ok (with links back to your site). I found it quite helpful and a great reminder.

    SC (SalasCrazy)

  4. Thanks for the advice; I wasn't expecting a whole article!

    Guess I'm not too worried, as I can't remember having a bad salsa night, and I'm really looking forward to my first chance to dance outside my relatively small pond. I'll also be in LA the week after the congress visiting my parents in the Valley, so I'm going to try to make it to Mama Juana's once or twice (which I imagine will also be an eye-opener).

  5. SalsaCrazy,

    Please feel free to republish anything on my blog, as long as there is a credit and a link.

    I always appreciate the feedback!

  6. Snowdancer,

    Have fun at your first congress and tell us how it goes. Send me mail when you're in town. Mama Juana's is cool place. Last night it was great and the live bands give you a chance to learn more about the music. (I have an article about that topic which will go live in a few days...)

  7. Don't know if you read comments on these older articles...
    But I just got into LA from the Utah Congress. And you were right: There was nothing to worry about. I got to dance about as much as my feet could take; had dances with several of the performers; and even got asked for a few dances, even though there were lots of leads way better.

    It was one of the best experiences of my life; and the only problem is that now I want to go to more and more events like this!

  8. Snowdancer,

    I'm not surprised but glad to hear you had a great time! And I appreciate you letting us know how it went. When the ladies start asking you, then you know you are making positive progress!

    Most people would be dramatically improved if they went to one or two events per year. There is something about being around all those people focused on salsa AND doing so much dancing for a few days.

    Please let us know about your future events, and what works best for you in terms of making the most of the events.


    I read every comment written on the blog, old or new. When you write a comment, I receive an e-mail from Blogger letting me know it's there. I love comments and feedback!

  9. To get the max from a congress and stay on form and have fun all day and all night you need to take care of yourself too. I always try to get a nap for an hour or two early evening. Eat plenty - take snacks with you to eat during the night too. Drink lots of water or soft drinks. Personally I don't touch alcohol for the whole weekend. It really helps if your accommodation is as near to the venue as possible - you can nip back to freshen-up anytime you need to. You'll be wrecked when you get back home on Monday but with a smile as big as the moon - and you'll be a changed man.


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

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero