Monday, January 7, 2008

More On Salsa Mambo Festival

I previously stated, I had a great time in Palm Springs over the New Years holiday. Attendance was strong, and the range from brand new faces to world-class dancers made it a fun scene for four days.

I found myself dancing with people who started a couple days ago on one tune, and then dancing with women who are national and international superstars later in the evening. The dancers from NY, Miami, and Singapore are amazing, and they inspired and humbled me. I really want to up my game this year. Of course, many of the West Coast elite also attended and I couldn’t help but be inspired by all the talent in one location. It was easy to see I have plenty of room to grow, and while teaching it was a joy to assist some others who are earlier in the journey from beginner to salsa lover.

A few new people mentioned how many people seemed to be part of cliques and sometimes it felt hard to break in. The funny thing is, no matter how good you are, most people prefer to dance with others they know or have seen in the past. I had one lady turn me down and it was clear she was primarily dancing with one of her friends most of the night. (They looked great together.) That is fine with me since she doesn't owe me any dances, but it stands out for me since I only had a couple turn-downs all weekend.

Human nature is to dance with your friends, acquaintances, and/or familiar faces first, then if you can’t find one of them, ask someone outside of your existing circle of partners. The festival makes a point of encouraging the beginners to ask any of the instructors and performers for dances, so it was great seeing new people having fun out on the floor with the instructors/performers. (If you are an instructor/performer, one of the rules of being at the event is you can’t turn down anybody who asks you to dance.)

An event like this is the perfect time to dance with people outside your normal circles, but again, the path of least resistance is dancing with those you already know and most people take that path.

If you’re new, it makes sense to attend as many workshops as possible, because once you’ve met someone in a class, it’s easy to ask them to dance later. Most people inside the cliques don’t intentionally exclude others, but dancing is still primarily a social activity, and dancing with your existing friends is easier than venturing out into the unknown.

Even some of the performers stayed within their circles. They performed as partners, then primarily danced together during social time. In my experience, when you dance with someone you have performed with, it’s easy to show off more complex moves and maybe even wow those around you. People watching can be impressed (especially the beginners), but those dancers who stay within a smaller circle are often not the stronger social dancers. They look great with their regular partners, but they don’t dance as well with other strong dancers, because they are used to a certain lead or follow style, and excellence in social dancing requires dancing with a wide range of partners.

Personally, I make a point to dance with people I rarely see; people outside the LA area and people who I haven’t met before when possible. Based on my own observations and feedback from others, I’m not normal. (Plenty of people will confirm that.) I usually danced once or twice with my LA friends, but my focus was on dancing with people who I don’t see on a weekly basis. I usually think, “Why dance three tunes with her tonight when we’ll dance next week at the local club? She’ll be better for having danced with other strong leads, and I’ll improve and be better for her next week. We will both win by avoiding each other this week and I’ll see her regularly in the future because we frequent the same clubs."

In theory, the salsa world might be a better place if everybody danced with everybody but that goes against the grain of reality. At this type of event, most people are much more open to new faces than in other scenes, but people still want to dance primarily with people with an established connection.

I hope you consider going next summer and next year, it’s a great event and gets better every time. I just wish I could have danced with everybody I wanted to, but there just weren’t enough hours on the floor and enough energy drinks to keep me going. I danced all four nights, and still didn’t dance with as many as I’d have liked.

If you went, I’d love to hear your feedback. Please let me know how it was for you.
For that tired, run down feeling, try jaywalking.
-Farmers' Almanac


  1. While I was not at this event, I had a similar experience at another event. I attended alone and often felt a complete outsider. So many people miss the experience and learning opportunity of going outside your comfort zone to dance with a stranger! Both people can learn from this.

    I applaud you for saying it on your blog!

  2. You have it right... I try to dance outside my normal circle but I see why it gets harder if you've been around a few years.

    An event like this is also a great time for a lady to be a little more aggressive than normal, and do some asking. I realize that is not easy for many, but because there are so many new faces, it's the right place to take a chance.

    It's the perfect place to practice your social skills and be more outgoing than at home.

  3. 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.:-(

  4. Rather than reply to Snowdancers comment directly, I turned it into another article. Feel free to comment on that article or here as you see fit.


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