Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ask Her Now or Wait?

This article was originally published over 3 years ago (March 2008). Someone asked me about this subject in the club last week, so I decided to dig this up and republish. Your thoughts are welcomed! (Please use "Comment" link at the bottom.)

The big dilemma for guys: She is a great dancer and I’m not close to her level. Do I dare ask her to dance?

It all depends on what you want in the future, whom else she is dancing with tonight, and whether or not you already have a connection with her.

Here’s the calculations I've made early on, and I still ask it today: If I ask her tonight, is it likely she’ll want to dance with me in the future? Will I bore her to death? Will I leave her with the impression I want, so she’ll say yes the next time?
Ask when you're within range

Many excellent follows will dance with anyone who asks, even if the guy asking is a beginner, but they will avoid you or have a sudden urge for a bathroom break as you approach in the future. Especially if you are off the music, rough, or extremely boring. Simple often works fine if you're on time and smooth with the moves you do know, but doing basic and off-time singles for five minutes and telling her she's beautiful doesn't usually work.

If you are just getting started with basic, my rule is finding some follows who are stronger than you, but temper the urge to dance with the hot superstar until you are “in the ballpark”.

If a lady has danced for five years and I’ve danced for five weeks, it’s unlikely she’ll have a great time with me, even if she says yes and gives me what I call a “pity” dance. Pity dances are not what I want; I want her to see me and know if she says yes, she will be comfortable even if she isn't having the dance of her life.

Be sensitive to the fact that excellent follows have paid some dues to become strong dancers. You should too before you expect them to respect you and enjoy dancing with you. If you ask them while you are still a beginner, I don’t recommend you ask them more than occasionally, because you want them to notice your improvement over time. Once they sense you are an improver, the game changes as they respect those dancers, even if you are not at their level yet.

Sometimes, you’ll see a great dancer and she is dancing with plenty of beginners. Find out if she's an instructor, because they generally dance with everybody and have a good attitude about it. If she’s dancing with lots of other beginners, then go for it. But realize that others may already have a social connection with her, and that totally changes the situation. If we have mutual friends, then she will dance with me because of the social dynamics, not because of my dancing. Don't take that as a sign she can't wait to dance with you too.

If you're one of her students, take her group classes, or have seen her and said “hello” twenty times in the clubs, she is going to be much more open to dancing with you, and dance again in the future. Most do, but remember that the instructors have tons of people asking them to dance, so don’t expect her to dance with you every time.

I waited a couple years before I asked some women to dance, because I wanted them to remember me positively and I didn’t believe that would happen in the beginning. Maybe I was playing it too safe, but it really worked for me and today we always dance and have a great time. I said “hi” as we’d see each other regularly, but didn’t ask them to dance. I didn’t expect to be their favorite dance of the night, but I knew I would be reasonable and they would see my growth.

I would even wait and ask them immediately after they danced a pity dance with a less experienced dancer. The contrast would be a step up from the guy with a month or two of experience, who thought he was a great dancer but just didn't know he didn't know. I’m sure plenty of guys couldn’t wait to ask her after me, knowing they would look stronger after my dance.

If they are way ahead of you and do say yes, instructor or not, I still don’t recommend you ask them regularly in the beginning. Enjoy your dance, take lessons, watch DVDs, continue dancing and ask them occasionally, but not so often they want to hide when they see you. Dance with ladies at your level, some below, some above, but mix it up and keep improving.

I’ve danced long enough to have a couple woman ask me to dance, then later admit they were using me to avoid someone else who they believed was about to ask them. (I suspect I was the lesser of two evils on that night.) Those women had previously danced with a guy, and while they may not turn him down if trapped like a rat, they find creative ways to be “busy” when he approaches. I still don’t want to the be the guy they dread seeing as I’m walking up to ask for a dance.

I’m not advocating you wait forever, or you should be exactly at her level, but unless you know her already, waiting and respecting that she has paid some dues is often better than asking the best when you are just starting. Invest in yourself first, and then ask her when you are confident you’ll be reasonable. In a worse case, you'll ask her after you've improved more than she expects and that is always a win.

In the “life is not fair” department, note that ladies can easily dance with guys who are more advanced, and both parties can have fun. However, a weak lead with a strong follow isn’t the ideal combination. In rare occasions it can work, like if you’re Brad Pitt and/or independently wealthy and she’s looking for a date, but I wouldn’t assume that applies in most cases. If she’s in that mode, you’ll know because she’ll make it obvious she wants to dance with you--you won’t have to guess and track her down for a dance.

It’s fine to ask stronger ladies to dance, just balance it out a bit and work on improving yourself. If you’re a lead, pay your dues, grow your ability, then ask the stronger dancers. If you are improving, they’ll notice you, and when you ask they’ll happily say yes rather than faking their enjoyment. Let them fake it with others; you want to be the real deal.
Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it.
-Lily Tomlin


  1. Good advice. One thing I'd like to add is that unless you're really good, really bad, or you're a pest, the advanced dancer probably will have forgotten all about you within a couple weeks.

    Another suggestion that I learned the hard way: If she does say "yes",

    DON'T try to pull out all the latest moves you just learned in an effort to impress her. Dancing off-time or jerkily won't make her happy.

    DO dance as smoothly as you possibly can, using moves you're confident and comfortable with. She gets plenty of challenging patterns from her favorite leads, and she may appreciate an easy, comfortable dance. She might be bored; but, hopefully, she'll remember that your dancing was pleasant and give you another chance in the future (when you'll have increased your repertoire).

  2. Excellent advice! You are right on with your "do your most comfortable material" rather than thinking you'll impress her with your just learned "cool moves".

    Excellent additions! (Anybody else?)

  3. Well Don.. Quite useful advice..
    Specially for beginners. Will try to spread this word. Thanks :)

  4. I agree generally, but it IS possible to wait too long.

    It could happen if she is accustomed to dancing with people above her level, and you have become accustomed to dancing with people above her level - and all this comes about while you have progressed from an average dancer to one of the more recognizable and better dancers in the scene. What can happen then is both of you end up deciding that the other is snotty - it really is more of an issue with people who are not that good so perhaps it's not much of a loss as long as there are plenty of other people.

  5. I agree; there is a balance between asking too soon and waiting too long.

    It's a judgement call and one of the things I like to do is find a way to talk with that person if I'd like to ask her someday.

    While I may not ask her to dance today (if she was way over my head), I may say something like "Wow, you looked great with XXXX", and I say it immediately after the dance. I actually try to tell the couple they looked great together, before they leave the floor. I then walk away and ask someone else to dance.

    That way I've broken the ice in terms of a conversation, I've told her she looks great with a specific lead, and I've started establishing the social connection, so later when I do ask, we already have some contact and I haven't ignored her for six months while I'm improving.

    Again, you have it right, you don't want to wait too long either, and in an ideal world you establish a small social connection during the time you are improving.

  6. You know what, (as a bonafide girl), we are always dying to dance, except no one ever seems to ask us! I've spent so many nights just staring at the dance floor, hoping someone will ask me but I only get one or two dances! I've been dancing for a while (over 15 years - I'm still young) but now I'm in the habit of toning down my dancing because I don't want to scare the guys away by looking too 'advanced'.
    Guys, just ask the girl to dance - if she says 'no' then it's her loss.

  7. Good advice from a more advanced lady. If she's not dancing it makes sense to ask.

    It's nice to hear your point of view on this.

  8. As another follower, I'm going to agree with I-Jay: just ASK.

    If she says no simply because you're "not good enough" to dance even a single dance with, she's not worth it. Someone who enjoys dancing will enjoy even the most basic patterns. Of course, no one wants to dance below their level for an entire event -- but a dance or two with a newcomer shouldn't be a problem, especially if the newcomer is having fun (and not freaking out about their skill).

    Don't worry about giving a follower the dance of her life or anything. Like snowdancer said, just do what you're comfortable with, and do it well. Pay attention to your follower's responses to make sure she's comfortable -- not just with your steps, but with your leads and your behavior.

    Given the choice between a timid newcomer with poor leads vs. an experienced and flashy dancer who is too focused on himself instead of on the connection, who jerked me around, and/or any of the other familiar bad-leader-quirks, I'd take the newcomer ANY DAY.

    But for the love of god, do not get frustrated with yourself if something goes wrong, if you're not dancing well, if something's not perfect, etc. etc. That's the most annoying thing a newcomer dancer can do, for me. Just laugh it off, apologize if it's a big oops, and try to avoid repeating whatever went wrong (even if that means retreating to simpler steps).

  9. This is good advice. Thanks for reprinting it. I have a few thoughts to add.

    When you're an absolute beginner lead, attend at least a few classes before trying to hang for more than a few social dances afterwards.

    Pay attention to the bachata and the merengue - salsa is where you really want to go, but bachata and merengue are much simpler and you can get pretty good pretty fast, which will endear you to follows who would be bored silly if you only danced salsa with them.

    Once you have a decent handful of moves you can dance smoothly, it's time to start hanging in there. Just keep asking until "no" is not such a big deal anymore, because you're going to hear it a lot at first. Follows learn faster because nearly every guy they dance with teaches them something. So every woman is "above your level," unless she just showed up for the absolute first time.

    Just have a sense of humor about it, smile, laugh off your mistakes (unless you've stepped on someone!) and keep asking and dancing.

    As your skills develop there will always be follows above your level. A tip that really helps: LET HER DANCE. Make sure you put a couple of shine breaks in the song (dancing separately). If she goes for it, remember to give her shine breaks in the future.

    Also, give that experienced follow - or the follow you don't have a clear read on yet - plenty of free spins. See what she does with them. Is she whipping out double turns with plenty of styling? Then lead her more double turns overall. Don't know how to do that yet? Then make sure you give her plenty of free spins!


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