Thursday, November 15, 2012

Unaware Club For Men (Revised)

This article was originally published in March 2008. I updated it (including fixing an out of date link) and decided to republish it rather than simply edit the original (which few would find in the archives).


The Hair Club for Men has been around a while, and I suspect some have escaped and joined the "Unaware Club for Men."

The guys that scare me the most on the dance floor are the ones who, "don't know they don't know." They try leading complex moves, missing the fact that their partner is in pain from the last move. They may have a decent set of complex patterns but use them at times that make little sense with the music. They throw their partner into others and never notice. Some guys are simply unaware.

As a young musician, I thought I was amazing and once took a group to a "battle of the bands" type jazz event where "we rocked the place" from our point of view. We never knew why we didn't win. We were clearly the best in our minds. Young, confident, brilliant, and totally, completely out to lunch.

We didn't understand anything about jazz structure (didn't even know it existed) and simply did what we felt like at the moment. Looking back, it's easy to see how our blissful ignorance was the root of our confidence. Some guys never grow out of that stage.

At the clubs, there are lots of guys like I was as a younger musician. When moves fail, they assume that something is wrong with their partners, and wonder, why don't the women follow well at this club?

On the crowded dance floor they dance big and ignore the fact that their partner is getting hit or is very uncomfortable with their choices. They run their partners into those around them, step on toes and act like nothing happened (or often just don't notice.) If they see something go wrong, they assume it's either their partner's or the other guy's fault.

Some of us guys are simply clueless, and the psychologists are now telling us things that are obvious if you've danced a while (or are female).

Dr. David Dunning of Cornell University said that the "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."

"Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,'' wrote Justin Kruger, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois who often works with Dr. Dunning.

"This deficiency in 'self-monitoring skills,' the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and repeatedly lose out -- and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy."

On the dance floor, that translates into guys not knowing they are totally off time with the music, "leading" moves which are unclear to their partners, or doing things which confuse or even hurt their partners. Many don't realize a set of more advanced follows actually avoid them.

Studies also show that highly skilled people are often less confident in their abilities. They often know how little they know, even if they know more than most around them. (See "Related Articles" below for additional details.)

The unaware miss the fact that their fundamentals are weak, and  they look for "new, more complex" materials, even though they could dramatically improve by simply refining their basics. Since they believe those skills are "mastered", they don't seek out the right assistance or ignore classes that would actually be a win for them.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, suggests a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,'' wrote Kruger.

The findings, the psychologists said, support Thomas Jefferson's assertion that "he who knows best knows how little he knows.''

The studies do conclude it may not be the guy's fault. Sort of like the "pigs don't know pigs stink" concept.

There is nothing wrong with acting confident, or being proud of the skills you've worked hard to refine. The issue is keeping the appropriate balance between feeling good about your progress, while being aware of your weaknesses and finding ways to improve.

There is a set of extremely confident guys who are simply unaware they are missing the boat.

I'm thinking maybe there is some hope, because if a guy reads this article, maybe he'll consider he has some room for improvement. Most who don't get it will assume it only applies the other guy, but it's possible some self reflection may make a difference.

Most of us should find a few people we trust, and ask them for some honest feedback. In my experience, unless someone is being paid as your instructor they're unlikely to be brutally honest with you. Don't expect your significant other or dance friends to provide feedback about your weaknesses. They want to remain in your good graces and many people shoot the messenger if they don't like what they hear. Even if that isn't you, they may not know how you might react and will have a tendency to sugar coat issues which are glaringly obvious to others.

I'm not holding my breath that this article will help those who need it the most, but I'm hoping awareness may get some people thinking.

If someone forwarded/recommended this article to you it's for one of a few reasons:
  • They thought the subject and writing were totally, completely brilliant, and they wanted to share that with you. (Least likely choice.)
  • They know you have a few friends who think they're amazing, when they are missing the boat.
  • You have a few areas where you are blind, just like the rest of us.
It's your job to figure out what you're which applies to you.

Let me know your thoughts!
If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door.
-Milton Berle

Wikipedia article on the "Dunning-Kruger" effect.

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  1. I started reading recently at the suggestion of a friend. I started dancing two years ago at 35, and I'm beginning to wonder if teaching is not completely out of the question. Thanks for the shining example in that department.

    I think we've all been that clueless guy. Part of the problem is that asking and leading both require confidence. Maybe a little too much confidence.

    We psych ourselves up to climb the mountain, and then discover we've knocked it over. It takes time to reach the point where we become more aware of our partners as individuals and more aware of the dance floor as a whole, without detracting from the confidence that allows us to give it a go in the first place.

  2. I agree we all go through that phase, but there are many guys who stay in the unaware club for a long, long time.

    Some guys realize early on they are just OK, knowing they have to go through that phase to get to the other side. They work on improving, and are hungry to learn.

    Some guys think they are excellent partner dancers and don't realize they even need additional resources and/or could use some assistance.

    I agree we have to act more confident than we might be in the beginning, but there is a set of guys who simply ignore others and don't realize they have quite a bit to learn.

    (I still have a ton to learn, and I'm painfully aware of how little I know...)

    Keep on dancing! Starting at 43 all I can say is I wish I had started at age 35 and kept going. There is nothing that matches a few years of experience.

    I appreciate the feedback and if I missed something, fire away!

  3. Interesting. I've been to clubs where most women (beginners / average dancers) didn't follow well and where several guys (low level) bumped into me; does that mean I'm necessarily the one who was unaware?!
    You sound very proud of your 'modesty' so you'd better follow your own advice: Could you yourself be unaware of the size of your own ego?

  4. I have no idea if you are the one who doesn't know. I suspect since you read blogs on dancing, you are someone who isn't ignorant.

    The guys who think they know it all usually don't take the time/effort to seek out resources for self-development. While you and I may respectfully disagree on something, you are reading and in my experience, that means you are aware there are things to learn.


    I certainly have a bigger ego than most (and probably most combined).

    That said, I'm painfully aware of my strenghts and weaknesses. When you dance in LA next to some of the people winning the contests around the world, teach at the same clubs, take classes where most 20 year olds totally smoke me on EVERYTHING, it's easy to realize how little I know.

    Being someone who thought he was a hot shot musicially until I moved to LA (from Detroit) I ate lots of humble pie as a young man in the music scene. I made that mistake once and I learned the hard way.

    While I have a big ego, I'm a constant student of dance and life. I continue to take classes regularly and I'm often in the lower third of the class on my best days.

    I started as the worst in the classes, but I take private lessons with the instructor so my understanding is improving even if I can't execute yet.

    I'm modest because I'm surrounded by EXCELLENT dancers regularly and by comparison, I'm barely a beginner. I know how little I know, even if I know more than many people.

    And I've taught music and salsa for years, but I'm still at the beginning of the journey.

    I appreciate your feedback and commments!

  5. I thought this sounded very familiar, but it's hard to believe that I read this NYT article over 7 years ago. How time flies.

    Empathy is very powerful tool in my opinion. While not quite the same thing, being able to read how your partner is feeling through the body/finger/etc connection and being able to instantly adjust to it gracefully adds another dimension to the quality of one's lead, etc.

  6. You are right, reading your partner and adjusting in real time is the mark of a more mature dancer.

    Many of the guys who don't know aren't paying enough attention to their partners so they are less likely to have empathy with them.

    For most guys, being unaware is a phase, but for some it's just the way they are...

  7. In many occasions, the instructors have not emphasised the interaction between the dance partners (or the partnership of the dancers involved). Perhaps they themselves do not realise the importance of this factor. That might have also contributed towards the situation.

    Some Taiji hand-pushing exercises with eyes closed might help.

  8. As a woman, I don't agree with what Anonymous said a couple of posts above. If a guy is a good dancer, any woman after taking just a couple of classes can follow him. If a guy doesn't know what he's doing, it can be a challenge even for and advanced dancer to follow him. I totally agree with Don, some guys are overconfident and blissfully ignorant, they throw you around the floor, make you bump into other people, making you look bad, when it's actually their lousy leading that is at fault.

  9. Haha, reminds me of Dr. Paul Dobransky's version of the Observing Ego concept:
    "The idea is that we have an inherent mechanism through we which we can view our behaviors, thoughts, emotions, and actions in real time as they are manifesting. Furthermore, we can become aware of why these forces are coming into effect, and make proactive changes as necessary to avoid negative consequences, or turn situations into positive learning experiences. Its as if there is an actual second person who is viewing us from above through an objective prism and giving us direct feedback about the reality of the situation."

    Seems that men of the unaware club have poorly developed OEs ;-).

    Great stuff; I appreciate the time you take to write about your growth --in the various directions you see fit. I am currently interested in becoming a better salsa dancer and your site really helps! Thanks for the many articles I read and the many a-ha moments I have experienced whilst reading them. A wealth of information; thanks on behalf of all your readers who don't take the time to thank you ;-).
    We appreciate it!!

  10. Great Article Don! I know there was a time when I used to be in that club and maybe occasionally I still visit it :). It is so easy for us to get oblivious of others. But I agree, like Socrates said back in the day: "The more you know, the more you realize that you don't know" or something like that :). See you on the dance floor! I hope to get to visit LA again sometime soon!

  11. As an experienced follower I thank you for writing this blog! Too many dancers are completely unaware.

    I have been stepped on, bumped into,whacked and clobbered too many times by the unaware. I am a petite dancer who is easily pushed and powered into moves that are unsafe for me and others on the dance floor. I have walked off of dance floors after being hurt one time too many.

    Awareness of your abilities, your partners and your dance space is crucial to everyone having a good time on the dance floor!

    One other comment Don, this applies to some of the followers as well, women who don't follow well, use their "style" to flail about the dance floor. Fingers and those damn acrylic nails hurt when they smack into you.

  12. Happy New Year to the Unlikely Salsero!


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