Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ugly Guy, Beautiful Women: Salsa Parallels

Did you read the report that says the better marriages are often the ugly guy with the beautiful woman? Click here for FoxNews article.

The marriage concept has a parallel in the salsa world: The more mature leads don’t overshadow their partners, even if they could. She should always look better than you on average. By the time the dance ends, she should feel like a winner.

You may be a great, gee-wiz dancer, but news flash to the guys: It ain’t about you directly! Think of yourself as a director or executive producer. You get indirect glory by allowing your partner to shine.

When you do show off, don't do it for too long. By the end of the dance she should feel like she was the focus of your joint production, even if you're seriously more advanced than her. You may be the director, but she is the star on the team. When she shines brightly, you look even better.

I saw a perfect negative example of this last week at the Salsa Mambo Festival (SMF). Shani Talmor was dancing with a very experienced Salsero (NOT shown in the clip below!)

Shani Talmor social dancing with Cristian Oviedo

Watching the above clip, it's obvious Shani she can hold her own in the dance/shine department. She’s an amazing dancer and one of the best follows around. Cristian does a great job showcasing and complimenting her. In the clip they are social dancing; unrehearsed and just having fun in the moment with the music.

At the SMF, a different experienced lead (who will remain nameless, again: NOT Cristian) was social dancing with Shani. He had wide range of mature, complex partnering moves. He also had a ton of fast, impressive footwork he had clearly worked on over the years.

At one point the lead spun her out and they started solo dancing. Unfortunately, the lead seemed to treat the shine section as a contest with her rather than a dance. He started. She increased her intensity to match him, he raised the bar, she matched him again, but then he moved into energizer rabbit mode, increasing the intensity again and again.

The shine lasted much longer than normal. The more she worked to compliment him, the more he turned up the intensity, until at one point; she simply stopped and watched for about 4 bars, as if to say "OK, you win".

The lead was so into his show, he didn’t see her stop at first.

From where I was I could see her face, and it wasn't "wow, he's good", but rather "What the heck" (maybe more on the "WTF" side, but I doubt she would say that out loud). She shook her head for just a second, before reverting to her professional side and pretending she was cool with it. But she didn’t restart until he got the hint, shined over and picked her up for more partnering.

In other words, rather than extend the competition, she waited for him to finish the near madness, pick her up and completed the dance as partners. I'm guessing he got carried away and wanted to impress her, but actually stepped over that line from impressing her, to exasperating her. (Not exactly where you want to be.)

The music didn't say "maximum intensity" mode, and at one point she clearly had enough of it. It was obvious to experienced observers that she wasn't having fun, although she was a true pro about it. She had no problem keeping up; it was more, “why bother?”

There's nothing wrong with showing your cool stuff, but if it's way out of character with the tune, or inappropriate with your partner, do it for a few bars and then tone it down a bit. Less can be more, especially after you quickly demonstrate that you could increase the complexity, but choose to go a different route.

In contrast, I also saw Shani dance with some beginning/intermediate leads and she totally toned it down. She did amazing, complimentary stuff and keep it sensual, but avoided her sexy, "burn the house down" moves. She made her leads look much better, and the guys loved it. She appropriately complimented her partners, scaling up and down based on their lead.

Make no mistake, when the lady shows off more, the leads tend to eat it up. In reverse, that concept doesn't work so well.

If you have a set of very well rehearsed shines or complex moves, be sure you have the right partner to showcase them and the music makes sense for your intensity level. Contrast all the flash with some finesse moves, keeping her squarely in the spotlight.

To paraphrase Edie the Salsa Freak: The mark of a superior lead is making his partner feel great, and allowing her to make you look great. You can do that as a near beginner or very mature lead.

The last thing you want to do is look better than her the whole song. You may be the ugly guy, but that won’t prevent you from dancing with the better follows if you handle it correctly.

First-rate brains hang around with first-rate brains;
second-rate brains hang around with third-rate brains.
--Leo Rosten


  1. Its a very different thing dancing to look good and dancing to make it feel good. Sometimes these objectives can conflict, but there is a place for both. We all dance differently when we know folks are watching. There are some very good (usually male) dancers who clearly love showing off - they look good and they know they look good. For some guys, with big egos, this seems to be a major reason for dancing and if they were to be shunned, the world would be a poorer place without them. Strangely though, the girls seem to tolerate them and even queue-up to dance with them. Maybe because these guys can lead extremely well - when they choose too - maybe because the girls get to bask in the reflected glory or maybe its just the old animal attractiveness of men with big egos - however badly they treat their women. I think the sight of a guy with a big ego showing off on the dance floor is an ugly one - but I'm not a girl.

    Different things happen in different dances too - depending on your mood, the music, the vibe you have with your partner and many things. Maybe the guy you cite had some devilment in him that night to challenge the girl to a duel - maybe there was some history there, who knows.

    That said, I do completely agree with you. I think it is a crime to try to up-stage the girl, but there is room for different attitudes on the dance floor - and we can all choose who we dance with.

  2. Joe,

    You and I are on the same page. In the clip I found with Cristian, he is not exactly shy, or backing down. He is showing he can dance and he's not afraid to show off his skills.

    At the same time, he doesn't constantly try to top her and it doesn't look like a contest to me.

    I have nothing against a guy showing off his best stuff, it's only when it's at the expense of his partner.

    And you are totally right. Some guys who lead poorly but have developed some very aggressive, "look at me" styles do attract some women.

    My theory is they would attract even more women if they used their skills in context of their partner and the music.

    I respect guys who put in the effort to develop complex skills and I see nothing wrong with showcasing them at points.

    BTW - I appreciate the feedback! It's nice to have someone clarify my points and/or disagree. Your comments make me think.

    It's easy to write something that reads black and white when it should be gray.

    There is also plenty of room for discussion on these points and your input makes the post better!

    Your feedback is always welcomed.

    Any other thoughts?

  3. Great moves dont lead to a dream dance. I was told one time that a lady can tell a man how he will treat her outside of the dance during the dance. This also applies visa versa. There is no place for ego when two becomes one.

  4. I totally agree complex moves don't make a great dance. It depends on the context, the partner and the music.

    I'm not against complex or flashy moves, it depends on how they are done and how they fit the moment.

    As for the ego thing, I'm not sure I agree. I'm thinking about it and will probably write an article with my thoughts on that one.

    As I've said before, I appreciate feedback and comments, even if we have minor disagreements.


  5. I find if i am feeding my ego then i might aswell be dancing alone. Feeding my ego takes alot of thinking about me. Dancing from the heart is a place of harmony. It can be done the fusion of two people has its place in salsa.

  6. Thanks for the clarification. I suspect we are close.

    If it's all about me at the time of the dance, I'm missing it and we totally agree on that point.

    It may be the way we define "ego" and it's application to the situation.

    I love that you brought it up, because I'm thinking about it and how it applies.

    Behind the scene's I've started an article with the working title of "Ego: The Best and Worst of Men" (don't hold me to that title...)

    Your insights are helpful and appreciated!


  7. Lets change the mind set of dancers. I watch people dance all the time. its the ones that are dancing together that inspire me. I think there should be a room for those who want to feed their ego. Another room where ego needs to kicked into touch. When you are dancing from the heart, my god how special the listening is.


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