If you want to maximize your social dancing fun, you simply need to become "above average" in your area as fast as possible. Not the outstanding super star, but better than half the guys in the room.
A beginning guy walks into the club. Many quickly get discouraged when seeing some of the leads with years of experience. It seems like they are having all the fun, and many believe you have to be a near pro to have a great time.
During beginners hell-- that point where you can't remember much beyond the basic steps-- it seems like you need to earn that elite status to get the great dances. Through the new guy eyes it looks like such a daunting task.
Secret Number 1:
Above Average is a Major Tipping Point
I say this to all the newer leads who will listen: "The fun in dancing is amplified dramatically when you get yourself into that 'slightly above average' skill level." There is nothing wrong for working toward being the best in the room, but getting into the top 49% changes the dynamics of partner dancing forever.
Once you're better than half the guys in any room, you grow even faster because the more experienced partners are much happier dancing with you. Part of the followers night is spent dancing with guys below your level, so you start earning a spot on their "preferred list."
Some partners position themselves closer to you so you almost have to ask them or risk being rude (it’s a great problem when it happens). Dancing with stronger partners improves your game too, and it creates its own momentum.
At the same time, when dancing with newer follows (who grow much faster than most new guys), they recognize you're better than many others and as they grow, they also want more dances with you. You win with both sets of potential partners.
Just the fact that you've grown to the above average level lets them know that you'll probably continue improving, and ladies are attracted to guys who are improving over time. Even if you reduce the pace of your direct learning, you’ll still grow with the momentum of your stronger partners.
Secret Number 2:
"Average" is not real high at most clubs
Being the best in the room is generally a multi-year project, and by definition, few guys will reach that level. On the other hand, the average level at most clubs is not too high, and getting to average is not out of reach for anybody who stays in the game for a matter of months in many scenes, a year or two in most others. Depending on your dancing history and the overall level in your area, that could be from three months to three years, but in many areas it's in the lower/middle of that time scale.
The reality is most leads take some group classes for three to six months before simply social dancing and watching other guys. Some watch clips on the web to learn more and a few purchase some DVDs. When you learn primarily by watching, it’s easy to miss details. Of the guys who do take group classes, the majority take once or twice a week for a few months before cutting back. The dropout rates of group classes are amazingly high after the first four to six months.
If you make a concentrated effort, it’s easy to learn faster than average. In addition, most guys level off after a few months, so just staying in the learning game beyond the first six to twelve months can make you really stand out.
Secret Number 3:
A few private lessons can make a huge difference
If you take some private lessons with a strong instructor, you can greatly accelerate your march toward quality dancing. You don't need to take 40 lessons, but most guys would be well served to take six to twelve lessons from an experienced instructor. They can show you tricks of the trade that polish your skills quickly, pushing you toward above average much faster than the guys who either learn on their own or primarily attend group classes. Instructional DVDs and YouTube clips can also make a huge difference although there is lots of trash/bad advice out there too. (Get recommendations from experienced instructors.) You want to feed your mind with images of strong dancers your whole dance life.
Over the longer term, I'm not advising you to stay and camp out at the slightly above average level. You always decide where you want to end up.
If you're starting out, set your initial sights on getting above the average for your scene as soon as possible. The momentum of getting to that level will carry most guys way beyond the 50% mark, with much less effort than the effort to get started. You’ll have enough success and experience to see what it takes to grow beyond, and you have a tail wind of stronger partners assisting.
Gentlemen in the above average group will tell you the view from there is very different than being the new kid on the block. It's worth all the effort and while being your personal best is an ideal goal, once you get a little beyond the average in your area, the joy is multiplied and the effort seems like it was trivial compared to the fun.
Let me know what you’re doing to get into that above average range.
Great things are not something accidental, but certainly must be willed.
--Vincent Van Gogh
This article was originally published years ago (Oct 2008). I've updated it before republishing.