Monday, March 3, 2014

Three "Above Average" Secrets For New Guys

News flash: You don't need to be the best dancer in the room to have a great time!

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.

Not so!

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.


  1. Funny thing about #2: I used to think there were loads of advanced leads that I would never catch up with. But once I reached a certain level (maybe that 50% one), and got to know more women, they pointed out a couple things:
    1. Some of those guys have just one complex combination that they do over and over. It looks good, but they get bored dancing with them.
    2. Other guys with lots of moves are constantly off-time.

    'Course, it makes me wonder what they're saying about me when I'm not around.:-)

  2. As you mature, you start seeing the dance scene with different eyes. And once you get to that "above average" range, you realize you could get much higher if you choose to put in the effort.

    The off-time guys were always something I noticed from the start. Because I knew very little, I made a point to dance with follows immediately after someone who was off time.

    I may not have known much, but I used my strength. After dancing with someone off-time, they were happier with me.

    Of course, lots of guys would follow me, knowing they would smoke me in terms of patterns and dancing, so it goes both ways.

  3. The dance floor does look daunting for a beginner - but don't be put off - to the untrained eye a lot of dancers look much better than they really are. The real keys to getting into the top 50% are attending to good timing and learning to lead well. I recommend asking your partners to point out if you are off time and to tell you how your lead is doing and how you can improve it. Many will be happy to tell you and it will improve you so much. What matters is what the girl feels - and she is the best person to tell you. When I started I had some friends who really used to nag me - but I thank them now.

  4. You are right, the details of leading are probably more important than looking great, especially in the early stages. Timing is critical as the follows get better. They know what it feels like with the guys who are with the music.

    I'm not a fan of asking most of my partners to provide feedback. A few are qualified to assist, but many followers will tell me I'm better than I am and ignore areas I could improve. (They are simply too nice.)

    Most of the time I had to get with an instructor to get the feedback required to grow and refine my lead. I'm sure there are other options, but that worked well for me.

    Additionally, the stronger you get, the less likely you are to hear anything negative about your lead, even if there are a few obvious issues that could be fixed.

    I wrote a article over a year ago outlining my thoughts on that concept: Better Dancer: More Partner Lying

  5. Another secret for guys who are past the beginner's hell stage, but still wonder why sometimes they have great nights and other times have a rough time: Look at the numbers.

    If there are more men than women present, the women can get rather picky, and they'll choose to dance with their friends, or the top leads, or maybe just the best-looking guys. If I'm at such a place, and my dance-buddies aren't there, I can have a pretty difficult time, even if (I think...) I'm among the better leads there.

    With the situation reversed, you may not get a chance to rest.:-)

  6. You are right, sometimes the ratios work for or against you, and how many people you already know is also a factor.

    There are a set of ladies who have had bad experiences with new dancers, so they tend to wait until you've been around a while before they dance with you.

    If you're still around in 3 months, they are highly likely to say yes. If they have never seen you before, they may not.

    There are lots of factors, but many of them tip the odds in your favor as you get a little stronger.

  7. hi as someone new to salsa (3 months?) what dvds would you recommend to help get out of newbie hell? I know a zillion moves are pointless if you can't stay in time, but practicing the same 4 moves over and over gets old for the practice partners and myself.

    I've already got a salsa timing cd that I use to try to build my "on1" listening skills, but I'd like to add just a few more easy to lead moves just to vary it up a little as I try to solidify my basics.

    I love the blog please keep posting!

  8. I know that privates have helped me a lot. But one of the biggest things that helped is a more advanced dancer that was willing to help me out when I was starting out. If i gave a good lead, even if it was a basic right turn, she'd go. If I gave a wimpy lead, then she'd stop and give me feedback. And yes, she would go off and dance with the really good dancers too, but every little bit helped. And now my lead is great and the more advanced dancers enjoy dancing with me.

    The way I look at it, the beginners of today can be the awesome dancers of tomorrow, if we take the time to encourage them. I'm trying to pay it forward with the beginners now.


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