Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ego: Without It No Men In the Clubs

This article was originally published in October 2008. I've edited it because I think it's a good contrast to the previous article where I bashed the guys who "Don't know they don't know." When they dance big, they don't pay attention to others and basically it's all about them. They are supremely confident, even if they are out to lunch. While that type of "It's all about me" attitude is not helpful, that doesn't mean men shouldn't act confident when social dancing (even if they are beginners.) Confidence (sometimes even acting) is appropriate when properly balanced.


When I take hip-hop classes, the instructors often refer to "swag" or "swagger" in your dancing.

One of the Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions is:
"... to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence "

Outstanding dancers almost always have swag. They may do a very simple move, but their facial expressions and body posture are all about owning their movements and character. It's about playing a leading role, being confident, going big and bold. You acting as if you own the place, own the dance, and you're comfortable with your movements, both the large and small ones.

As a lead, you should have some swag in your partner dancing.

The stronger dancers have it in any social dancing, especially the guys. Few enjoy dancing with (or watching) a dancer who looks uncomfortable or timid as they dance.

In a comment on another article, someone mentioned, "There is no place for ego when two becomes one." My first thoughts was, "Hmmm… I’m not so sure about that because that means I’m off the floor and most of my leader friends would need to go home too."

My next thought was, "Should your ego be on display when you dance?"

The politically correct answer is "No! Never. It's all about my partner!" But hey, that is simply not the reality for the strong men dancing out there. Having some swag is fine. Salsa is about opposites attracting, and guys with big egos are often in demand if they handle it correctly. It's fine for guys to "show off" from time-to-time.

In other words, it's OK to have some swag in your dancing. Nothing wrong with projecting confidence, just don't believe your own PR. (No, you haven't arrived. We all have plenty of room for growth.}

It's about balance and I like the old 80/20 rule: If you’re a guy, 80% of your focus should be on your partner, 20% of the time you may highlight your boldest and then return focus toward your partner. (Maybe 90/10 would be a better target for some of us bigger egos… You be the judge.)

I'm one of many who tell you to take care of your partners, put them first, and make them feel great. You're missing it if you “over dance” your partners regularly. Your moves shouldn’t be shouting “look at me” most of the time, but rather “look at my beautiful partner.” She should feel like you're watching out for her, even when you show off some of your strengths.

Many times when you do it right, your best will bring out the best in your partners and they will seem brighter too. Feeding off each other is the ideal.

Does that mean I don't have an ego when I put the ladies first? Do I try to simply blend in and always stay in the background?

Heck NO! I'm one of the most egotistical guys you'll ever meet, but hopefully I express that in a way that works well for others. Most guys are pragmatic, making lots of mistakes while younger and some actually learn from those experiences. More mature men (little to do with age) have learned that looking great from the refection of their partners is a much stronger statement than taking actions that shout, "I'm great" or “Watch me” all the time.

Ideally, your dancing displays a quiet confidence most of the time, with flashes of brilliance appropriate for your partner and the moment in the music. Your ego is always there, but not always screaming for attention. A sprinkle here and there goes a long way. Your swag is never hidden, but you think about when to whisper and when to shout.

It's all about ebb and flow, and great dancers often dance way below their high-end technical abilities, instead maximizing their feel and focusing on their partners. They select strategic moments to pull out all the stops. While the ego may be bubbling below the surface, the best wait for the right partners and music, and even then they have moments of extreme calm and simplicity.

The strongest often employ the, "I've got it, but I don't need to show it every dance," type of mentality. Their ego is so strong they are comfortable if you don’t see it for a while. They aren't hiding it, but rather selectively letting it show through without taking away from their partners.

Most guys would never be in the clubs if they didn't have an ego, and few would put in the effort to dance well without an ego component. Dancing exceptionally well is a choice that some make because their ego is involved, and they want to stand out from the crowd. They work on it, often to impress the women and show off their skills.

I have no problem with men showing their outstanding moves, but I'm not impressed by dancing that isn't in sync with their current partner and the music, combined with a healthy respect for those around them.

I don't respect the egos that ignore others, over-dancing their current partner, and/or push others aside to grab more and more spotlight. Some guys abuse there skills in an effort to become the center of attention, in almost every dance, while their partners appear as an afterthought. That's way outside good sense and tends to be the mark if an immature dancer (or person).

Male dancers of all styles, all around the world dance well to impress women. A smart man takes care of his partner first because that is best for both of them. You can have a massive ego but still showcase your partner on the social floor.

Partner dancing doesn't require you to hide your ego, your swag or masculinity; instead, it's about channeling it toward a partner combination, and making her the star of the show most of the time.

In my world, ego plays a strong positive role in pushing guys forward; it’s about how you use it that makes it a negative or positive. Some swag is appropriate, just don't overdue it.

Let me know your examples of the male ego at its best and worst via the comments link below.
Follow your bliss. Find where it is and don't be afraid to follow it.
--Joseph Campbell


  1. Thank you for writing this!!!! I wish I could give this to many male dancers. Some just don't get it. I live and dance in the Dominican Republic - salsa is danced fast and furious most of the time - it is all about ego. The men spend way too much time showing off!

    Making your partner and thus themselves look good is not even in the equation for most of them. There are exceptions - but they are few and far between. I will copy this and translate it to Spanish.............

    Thanks again.

  2. The ego: "a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment".

    Inner tranquility, expressing your real nature, your essence: this is real dancing.

  3. Some guys essence isn't inner tranquility and if they express their real nature, it may or may not be appropriate for partner dancing.

    The definition of "real dancing" will vary from person to person.

    I suspect we agree that some guys are way too focused on themselves, but there is also room for self-expression and even some "showing off" in the right balance.

    It's good to hear your point of view!

  4. ego is something I've struggled with for a long time. I dabble in salsa, but most of my dancing is in international Latin, ballet and i also do break dancing. Recently, because of a knee injury, I've been trying to dance egoless and not force my body. Still I'm most attracted to the bravura male dancing. I love letting loose and doing air tours, spins and ground tricks. I guess my problem with salsa is that I can't unleash the beast inside. In salsa I always feel like I'm under dancing. My question is how a style that focuses on the female dancer attract talented male dancers who have the technical skills to do much much more?

  5. Hmm,

    When women know you CAN do much more but you are focused on them, they are even more attracted to you.

    As a drummer it took me a long time to learn it was not how many notes I played, but how I played each note that counted. What you leave out is as important as what you play.

    There is an art in doing less and making it feel better. Over time most mature artists learn to enjoy both ends of the spectrum.

    Your message gives me some thoughts that I'll expand into an article. Fire away with more questions/comments if appropriate!

  6. Ego is a big word. It might include confidence, arrogance, machismo, selfishness, vanity and many other things. I remember on a management training course once being told to think of "undesirable" characteristics as "desirable" ones done to excess. Thus, too much confidence becomes arrogance, too much attention to detail becomes pedantry etc. And too little of any characteristic is also undesirable. Thus, too little vanity becomes scruffiness. People vary in where they are on all of these scales and they move about too depending on how they are feeling and where they are at. Dancing has to be emotional to be its best and strong emotions can create great dancing. People have different motivations and objectives in dancing. Ego is an important part of the mix.

    Some women have strong egos too.

  7. Some women are disappointed if you don't push them a little, especially the "enthused intermediates" (maybe "crazed intermediates" is a more accurate term). It's all about connecting with her, not just physically but being in tune with what she's enjoying and what she's not. The partner who shouts "try that again!" definitely doesn't want you to dial it back. The partner who frowns when she can't follow something definitely would prefer that you chill out and have a dance that focuses much more on connection.

    Talking about ego... I like to think I'm all about my partner, but in truth one of my favorite things ever is to be the out of town boy in a salsa club. They can see that you can dance, but they don't know the limitations of your repertoire the way your homegirls do. People get interested. You get to be a rockstar for the night and they'd be disappointed if you *didn't* go for it a little. Always a blast.

  8. Boutell: You are right, many women like to be challenged. If that's what they like, then go for it. I'm NOT against doing more if that's your partners pref.

    My issue is I see lots of guys "do more" when it doesn't fit the partner or the music.

    We're on the same page... and I have no problem with the guys showing off and/or being very intense from time to time.

    It's all in how it's balanced, and frankly most guys don't follow the music or adapt to their partner. They do more when it doesn't fit either the music or their partner.

    One size never fits all.


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