Your first night out at a salsa event, as a beginner, can be intimidating. There will be plenty of more advanced dancers out there looking impressive! But, don’t be put off! Learning to salsa takes time and practice. It requires attendance at classes combined with practice at home and on the dance floor. It’s normal to feel a little self-conscious the first time you venture onto the dance floor but try to overcome this and have a go! Just remember that all dancers were beginners to start off with, including those excellent dancers out there, and everyone can remember just how it feels to get up there for the first time.
Here are a few tips to make your first night experience a comfortable one….
1. Dress code at most salsa events is smart/casual. Frilly shirts, etc are definitely not standard uniform, contrary to popular belief! Wear something comfortable that you can move around in easily and something cool as salsa events can get very hot. Gents often bring a change of shirt/t-shirt and carry a small hand-towel if necessary.
2. Proper footwear is essential. Shoes should be comfortable, strong and, ideally, specially designed for salsa or similar forms of dancing. Ladies, your shoes should have a strap across the ankle and say a 2 to 2.5” heel. Gents, a comfortable pair of shoes, dance trainers or jazz shoes are fine. Most dance shoes have suede soles to safeguard against slipping. Flip-flops, platforms and winkle pickers are a definite no-no!
3. Attend at least one or two beginners’ classes before venturing onto the dance floor! There are plenty of classes out there and you really can’t just pick it up as you go along! You need a sense of the basic timing and steps for salsa before you can begin to have fun on the dance floor.
4. Understand what style of salsa you are learning. Not everyone dances the same style and, when you dance, you need to partner up with someone that is learning the same style! The main styles are Cross Body On 1, Cross Body On 2 and Cuban. If you’re not sure what you’re learning, ask your teacher.
5. Making the transition from classes to dance floor can be difficult. The steps and turnpatterns you learn in class are not accomplished on the dance floor without considerable practice. It is normal to get on the dance floor and completely forget everything you’ve been taught in the nervousness of your first few dances! Most dancers find it particularly difficult to properly lead/follow steps and turnpatterns they’ve learned in class. Making the transition to the dance floor takes time. Don’t lose heart! Just keep getting up there. Everyone gets there eventually, with practice, experience and a bit of determination!
6. Ideally, your first few dances should be with someone you know, eg. someone from your class. Presumably, you’ve already broken the ice and introduced yourselves to each other; you’re learning the same style of salsa, and you’ll have learned the same steps/simple turn patterns.
7. Ladies – you can ask men to dance! Some ladies are shy about this. In salsa, women do as much ‘asking’ as men because women outnumber men by at least 2 to 1. Ladies, if you’re not prepared to ask men to dance, you may find that you’ll sit out most of the night! By the way, ladies often dance with other ladies and men sometimes dance with other men!
8. When you do feel ready to ask a ‘stranger’ to dance, it’s probably best to watch the dance floor carefully before asking anyone and choose someone that looks like they’re of a similar level/style. This way, you won’t be thrown into moves you can’t cope with and the dance will be comfortable and fun for both of you.
9. Occasionally, you will get turned down if you ask someone to dance. Generally there will be a good reason: they may be tired or the music may be too fast for example. It may also be that they are unsure of your level/style of dancing. Whatever the reason, don’t be disheartened or put off!! Getting turned down for dances has happened to everyone out there. Just be friendly at all times and move onto the next one!!
10. Pick a slow record for your first dance!! Even the most advanced dancers find it difficult to dance to fast salsa records. Make it easy on yourself and start slowly!
11. Leaders, when you walk onto the dance floor with your partner, make sure you choose a spot to dance where there is adequate space. Try not to encroach on the dance space of others already on the floor. If there isn’t room, wait for the next record.
12. Ladies, it’s especially difficult for leaders as, in addition to trying to remember their steps/turnpatterns and keep their timing, they are responsible for controlling the dance at all times and keeping you safe particularly when you’re turning/spinning. Be sensitive and patient at all times!
13. Leaders, keep it simple!! Most followers prefer a simple dance led well, than a complex one led badly.
14. While dancing, if you do make physical contact with other dancers, for example, if you step on someone’s foot by mistake(!), don’t worry too much as it does happen, especially while you’re learning, but make sure you briefly apologise!
15. NEVER take drinks or cigarettes onto the dance floor. This is dangerous and one sure way to alienate your fellow dancers.
Finally, the main thing is to get up there, apply what you’ve learned in classes and have FUN. Salsa is hugely rewarding. It’s sociable, great exercise and can completely change your life! Honestly! Don’t get downhearted if things you’ve learned in lessons don’t come quite so easily when you get on the dance floor. This is normal. Good salsa dancing requires a certain amount of skill and practice, like any sport for example. Things won’t come overnight but if you stick with it you’ll be dancing like a pro before you know it and the pay-off is…..wow!!!