Overcome your shyness of social dancing

by Jeffrey Huang

As a dance teacher, one thing that pains me greatly is knowing that my students aren’t going out social dancing. The reasons are as colorful as they are varied. Here are some of the more popular ones:

“I am shy.”
“I am not good enough yet.”
“I need more practice.”
“My dog ate my dance partner.”

Ok, maybe the last one is slightly less common (slightly), but in most of these excuses I hear the same message: I feel anxious and uncomfortable about social dancing, and I am afraid that I’ll embarrass myself.

Maybe it’ll surprise you to know that it took me about 6 months from my very first salsa class before I even dared to step into a salsa social. As a socially recluse university student who lived at home and was never into sports, this was definitely far beyond my comfort zone. It was a painful learning experience, even though it did not have to be.

So, from one ex-recluse to another, here are some ways you can reduce your anxiety when social dancing.

Step 1: Listen to lots of salsa music
As a beginner, this was my greatest secret weapon; knowing the music gave me many advantages – I found the beat much easier, I was able to predict when the chorus would come in, when a solo was coming, and when the song would end. When I heard a familiar song during a social, I felt confident and prepared.

Step 2: Make friends in class
One of the great advantages of group dance classes is that you get to make new friends, on and off the dance floor. Once you feel ready to hit the dance floor, go with a friend or as a group. You’ll feel less intimidated, and you’re guaranteed to have someone you like to dance with.

Step 3: Take the class at a salsa social
Most socials start with a free, beginner-friendly class. Going early and taking the class not only gives you a chance to learn something new (or practice something you already know), it helps break the ice and meet other dancers. Introduce yourself to each new partner, and if they seem nice, ask them to save you a dance later. No one will turn you down.

Step 4: Sit and observe
Lots of beginners feel an obligation to dance when they come to socials, but there’s no shame in people-watching (in fact, it’s half the fun!). So sit back, pick your favorite dancers from the crowd to study, listen to the music and practice finding the beat, and chat with other dancers. Knowing the crowd and the music will make you more confident, and when you feel up to it, you’ll start dancing.

Step 5: Stay positive
After coming to socials for a while, you will start to recognize familiar faces, hear familiar songs, and will come to the realization that, just like you, every dancer on the floor is trying to learn and improve. But what’s more, you are surrounded by a group of like-minded people, who love good music, dancing, and great company.

So next time you see me out there, ask me for a dance, and go easy on me. I’m still learning.

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