Leading in Salsa Dancing for Men

Published on by CMe




Leading in Salsa Dancing for Men

I have compiled the following list of pointers for leads (men or women).  They aren't cardinal rules, but not a bad idea to follow them if you don't come to salsa with your own set ideas (and even if you do, for that matter!):
  1. Remember that rejection is not a personal attack (see below The Art of Getting Rejected), and that it is not about you.  Be bold, act as if this is the last night you'll ever get to dance. And hey, in Eugene, you never know when the club is going to close down, so it very well might be (slight exaggeration, I know). So ask that person you've been eyeing out on the dance floor. 
  2. Salsa dancing is about fun.  I know it often feels like we have to prove our worth out there by demonstrating the number and complexity of the moves we know, but if we get so hung up that that we forget to have a good time, what's the point?  Flirt with your partner in a non-creepy way. If you ain't smiling and/or you ain't feeling the music, there is likely a problem.
  3. When the dance floor is crowded use small steps and be aware of the dancers around you.  This means keeping in mind that big moves aren't appropriate and keeping your follow safe from smashing into other couples.  Remember that women often wear shoes with exposed heels and toes, so the lead should take responsibility for making sure s/he doesn't move the follow into a spot where she'll get stepped on. 
  4. When considering whether or not to do physically strenuous moves such as dips, be aware of the physical capabilities/limitations of the follow and the comfort level between you two.  Some people have had accidents that limit their ability to do these moves and/or they may just not want to do them, so don't go flinging the follow between your legs unless you can tell it's OK (and then only with caution).  I know more than one follow who has been injured by leads simply because they decided it was time to do "neat move X" and did it without warning and/or badly.
  5. As an addendum to #4, don't rip the follow's arms out of their sockets.
  6. Lead at the level your follow can handle.  If you're Mr. Fancy Moves, that's great, but don't embarrass your follow by repeatedly trying to lead moves s/he hasn't gotten 2 or 3 times in a row.  If you want to teach someone a new move it's good protocol to wait until the dance is done, then very humbly ask if s/he would like you to show him/her the move(s) you were trying to do.  Keep the ego in check, in other words.
  7. This isn't a big problem in Eugene, but if your partner doesn't know a lot of salsa solo steps ("shines"), then don't leave them hanging for 5 minutes while you show the world your fancy pancy steps.  A few cool tippy-toe moves is adequate, then come back to your partner who is depending on you to lead.

The Art of Getting Rejected

I had admired this particular dancer for several months. She moved with so much energy that she outshined everyone else on the floor. My problem: When I thought of asking her to dance I felt intimidated. First of all, I didn't know her at all, and it seemed that she danced only cumbia. I had advanced past the beginning stages of learning salsa, but my cumbia was pretty weak. She made it look fun, though, and that’s what I was attracted to.

The other thing, I'm afraid to admit, was that I had never seen this particular woman dance with a white guy, and so I assumed that perhaps that was a rule with her. If so that would mean I was likely to get shot down. On the other hand, it was equally possible that no white guy had asked her to dance.  We live in a mostly white community, here, and so the phenomenon of "white-guys-who-just-learned-salsa-feeling-intimidated" isn't a rare one.  She just might say "yes", and I realized I could always decide not to take it personally if she said, "no".

So with that last thought in mind, I got up from my seat and walked across the room.  She was standing up near her friends with her purse in both hands. As I approached, she turned her attention towards me.

"Would you like to dance?", I asked. 

"No", she replied very matter of factly. 

It wasn't vehement, it wasn't rude, she just didn't want to dance. I could handle that.  It stung, but I was still standing.  I probably should have cut my losses and turned around, at that point. Feeling ruffled by the initial rejection, however, I noticed she was holding her purse in both hands, and so I said, "Oh, you're leaving", as if that was why she had refused to dance with me. It seemed a logical conclusion, and more importantly it would be easier on my ego if it were true.

She looked at me directly with a blank look on her face and again

said, "No." Then silence.

Ooof.  This was quickly going from a polite rejection to a polite public humiliation.   I mumbled some sort of "Thanks" and scurried back to my seat.

OK, so I didn't demonstrate any "art" in getting shot down. So what lesson can I take from this? [other than 'josh is a big dufus'? -- ed]

Well, first of all, nothing bad actually happened.  I didn't lose an arm, a leg, or any other important appendage. I got rebuffed, but other than the fact that it reminded me of earlier times in my life when I've been rejected for something or other, I left the exchange unscathed.  That's hard to remember, sometimes, when we consider sticking our necks out:  It really does seem like we are risking something real.

Second, it's good to get practice. Since then I've asked many women to dance, and been turned down several times.  Each time I remember a little bit more that if my prospective dance partner says "no", it isn't about me.  I mean, I may have bad breath and look like my momma dressed me, but she's a fool if she doesn't take the offer.  I won't step on her toes (much) and I know something about having fun on the dance floor. 

Many of us (including myself) have made the common mistake of drinking a bunch to try to lose the embarrassment that is riding our backs like an oversexed monkey.  It is definitely "scared man's courage", and it works for short periods of time, but the only thing that really can "tame the monkey" is to look it in the face and say "Bad monkey! I'm going to ask this woman do dance, and I don't care what you do with that banana!".  And, of course, it always helps your dancing when your concentration is not taken up on resisting the temptation to barf on your partner's $100 dance shoes.

So the moral of this story is that getting shot down is part of the game, unless you look like this, and that it doesn't say anything in particular about you (although I should probably add the caveat that if you don't dance on the rhythm, learn to do it, because life will be hard, otherwise).  So get out there and tame your monkey.

Men's Styling for Salsa Dancing


Basic Salsa Dance Steps


How to Turn Right in Salsa Dancing for Men



Basic Salsa Step for Men



Men's Shines Combination






























































Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at slotMusic, Florida 

















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