Beginner Class Attitude and Etiquette…
I enjoyed the series of letters about the “beginner man” on the club scene. I wanted to add a comment about a few issues that I believe need to be addressed on this subject not only on the club scene but also in the dance class setting.
Let me preface by saying that I am a beginner female with some previous dance experience. I have been taking beginning classes for several months, and plan to take them for several more. After several weeks of class, I was bitten by the “salsa bug” and now in addition to classes 2-3 times a week, I go to clubs several nights a week, and take the (intermediate) classes beforehand. Most importantly, I am very fortunate to have a more advanced female friend who has been my “introduction” to the salsa scene, and have been able to dance regularly with men who are much better than I am. Overall, I think that my experience is fairly typical of that of the “beginning female.”
I strongly believe it is of paramount importance that both men and women take beginning classes (often longer than they think they need to) in order to learn and develop good basics. However, I have encountered some problems in class with “beginners with attitude” that make the experience and the learning process much less enjoyable.
I understand that at the beginning, learning salsa is equivalent to “ego castration” of the male. Leading and following are different skills and therefore the learning process is different as well. In general, men are very much on their own developing their lead, and the biggest obstacles on the learning curve are at the beginning. In contrast, women learn a lot at the beginning from dancing with more advanced men (assuming the woman has the basics down), and can generally get up to a moderately high level faster then the men can. Once a woman has reached that level, her hard work on being a good follower begins.
Dance class should provide a comfortable setting in which both men and women can hone their basics regardless of their skill level. Most of the people in class are nice and fun, and I’ve made some good friends, however there is a small percentage of men out there who can benefit from a few tips.
The following is a list of five things that I believe will make classes more valuable and enjoyable for us all:
(1) Please do not try practicing the step while the instructor is talking or demonstrating the step.
There is a lot to be gained from watching and listening rather than immediately trying the step, and if you are lucky enough to get through the beginning easy part, you WILL mess up on the hard part if you don’t watch and listen. Also, a good instructor will walk you through it and give you plenty of time to practice- watching the demonstration one more time will not kill you.
(2) Please do not try to “correct” my dancing while the instructor is talking or demonstrating the step.
This is related to the previous tip. If you are talking to me, I cannot hear and watch the instructor. Believe it or not, I can follow
well enough to slop through a step, but I am in the beginner class to concentrate on footwork, weight shifts, etc.- I want to really LEARN the basics and improve. I need to watch the instructor to learn these things.
(3) If I am doing something wrong, please correct me diplomatically.
It kills me when I rotate to a new partner, and after taking two steps he stops me and says “you need to do X” or “you’re doing it wrong” and gives me THAT LOOK like I am stupid and terrible and he can’t finish the step unless I have 100 more classes. Remember that you have zero credibility if my previous 2-3 partners in the rotation have been dancing up a storm with me and said I’ve got it down. Rather then immediately assuming it is my fault, take a moment to consider if there may be a problem with your lead before shooting off at the mouth.
If the woman is making a mistake, remember that there is a way to tell someone that they are doing something wrong. In general, I prefer a man to say “I think maybe we should try it X way” or “can I suggest in general that maybe you try Y.” Also, always give constructive criticism with a smile. Incidentally, I try to avoid giving criticism to partners in class (although sometimes I nearly have to bite my tongue to avoid it) unless we break the step down together or it’s someone I know. If it’s absolutely necessary, I try to temper it with a compliment about something else the person does well.
(4) Don’t act condescendingly nice when I do get something right.
This is more of an intermediate class beef. Maybe it is shocking to my partners when I get something right, but not to me. I hate it when I get that surprised look, especially from the intermediates who knew me when I didn’t know the basic step or other beginners who assume that just because they take class once a week, everyone does. I recommend smiling nonchalantly and at the end of the rotation say, “that’s good, you’ve got it.”
(5) Just act normal and polite.
Salsa is a social dance, and I like dancing with men who act like they are having a good time dancing with me. Make eye contact with me (especially since right now I am practicing spotting turns), smile, and act polite. In class I am willing to try new steps or just dance if:
(a) I have got the specific step we are learning down and
(b) we are supposed to be dancing rather than listening or watching.
I’m sure there are plenty of men who upon reading this would have criticism about beginning women with attitude, beginning women who try to lead, etc. I know that we are all learning out there, and we are bound to make mistakes on attitudes and etiquette. My observations about the men of salsa have lead me to seriously examine my own behavior and performance. I know for me, in future classes I am hoping to work harder to develop that all-important feeling of partnership which is at the heart of salsa.
— Not There Yet But Learning”
Dear Not There Yet But Learning,
Wanna write for Dancer Hangout?
– Edie, The Salsa FREAK!!
Edie The Salsa FREAK!! Website