You’re wiping the tiny beads of sweat from your brow and taking a short swig of water from your bottle. Then you feel a light tap on your shoulder. With a smile, you turn your head to see who it is, and who is before you but your dreaded stalker; the person that can barely dance a step, has zero rhythm and worst of all has octopus hands that invade every inch of your personal space.
So what do you do?
Should you ever refuse a dance? Or should you bite the bullet and do your duty? It’s a very controversial topic and one that just won’t go away. Let’s talk about it and find our way forward.
Dancing with Newbies
Conventional Salsa wisdom says that you must always accept a dance or you will be banished to Salsa Hell for all eternity (plus make a few people cry in the process). They say that every single dancer needs some encouragement. They might even preach that it’s your duty to encourage newbies by dancing with them and that your kindness will ensure the Salsa scene has a healthy future ahead of it.
I can understand their point.
After all, do you remember how tough it was to start from scratch? How it all seemed to be overwhelming, hard work and even slightly impossible? When I started to learn, I desperately wanted to dance socially but had so little skill or experience. My chances of being asked to dance were as remote as the Arctic and my confidence was zilch. I was close to throwing in the metaphorical towel and going home.
Then someone changed it all for me. That someone asked me to dance. They pushed me beyond my shyness, gave me a taster of ‘real dancing’ and I never looked back.
What a great deed we’d be doing if we danced with newbies more. It’d be great Salsa karma to share what we were given when we started and a great deed for all. The Latin Dance Community have a great article on ‘paying it forward’ that discusses this idea in greater detail.
But let’s not forget that we aren’t only talking about newbies. What if someone else asks us to dance? Should we whip out our Salsa etiquette guidelines and add ‘Must always accept a dance’ to the list?
Let’s have an imaginary scenario. You’re going to be brave. You’ve plucked up the courage to go over and ask that dancer that you admire to dance. The person looks you up and down and sneers a nasty ‘No.’ (possibly even adding a ‘thanks’ if you’re really lucky) You crawl away, defeated and deflated.
Has this ever happened to you? It can be quite a blow to your confidence when someone refuses to dance and this is often given as a reason to always accept.
However, the majority of the time, it’s not the actual refusal that hurts but the manner in which it was done. There are some arrogant, patronising and rude people in this world and it’s likely that this person is one of them. Do you really want to dance with someone with this kind of attitude anyway? Dancing is about connection and fun, not bad attitudes and arrogance. Don’t take it to heart. Move on.
The right to refuse?
I have the right to refuse a dance if that is what I decide, without fear of backlash or negativity.It’s my life, my body and my night out dancing Salsa. I’ll do what I want with it! (within reason, of course). Last time I checked, I was a fully grown adult who doesn’t need nor deserve to be told what to do. Let me reiterate. Dancing is supposed to be fun and I reserve the right to choose.
It’s no fun if it’s all about obligation. After all, I want you to want to dance with me. If you’re obligated to do so, then it becomes fake, sad and I’d rather not bother. Salsa is about desire. The desire to have fun, the desire to express yourself, the desire to find yourself in the music and the desire to connect with another human being. Without that desire, Salsa becomes a dead and void experience borne from obligation and something you want to get over with. I want your heart and soul with me when you are dancing with me. Obligation sucks.
Why I might refuse
There are plenty of reasons why I might not fancy a dance. You’ll likely have your own reasons to add, but here are mine.
As a follower (most of the time), I am at the mercy of the lead. I’ve had far too many dances where I’ve been pushed beyond my limits and I’m not willing to do it anymore. I used to know a dancer who was well-regarded but who would abuse the ladies he danced with.He’d ignore their limits and push them to breaking point and sometimes injury in front of a crowd and never seem to care. This is a pretty good reason to refuse a dance.
I may also refuse a dance if I feel uncomfortable. This could be because of a problem with body odour, dripping sweaty bodies (eugh!), hands that go everywhere they’re not invited or even unwelcome erections (yes really!). They might be rude, or arrogant or overwhelming. They might have a complete disregard for rhythm or they may bore me. I might feel tired or hot, I might hate the song, I may have promised someone else a dance or maybe I simply don’t want to. It’s my decision.
It’s great to accept dances with friends and newbies if that is what you want and that is what you enjoy. It’s a great feeling to ‘give back’ to the Salsa scene and encourage new dancers. But don’t forget that Salsa is not about duty and obligation and you can refuse a dance if you want to, whatever those reasons might be.
You don’t even have to dance at all if you don’t want to. You can just sit there drinking rum and laughing if you like. We don’t mind!