I went salsa dancing last weekend. About halfway through the night, I decided that the art salsa dancing–the technique, the atmosphere, everything about it–parallels the art of dating.
I don’t go salsa dancing a lot, but all of the salsa clubs I’ve been to are restaurants/bars by day and sultry dance venues by night. Some people come coupled up and remain that way for the entire night, but there are quite a bit people who show up either alone or in groups. Most of the men who show up single are good salsa dancers and want to enjoy a night of twirling women across the floor. Some of the men are too snobby to dance with women like me who clearly don’t have the technique to keep up the entire time, while others will take a chance on anyone just for an opportunity to show their stuff on the floor. Anyhoo, I think salsa provides several lessons on dating if you pay attention.
Lesson #1: Play the field and wait your turn. In the salsa club, men initiate the dancing relationship. Regardless of a woman’s skill level on the floor, the single men generally only dance one song with a woman before thanking her (weird, but nice) and either leading her off the dance floor or simply parting ways. This, however, does not mean these men are ready to take a break; they will immediately find a new partner for the next song. I realized that some of the men had identified a handful of women with whom they were dancing. Before coming back to woman number 1, they would cycle through women numbers 2 through 5. They had a personal order of operations they were following, and it involved giving floor/playing time to every other woman on the roster before returning to the first. It didn’t matter if #2 was more skilled than the others; she got one song and had to wait her turn in the cycle.
Lesson #2: Put me in, Coach! Being twirled around the floor is thrilling and addicting. Once you’ve had a taste, you’ll likely want more. I found myself so desperate for my next hit of the dance floor, that I was willing and able to endure the pain and agony of undesirable traits like the hot, stank breath of Mr. Twinkle Toes/Attack Your Nose. Oddly enough, even Mr. TTAYN had a full dance card. [sidenote: he must have caught a clue somewhere along the line, because by my third time in the rotation, he was chewing on breath mints] If the dance floor was a playing field, the men would be the coaches. They decide who gets playing time….and 90% of the men I danced with reminded me that the object of the game (dancing) is to “have fun.” Like dating, the goal is to play the field and experience your options
Lesson #3: Stop following behind your hatin’ ass girlfriends. Women who were hovering together in groups were less likely to be asked to dance, and less likely to accept an invitation to dance. There was one group of women who sat at a table chatting (and, according to their nonverbal cues, judging everyone else). Rather than accepting invitations to dance, they would decline and snicker as men left their table. I’m certain they were dissecting everything that was wrong with each person in the club, rather than interacting with people other than those who rode in the car with them. Even if one of the women at the table wanted to dance, she may have been deterred by the thought of her friends’ ridicule after the song ended and she was inevitably thanked for the dance and led back to her group. Sometimes we have to put the chatter of the peanut gallery out of mind in order to move forward.
Lesson #4: Let a man be a man. In salsa, the man leads and the woman needs to be sensitive enough to his subtle cues in order to successfully follow his lead. The whole following thing is difficult for me. I have these two warring personalities inside of me–one has a desire to control my path in life and the other wants to go with the flow and experience each surprise twist and turn as the future unfolds–that make me a less than stellar salsa dancer. As long as I focus on following I can go with the flow, but as soon as I get antsy I try to take over the lead. And guess what happens when I don’t follow…I lose the beat and both me and my partner have to work to get ourselves back on track. When I let the man lead, several things happen: he looks out for us and ensures that we don’t have any collisions with other people, I can relax and have fun, he tunes in to my discomfort and tension and does his best to quell those things. So I plan to try this same thing when dating…let the man lead, follow his lead, enjoy myself and expect that things will run pretty smoothly without my input.
Lesson #5: Chemistry is apparent. It is clear when two people are vibing. Even if they dance off beat, they do it in sync with one another. It so happens that some men are better leaders than others, and some women are better leaders than followers. Whatever traits each person brings to the dance floor/dating relationship, the couple has to find a balance if they’re going to move in the same direction at the same pace.
Lesson #6: It takes two to tango. Dancing, like dating, is an intimate two person activity. Even though the men may be playing the field a little, they need a partner in order to dance/date. And here’s the thing: it only takes two people. One person can neither salsa dance nor date by themselves. Likewise, if there are more than two people involved, the attempt at dancing/dating will not be successful.
Lesson #7: Experience definitely matters. While some men allowed me to dance right into the path of other couples, the more experienced dancers were able navigate the dance floor, steering me away from possible collisions and towards the safer, more open sections of the floor. Dancing with an inexperienced “leader” made me hesitant to follow the lead of the next man I encountered. I found that the ebb and flow of experience levels made it difficult for me to blindly follow, as I sometimes had to share the lead role. Like dating, some men are more experienced, and thus better able to take the lead than others. When dating a man whose leadership skills are underdeveloped, it may be necessary to take the helm from time to time.
There you have it–seven lessons on dating from salsa. They say everything you need to know about life, you learn in kindergarten. Well damn that…I learned it all while spinning (sometimes gracefully, sometimes not) across the floor of a hot salsa club.