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Advice for Dancing at the Salsa or Bachata Club for the First Time (Real Talk)

Updated: May 10

This is real advice from real experience dancing in salsa and bachata clubs for 19 years - not some generic article.


The good. The bad. The ugly. (And the beautiful)


Let’s jump in!


You Deserve a Medal Already


The first time I went social dancing, not only was I terrified, but I was under 21 and required to dance in a roped-off corner that was “separated” from alcohol sales.


How embarrassing!


Fast forward 8 years, I moved to Los Angeles and even though I had taken hundreds of hours of salsa classes by that point, and even performed and competed, I found myself nervous AGAIN about going out dancing.


After all, Los Angeles is a latin dance mecca.


So just know that if you’re nervous, it’s normal!


salsa dancing in the club for the first time

 

When You First Walk In To The Salsa or Bachata Club


So you muster the courage to go out, put on a smile, feign confidence like a champ’ as you walk in, and then….


sh*t…


everyone looks like a professional dancer.


Your stilted smile contorts into unmistakable terror.


Eventually, after some deep breaths, you timidly approach your first… victim…. and ask them to dance….


To your surprise, they say “yes.”


Your relief quickly turns to guilt though as you realize that they’re now stuck dancing with you!

During the dance, your mind runs wild:


“How long is this song?


Feels like 25 minutes already.


I’m sweating buckets.


I didn’t bring a towel.


Is sweating allowed?


She stopped smiling 24 minutes ago.


I can’t believe she’s still here with me.


Wait, is this even a salsa song?


This might be bachata.


I don’t even know a bachata basic.


OMG have I been dancing the WRONG dance the whole time?!


And where’s the damn “1” in the music?


Oh thank g-d I think it’s gonna end soon.


Wait, is this a new song or the same song?!”


Your partner fortunately recognizes the end of the song, stops dancing, and politely thanks you for the dance.


You manage to paint on a forced smile again, promptly apologize, thank her, and then run to the bar to escape and recuperate.


Traumatic?


Maybe a little.


But….


You did it!


And you’re still alive.


Can’t get much worse than that, right?


So the only direction from here is up!


Salsa and Bachata Clubs Vs. Other Bars and Clubs


The good news is that bachata and salsa dance communities tend to be VERY friendly and welcoming - the polar opposite of many bars and clubs.


At salsa or bachata clubs, dancing with strangers is not a terrifying act of courage, but rather… normal. Everyone dances with everyone and when you ask someone to dance, the standard answer is simply “sure.”


Even if the dance sucks, people tend to be nice about it.

 

The Dancing Disclaimer


When somebody asks you to dance, telling them immediately, “I’d love to, but I’m a total beginner. Like really bad,” actually can be helpful.


This disclaimer manages expectations. If they continue with the dance, they’re likely to be extra kind, and sometimes even offer to teach you things (which is likely not great advice, but at the beginning level, may still help).


If they decline the dance after your disclaimer, don’t be hurt. In fact, you might joke with them about the rejection. “No worries. I wouldn’t want to dance with me either!” You might give him or her a good laugh and make a new friend.

 

Your Salsa (or Bachata) Support Group


If you’re taking salsa or bachata dance classes, bring your classmates!


A support system helps when starting.


If you end up in your head and nervous about dancing with strangers, who might all look like Dancing With The Stars professionals to you at this point, you can simply grab a dance with a classmate. This dance should help you get into a flow and hopefully help you build the courage to go out and invite some new faces to dance.

 

Do I Need to Take Salsa or Bachata Classes Before I Go to a Dance Club?


If you just wanna party and bop around - no skills needed. Go have a good time!


If you want to be part of the dancing and know what you’re doing, then YES you need class!


Needless to say, improving your dance skills over time typically makes dancing salsa or bachata more and more fun.

 

What if I Grew Up Dancing Salsa or Bachata?


That’s great! Have a great time at the club.


Just know that salsa and bachata socials tend to be full of dancers who take dance class, and those dance classes teach 1,000 details that there’s no way a person could just pick up from family parties.


So again, if you just want to go out and party, then you’re all set.


If you want enable your dance partners to lead you (or follow) at the level they’re capable of, then classes are a must.

 

I’m a Great Follow Though When I Have a Great Leader…


bachata dancing in the club for the first time

Only beginners say this. Experienced dancers know they’re great (but are often humble and unlikely to say it out loud) regardless of who they’re dancing with.


As they say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”


To put it bluntly, the great dancer who’s showing you a good time, is adjusting his abilities down in 1,000 ways to get you to move around the floor.


If you enjoy those dances, imagine what he could lead you through if you also brought great technique to the dance. It would… WILL… be stunning!

 

Is the Drop-In Salsa Class or Bachata Class Before the Social Dancing Enough?


For a fun night out, yes.


To learn proper technique, no. Properly structured, progressive programs are the way to build strong foundations.

 

At a Salsa or Bachata “Social,” Who Asks Who to Dance?


It’s normal for ladies to ask guys to dance, and guys to ask ladies to dance.


If you're standing on the edge of the floor, you probably will be asked to dance, especially if you're a lady.


So if you want to take a break, create a little space from the floor. Sitting down can make you look less available for a dance (although you may be asked regardless!).

 

Can I Decline A Dance?


The cultural norm is to say yes to most invitations to dance, even if you’re not feeling very enthusiastic about saying yes.


Someone may be surprised if you say no. Total opposite of other bars and clubs, right?


However, if you don’t want to dance, of course you never have to.


A common, polite way to decline is to say “Oh, I’m resting right now.”


The problem with that though, is that I cannot count how many times I’ve seen a person then say yes two seconds later to a person they’d love to dance with.


Awkward!


So, if you’re actually open to dancing, but just not with that person, I’d recommend something honest like “Yes, but not with you.”


JUST KIDDING!


Do NOT say that.


Just say “Oh not right now. Thank you.”

 

What Happens After A Dance in Salsa or Bachata?


After a dance it is actually normal to just say “thank you” then turn around and walk away.


Doing just a single dance with a person is the standard. Walking away is NOT an offensive act - it’s normal.


If they want more dances with you, you’re welcome to continue, but you should know that actually they are the ones imposing, so walking away after any dance is normal.


Experienced dancers typically just do one dance and then leave. They may come back to that person for another dance later in the night, but there are so many dancers on the floor that the variety is part of the excitement.


There’s a bit of a joke in the community that a dance is a dance, but a second dance is… something else…. (at least for one of the dancers!)


However, if you’re having a good time and you want to stay for more, by all means, stay for more!

 

Can I Walk Away During a Dance?


Walking away DURING a dance, on the other hand, is typically interpreted as a rejection.

 

If you aren’t enjoying a dance, the polite thing to do is to suffer through it… with a SMILE… and then say “thank you” and walk away afterwards.

 

I used to advise students to never walk away during a dance. However, as bachata has become more popular, I’ve changed my views.

 

Bachata can be danced with very close body to body contact, which can be confusing for beginners. A common question: “Is this part of the dance?!”

 

Unfortunately, I’ve heard too many stories of guys stepping over boundaries with beginners and making them very uncomfortable, so now I tell people “You always have a right to your space. If it’s not comfortable, create some space. If he keeps trying to get closer beyond the boundary you’ve created, just walk away.”

 

You can often feel intention as well.

 

For example, as a professional, I may dance with another experienced dancer in a way that appears, to a beginner, to be shockingly intimate. Between me and that dance partner though, those 3 minutes have nothing to do with intimacy whatsoever.

 

After the dance we simply high five (literally), hug, and walk away to the next dance, delighted NOT by any type of intimacy, but rather by the feeling of the beautiful ARTISTIC creation that we just made together.

 

 

Is it Normal to Talk While Dancing Salsa or Bachata?

 

Honestly, not really!

 

If I’m having a conversation, the quality of my dancing will decrease. Period. Even as a professional.

 

Can I have a dance that looks pretty badass from the outside while I’m having a full-on intellectual conversation? Sure. The movements are deeply ingrained in to my muscle memory. It won’t compare to a dance WITHOUT conversation though.

 

I actually almost never talk while I’m dancing. I may smile and laugh and play and wink, but I’m typically not conversing. I’m there to dance.

 

On the other hand, sometimes the mood is different. Sometimes people want to chat, make friends, find romance, or whatever else, so if you feel like talking during the dance, then definitely engage!

 

If your partner wants to chat but you just want to dance, just smile, don’t respond, and keep dancing. He (or she) should get the memo fairly quickly that you’re just there to dance.

 

 

They All Look Like Professional Dancers - I’m Doomed, Right?

 

I hear a lot of students say “everybody there looked like a professional!”

 

This can fell intimidating.

 

I can assure you, most are NOT professionals. In fact - not even close.

 

Skill levels vary by venue, but to be clear, there are WAY more beginner salsa and bachata dancers in the world than intermediate or advanced dancers. If it were easy, everyone would be great!

 

The reality is that 90-95% of people on the dance floor are dancing in ways that are really messy (even if it looks different from the outside).

 

What that means is skill-wise, you are not far away from a lot of those people. If you just keep focusing on your dancing, you're going to be right in there with them, feeling comfortable in no time at all. 

 

 

I Got Rejected for a Dance… OUCH!

 

If somebody says no to you when you ask them to dance, do not take it personally.


Sometimes that's just how it goes. Maybe it had nothing to do with you.


Or maybe it did!


Maybe they didn’t want to dance with you because you’re a beginner!


Don't worry about it. 


When I first moved to Los Angeles, one of my first times out dancing, I got rejected for three dances. I was shocked since I had already been dancing salsa for 10 years.


To this day I don't really know why I was rejected so much that night. Maybe I wasn't dressed the right way. Maybe it was my aura. Maybe it was just because I was a new face in Los Angeles. Who knows.


The point of the story is that I feel your pain! All these years later I still remember that night.


I thought it was funny though - I told my salsa coach about it in class that week so that we could laugh about it. I asked, “Is this some kind Los Angeles B.S.?!”


One of the ladies who rejected me for a dance I actually encountered a couple years later on a performance team.


I said, "You're the girl who rejected me for the dance.” She said “No, I'm not! I work there. I am nice to everybody!” I said, “No, it was definitely you”, because I remembered a very specific characteristic about her hands.


We had some banter about it, in a fun-loving way. The dramatic twist though is that we then became competition partners and won a competition together!


We’re now great friends.


So the rejection wasn't personal. It was just in that moment for whatever reason.


So I would encourage you to not take any dance rejections personally. 

 

Clothing for Men to Wear Dancing Salsa or Bachata


Wear anything you’re comfortable in! If you feel great in it, that’s most important.


Clothing for Women to Wear Dancing Salsa or Bachata


Wear clothes that stay on your body and don’t require constant adjustments when you’re dancing.

If the straps of your top are sliding off every 10 seconds, or your skirt keeps riding up and you have to pull down the bottom every 30 seconds, it’s going to make dancing tough.


Longer dresses should be avoided. If they’re loose, somebody will trip on the fabric. If they’re tight, you won’t be able to move your legs enough.

 

Do I Need Special Salsa Shoes or Bachata Shoes?


Dance shoe options are a whole other topic, but the short of it is that if you have dance shoes, bring them in a shoe bag. Walk in with your regular shoes then change into your dance shoes once you’re inside. This is normal.


Avoid wearing dance shoes outside (unless they’re the style that’s meant to be indoor/outdoor). When the suede soles get filthy they lose that ideal amount of traction and slipperiness that make them great dance shoes.

 

salsa classes in los angeles

What if My Dance Partner Looks Bored?


Tell them they’re being rude and walk away.


Just kidding! Don’t do that.


Don’t take it personally. If you are just starting off and they've been dancing for years and years and years, maybe it’s understandable that it wouldn't be that exciting for them, right?


That's okay, everybody's got to start somewhere, so you just do your best. Also giving a disclaimer as mentioned above may help.


Even now that I dance professionally, sometimes a follow will be inattentive. Sometimes it seems that they really want to dance with a certain person so they're kind of looking off to the side while we’re dancing.


Honestly, I find it a bit rude, so I usually spin them a bunch and do some complicated patterns that require a lot of focus. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t, so I just continue the dance, thank them at the end, and then typically never ask them again to dance. Hah!

 

What if They’re Trying to Teach me Salsa or Bachata Techniques on the Dance Floor?


Again, don't take it personally.


Some dancers are eager to coach beginners on the dance floor.


A lot of times it's not a great idea to take advice from random people on the dance floor because it's probably not good advice, but maybe there's some takeaways that you can get from it.

If you enjoy it, great! If not, just get through the few minutes of the dance and then you can move on.

 

In Conclusion


Take nothing personally.


SMILE.


Have FUN.


Enjoy the whole process!


Bachata and Salsa Classes in Los Angeles 


Based in Los Angeles and want to level up your salsa or bachata game for the clubs? Join us at Movers and Shakers Salsa and Bachata Dance Academy!


Programs that are progressive, structured, and comprehensive. You’ll learn all the techniques correctly the first time and build a proper foundation so you can slay the dance floor!



 

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