Why the “Club Setting” Might not Be the Best Place to Practice Your Dance Moves (Especially if You’re a Beginner)

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There is this place in D.C. which has a “Latin Night” where I go every now and then which is known to play Cuban music, and to which I had not been for quite some time, as I had been extremely busy with school work (I’m a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland). So when the semester ended and I was finally free to go out and dance, one of the first things I did was go back to this place in D.C. I was ready to dance all night.

I only stayed there for an hour, tops.

It was not that the place was overcrowded, or that the music was bad. And it definitely was not because there was not anyone to dance with.

I had to leave, within the hour or so of being there, because I had barely danced with anyone.

It wasn’t for lack of asking, mind you. The first thing I did when I got there was go straight to the first woman I saw who was not dancing and ask her out to dance. Her response was a shake of her head, a dismissive wave of her hand. A minute later, I got it: her boyfriend (or husband) returned with the drinks. He had been at the bar, getting them, while she waited—which had coincided with the moment I had arrived there, seen her, and come up to her. I had come across this type of couple before. “The exclusives,” I call them. That is, couples who do not dance with anyone else but each other. And dance with each other they did. The whole time I was there.

Next song, I came up to two girls. One by one, I asked them to dance. One by one, they said “No.” My guess is that neither one of them wanted to leave the other one alone and bored while the other one was having fun. Later, I saw both of them dancing with other people during the same song.

Couple of songs later, I asked another woman to dance. She literally stared at me from head to toe, apparently did not like what she saw, and said, “No, thanks.”

In the same vein, another girl rejected my invitation to dance, only to accept it from another guy less than a minute later.

One girl, clearly a complete beginner, was too shy to even attempt to dance, even after I said I didn’t mind at all that she did not know how to dance. She assured me that she was content watching other people—including the friend she had come with—dance.

Then there was the wife with the jealous husband. She actually told me she wasn’t allowed to dance with other people, then nodded toward the husband, who was coming back from what I presume was the restroom and who, in turn, gave me a pretty nasty look as he took his place next to his wife and quickly and protectively slung his arm around her shoulders.

The list could go on—and does, but I’m choosing not to continue. I am sure you have a list of your own, based on your own encounters (I’m speaking to both women and men here).

So an hour or so later, I left the place, pissed off to no end, not because I had been rejected so many times, but because I had barely gotten to dance. After a three-month hiatus and endless hours of academic research, I had really been looking forward to dancing, and to dance was all I had wanted. Yet dancing had been the least thing I had done that night.

Undeterred by the events of the previous night, the following night I went to a salsa social—yes, I dance salsa, too—and boy, was that a completely different experience. Every girl I asked to dance said “Yes”—and with a smile, to boot. Finally, I was dancing—not casino, but I was dancing nonetheless. I had so much fun during the time I was there, I completely forgot about the horrible experience that had been the night before. It was only during the drive back home, once the salsa social was over, that I began giving it some thought. Specifically, I thought about how this experience could have played out for someone who was a beginner and was just starting to go out to dance.

Me, I’ve been dancing for some time now. I already know what I am doing on the dance floor. It takes more than an hour-long string of rejections to deter me from ever wanting to dance again.

But for a beginner who is just trying to go out and practice the dance moves that he or she learned in his or her class? I could see how an experience like the one I described could quickly crush any desire to want to learn more. I mean, why learn to dance casino—or salsa, for that matter—if most of the people you will ask to dance will reject you, once you ask them? Isn’t the point of learning how to dance to be able to go out and dance with other people?

For people who are beginning to get into the dance, have the desire to improve, and are trying to go out and practice the dance moves they have learned, the club setting can be quite brutal. I’m specially speaking here to the people who go to the club because they simply want to dance. (If you have an ulterior motive for learning how to dance casino, like having a better chance at picking up people, this post is not really for you.) So, to those who do go out to the club purely out of a desire to dance, do keep in mind that a great number of people who go there may have a whole different mindset about why they are going there in the first place—the expression “meat market” has been used to describe some clubs’ “Latin nights”, too.

What I am trying to say is that, in my experience, if you really want to improve your casino dancing, clubs may not be the best place to do so. There are just too many people there wanting different things out of their club experience.

If you really want to improve your skills, a dance social would be the place to go. Now, I am not saying that some people do not go to dance socials in the hopes to “get lucky” at the end of the night. That happens there, too. But what you’re doing by attending a dance social is that you’re narrowing down the communal mindset to one thing: a desire to dance. The implied message in a dance social is that you are going there to dance—and in fact the music at dance socials is very different from that of Latin-themed clubs; that is, the music played at socials is specifically tailored to dancers. Therefore, at a dance social you would be increasing your chances to dance and practice, to really get better.

With this, I am not saying that there are not clubs which provide a wonderful experience for committed social dancers, and caters specifically to them—as opposed to a more casual dancer. If you live near one of those clubs—and they do exist—lucky you. I don’t, so that is why I am writing about this. Also, I am not saying, “Do not go to clubs.” That’s why there is a might in the title of this piece. I have found that if you go with people who are similarly-minded, especially with peers from your dance group or dance lessons, and stick to dancing with them, the experience can be very positive and help you tremendously, if you do it on a regular basis. And let’s face it, sometimes, the club is all there is. Dance socials are not that easy to put together, and they do not take place on a weekly basis as some clubs’ “Latin Nights.” Also, some dance socials do happen at a club, so let’s not forget that.

In short, choose carefully where you go to practice your casino dance moves, especially if you are in the beginner stages. The places where you go will either boost or crush your desire to keep learning and dancing this Cuban dance. It would be a shame if the latter were to happen.

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