Tango street performance last time I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina

How Dancing Helps with Confidence and Overall Self-Improvement

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Woohoo! I’m just coming out of wedding conversations and I was “dancing” while washing dishes and grooving in the shower and my head was just in that headspace again. I miss weddings: fun times, good vibes, drinking, and dancing! Alright, let’s start this. I have some fun stories but let’s define this article:

Who is this for?

This is for the people who are NOT dancers at all but have always contemplated on learning, giving it a shot (but never/rarely ever did). This is for the people who have set it as a bucket list, or have always used the phrase “ooh but I really wanna try it“. If you were shy / scared / afraid to be embarrassed / anxious about it, that’s totally fine and natural. This is for you!

What is this about?

This is a great read to motivate you to follow through on that personal life goal that you have. In a sense this is letter from myself to myself ~5 years ago (holy cow I started trying a lot of things 5 years ago…). This article will tell you the benefits of dancing, not only in terms of learning how to move your body but you’ll also realize it teaches you life lessons!

Who am I?

and am I an authority in terms of dancing? No and a big fat no šŸ˜‚ I am not a frequent salsa dancer. I like music, I bust some grooves and I dance while dishwashing and sweeping the floor. šŸ˜‚ I become a dancer though after a few drinks (I become a bit more fluent in French too). But these are the reasons why I’m the perfect person to talk this tiny scope in terms of learning: I’m motivating and inspiring people who have not done it to start doing it; at least do it once. You don’t have to commit to it. You can even go to a dance studio and then leave 5mins after if you’re truly uncomfortable with it and I’d still call that a success!

The important thing is you try (at least once). Give it a shot. Sure it may make you feel uncomfortable at first but that’s natural. It’s not because it’s dancing but anything that anyone tries for the first time is for sure uncomfortable. I also hope you realize the benefits of it or at the very least realize that there are benefits to be had when you try it at least once.

What this article is NOT about: I’m not a pro and I wouldn’t call myself. This is not an article about how to make you a better dancer nor techniques in dancing. Go watch Magic Mike.

Early Years

During elementary we’d be involved in dance performances. It was an early exposure to it but don’t worry, we’re not talking about cool dancing. We’re talking more about like cultural dancing with costumes, repetitive steps and…let’s just say these ain’t the type of ‘dancing’ you capture ladies with. This time in my life helped because it gave me some pointers on the art of dancing without the shame and embarrassment associated in learning it. Sure there were kids teasing you but at that time, it wasn’t even about confidence before at all. It’s more of “hey, if this gives me more points for my grades, tss why not”.

Fast forward around the end of my uni and shortly after graduating, I also had the life goal of: “I want to learn how to dance (salsa and/or bachata). After much anxiety and second-guessing, I finally gave it a shot. I was so clueless but I had the “ah what the hell, fuck it, let’s do it”, that I enrolled myself into a “ballroom dancing” class.

Around / After Uni

Silly me thought ‘ballroom dancing’ == salsa. If you thought the same, nope. Ballroom dancing is basically an umbrella term for several types of dancing. So in that class we had Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, Chacha, Salsa, and Rumba to name a few. I actually tried most of it until I had to quit for logistical reasons (too late, lots of work, I wasn’t driving so commuting was a bitch–and not worth it).

Just showing up helped me a lot. It definitely got me out of my shell. And again as I mentioned, the advantage of trying something new is that you can easily back out if you really wanted to, compared to the other way around. Another is that you engage yourself in learning something new, not to mention learning to how commit. Committing for me was tough at first (as usual). Again this is me bussing in and out.

Blessing in Disguise

When the instructor explained the coverage (and the fact that ballroom dancing is not equal to salsa), I was actually happy! It kind of helped me a bit because…~you know how most people say I can do salsa (know = basic steps)? See I never claimed that. I feel no shame accepting the truth and being honest about it. So when the instructor announced ‘we’re doing this, this, and this’ (things I/most people have never heard of), I thought this is great because we’re all in equal footing! We all do NOT know these, nor are they common for you to ‘know the basic steps’ of it. It gives you more room to make mistakes. Also there’s no “success” in being good at it. I mean, it wouldn’t be important, at least for me.

I came in the entire exercise because sure I wanted to learn how to dance but more importantly it was a mental game for me to get me out of my head, get me to try something new and not be shy or ashamed about it. So for me it wasn’t important to ‘get gud‘ at specifically those dance disciplines, but rather be comfortable with dancing and physical expression all in all, establishing AND maintaining confidence, and just being yourself and not giving a fuck what other people think.

Demographics

It was also helpful to have a class where most people were significantly older than me. Why? Because that means they really don’t give a fuck about you, how you dance, how you perform/keep up, etc. They’re just there to learn and have fun and be real. In return, if there’s no one to judge/look down/criticize you, then that’s definitely a better learning environment. There weren’t any pros or prodigies there too so there’s no pressure.

I think the youngest I’ve seen there were sure I guess my age or just a bit older but it was cute because they were there as a couple because they’re getting married and they’re practicing their thing. See, I like that: personal development continues even after you get hitched!

The Many Years Between That and My Next Formal Dance Class

That class I talked about was probably 2010-12? Not sure… The next formal class I had was maybe around 2017~ maybe? So there’s a big gap right? I didn’t take classes but I definitely continued to put myself out there.

The biggest contribution was clubbing. No no, I wasn’t much a clubbing person before/ever. Let me put some context to it:

Salsa Lounge / Club

First, I tried going to a salsa lounge/bar. Remember, in that first dance class I went to, we barely did salsa right? So why the fuck am I there? Well, my thinking was, I’m gonna be there, I’m not going to look like a creep and just stand and drink and stare people. I definitely wanna watch and learn so I’ll just dance like a crazy person who doesn’t know what he’s doing and at the same time watch and learn. So all in all it was an attempt to ‘watch and learn’ lol. I succeeded and it was a fun night. Set the bar low for expectations, expect that people may think/look at you weird (e.g.: what’s this noob doing here), and then you’re set! Just swallow your pride, brush off the shame, and that’s a perfect recipe for learning.

You can learn for free in salsa lounges

Btw salsa lounges–and I think this applies to most if not all around the world–they’re set up in such a way where there are salsa classes or pro dancers there are more open to helping and teaching people to dance during the early times of the night. Say the lounge gets busy around 10pm, 9-10pm is where there are lots of beginners and people teaching assisting you. They’re not certified or provided by the club/lounge (maybe sometimes they are), but they’re just ordinary people who are being nice.

The Normal Clubbing

Apart from that experience, I started going to clubs every now and then. It’s not that I go every week or you see me getting plastered in insta. Again this was mostly tied to learning. Actually to be honest, this was more tied to ‘being comfortable with myself’.

As I mentioned, I do appreciate dancing. I come from a culture (Philippines) of dancing (think Jabbawockeez) and singing (think our stereotype of karaokes lol). When I hear good music and hear Omarion, Mario, or Usher, you can’t help but bust smooth grooves as you sing it off-key at the privacy of your home. So it doesn’t matter if I’m good at it or not or if I should be doing it in public or not. Bottom line is I dig it. Whether I do it in my living room or out in public is irrelevant. I do it when I’m out anyways with a couple of drinks šŸ˜‚ So it is in my best interest if I can even progress that without the reliance on alcohol.

I would go whenever the situation warrants it: when there’s something to celebrate, when you genuinely just want to dance and appreciate good music, or when you’re travelling. When you’re travelling it’s mostly a thing to do. Like when you’re in a hostel and there’s a bar downstairs, or if you guys go pub crawling or club hopping ooooo~ man it’s so much fun!

When Partying Became Fun

Clubbing (or more generally, partying) became enjoyable for me this way. When I was growing up, society taught me that clubs and parties are a (drug-fueled) place you posture up, make yourself look good, hoping to get laid. Yea that wasn’t fun for me, and it was frustrating for me because I’m aiming to be someone I’m not.

But when I saw partying as simply a means of celebration, it really felt like I was detached from those expectations. I go to parties to have fun, to celebrate, not to attract or expect something from people, not to require myself to do drugs at all, but rather, to dance and enjoy good (and loud) music!

It feels so satisfying to walk into parties and you see people doing their thing: peacocking, trying to stand at a certain place, a certain way, trying to look tough and expensive meanwhile here comes a guy who’s just passing by: “oh hi there. sorry just passing by, just wanna get a drink and get that bu~ohhhh shiiii, it’s my song!!!
* runs back to dance floor because Family Affair comes up *

It’s even more satisfying when travelling. All those that I mentioned above and you think “I’m here, you don’t know me, I don’t know you. I’ll be gone tomorrow so fuck iiiiiiiiiiiit!”

Getting more comfortable with yourself

Anyways going back to the story, I soon figured out what women meant when they say “I just want to go out dancing”. There were times were I just wanted to be social, I wanted to dance, to celebrate and those would be the rare times we would intentionally go out dancing. It doesn’t have to be clubs per se, just anywhere you can: bar/club hybrid, house parties, events, weddings, etc. For me there were moments where I had reasons to celebrate (personally, professionally, etc) and I wanted to move, not just ingest alcohol.

The point of all of these is basically continually exposing myself to new things, to trying out things, and actually following through and doing them. You have to. Even if you’re not trying to learn how to dance, this is how life goes: if you haven’t gone to the gym in a while, you become lazy at it and the next time you try to do it, the first day back you will be sore as balls. It’s the same logic if you don’t exercise your mind, your craft, skill, expertise..everything really.

Oh man, tie in apres ski here and it’s a blast. I was gonna write a bunch about it, but I’ve done so already man times. You can start with this apres ski article if you want another fun read šŸ™‚

Returning to a Formal Salsa Class

After I while when I had the affordance of time and money, I decided to invest in myself again for another class (Toronto Dance Salsa). This time it’s actually just salsa and this time I have more capacity to sustain this attempt šŸ˜‚

I really had fun during this time. After years of putting myself out there and not giving a fuck, it definitely feels good to just do what you do and be comfortable to admit when you’re the ‘stupidest’ person in the room. Learning is fun, I’ll let Neil deGrasse Tyson explain it.

Important Points in Salsa

The difficulty and what I’m impressed with learning salsa is that there are three essential things to learn. This is more true if you intend to lead. You have to learn:

  • how to dance (e.g.: you doing salsa)
  • timing (songs has different timing and pacing so you need to know how to read that plus you want to pick it up midway, like if you start dancing mid-song, or you got interrupted, or someone made a mistake and you are correcting it
  • how to lead

So from experience, I think it’s easier to attain the first two. I’m not saying I am pro at it or it’ll be easier for anyone, but they’re both the concepts that are easier to grasp. Learning the steps is really what you have to do. Timing is just taking those and tying it at certain times.

Leading is the tricky one and the most impressive for me because not only does it require you ace the first two, but you have physically hint the next steps to your partner even before you get to do the things you want to do. I actually talk more a lot about this in a separate article which I will connect next week.

So Much Learning

There’s so much I learned in this opportunity but it was more of the lamination when it comes to personal development. Yes I learned about dancing salsa yes but I’m talking about: not being shy, being confident, etc.

I wouldn’t say I’ve overcame it. You will improve and overcome, but like all things in the world, once you overcome something, there’s always a much heavier challenge waiting for you just after that. That’s why it’s always important to constantly learn and improve.

Leading

I was really amazed with the skill of leading. Again, you have to know your thing first, and then you have to learn routines, steps, moves, and only then can you start to communicate meaningful things to your partner. If you want them to spin this way or do something that way, you’d have to communicate that physically by pushing their hand/forearm or touching their back, or their waist, or do a guiding motion to this direction, etc etc. It’s so cool! You learn of the timing (of the music), and then you learn the timing of the steps, and then on top of that, you also have to learn to time your cues to your partner!

Learning Dancing is Like Learning Sports

I also realized that salsa, or dancing in general, is like sports. More specifically what I mean by that is ‘the way I (have to) learn salsa, is the same way I learned basketball in sports camps’. They’ll teach you to dribble, to crossover, to pivot, to defend, between the legs, propping shooting, passing, maybe even connecting plays but how you play all in all relies on you.

I realized that salsa(or dancing) is the same. They’ll teach you these steps, but it will depend on you on how ‘good of a dancer you’ll be’. It’s actually good that way because that’s where creativity is expressed.

I realized that it’s a lot of cognitive load too, at least for the lead. As a beginner, I have to learn the steps, learn how to communicate them, and then learn to how have a creative and fun experience with your partner.

Example

For example if I learned that you can do step A, then B, then C, then D, that’ll be my go-to. But of course you can’t do the same thing, same series every time right or else it becomes predictable, not natural, and not fun. So you think maybe you can do B > A > C > D. Maybe you can. Then you can shuffle it out even more. But then you realize ‘oh wait, if I do this that means on exit my hands will be like this or our footing’s gonna be like this and if I want to do this, I can’t do that because X’ (at least this is how I think). So this is my brain real-time, while dancing. That’s why it’s even more impressive for someone who can think on their feet, literally, and hold a conversation much less flirt šŸ˜‚.

There were definitely a lot to learn. I learned enough steps, routines after that class to show that…~well I learned enough. I’m not going to be able to stay dancing for 2 hours and be creative in each dance, each song but I can hold my own for a song or two.

Social Dancing

This one’s a whole new world I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t go to that salsa class I mentioned above. What is social dancing? Well I was confused myself at first.

In that salsa class I attended, they held weekly social dancing in their studio as well. They invited us, the salsa beginner class, to join if we wanted. I was curious and interested because, well why not. I was confused though. So is this like clubbing where there are social expectations etc? Or is this like, more of a class where we’re being taught, it’s just that it’s held night time?

The way I would describe it is it’s neither. It’s in its own term: social dancing. Think of it this way, if I was a guitarist and I met other musicians I’d attend jam sessions right? So same thing but instead of musical instruments, it’s the skill of dancing. It’s more focused on dancing, than socializing. You’re not there to drink and talk. (Ooh, I can write an entire article about this…)

What I Did

Anyways, here I am, a guy who doesn’t know what to expect, who only knows maybe like 4 solid routines, and I’m attending a salsa/bachata social dance šŸ˜‚. It was definitely a fun experience and the first few dances I had with random people were fun and friendly. I got to exercise the things I know, I got to experiment and mix-and-match some moves, maybe improvise.

It’s actually funny because as I do things and pull them off successfully, I’d sometimes smile/laugh. And then my partner would be feeding off the fun and ask me, why am I laughing. I then explained to her that I’m a noob, I just learned, I just put it into real-life application, and I actually pulled it off and that was me celebrating šŸ˜‚. They would gladly have fun with it and experiment steps/routines with me and be happy for me as well.

Realization I Want/Need to Learn More

That’s when I also realized that’s when I really want to get good at it as well. After the fourth song/partner, that’s when you realize that you only know so much and after a while you’d be doing the same thing again and again and that you’d need to learn more, which I want to do.

There were benches around for people to rest and so I did and I was more than happy to groove with the music, use a lot fo Shazam, and just watch and learn. I would tap and talk to the dudes as well who are clearly experienced, after their dance of course and when they’re resting. I’d interview them, how long have they been doing it, what do I need to do in order to do X, etc etc. Basically I see a good lead performance, I want to learn that. I think these can go for 2-4 hours, I gladly had fun and learned a lot around 1.5 and dipped happily after that.

Wrap Up

That’s it. I learned a lot. I keep on pushing myself even up until now, and I’ll skip the outro since the read estimate says this is 15mins already šŸ˜‚. Sorry, I had fun and got carried away.

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