Top 10 Salsa Pet Peeves from a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A good friend of mine from the Salsa Scene in San Francisco shared with me her thoughts about her salsa pet peeves. I compiled them here to share with you. I think you’ll find that she makes some good points. Enjoy!


"(1) People with DRINKS! OMG, I can’t tell you how annoying this is, and I’ve seen both men and women utterly upset at this one. (I’ve even seen a guy just about ready to start a fight due to a random run-in the last time I was in this situation.) If you come to a salsa club to drink, there are certain standards of etiquette you must abide by:

(a) keep to the bar or seating area when you’re drinking and away from the dancers;

(b) DO NOT bring your drink to the dance to the dance floor. This may be acceptable/allowable in a hip-hop/techno/house/any-other-kind-of club but at a salsa club it’s a NO-NO. People are there to dance and to dance hard on the floor, not necessarily to use the floor as a drinking space to chat with the person they just met. I’ve always hated it when a guy has asked me to dance with the drink in his hand and he then proceeds to BRING the drink with him to the dance floor. OMG, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s as though he can’t bear to stop sipping the beer for the 5 minutes we’ll be dancing. I’m alright with people wanting to drink, but if you can’t bear to be away from your drink for the length of the song, then either down it before asking someone to dance or sit out until you’re ready to dance cup/bottle-less;

(c) while moving from one area to another, keep to the sidelines, watch the dancers and weave through the crowded sidelines with caution. I can’t tell you how many drinks have been spilled on me because people were cutting through the middle of the dance floor or cut a corner on a sideline, weren’t watching my partner and I dance, and hence I ended up with THEIR drink on MY dress! Now having a spilled drink is bad enough on a guy, but it’s just one of the worst things that can happen to a girl. You buy an expensive dress/outfit and it can easily get ruined by the stains left from alcohol. That or you’re automatically looking at an expensive dry cleaning bill. Guys may wear T-shirts and cotton dress shirts, but girl’s outfits are usually much more delicate. Additionally, it’s very hard to enjoy the rest of your dancing night if you are soaked in alcohol, reek like an alcoholic, and are just overall sticky. To clarify, it’s not just the dress that a girl needs to worry about, but her legs and shoes too. Alcohol can ruin a good pair of dance shoes, which are more susceptible to spilled drinks for a girl wearing a dress than a guy whose pants may cover most of his shoes. Additionally, if a girl is wearing opened toed shoes then spilled drinks ruin her shoes inside and out, plus her feet end up being very sticky for the rest of the night; and

(d) a leader dancing with a follower should be aware of his surroundings, including people drinking, at all times. He should lead his follower away from such people just as a precaution.

(2) People with bad breath, body odor, or extreme sweating. It’s a common pet peeve for both men and women. Dancers should ordinarily carry gum or breath mints, use deodorant, and shower before comming to a club. Extreme sweatiness for a guy can be overcome by bringing an extra shirt and towel with him to a club and changing as need be. Many dancers practice this common courtesy.

(3) The rag doll leader. OMG, one of the worst possible ways of encountering rejection on the dance floor is to obtain that reputation of tossing your partner around like a rag doll. Guys should be gentle in their lead. If she’s a beginner or inexperienced, forcing her through moves is not the solution to the problem. In any case, an experienced dancer can still suffer from the rag doll effect. I know this long-time instructor (and good dancer) who got her shoulder dislocated by dancing with one of these guys. It’s a serious problem, not just a pet peeve. No one wants to go dancing to end up injured.

(4) Uncomfortable moves in general. One personal pet peeve is the "top" move. That’s what I call it. I think it’s a retro move not many dancers use any more, but basically it’s when the leader puts the follower into a spin. He doesn’t lead her by the hands through the turns but allows the follower to do it solo. He then places one finger from one of his hands on the top of her head to give the visual effect of her spinning like a top, where his hand is the top end of the top. Does this make sense? Oh, wow, I hate this move! A guy’s single finger pressing down on the middle of your head does not make for a comfortable feeling. Plus, most women hate their hair to be messed with. This is one of those moves that does that. Yes, guys, this is one of those moves that gives you little bang for your buck. Don’t do it!

Leaders should also get to know their followers before putting them in dips or performing tricks. Some followers don’t like dips at all. Some are okay with the standard dips, but not the less familiar ones. Some don’t like neckdrops, which leads me to my next pet peeve…

(5) Poor execution of moves. I know many leaders who get excited with learning a new combination, move, or trick. Rather than learn the technique and learn how to execute it smoothly they "force" the move through just to try to obtain the flash of the move. The follower and the experience both suffer for this. Most followers I know would rather dance with a beginner who knows a few combinations and knows them well, rather than risk dancing with the leader who "thinks" he knows 100 combinations, but pretty much just leads his partner into the danger zone. Trying to rush through combinations at 100 mph can lead your partner into danger quickly and easily. Believe me, this is quite hard on a follower. She can fall or bump into something/someone. Additionally, both leader and follower can suffer physical injuries trying to conduct pretzel moves at the speed of light.

If you can’t smoothly execute a move then practice at home, pratice at studio with a friend, take a group lesson, or pay for a private lesson with an instructor. It’s just not a good idea to try to make the social dance floor your classroom for complicated moves and tricks. For example, I’ve been dropped on my head during a neckdrop combination that I was familiar with, but that the leader I was dancing with couldn’t execute well. For some reason he initiated and led us through the move without any motivation from my end. It was not only embarassing (people saw me land on the back of my head), but even worse yet, I could have come out of it with injuries.

(6) The experience of spinning. Most leaders don’t realize how difficult it is to do multiple turns and spins. It’s easy to get dizzy or lose your sense of direction. Most of all, leaders don’t realize that even an experienced dancer who is spotting her partner in order to avoid becoming dizzy CANNOT see everything else around her while doing multiple turns and spins. Everything becomes a virtual blur/whirl for a follower. Therefore, during spins, she is not quite able to see and avoid: oncoming traffic, people with drinks, nearby furniture or obstacles, bumps/dips in the floor, etc. So if a leader is putting a follower through fast moves/spins, isn’t mindful of the space around him or the safety of his follower, they’re likely headed to a danger zone and quick. I really do hate dancing with someone who has no concern for my safety. I will be mindful of our space during cross-body leads and when I can view things, but I like dancing with people who look out for both of safety and comfort zones.

(7) Common courtesy. I don’t like dancers who step on other dancers and don’t apologize. Personally, I like an apology on the spot or in the moment. Just a wave with a mouthed "I’m sorry" is enough. But some people are ignorant of this common courtesy in general or just just ignorant of the feeling of their foot smashing their way into someone else’s limbs that they just don’t do this.

(8) Impromptu teaching session. This is for both sexes, but inexperienced dancers coming up to more experienced dancers or teachers during social dance hours, asking them for a dance, and then proceeding to ask them to teach them something. I understand the very green bean beginner doing this and not being aware of the situation and social norms. Perhaps it’s lack of communication when a dancer begins, but it should be known that instructors get paid to do that. They get paid to teach, and just like every other job, once they are off the clock they want to enjoy their free time. Hence, they are not about to dole out a "freebie" at the drop of a hat for someone they don’t know. If someone wants instruction that badly then they should pay and schedule a lesson just like everyone else. Even an experienced dancer, who doesn’t get paid to teach, shouldn’t have to be out there giving instruction. People go out to have fun at clubs, but it’s not their responsibility and burden to go out and instruct during their precious social dance hours. They paid their dues by putting in the time, money, and effort in taking classes and that’s just what newbies will have to do.

Additionally, people coming in to a group class late and asking the instructor to go over everything they just taught during the time they missed is also not acceptable. If a student really wanted to learn, they would be there on time. On the other hand, if you entered the class 45 minutes late and were okay with just getting the 15 minutes of instruction, then so be it. But it’s not acceptable to ask the instructor to do everything all over again just to accomodate you. For instance, at school, you wouldn’t walk into a lecture late and ask the professor to update you on everything he said during the last hour, right? You would be insulting the professor with a blatent disregard for their time as well as those of your fellow students. Same with a dance class. Some dance instructors are polite with students on this issue, and will try to quickly show the patterns over again but it shouldn’t become a habit of a student to do this. Even if the instructor is polite, this type of student is just causing a detriment to the other students who have been there for the whole class and who don’t get the instructor’s attention or get their own questions answered because the instructor is held up trying to catch someone up to speed.

I know it takes some beginners time to get acclimated to the culture and realize this, but there are some people who take a very long time coming around on this issue!

(9) On the contrary, you can’t be a snob once you’ve put in some time on the dance floor. A lot of people take some classes and then refuse to dance with newbies. I’m all for experienced dancers dancing with inexperienced dancers socially, just not being put in an awkward "instructional" situation. But some people take a little bit of instruction and it goes a long way salsa ego-wise. Don’t get a big head about it. Usually, there’s always someone better out there. When I started, I was given instruction on the etiquette of dancing. Everyone is out there to have a good time and learn together, so you shouldn’t refuse a dance with someone, even if they inexperienced, unless you are tired and taking a break or there is some safety concern (see "rag doll leader" section). Additionally, it is inappropriate for a dancer to excuse themselves from a dance in order to take a break and then get up to dance with the next person who asks them for the same song. If you’re tired, then you should really be tired (for one and all). Otherwise, this may reflect badly (snobbishly) on you.

By the same token, people should be aware of just how many times they ask someone to dance. While experienced dancers may be polite and accept inexperienced dancer’s requests, the inexperienced dancer should not hog the experienced dancer’s time. It’s a bit much to ask for one song after another, after another. Usually people who are out social dancing like to dance with a lot of different people. One should consider that an experienced dancer may be more welcoming of a dance with an inexperienced dancer if they know that dancer will not be following and stalking them around the dance floor the entire night!

(10) Too close for comfort. Yes, salsa is a sensual dance, but some leaders take this too far. Just because a leader may see a follower dance very close and sensually with someone else, it doesn’t mean they can jump in and do the same. Followers reach a comfort level zone with certain people — be it because it is their significant other, a good friend, a fellow troupe member, or a long-time acquaintance. She will not necessarily feel that level of comfort with a random leader. Therefore, leaders should take the time to get to know a follower or take the hint out on the dance floor. If a leader gets too close and a follower resists, the leader should pick up on that clue. It’s definitely a pet peeve of mine when the dance becomes a subtle force of wills out there on the floor.

On the same note, if a leader is interested in a follower, he’s more likely to make progress by taking her aside to have a drink, talking to her, and/or politely dancing with her rather than by automatically attaching himself to her like velcro the first chance he gets."

John F. Bello

Meet John ;-)

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