Is it OK to refuse a dance?

19 Aug

This is the article I really didn’t want to write!

I’ve been putting it off for a while now but some recent dance happenings kind of gave me the final push to go through with it. So here it is… ugh!

I want to bring up a little, controversial topic that some people feel pretty strongly about:
“Is it ok to refuse a dance?”

In my experience from speaking to other dancers there are two main sides to this; either “Yes” or “No” (making it appear unrealistically black and white). Before you choose your camp (although many of you will have done so as soon as you read the title), give this article a little read.

I love dance!
I really do… and salsa has changed my life, unquestionably, for the better. So, nothing makes me happier than to promote dance, get new people dancing and to see them improving as dancers and enjoying all the benefits that this “hobby” (for want of a much better word) brings.

I get a buzz out of seeing someone new to salsa, after a few months, really coming into their own and tearing it up on the dance floor. I mean that both as someone who has taught salsa and as a member of the broader salsa community.
I’ve also said it many times before that newcomers to salsa need all the encouragement they can get and they NEED the opportunity to dance with more experienced dancers. That’s how we improve.

One of my personal favourite articles on this blog (I know, I’m so CONCEITED, right 😉 ) is “The Etiquette of Salsa” that covers, amongst other things, the manners of the dance floor and if my mother taught me anything, it’s that I should never wear navy with black… and that manners are important! Thanks mam!

In the article I wrote a section about refusing dances and I think the topic merits repeat here:

“DO NOT REFUSE A DANCE! (The Golden Rule)
I would prefer to say “NEVER refuse a dance” but I rarely use the word “never”, as life is full of exceptions. However, my sentiments on this point verge on those conveyed by the word “never”.

The reason; IT HURTS!

For those of you who are more experienced dancers, try to imagine how nervous you were when you first started dancing. For beginners, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to work up the nerve to ask someone out for a dance. Imagine yourself trying to work up all that courage and finally asking that person you’ve been wanting to dance with all night, only to get shot down. For guys, it ranks pretty close to castration (at least it did for me) and I’d imagine it feels worse for ladies who have the extra hurdle to get over, of not being the sex that normally requests a dance (which I personally believe shouldn’t be the case. I love it when a girl asks me out for a dance).

I remember the first time I was refused a dance all too well. I was in a salsa club in Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong on the second leg of my first salsa training expedition. I was pretty green but I knew a few moves so I decided do ask a dance of a girl I’d seen dancing really well earlier. I walked up to her, smiled and politely asked “Would you like to dance?” to which she responded, without so much as a smile to dull the blow, with “no”, followed by a halfhearted “maybe later”.

After recoiling from the initial shock of (what felt like) having my internal organs ripped out and stepped on in front of me, I picked up what was left of my testicles and scurried away to a dark corner to hide my shame. I did however recover and go on to have plenty more dances that night but I will never forget how I felt.

Beginning salseros need to be encouraged especially  by dancers with more experience. I will dance with anyone (I’ve even danced with men who want to practice their following. That usually gets a few odd looks) because I know how it feels to be refused a dance. I’ll even dance with someone who tells me before hand that they’re not the best dancer or that they’re only a beginner. I’ll just modify what I do to make sure they have as fun a dance as possible.

There are a few situations, however, where it’s ok to say “no”, for example if you don’t like dancing a particular style (like merengue for me), if your last dance was particularly vigorous and you want to take a breather, if you need to go to the restroom etc. You should always smile and explain the reason and tell the person that you will dance the next song with them instead. Be nice.

I try to imagine myself in the shoes of beginners and I try to encourage them with salsa as much as possible along with trying to help them avoid any of the “unpleasant” situations I’ve experienced in the past.”

Let's face it, no body wants this response!

Let’s face it, no body wants this response!

As you can see, at the time I was pretty damn adamant about never refusing a dance. Times, they be a changin’!

What’s happened to you, man?
I used to follow my “Don’t Refuse” policy, almost dogmatically. The problem with dogma is that it results in extremism, be it in religion, politics or professional hotdog eating. I’ve even written about the problems with dogma and the diets we choose to follow. Basically, dogma can make everything appear black and white when we live in a world with multiple shades of grey (maybe as many as fifty… or so I’ve been told).

My “refusal to refuse” has resulted in two things:

  1. I dance with a lot of beginners. Beginners feel comfortable approaching me for a dance, which I’m very happy about and I get to meet lots of new people. It’s fun!
  2. I dance with some people I genuinely dislike dancing with. I’m talking about people that genuinely suck the fun out of dancing and/or make me feel REALLY uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing… DANCE IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!!!

The ways someone can make a dance “less than fun” are almost unlimited but I covered some of the main culprits a while back in an article titled “God Awful Dancers”. Which begs the question “Why would I knowingly ruin something that I love so much by dancing with someone I know I really don’t enjoy dancing with?”

Truth be told, I don’t have an answer.

I have some dance friends who refer to people who they dance with despite not wanting to do so as “Charity Dances” which I think is a down right mean term. They still dance with these people but don’t enjoy it. I also have friends that tell me that they flat out won’t dance with certain dancers for reasons including; dangerous/rough leads, dangerous/rough following or “inappropriate/ uncomfortable” behvaiour on the dance floor.

And you know what? Those are perfectly legitimate reasons. The problem is, at the moment, I can’t bring myself to say “No”.

But like I said, there are certain individuals I just don’t want to dance with. They actually suck the soul and enjoyment out of a dance and I end up feeling a little empty at the end. I avoid them at the start of a song and, this is going to sound awful, if I’m dancing and see them hovering on the edges of the dance floor nearby, waiting to strike when the song ends, I gradually dance my way over to the other side of the floor. I know, I’m a monster. But if they catch me and ask for a dance, I don’t say no!

Admit it, if you had someone like this waiting for you when a song ends, you'd move to the other side of the room too!

Admit it, if you had someone like this (female versions included) waiting for you when a song ends, you’d move to the other side of the room too!

There is no nice way of saying this…
I really don’t think there is a way to avoid dancing with someone without hurting their feelings.

You could say you: want to rest for this song/ don’t like this song/ are going to the restroom… but what if someone else you want to dance with asks you?

I’ve been told that if you say “No” a couple of times in succession, the person will just stop asking! It still means you have to say no.

What do you do?
I know I can’t be the only person in the dance community that feels conflicted about this. On the one hand I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings… on the other dancing with certain people  just does not feel good.

So, here’s what I’m asking, if you have any insights on the matter, leave a comment and share them. What do you think about refusing a dance? I’m genuinely curious and I think a lot of others are too. Keep it friendly though 😉

Keep Dancing Folks.

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8 Responses to “Is it OK to refuse a dance?”

  1. Delana Thompson August 19, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    I’ve been told no a number of times, and it does not hurt my feelings if someone doesn’t want to dance with me. That’s the way it goes. So, I am living proof that saying no to a dance can be done without making someone feel bad.

    I also say no from time to time, without qualms, but never because someone is a beginner. I usually enjoy dancing with beginners. It makes them so happy! (You danced with me when I was a beginner, and I always felt grateful for that, btw.) I only say no if I’ve danced with the person who is asking a lot already that day or if they are behaving inappropriately.

    • The Dancing Irishman August 22, 2014 at 5:11 am #

      I remember our first dance and I our first dance just after you moved to Cali and it was damn impressive watching you turn into the dancer you are today. I’m glad I got to be there at the start Delana 😉

  2. Amber August 30, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    Hobby = lifestyle 🙂 A few things. It’s not remotely balanced out there so I won’t attempt that. Guys get rejected, ladies not as much. I’m sure it happened, but I can’t recall a time.
    I think we need a slight mindset shift. I don’t know why salsa dancing takes on a higher form of decorum than other social behaviors. It’s not overly intimate, but…where did the requirement to be affirmative come from? It’s like being asked for coffee. Doesn’t take a lot out of me, could be <10 minutes of my life, doesn’t require commitment, but don’t I still have the right of refusal? I’m curious how far that dates back in time but it is not a modern convention.
    For encouragement, where did the idea evolve that experienced dancers emotionally reinforce newbies who seemingly come to the dance floor with a perception that one rejection, bad dance or not being asked is Latin dance ruin? I remember the feeling. You soak up any kind words! It can be brutal out there but it's not the Roman Colosseum. I learned dancing is as much, if not more mental than physical. I rely on others to teach me techniques, but I work the mental side. Negativity won't discourage me, but I don’t even allow positive feedback to overly influence me. I’m as kind on the floor as anywhere else but I am not a psychologist. If it takes all night to build courage or feels like castration, that’s something for leads to work on too. We all need to have more confidence in ourselves.
    Your original question: I advocate saying yes as much as possible to the extent it doesn’t suck the joy out of dancing that grips your soul. I rarely say no and I have a very short list of nevers. If I excuse myself validly, I locate that person later. I’m observant of leads who look exhausted, are hydrating or appear to be leaving. Like you, I've played prevent defense. Primarily to position myself near experienced leads because I’ve been shy about that in the past (part of my mental development). But if I’m moving their direction, I’m likely moving away from where new dancers are congregated. I have played catch me if you can and anyone who says they haven’t is lying! 🙂 All that said, I'm headed to NYC for the first time. Eek! 🙂

    • The Dancing Irishman August 30, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

      How did you find that article? I only read what you directed me too but it was hilarious… and informative hahaha. Seems like social etiquette hasn’t changed too much over the years.

      I get the impression that we share pretty similar views on “refusing” dances. In reality we probably make too much of it but that’s what people are good at right!

      Have a blast in NYC, it’s really something else!

  3. Amber August 30, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    I have been abandoned before the end of a song by someone who had asked me. In error I suppose. That dude had suffered enough! 🙂
    Curiosity got the best of me. Check this out…”Sitting Out Dances.” The next 3 sections Asking For A Dance, A Ball Is Not A Dancing School and 1st sentence last paragraph of Novelties and Innovations are interesting too (DJs and venues). Highly amusing to relate to modern era. 🙂 http://www.bartleby.com/95/17.html

    • Amber August 30, 2014 at 10:30 am #

      LOL! I just saw “May I have some of this?” Don’t know what I’d do if someone asked me that.

  4. Antonio Fiorentino October 24, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    I have been a natural dancer all my life and a salsero the last 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am considered a great dancer and I am told so quite often. But I too have suffered through the unexpected “no”, and for many years tried to figure out what it is about. In the US the “nos’ come mainly from Latin women. I attributed it to poor manners and mixed agendas. I concluded years ago most women in clubs were not there to dance but to meet their “prince” or their catch for the night. Some were actually put off by the fact that I danced much better than them and attracted to much attention to their dancing. Whatever the cause it is a real disease of the Salsa world. it is hurtful at any time and very discouraging. The worst is the lady that can refuse six guys in a row and then be seen accepting the seventh request. There must be a special place in Hell for such a woman. Solution is “move on” – there are plenty other women dancers in the world. I live in Ecuador and am planning a move to Colombia. My goal was Medellin, but I am concerned by many telling me it is too hot and humid there all the time. I do not mind the 70s and the 80s but worry when most days hit the 90s with high humidity. What advice woudl you give me on the weather in Cali? Thanks
    Antonio Fiorentino

    • The Dancing Irishman October 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

      If you don’t like hot and humid then Cali is definitely out of the question. Medellin is cooler and less humid than Cali but said, it’s not really known as a city of salseros like Cali is.

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