I used to dance for hours alone in my room to Bobby Brown and Father MC. As a quiet kid, hanging out solo with my Sony dual cassette boombox was how I kept my self busy in between school dances.
But partner dancing always scared me. I didn’t want to dance with anyone. I wanted to bust my own moves. The only partner dance I did was grinding to the Humpty Dance and doing Da Butt.
But 14 years ago I took my first salsa class and was hooked. And as I look back, I noticed that salsa helped me become a better man in many ways. These are some of the lessons that I’ve learned and am still practicing today.
1. Create the frame so she can surrender
In salsa dancing, the man leads and creates space for the woman to move her body in the dance. He creates the banks of the river and she is the flowing water. Just like in bed, on the dance floor whoever is leading creates a safe space for the follower to fully surrender. Whether it’s surrendering to Tito Puente or to a kiss, I can hold the space so she can fully open up.
2. Lead while being sensitive to her reactions and desires
In a salsa, I need to lead her but also be SO pristinely in sync with her that I can respond to every one of her subtle movements and preferences. And know what her (and my) boundaries are. Salsa isn’t about forcing my desire on the woman. It’s a continual sensitivity of adjusting to where I want to go and where she is in the moment. And when it’s on, it’s ON.
3. Look into her eyes
After about two years of practicing salsa steps at the bus stop, in my living room and in the clubs, I finally got the basics down. No more needing to look at my feet and walking into walls. Then the fun part came. I got to dance while looking into my partner’s eyes. Nothing is hotter and more intimate than leading a beautiful woman in a dance while looking into her eyes the entire time. I see a lot of guys dancing and never looking at the woman. There is another human being that you’re connecting with. Show some respect (and play) by acknowledging her.
4. Stand up straight
In order to dance salsa, you cannot have the posture of Charlie Brown. You have to stand tall, proud and confident. Like Superman in a cape. It goes back to the frame concept above. Aside from the practical benefit of being able to spin and move better, solid posture has me feeling way more grounded off the dance floor, too.
5. Have fun
Yes, there are moves to learn. Yes, there are tons of male leads that are way better than me. Like WAY better. Yes, the smooth new move I learned last week will make my partner trip when I first try it. But if I’m not having fun, then I’m wasting her time. And mine. Intention number one.
6. Spontaneously create
If I just twirled her in the same three-move pattern every time, she’d get bored quickly. So would I. The most amazing dances I’ve had have been when I’ve just gotten out of my head and surrendered to the beat and our connection. Same goes for conversations and dates. As much as I can plan the perfect night out, being in the moment is where the magic happens.
7. Make her look good and feel good
For me the worst salsa dancers are the guys who just use the woman as a prop to show off how hot shit they think they are. The goal of the lead is to make her look and feel sexy and confident about herself. Not to show off how cool you are at the expense of her feeling insecure or ignored.
8. Meet her where she is
If after two steps I realize the women I’m dancing with is a total newbie, I adjust my approach. I don’t judge her or try to get through the dance quickly so I can move onto a “better” dancer. Well, I did the first year after I got decent skills, but I then humbly remembered how not fun it was when a woman would give me that disdainful, scowling look when it was immediately obvious that I was just learning the basics. So I make it my goal to be present to the place where she is.
9. Create a bubble
Bubbles aren’t just for bathtubs and housing markets. Whenever I’m with a woman, my goal is to create that bubble where it’s just me and her. For that one spicy song, the rest of the world drops away and we’re simply having our own four minute escapade on the dance floor. This is what I now strive to create not only my dates, but all my conversations.
10. Protect her
Some salsa dance floors can get really crazy. Elbows. High heels. Body slams. My job as the lead is to make her feel safe and protected. If she feels neither, then she won’t feel free to surrender to my lead and to the dance.
11. Be aware of my body
When I started out dancing salsa, I was in my head 99% of the time. For the first two years, it was mumbling “1-2-3, 5-6-7” for every single song. And at bus stops and grocery store lines. But on one point I realized that I was no longer narrating my dancing. It was just me, my body and the music. Then a whole new world opened up of me feeling and noticing the energetic and physical nuances of my body and how it moved. This awareness allows me to be out of my head and present with what’s in front of me.
These are some of ways that salsa helped me gain skills and practices that help me on the dance floor and in my relationships.
Whether you take up salsa or not, what gifts and lessons are right under your feet that you can notice and appreciate?
Share your own insights in the comments below.
Jeffrey Platts is a men's coach and authentic communication expert who is passionate about helping men create amazing relationships with women. With over 20 years of personal study and transformational training, he has led nearly 200 workshops and retreats on personal growth, dating, and communication. Jeffrey's work and writing has been featured in the Huffington Post, Washington Post, ABC News, Authentic Man Program and the Good Men Project. He brings a rich toolbox of insights and experiences to his facilitation, integrating his adventures as DJ, amateur stand-up comedian, salsa dancer, yoga teacher and world traveler.