Can we have some tips for the ladies please?

Back in July I wrote an article giving tips to men who were thinking of making the leap from class nights to freestyles.  It proved to be a very popular article, and from the feedback it would appear the ladies took an interest in it too.  One regular lady reader of the blog got in touch to ask if I could give any tips to the ladies who were in the same situation.

Could a man give advice to the ladies?

I had written the article giving advice to men, based on my own experiences of when I started going to freestyles.  So, I did wonder whether I had the credentials to give advice to women.  However after some thought I came up with a strategy that I think will give my article a measure of credibility.

So what were the ladies concerns?

I decided the best why to find out was to ask them. Over a period of several weeks I chatted to ladies, who I knew well at my local venues, about what had worried them when they were considering making the jump from class nights to freestyles.  I also spoke to some ladies who were yet to go to a freestyle and for whom the anxieties were current.

The answers were both interesting and enlightening – thank goodness I asked, because as a man I would never has guessed some of the answers to my questions.  These ladies were also more than happy to pass on their tips, many of which I’ve included with my own.  I’d like to think that the insight I gained from listening to ladies talk about their freestyle anxieties and experiences has enabled me to come up with some tips that will be of help.

Thanks also to my Dance Gang female friends

I should also say that as I developed the ideas in this article, I bounced them off the ladies in my Dance Gang.  You can imagine that they occasionally winced at my male perspective, and helpfully suggested socially acceptable edits!  Thanks girls.

Is dancing at a freestyle any different to a class night?

For those of us that are experienced there’s not that much difference, but for first timers the lack of a lesson is a significant difference. I’ll let one of the ladies explain:

I love my class night and I’ve got to know a lot of the guys.  The thing is that I got to know them in the lesson part of the night.  I love it that we move up the lines to a new partner all the time.  It’s a real ice-breaker.  I know that there aren’t any lessons at freestyles, so I’d miss the chance to get to know the guys before the dancing starts for real.

Many organisations do put classes on when they have two room events. They use the smaller room for SILC or Blues lessons. I wonder if there is a case for doing a simple ice-breaker class in these second rooms. Tim Sant did an ice-breaker on the Friday night at Southport before the main room kicked off. It was packed and much appreciated.

Tip No 1: Go local

I know some people are fearless.  They can walk into a room of strangers and feel quite comfortable.  Sadly most of us are not that confident, and that’s why ice-breaker lessons are a great help at class nights.  The lack of a freestyle ice-breaker is a good reason to go local, where there’s a chance you’ll meet the guys you know from your class.  Here’s another reason to go local:

I started going to the lessons with my girl friend, but she didn’t want to go to freestyles.  I soon realised I would have to go on my own, but was worried that I wouldn’t know anyone.

Most organisations that run lessons also run freestyles, and it’s not unusual to see many familiar faces from your class night.  So if you do have to go on your own, this will be a big plus factor.

Whatever you do, please don’t make your first freestyle, or even your second freestyle choice, a two-room event that goes on until two or three in the morning. People will often travel long distances to these events and you’ll know few people. These are fabulous venues, but you’ll just feel overwhelmed.  In the beginning stay local.

Tip No 2: Get a dance gang together

In my reviews I often talk about my Dance Gang friends. This is a group of about eight people who regularly go to freestyles and Southport weekenders together. It’s a whole lot more fun than going on your own.

Modern jive venues are very friendly places. I know a lot of people who are drawn to them for social reasons as well as for dancing.  It’s a place to make new friends, and the core of my dance gang was formed at a class night.

So ask around, talk to other guys and girls who started at about the same time as you, and see if you can get your own dance gang together.  Even if you are all first-timers it’s still going to be a whole bunch of laughs.

Get a Dance gang together. Main picture and this image courtesy of Tel Jenkins

Tip No 3: If the dress code is a worry, ask around

I remember worrying about what to wear.  I’d dressed quite casually at my class night.  I didn’t know what the dress code would be.  I didn’t want to look overdressed and showy, but nor did I want to look underdressed and look like I hadn’t made an effort.  I also realised that how I dressed would have some bearing on how I was perceived by both the other women and the men.

There is no doubt that the dress code at freestyles is generally smarter than class nights, though looking at some men you wouldn’t think so (sorry guys to be so disloyal).  Some women love the fact that freestyles give them an opportunity to dress up, and freestyles are a good excuse to treat themself to a new frock.

A lot of care is taken over what to wear, and I can understand ladies being unsure which way to go.  I know that my dance gang lady friends will often message each other to discuss their choice of outfits.  So if this is one of your concerns ask around. Ask the taxis and other ladies who you know are regulars at freestyles for their advice.

Freestyles can get quite hot, even in the depths of winter, so bear this in mind too.  Many freestyles have colour or fancy dress themes, but they are never compulsory, so don’t let this worry you.

Tip 4: Wear comfy shoes

Hopefully you’re going to have a long night up on your feet dancing, so, it matters that you wear comfortable shoes.  You may have some already, but my dance girl friends tell me that a good pair of dance shoes are a great investment. Dance shoes are supple and comfortable and the soles aid spinning.  My regular dance partner would also suggest that you consider the shoe heel height:

Two years on I now wear much lower heels, as I’m pretty confident that they help me dance better and my feet easily last three or four hours of dancing

I know a lot of beginners hold back on buying dance shoes until they feel that they have become regulars, so maybe the run up to your first freestyle is the excuse to treat yourself.

Just how good do you have to be?

I wasn’t confident that I was yet good enough to go to a freestyle. I’d recently moved up to the intermediate class, and it was definitely not plain sailing.

I’d like to think that people can go to freestyles whatever their ability levels.  Remember freestyles are also great social occasions. I’ve known ladies, with only a few lessons under their belt, who were happy to just chat with their friends and look on. They then surprised themselves by dancing more than they had expected.

Tip No 5: Don’t think you are out of your depth

Sure there will be people at a freestyle who are way beyond the level you are at, but take a closer look and you will see that there are people of all abilities.  There will be a large percentage of people there who don’t attend classes regularly anymore, but don’t assume that they are all advanced dancers.  Some of them will be no better than yourself, yet they are still having a great time.

Will I get enough dances?

There are often more women at the class night than men, so at times it’s difficult to get a dance. I know I should ask, but I don’t feel that confident.  It worried me that it would be even more difficult at a freestyle, and I didn’t want to look like the proverbial wallflower.

I get this completely. Even where the gender balance is fairly equal, I can see with my own eyes that the dances are not shared out equally.  So what’s the answer? I’m afraid to say that the ladies have to do some asking.

The other week I was discussing this situation with a lady who runs a very successful class and freestyle programme. When I told her that I was writing this article, she was at pains to stress that I must discuss the issue of ladies asking for dances:

Even though Modern Jive has an ethos that its OK for the ladies to ask the men, I know there are a lot of ladies who just won’t do it. At our class nights we try to reinforce the rule the ladies can do the asking, but it seems to make little difference. I suspect it’s because they are worried about being refused, though there’s no real evidence that this happens. I’ll be interested to see what you come up with Paul.

Tip No 6: Get there early and pick your seat

I was recently at a freestyle that I go to quite regularly. I was there quite early and spotted a lady I recognised. I couldn’t help comment that she was always one of the first to arrive:

I like to get here early.  I want to make sure I get my favourite seat.  It ensures I get  more dances than if I had to sit at the back.

The lady in question had long worked out that being at the edge of the dance floor helped increase her chances of getting asked to dance.  In fact her favourite seat was bang in the centre of the dance hall too.

Make it easy for the men to ask you to dance. Remember they too may have anxieties about being refused, so the last thing they want to do is walk past a lot of people to ask someone at the back or in a corner.  Get there early and find a seat at the front.

Tip No 7: Take the 3 dance request challenge

A good friend related this story to me about her very first freestyle:

I had gone on my own and was very nervous.  Fortunately a chap, who knew me from my class night, called me over and said I was welcome to sit with him and his group of friends.  He was kind enough to tell me not to worry about getting dances, for one he would dance with me, secondly introduce me to the other chaps in the group, but he also set me a challenge:

The challenge was to ask just three men to dance during the evening.  Because he was confident that it was do-able, I took a deep breathe and did it, albeit over three hours, and I’m so pleased I did.

There are ladies I regularly see at freestyles, who appear to have no fear, and seem to be able to ask anyone to dance.  However most of them will admit to first night fears and remember that in their early days the asking was something of a challenge.  Can I also add that from a man’s point of view it is nice to be asked.

Tip No 8: Enlist your girl friends’ help

I was at a freestyle recently and I was asked if I would dance with two beginners by their friend:

You see the two ladies over there Paul.  They are beginners and it’s their first time.  They’ve not had that many dances and they don’t feel confident to ask.  Would you dance with them please.

I was happy to oblige, and I enjoyed dancing with both of them.  I assured them that other chaps would be happy to dance with them too.  It wasn’t the first time this had happened to me, and I know other of my male friends have also been asked to dance with ladies, who were a bit nervous about coming forward.

There is nothing wrong with asking your friends to help out in this way, and the men will be flattered to be asked. I think it’s great that women look after their friends in this way.

Tip No 9: Learn to spot the friendly dancers

When I first started out I would watch the dance floor and try to spot the friendly faces, by that I mean the ladies who looked like they were enjoying their dancing and not taking it too seriously.  So, look out for the guys who appear to be having fun, and laugh it off when a move goes wrong.  My dance gang lady friends say that this worked for them.

Tip No 10: Choose your track carefully

When you do ask a man to dance you want it to go well.  I remember at the beginning of my freestyle journey being fast off the mark, and asking a lady to dance just as the previous track ended.  Then the new track started. To my horror it was fast, and I mean too fast for me to cope with, and the dance went very badly.  The lady in question could see my difficulty and was very gracious at the end, but it knocked my confidence for the rest of the night.

The trick is to pick your track, wait until the music has started, and if it’s got the right tempo for you, then do the asking.  Take care with tracks that are too fast, but also watch out for the ones that are a little slow.

Tip No 11: It’s OK to sit out the slow numbers

Dancing to a slow track can be more difficult than dancing to a fast track. During the evening DJs will slow the pace down with something a little more relaxed.  It’s a chance for experienced dancers to try out their smooth and bluesy moves, but it can get a bit up close and personal.

A popular slow track is Tone Damli’s 40 Years. It’s a delicious piece of music, and its a joy to dance to.  Click the play button and imagine you’ve just asked a man who you’ve never danced with before.  Some first-time ladies will love the idea of stepping out of their comfort zone and asking a man to dance to this track, but there’s nothing wrong with sitting these tracks out.

It took me a few blues lessons and a lot more confidence before I could enjoy dancing to these slow tracks, and then I would only ask ladies I knew very well.  Be patient, slowly build up your confidence, and pick your partners carefully.  The trick is not to have your confidence kicked back.

Tip No 12: The 3 No Dance Strategy

Sitting out too many dances on the trot is going to knock anyone’s confidence.  Two of my Dance Gang girl friends told me how they deal with this:

We don’t like to feel like we are sitting out too many dances.  So, we apply our three no dance strategy.  If we find ourselves sitting out a third dance we take a walk around the room, we go to the loo, we go to the bar or we find each other to chat on the edge of the dance floor.

Tip No 13: Stay on the dance floor

This is perhaps the most useful tip I was given by the ladies, when I discussed the strategies that they use to get more dances.  I’ll let one of the ladies who told me about the strategy explain it:

When a dance finishes do not make a bee-line back to your seat, but stay on the dance floor and approach a gent who will also be finishing his dance.  It is very rare for a man to decline in this case, as basically they do not have much time to think about it.

This lady went on to tell me that she would start looking for the next potential partner as the previous track was ending.  Take care with this.  If the man you are presently dancing with sees you looking around he may take offence.  I know that ladies will complain if a man spends their dance together scanning the dance floor for his next partner.

Tip No 14: Read Emma’s article

It’s time to get a female view on the problem of ladies getting their fair share of dances, from a fellow blogger, who has looked at this issue in some detail.  Emma writes the Modern Jive & Ceroc Blog What about Dance.  I often dip into it when I want to get a female perspective on modern jive issues, and I was really pleased to see that Emma had addressed this problem in an article on her blog called appropriately How to be the dancer who gets asked to dance.

Some of the tips that Emma suggests I’ve already mentioned, but she does have some thoughts that are best coming from a woman, so I’ve put a link at the bottom of my own article so you can quickly read them.  The article has a lot of tips for men too.

Emma makes the point that a smiley happy person will get a lot more dances than someone who makes little eye contact and looks miserable.  Here are two extracts from her list of tips:

Look like you’re enjoying every dance.  If you look miserable then it really won’t inspire your partner to enjoy the dance. Instead they’ll probably be wondering what they did wrong.  A smile goes a long way.

Look at me during the dance.  Interacting and looking at your partner is important.  You don’t need to look all the time, occasionally is fine better unless I know you really well.  You don’t want to unintentionally scare off your partner for future dancing opportunities by being a little too intense.

Tip No 15: Remember smiling can be misunderstood

As Emma says in her article you’ll get a lot more dances if you smile than if you don’t smile.  Making plenty of eye contact will also get you repeat dances.  Eye contact, like smiling, can be used to communicate a whole spectrum of messages on the dance floor.  Unfortunately this communication can get lost in translation sometimes.

Just because I smile it doesn’t mean I want to get engaged!

One night I was talking to a woman about why we hadn’t seen her at a freestyle.  She was a lovely dancer and I was sure she would get plenty of dances and have a great time:

The thing is Paul, I just don’t want to be chatted up.

My first thought was to think that I couldn’t imagine any man, whatever his status, mentioning this was an issue.  My second thought was that this deserved a bit more consideration.  We all go dancing for different reasons.  Sure there are people who want to find love on the dance floor, but most people, men included, just want to dance and have a fun night out.

I wondered whether any other women would mention the same thing as I did my background research.  I didn’t have to wait long.  At my very next class night I was told this:

I’m happily married.  I come to my dance class to have fun, and was quite surprised that I was being chatted up.  Sure I’m flattered by the attention I get, but it kind of makes me feel a little uncomfortable.  I’m a smiley person and I can’t help smiling when I’m dancing, but the men seem to take it the wrong way.  I just imagine that at a freestyle there will be more of the same.

This is a concern I thought might come up

I knew that this topic of men misinterpreting signals might come up, and when it did I discussed it with the more experienced ladies I knew.  They confirmed that guys misreading their smiles was occasionally a problem, and that they would be interested in my take on it.  Before I got a chance to consider it I got another comment that really made me take note.

As mentioned above I’ve recently published some dance tips for men, who want some advice as they make the step up to freestyles.  Within two weeks over a thousand people had read it and from the feedback it appears that the ladies have engaged with it as much as the guys.

One day I opened up my blog dashboard to find a comment from a lady, who had wanted to add some further tips for the men.  Amongst them was this paragraph:

(Guys) do not use the dance floor to pick someone up.  Serial dating is not what dance is about.  This can create atmospheres that regular dancers find uncomfortable.  Romance happens and lots of people meet their romantic partner naturally through regular dance.  So get to know people, before assuming they are ‘out on the hunt for a partner’, as your perception could be opposite to reality, and their impression of you is actually negative.

We are not being killjoys

I don’t think the lady is being a killjoy, but her comments do reinforce the concerns of the other two ladies.  I also don’t want to put a dampener on smiling.  After all. smiling makes the world go round a lot more smoothly.  But there is an issue here that is worthy of some thought.

Let’s go back a few paragraphs.  If ladies want to get their fair share of dances at freestyles it seems that, as Emma agrees, they may need to engage with the men in an overt way, with smiling and eye contact at the top of the list.  Sadly it seems that this can occasionally be fraught with danger.  So how else can ladies make a positive impression on the men?

Tip No 16: Show that you are enjoying the dance rather than the dancer

What I’m going to suggest is that the ladies let the men know that they are really enjoying the dance.  Now you can’t fake this.  If you are not enjoying the dance don’t try to pretend you are, but if you are there are effective ways of communicating it unambiguously. The most simple way is to be joyful.  This may mean having a smile on your face, but that’s not the same as smiling at your partner.

I never want to encourage conversation during a dance – it’s a distraction to the enjoyment of it, but there’s nothing wrong with saying. ‘This is a great track, I’m loving it.’  Whoop and holler if you must, and how about saying at the end ‘I really enjoyed that, thank you.’

One of my Dance Gang friends went one further, when she was trying to find ways of building up the courage to ask guys to dance:

If I had a really enjoyable dance I would treat it as an ice-breaker. I’d say at the end, ‘That was a great dance, would it be OK to ask you for another later.’  I would only say it if I was certain the guy had enjoyed the dance too. That way I didn’t think I was being forward.

 Will I just make more mistakes?

I’d finally moved up to the intermediate lessons, but I was struggling a little.  It made me wonder if I could follow the lead at a freestyle well enough.

The most common concern was whether the ladies thought they were good enough to be at a freestyle – would they struggle to follow the lead and end up making more mistakes.  I would like to think that anyone can go to a freestyle, whatever their standard, and they do.  However I do understand that some ladies do suffer from a lack of confidence regarding their dance ability, that might prevent them from making the move to freestyles.

Tip No 17: Admit to being inexperienced

‘This is my first ever freestyle’, ‘I’ve only been doing it for a few months’, ‘I’ve only had four lessons’, are all things I’m told when I ask first-time ladies for a dance at a freestyle.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting to being inexperienced, as it sets things up for a nice dance.  Men will often want to impress and do their fanciest moves, but let them know that you’ve only done a few lessons and hopefully they’ll keep their moves to the ones taught in the beginners class.

What you need to remember is that most men will admit to having had the same anxieties – I certainly did.  As a freestyle newbie my main worry was that I’d mistakenly ask a very experienced lady to dance, and she would be bored by my beginners’ moves.  Another concern was that I’d struggle to link the moves up fluently.

Guys remember how difficult it was for them

I remember going to a freestyle and wanted to introduce some new moves. I tried a move I’d been shown at my last intermediate lesson.  To my surprise it went really well, but I suddenly realised that at the end of it, my arms were in such a position that I didn’t know what move to do next.

I just stopped in the middle of the dance floor and feeling a little crestfallen apologised.  My lady partner was very gracious.  ‘It’s OK, no problem, just start again.’

I remember so many ladies being patient with me, when I started my freestyle journey, and it’s something I really appreciated.  I think it’s the same for a lot of men, and that’s why we like helping and encouraging beginners, and freestyles are a chance to pay the ladies back for their previous patience with us.

Sadly ladies have bad experiences at class nights

You’ll remember that to give this article credibility, I asked ladies to tell me about their anxieties prior to going to their first freestyle. It wasn’t long before I had my eyes opened, and I have to say that I was very saddened with what I heard:

The thing is Paul, there were times when I got told off at my class nights.  I’d sometimes misread the signal and go wrong.  You’d be surprised how often I was told off by the men. I just assumed I’d get told off more at a freestyle.

My heart sank as I was told more than once about situations where the men showed their displeasure when a move went wrong.

Surely it’s the man’s fault

I’m always surprised how often ladies say sorry, when a move goes wrong.  My first thought is to put the blame on myself for not signalling the move clearly enough, or to apologise for doing a move that was perhaps beyond their experience.

Tim Sant’s Golden Rule

Tim Sant, who is the Head of Dance at Ceroc, once gave this advice to the dancers in a class he was teaching:

Ensure that you give your dance partner the dance they want, not the dance you want. Essentially give consideration to your partner’s dancing abilities and skill level.

It would appear that we men are sometimes guilty of not considering the level of our partner’s dancing skills. Sadly the men are not going to change overnight, so hopefully I can give some tips on how the ladies can deal with the inconsiderate male dancers.

Women are at a disadvantage

When I gave advice to the men, one of my tips was to suggest they pick their dance partners carefully – look for friendly faces.  Look for ladies who are of a similar ability level, and do not ask the very experienced dancers in your early days.

Even though ladies are encouraged to ask the men for a dance, it is usually the case, as I’ve mentioned above that men do most of the asking. This puts the ladies at a disadvantage, and because of the rule that you should not refuse a dance, sometimes at the mercy of any inconsiderate male dancers.

Perhaps ladies should refuse the odd dance

I was doing some research on Facebook, and came across a comment from a lady who questioned the rule that ladies should not refuse the offer of a dance.  Now I’m a great believer that this rule has helped give Modern Jive it’s friendly reputation.

However she may have a point, and when a man does not follow Tim’s Golden Rule of considering the dance ability of their lady partners, then that may be an acceptable reason to refuse the offer of a dance.  When I gave my tips to men I told this story:

I was at a new freestyle venue and asked a lady onto the floor who I’d not danced with before.  The track was full of energy and I danced in my developing full-on style.  The lady in question was a fabulous dancer and I loved every second of the dance.  I knew I had to ask her to dance again, so when later in the evening the DJ spun another hi-energy track I looked for the lady in question.  I was lucky, she was free.  I asked her for a dance.  Her reply was crushing, ‘No, find yourself another partner.’

I did dance again that night but I was pretty flat. I kept thinking what I’d done to receive such a damning response. Eventually it came to me. I’d been a little too aggressive in the way I executed the moves. I could see myself doing The Octopus, whipping my partner round, but it was all a little too frantic, and if I was honest I had tugged her into position at times.  She was right to refuse to dance with me.

What is a girl to do?

Because the ability levels at a freestyle are always going to be wider than on a class night there is more potential for first-time ladies finding themselves in a dance where they struggle to follow the lead.

I don’t want men to suffer the indignity that I suffered that night, and I doubt that any lady wants to resort to telling their male partners off, but ladies you do need to think about how you deal with men who do not show consideration, and might, God forbid tell you off.

Tip No 18: Ask your girl friends how they discourage inconsiderate men

One of my earlier tips was for first-time freestyles ladies to go with a group of girl friends.  They will bring a lot of fun to the night, but they are also there to support you. Have a tricky dance and your friends will pick you up, and I’m sure they will share the ways in which they deal with any inconsiderate male dancers.

Tip No 19: Remember that freestyles are a fast track to being a better dancer

There might be the odd difficult dance, but there will be many more wonderful dances.  You may come across the occasional inconsiderate man, who has yet to learn Tim’s Golden Rule, but most of the men will remember what it was like for them as newbies, and they will be patient with you.

Here’s something else to bear in mind.  You need to dance with better dancers if your own dance skills are to improve.  That’s the big advantage of freestyles.  You are going to get the chance to dance with so many more male partners, and that will bring you plenty of opportunities to improve your own dancing skills.

The one comparison worth making between Freestyles and class nights is that there is twice as much freestyle time.  That’s a lot of extra dance time to improve your skill of reading your partners signals.  The extra time, and the wonderful new music that you will dance to, will also allow you to slowly develop your musicality.

Tip No 20: Remember it’s the most important step of your dance journey

Of course class nights are fun – after all that’s where we all got the dance bug, but freestyles for many of us, are so much more fun.  So much so, that many of us want to go to one every weekend, and if there isn’t one locally we will travel a long way to get our dance fix.

Your dance journey started with your first lesson. After six or eight weeks you made the step up to the Intermediate class.  Freestyles are your next step. But your dance journey doesn’t stop there.  Next it’s the big two or three room freestyle that goes on until three in the morning, and before long you will be off to your first weekender.  Dance holidays in the sun await you a little further along your dance journey.

Of all the steps on your journey, the one from class night to freestyles is, for some, the most daunting, yet it’s the most important.  I hope my tips, and insight in to what awaits you at a freestyle, are of some help and encourage you to join us.  Remember there is a whole load of fun awaiting you.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank all the ladies who took time to talk to me about their concerns about making the leap to freestyles. Having heard what you had to say I soon realised that there were gaps in my knowledge when it comes to understanding ladies view of partner dancing.

A big thanks to my Dance Gang friends Jo, Janet, Anne and Sharon who gave me a lot of input and suggested their own tips.

Thanks also to the people that I asked to check over this posting before it was published. I was constantly worried that my male perspective might not be appreciated at times. So thank you for suggesting the many amendments.

Please use the links below to read related articles

Modern Jive Dance Tips for Men: I give tips to men who are making the transition to freestyles

What about Dance Blog: Read Emma’s article ‘How to become the dancer who gets asked to dance’.