I started going to drop-in dance classes to meet people and improve on the masculine traits I was lacking. I heard it was a good way to learn how to lead and be more assertive, which I lacked as a typical nice guy. But man, I learned so much more.
Fast forward a couple years, I have now done several classes of Salsa, Bachata, Tango, Ballroom, Cha Cha, Country Line Dancing, Swing, and Lindy Hop.
Here are some lessons I learned in being a man from these partner dances:
1. You Can Lead With Subtle Actions
You can tell the girl what you want to do with small movements. You don’t have to make big movements, get aggressive or forceful, or talk. A big myth about leading is that you have to use big, forceful movements — maybe in some forms of dance, but definitely not for Latin forms, like salsa and bachata. I learned that as a leader, your goal is to send a signal that the follower responds to. That’s it. To send the right signal, you don’t have to be pronounced. With a strong frame and rigid posture, just a small indication is often enough to tell her what you want.
2. You Have To Be Clear and Decisive
If you aren’t clear and firm with what you want, the girl will get confused. In dancing, this applies to when you want her to turn and what turn you want her to do. In relationships, this applies to setting your own boundaries and doing stuff that interests you.
Move with purpose. Walk straight towards the girl if that’s where you want to go. Take purposeful strides. Move with your chest. Move confidently.
I’ve caused a girl to do the wrong thing and confused her numerous times by being unclear with my hand movements or not fully deciding in my mind what I want her to do in time and throwing out a movement that was half-hearted.
I learned this especially in Argentinian Tango class. It is especially scary since this dance requires you walk into your partner as she walks backwards. This made me timid because I didn’t want to step on her feet but the dance requires confidence and trust.
I was constantly scolded by my partner to be confident enough to take assertive steps forward with no fear.
3. Leading is Essential. Leading Is Not Controlling.
When it comes to partner dancing, the girl has to follow your lead. Without your lead, she doesn’t know where to go or when to spin. You have to decide that.
This almost symbolizes the male-female relationship. As a man, you have to make decisions, lead the women, and protect her from dangers. It’s ingrained in our DNA and culture.
But leading is different from controlling. Leading is all about offering clear decisions of what to do. Throughout the whole process, there are micro-moments when the girl has the full power to reject your offers.
You still have to approach her and ask for a dance, but she can reject your dance request.
You can ask her to turn, but you are not forcing it upon her. It is a gentle, firm request that she has the choice to comply to.
An East Coast Swing teacher told me to let the girl decide how close she gets to you and where she is comfortable. Simply lift your arms. You cannot decide for her or she’ll be uncomfortable. You lead by offering. She decides.
4. Relax and Feel the Music
You’re not relaxed even if you think you are. When you’re anxious or scared of rejection, sometimes, it shows through in ways you didn’t detect.
Consciously, I think I’m cool but my body says otherwise. Others see me as tensed up and my shoulders are hunched up. I’ve been told numerous times by girls to relax a bit when dancing.
Take it less seriously and treat it less like baking a cake as if there’s specific steps for every part of the process you must follow. As I got better with dancing, I was told to stop counting the beats out and just feel the music.
Whether it’s human courtship, male-to-female communication, or music, it’s more than just a logical, robotic process you follow. There’s emotion and intuitive feel to it.
5. It Is Your Obligation to Lead
Many times during class, a woman has told me that I need to lead more. They want to be told what to do.
As a nice guy, you may counter with, “But what about female equality?”
Leading is not controlling or demanding. Leading is giving the girl the opportunity to follow and doing it in a clear, masculine way that she understands. You are asking through your body language.
This is about becoming an attractive man with healthy relationships with women. You can still treat a woman with respect and see her as an equal even if you are leading her.
This is about being less shy, manning up, and making bolder decisions.
As far as body language goes, in Tango and Swing, I was told to lead with the chest. The chest is the most important part of leading.
6. Variety Gives You More Experience and Skill
One instructor told me that it’s important to dance with multiple women when you’re starting out to learn how to lead. If you only practice with a single woman, she can naturally have the tendency to take over and lead for you. It’s important to date more than one girl before you marry to learn how to be the man in a relationship.
After a dance lesson, they had a “social dance”. For two hours, they had small snacks and soda. And a hundred old people gathered to dance together as a live band performed. The music was straight out of the 70s. It was the stereotypical stuff you heard in the movie Back to the Future. As I watched them dance, I learned so many lessons:
I was reminded that the modern world with its rap music, EDM, Dubstep, twerking, and grinding was a very new phenomenon in the grand scheme of things. For thousands of years, we danced in a more intricate and romantic way. Nowadays, a high school’s dance has evolved into one guy awkwardly grinding a girl’s booty (pretty much clothed sex) if you were so lucky and brave enough to ask a girl out and have her say yes. And it’s clear as day that no one there can dance at all.
It’s a bit of a tragedy. (Kind of cool too if you get to be one of those guys). It used to be a place of proper dance with the quality of a live band. As I listened to the singers sing, I was amazed at how sharp, clear, and on-key the melodies were. I love hip hop as much as the next guy, but there was something awesome about hearing a live band who knew what they were doing (that wasn’t just spitting out hard core rap). Speakers and iTunes can only go so far.
Although I would rather be alive today than any other time in history, I marveled at the fact that this was what was cool not long ago. I really got into some of the songs (by the Temptations and Elvis) and I could see how it was cool. At the same time, I could see how this was a bit whack and wondered if our generation would be the same way when we got old (most likely it will).
7. People Are People, Not Gods
My insecurity with being Asian in a predominantly white environment has plagued me more than it should have my whole life. There are plenty of people who treat me as equals and I have learned that I have to stop sabotaging myself because of this. This usually comes down to staying quiet or not speaking my mind because of a chase for approval.
I’ve pushed my comfort zone and have accomplished stuff others wouldn’t dare do.
I’ve been the only Asian male in a ballroom of 100 elderly white people dancing to Elvis. I’ve danced Zumba as the only Asian male in a gymnasium of 250 black women. They were nothing but friendly to me and my insecurities with my race were in my own head.
Oprah Winfrey, one of my heroes, said in a Stanford Business school Q&A that she never got to where she was by looking at color, even though she was often the only black woman in a room of old, white men.
While I’m not so naive to think that there aren’t bad people out there, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good people too.
I’m very thankful to have brightened some of these older women’s days by dancing with them. Many of these women used to be beautiful when they were young. Now, they don’t get much attention and just want to dance with someone. It’s a bit sad but it got me thinking.
8. You Have To Be More Brave. You Have To Be The Man.
During one of my sessions, an old lady pulled me up and told me I have to be more brave and ask other ladies to dance. No matter what culture it is, that’s a standard theme. A guy has to be a guy. Stop chickening out.
There’s some biological and cultural about this standard way of life. It’s been like this for tens of thousands of years. Don’t use feminism or equality as an excuse to sit by doing nothing.
I have noticed an uptick in the amount of women who will ask me to dance first at these open dances after classes, likely thanks to modern ways of thinking. However, it’s still rare and many women still chicken out and it’s up to you to ask.
Otherwise, you can end up sitting there (as I have) for up to an hour without anyone asking you to dance.
You will be rejected occasionally and it may hurt if you take it personally but it’s a part of life. If you don’t do it, you’ll never get ahead. Try not to take it personally.
I’ve found it’s easier through dancing because unlike in a bar setting, they’re rejecting the opportunity to dance (because they’re tired or something else) rather than rejecting you.
Most of the other guys on the dance floor had complete confidence in asking new girls to dance. Maybe it was that they were all already married. Maybe it was because they came from a different generation.
Observing these older men (and the instructor) interact with women really impressed me. There was an air of confidence (and an undertone of ‘its okay if you don’t want to dance no pressure and I won’t be offended), culture, and willingness to immediately speak their mind without holding back out of fear.
The instructors were always quite good at talking to every woman with no sense of intimidation or fear of judgement or rejection. I would, of course, be a lot different, even with these elderly woman. I have to work on this.
9. Cherish Your Moments
During the open dance after a Swing class, a women told me she hadn’t danced to a certain song they were playing since the 70’s. Wow. The closest thing I could think of to the 70’s is the film, Back to the Future. And that was in the 80’s.
There was a lot of history in that room and her statement shocked me out of my negative vibe and urge to complain that everyone there was old except me.
It’s important to cherish your life because it really passes fast. One moment, you’re at dancing at prom, and the next, you’re 80 years old.
I was happy to share that moment with her and the joy she experienced reliving her past with that song. This old lady was young and beautiful once too and there’s a lot you can learn from old women, not just young women.
10. Stop Complaining
Next, I learned one of my most important lessons. To stop complaining and whining. Terry Crews did a video on how he left the NFL and ended up spending too much money and going broke. He ended up having to work a job for $12 an hour but resented it. He kept complaining and moping that he “used to be in the NFL.” This is something I have struggled on and worked on improving my whole life.
I had to learn that the world does not owe me anything. I was not entitled to anything. I do not mope or complain if I don’t get invited to a party or get rejected by a girl or don’t get a dream job handed to me. I am not entitled to anything just because I have done something or worked hard. Like Terry, I had to get up off my butt, stop complaining, and start working towards what I wanted. Even if it was “unfair”.
I felt a twinge of that again as I stood in front of the snack station. I had a case of horrible attitude. I had to stop thoughts like “these snacks suck. They’re the nameless brand-type with no flavor.” and “Someone is probably having a lot of fun with tons of young hot girls right now.” An elderly lady had enthusiastically pointed me to these snacks and I was not going to be a dick.
Real life is not like the movies or social media feeds. Unfortunately both of those tend to exaggerate how life is and people for some reason love to show off their exotic lifestyles and create a distorted ungrateful perspective for the reason of us. As a core part of personal development, I knew I had to stop out these nasty attitudes and have a better time. This was a REAL party for the generation that was here. You don’t need expensive million dollar bottles and alcohol to have a good time.
I looked around and found evidence to support this even more. I saw one couple that were as young as me who for some reason loved swing music and were dancing with these intricate kicks with their feet. I saw another man that looked like he was 80 spinning a young girl (that might have been his granddaughter) around while in a wheel chair. Even though he was in a chair, he was the most enthusiastic person on the dance floor.
I truly believe that a part of having fun is attitude and energy. You can be in a pretty average to mediocre environment and still have a lot of fun with some creativity and enthusiasm. but 99% have chosen (or were programmed) to not believe this, so they assume boring environments are boring. How do I know this? I used to work in a restaurant that got pretty boring at times. My peers would complain about how boring it was most of the time rather than change their mindset.
And I’m sure there is someone who is in one of the funnest places he can be on earth but is not having fun because of his attitude
11. You Can’t Lead If Someone Else Is Leading
At these dance sessions, they will usually rotate partners every time so you can practice the movements with a different person each time.
Once in a while, I will meet a girl who will try to lead me through her movements. It’s usually a beginner who doesn’t know that men lead in these dances and it’s especially awkward since the movements are designed so that a woman isn’t meant to lead (Try using an iron grip to force a man to spin you. It’s not natural.)
I don’t mind being lead when I’m learning and need guidance. It’s demeaning when I know the movements well and yet every movement is controlled by someone else.
12. Through Differences, There Are Similarities
I’ve been taught by Latin instructors that came straight from hundreds of years of Hispanic culture. I’ve been taught by old-time American instructors embodying the old American culture of our grandparents. Yet despite the huge differences in the music and dancing, there were deep similarities.
The basic movement patterns were eerily similar. The masculine way the man lead and danced with the girl were similar. The fearlessness and experience of the teachers were the same. They all had “Birthday circles” where the Birthday boy or girl would get to dance with most of the women there. They loved dancing to live bands.
Bonus Tips For Learning How To Lead
If you want to learn how to lead more, I suggest being the follower once in a while. It sounds counter-intuitive and it is. But I’m not alone in my thinking.
Tim Ferriss, a famous podcaster and entrepreneur, has detailed in a blog post and his book Four Hour Chef, how he went from complete beginner to an international Latin dance competitor by learning the female role first.
Dance with an experienced instructor or student and ask him to lead you. This has been one of the quickest ways for me to identify what I’m doing wrong.
You’ll immediately understand, like nothing else, how much clearer his decisions and pushes and pulls are. You’ll understand how much firmer and stronger his actions are: not so much that they’re hurtful, but enough so that they’re clear what is wanted.
I quickly realized that I was being too indecisive, weak, and unclear in my dance movements. My dance partners would be confused if I wanted to turn them or do something fancy. And sometimes, I didn’t know! I would make a half-decision like I’m about to spin her and then, back out of it into a basic step as if that’s what I wanted to do all along. This indecisiveness likely pervades into how I act with others in the real world!
Leading is a core part of being a healthy, attractive male in romantic relationships that is overlooked, underrated, and not taught in school.
While it comes naturally for some men, it doesn’t for most men thanks to numerous modern factors of society, such as classrooms with few male teachers, absent or busy fathers, and electronics that keep you alone rather than interacting with others.
While taking partner classes, like salsa, is not a magic pill to becoming a man, it has helped me become more decisive and lead rather than stay reserved and shy. I still have room to improve but I’m getting there.
Constant practice helps keep you from forgetting and declining.
Dr. Glover, author of the best-selling book No More Mr. Nice Guy and a coach to thousands of nice guys throughout his life, wrote a great article on leading that expands on how to take the lead in a relationship. Has makes a great suggestion to own a dog and taking a dog obedience class to learn to nurture relationships and lead. A bad dog is an indicator of a bad owner. They behave based on how you reward them.
It is not always that the girl is trying to lead! I have the same issue and I am a woman who just started Salsa. Basically , I know that the man should lead but still because I am a beginner and do not know my foot moves that well it seems like I want to back lead which is not true. It is just happening naturally and is very stressful to me! I wish that at least the instructor could understand it and put less pressure on me making me look like I do it on purpose.
Definitely a fair point Fatemeh. I believe there’s all sorts of variations. I was picturing a beginner who was forcibly turning me every move for me, and I didn’t have the heart to offend her and correct her. But you pointed me to another variation of possibility