Dancing Your Way to Success

“Dancing is a wonderful training for girls; it’s the first way you learn to guess what a man is going to do before he does it.” – Christopher Morley

It was 1978. A Friday night in June at Fort Lauderdale Middle School. I still remember every detail.

Andy Cleva was in the center of the gym floor, dancing with Charlotte Bolton. Howie Miller was out there too, with Debbie Barry. All of them were moving to the beat of the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. And the girls were smiling as if they’d been named queen for a day.

I wanted to be out there too. But instead, there I was, leaning against the wall with most of the other boys. Sure, we were cracking jokes and trying to act cool. But secretly, of course, we all wished we could be the ones dancing with Charlotte or Debbie. We couldn’t … because we didn’t know how. Only in eighth grade and already missing out on a great opportunity!

Whether it’s a middle school dance, the senior prom, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, or a company party, there’s a lot to be said for knowing how to dance.

Thank about it for a minute. Go to a reception, and who’s having the most fun? The dancers.

Go to a rock concert, and who’s enjoying it most? The folks who are up and dancing in the aisles.

The fact is, knowing how to dance makes you look and feel like a winner.

Look at Fred and Ginger. Gene Kelly. Or, more recently, Arnold with Jamie Lee in “True Lies” or Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”

When these people get up and dance, they are sophisticated and in control. Certainly James Bond knows how to do a tango. And the unmitigated success of the recent ABC show “Dancing With the Stars” demonstrates how fascinated people are with this skill. It was the number one rated show in the nation on its final night, with over 22 million viewers.

It was that experience in my middle school gym that spurred me to action. I decided I wasn’t going to let it happen again –  and I actually started studying MTV videos to learn some basic moves. It felt awkward at first, but eventually I became one of the guys out on the floor with the ladies. Fast-forward to 10 years later, and I was nothing short of a professional dance instructor myself!

Having been a professional ballroom dance teacher for many years, I can tell you that there’s nothing like the feeling of confidence you have when you know how to dance. And, as I always told my clients, it really doesn’t take much to be considered a good dancer in social circles. Go to your cousin’s wedding armed with a few basic steps, and you’ll be considered the John Travolta of the family.

Some people think they simply can’t learn to dance, but I don’t believe that’s true. In the 10,000+ lessons I gave in my career as a dance instructor, I never once came upon someone who couldn’t be taught. According to Jeff Bettany of the Saskatoon DanceSport Association:

“Genetics may account for as much as 80% of dance skills such as foot speed, dynamic balance, and so on. But even if you are not a born dancer and may not make it to the Olympic games, there is still a place for you if you are dedicated. Don’t assume that because you were never good at sports that you won’t be able to dance.”

Most people simply want to be able to dance with their spouse or a friend at a social gathering. And in that case, there is no need to learn anything fancy. If you know a basic Latin dance like the Merengue, a bit of swing for rock ‘n’ roll, the Hustle for classic disco or top 40 dance music, and a little slow dance, you’ll have virtually all the bases covered.

Here are some tips to help you look “smooth” on the dance floor:

  • Don’t squeeze your partner’s hands too hard.
  • If you’re not sure of which dance to do to the music being played, wait until some other people get on the floor and see what they’re doing.
  • Sometimes more than one type of dance can be done to a piece of music. So if you’re dancing one style and you see someone dancing something else, don’t assume that what you’re doing is wrong.
  • Relax and have fun when you dance socially. Unless you are charging people to watch you, there is no reason to feel pressure.

Whether at a relative’s wedding or an important business affair, being one of the few who can get up and really cut a rug will increase your enjoyment and give you an edge over everyone else who’s there.