11 Ways to be the ballroom dance partner women love–even if you can’t dance

Photo by Brendan Lally
Photo by Brendan Lally

First, don’t worry if  you can’t dance. If you’re at a social event, like a wedding, she probably can’t dance either. Nor can any of the other guys she’s dancing with.

Then, what you lack in skill you can make up for by impressing her with your character. Be confident, gentle, supportive, humble, generous, attentive, sensitive and fun. Here are some specific things to do:

  1. Show up. Most guys won’t even attempt to dance. Stepping onto a dance floor is taking a risk. Women like risk-takers—it’s alpha male behavior.
  2. Be gentle. Minor injuries are not uncommon, especially when doing an underarm turn. She probably won’t tell you that you tweaked out her shoulder when you turned her too rough. But she will dread the next time you ask her to dance. Warning: Do not let your ego exceed your ability. If you can’t dance and think you can, you will tend to be rough and insensitive.
  3. Practice etiquette. Follow the Golden Rule. Act civil and polite to the point of overdoing it.
  4. Look at her. Make good eye contact, short of giving her that stalker stare. Places not to look: at your feet and at other dancers. I’ve had partners who close their eyes when they dance. Bad move.
  5. Chitchat. While it’s not good form to talk and dance, a little chitchat while you dance is common, fun and suave—after all, if you can tell jokes while twirling through patterns, maybe you can do anything. If you can’t dance, exchanging some pleasant words as you do an awkward sway will look better than exchanging dirty looks as you do an awkward sway. (Note: never stop dancing in the middle of the floor and just talk—move off the floor.)
  6. Pretend you’re in love with her for three minutes. This was the advice of the late, great Frankie Manning, the grandfather of swing dancing. Learn it well.
  7. Smile and look confident. Do not be bothered by your inability to ballroom dance. Pretend you’re having fun. Fake your confidence.
  8. Ignore mistakes. It’s common to feel spotlighted when you dance; but it’s unlikely many people, if any, are watching. If a mistake is made, do not stop dancing–keep moving. Add a smile and it may look like you were improvising a new move. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  9. Laugh at yourself. Keep a light attitude; be able to laugh at yourself so when you make a mistake your reaction is to flash a genuine smile. Don’t have high expectations, have fun.
  10. Look at her face for fear, confusion or disgust. She’s not going to tell you that she’s unhappy so you’ll have to use your intuition. If she looks disturbed, stop what you’re doing and try something else.
  11. Relax. Granted, it’s hard to relax when you’re just a beginner and don’t know what you’re doing. Nonetheless, tension will make you look stiff; relaxation will make your movements look effortless. Would you rather be a stiff guy who can’t dance or a relaxed guy who can’t dance?

The only time you look embarrassingly bad is when you’re uptight and bothered by your inability to dance. So, if you flat out can’t dance, the solution is not so much faking the dance, which requires some skill. The secret, as noted in number 7 above, is faking your confidence.

If you can’t dance, what’s your biggest issue when you step onto the dance floor?

Survive a ballroom dance with “single rhythm” (video: 2 min., 41 sec.)

Single rhythm, one weight change in two beats of music (e.g., a STEP HOLD or a SIDE TOUCH, no weight change on the HOLD or the TOUCH), can be a lifesaver when you’re ballroom dancing (this video goes with the book so it’s also posted on the Freebie Video page):

Doing all single rhythm is the rhythm pattern to use for a sway (single–single is the rhythm pattern, SIDE TOUCH—SIDE TOUCH is the verbal call, keep repeating), which is what to fall back on if you get stuck, lost or confused–or if you flat-out don’t know what you’re doing. If you neglected to take lessons before your wedding, use this to survive your wedding dance—but choose a wedding song with a beat you can hear. You still have to connect to the music or you’ll just get an awkward rocking back and forth. If you can’t hear the beat, I urge you to learn how to count sets of 8.