Okay, here’s the truth: I didn’t attend my first social dance until 3 months into my swing dance classes. In college, I took an entire semester of salsa classes and never went dancing.

My excuse? I didn’t have anything to wear.

Yeah, I was nervous. I admit it. I was pretty certain I’d look foolish, say the wrong thing, not get asked to dance, or just be totally out of place.

As a newbie, you’re nervous for a good reason. You want to fit in and do things right. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

But you have to go to a dance sooner or later. Otherwise, why are you learning to dance?

Fortunately, there are a lot of tried-and-true strategies for surviving your first social dance. Whether it’s your first dance ever or your first dance in a new city, use one or more of these for best results:

Strategy #1: Baby Steps

Slowly but surely, ease into the social dance scene.

If you’re insanely nervous, just drive by the venue without going in. Seriously. You may think that’s silly, but lots of people have social anxiety. If you drive by the venue, at least that’s something. You can also figure out the parking situation and where the entrance is, two fewer things to worry about.

The next time, gather up your courage to go in and sit and watch. Stay for at least 30 minutes. The third week, make a deal with yourself to ask three people to dance.

And so on. You can take smaller steps if you need to, or start bigger if you’re not that worried.

Strategy #2: Power in Numbers

Take a friend! Anyone from your class is a good choice. You can even take a non-dancing friend if you’re just planning on watching.

If the class is particularly cohesive, someone might organize a dance outing. Get in on that! Pretend your classmates are your best friends for a night. Who knows? They might be super cool people. And if not, you’ll soon make lots of new friends by going to dances regularly.

Strategy #3: Look Like You Belong

What you wear says something about who you are. On your first night out dancing, you want your clothing to say, “I belong here.”

Find out what people wear to a social dance in your city and genre of dance. Ask your teacher, ask your classmates. Perhaps there are pictures from social dances on a local dance organization’s website. Drive by and have a look in the window if you’re employing Strategy #1.

Seriously, though, don't obsess over the details. The internet doesn't have all the answers.

Get details! The more, the better. Type of shoes? What kind of pants or skirts? Dressed up or down?

Of course you won’t arrive looking like the spitting image of a mega-advanced, internationally esteemed dancer, women falling at your feet.

No, you don’t have to try that hard. So long as you have the basic style down, you’ll feel more comfortable and relaxed.

Strategy #4: Assume Nothing

I’ve heard people say this about their dance scene: “Our community is so welcoming!” Others will say, “People are really cliquish.” Don’t take any of that to heart. Your experience at your first social dances will be unique, and it likely won’t match exactly what others are telling you. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel.

Don’t assume people will ask you to dance. Don’t assume you’ll be left alone if you’re feeling shy. Don’t assume the venue takes credit cards, or that  you can bring your own water. Don’t assume the etiquette will be effortless to figue out.

Keep in mind that each venue has a different flavor. Venues even vary from week to week, depending on the music, the mix of people, and the balance of leads and follows.

Seattle is a great example. On lead-heavy nights, a follow can feel like a rock star. On follow-heavy nights, she could feel like chopped liver.

And on crowded nights, I wonder how Seattle can be filled with such klutzy people. Heh. Or is it just me?

Expect to be a little confused. Expect to integrate slowly into this new social circle. Expect to get your feet (and feelings) stepped on a few times as you figure out how things work and how you fit.

And remember…

Don’t let anyone make you feel stupid for easing into a new social scene. It’s not wrong to be nervous. However, that super-nervous feeling? It only lasts for a few dances at most. In a couple months you’ll be an old pro, gleefully telling your friends how AWEsome dancing is.

And then you can help them go to their first dance!

How did you get through your first social dance? Comment and let me know!

Photo credit: Jerry Bunkers

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