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  • Writer's pictureDawn Matthews

Finding Confidence In Dancing

Updated: Apr 17

Finding confidence in dancing - image shows a couple dancing, woman is wearing an all-in-one patterned leotard with tan dance sandals, man wears black trousers and a grey long sleeve t-shirt

Confidence is one of those things that doesn’t come naturally to many of us, especially when we’re starting out and if we choose a dance venue that is busy. Even those of us that have been dancing for years and years can experience a crisis of confidence from time to time, even if we logically know that we’re not a bad dancer. In this post, I’m going to share some thoughts about where dancing can knock your confidence, offer some reassurance about how normal it is, and share how I tackle those tricky moments. Of course, I’m talking from my experience of dancing modern jive, Ceroc, and ballroom across the South, but dancers of other styles may find some of this post useful too. If you do, I’d love to hear from you, so do please get in touch!

How To Become Confident When You First Start Dancing

Finding confidence in your dancing when you first start out is tricky, because you’re doing something new, and you don’t know the rules yet. The thing I encountered again (because I had forgotten in the fifteen years since I started dancing!) when I started doing ballroom last year is that there are no short cuts between your first lesson, building your ability, and feeling like you’re actually a good dancer. You simply have to be prepared to suck at something new for a little while until you get the hang of it, and all I can say is that it comes with time, and as you pick up the steps more, can link the moves more, and so on, your confidence will come.

While you’re going through the difficult first few weeks, if you’re only attending one class per week, with only that evening to practice your steps, then it makes sense that it will take you a while to get your confidence up. If you don’t have enough opportunity to get your practice in with partners, then there are a few things you can do to help increase your ability – which will, of course, lead to an increase in your confidence.

  • Before you leave home to head out dancing, do everything you can to be confident in yourself and your appearance. Choose comfortable clothing, make sure you’ve used deodorant, and that you’ve cleaned your teeth. Getting these basics right will eliminate any worries that you might have about whether you’re smelling good, or that you might have a wardrobe malfunction, which means there’s one less thing to worry about.

  • Let the door staff know that you’re new, and look for the taxi dancers at your venue. There’s almost always taxi dancers – those who are there specifically to help new dancers – at class nights, and if you’re struggling with a move, or maybe your rhythm, or your confidence, they will be able to help you. They’re more likely to be able to get the attention of the instructors too, if they can’t quite help you nail the moves by themselves.

  • If you can, talk to the other dancers that sit near you, and let them know you’re new to dancing. They will more than likely give you tips about the dancers that are great with newbies, and those that are friendly and not be at all bothered if you make a mistake.

  • Record the routines when the instructors are demonstrating. Always check if that is OK first, and never post them online without permission from the instructors. If your instructors aren’t OK with you recording them, don’t do it.

  • Don’t jump into intermediate and advanced classes too soon. There’s a good reason that the instructors will advise at least six to eight weeks of beginner classes before you go on to intermediate lessons.

  • When you mess up a move (I guarantee, it will happen – I mess up moves every single night that I dance, and I’ve been at it for a lot of years now!) find a line to say that acknowledges you messed up, but makes light of it. Something along the lines of “hmm, I’m not sure that is how it is meant to go… shall we try again?” or “I think we just invented a new move!”.

  • Make use of the thousands of videos on YouTube. If you’re not getting a certain move in class, find YouTube clips where the move is being demonstrated. Sometimes, it takes a different angle, or a different explanation for the penny to drop.

Finally, now and again, you might encounter a dancer that will say something negative if they have a dance that they didn’t enjoy. This says more about them than it does about the fact you’re a new dancer, so try not to take it personally – which I know, is easier said than done. However, it is worth mentioning to those that are running the night, because that kind of poor etiquette can have a huge impact on some people (who might not come back after such a comment), and the staff may need to have a quiet word.

How To Find The Confidence To Ask Someone To Dance

Whether you’re a lead or follow, if you sit waiting – especially if you’re scrolling on your phone – the chances of you being asked for a dance reduces, and then you can end up going home wishing that you’d had more dances, which leads to a better night. While I know this, depending on the day of the week, and the week of the month, even now I still struggle with being able to ask someone to dance. So, I get it – it can be tough.

Asking someone that is sitting across the room from you isn’t easy, and if they are a great dancer, chances are, someone will swoop in and catch them for a dance before you get there, then you might feel like you’re left looking daft. When you’re building your confidence to ask someone to dance, start with the people that are sitting near you, then build up to asking people that sit further away.

When I do ask someone, the main thing I try to remember, is that almost everyone has been in the position where they struggled to ask for a dance. Sometimes, if it feels right, I’ll say something like “thanks for saying yes – I really struggle to ask!” and then, you might get a conversation going about how long you’ve been dancing, and how hard it can be to start asking people to dance. They might offer tips that worked for them, or they might offer for you to ask them next week too, to help you feel braver.

Once you settle in as a regular dancer at a certain venue, you’ll probably end up having favourites on your list that you dance with each week. Having people that you know are certain to say yes will help you to grow your confidence, and as you get to know other dancers in the lessons, you’re more likely to be able to go and ask them too.

I often use the “act as if” technique that I read about years ago. Essentially, this is just pretending – acting as if you are totally cool with whatever you’re trying to find the courage to do. In this case, I act as if I have all the confidence that I need to ask my intended target – as though I have the confidence of the most proficient dancer on the floor, or maybe, the confidence of someone like Beyonce!

Lastly, try making it a game. A much loved taxi dancer that I know encourages new dancers by challenging them to ask one person one week, then two the following week, and so on until they are able to go asking as often as they’d like to. If you’ve started dancing with a friend, a bit of competition can help you both to grow the confidence that you need.

How To Find The Confidence To Try A New Venue

This one can be tough too. If another dancer has recommended a venue to you, then chances are, they are likely be there on a given night, and (certainly along the South Coast in the UK) there are dancers that will travel to get their dance fix. So, you’ll probably see other faces you recognise when you get there. And generally, most class nights follow similar formats, with a beginner lesson followed by an intermediate lesson, and freestyles are simply turn up and dance.

Knowing that there will be some familiarity though, doesn’t always make it easier, but you might find that when you actually get there, it is friendlier than you think. A year or so ago, I went to visit my Mum in Yorkshire, and knowing that there isn’t a huge number of dances near her, when there was a small freestyle just up the road while I was there, I thought it was rude not to go check it out! I got there for the start time, which meant I was able to speak to the ladies on the door as I went in, and told them I was up from the South Coast, and didn’t know anyone. I wore quite a distinctive top, and the lovely ladies told the men on the way in that I was by myself – and so I ended up being asked for quite a few dances. Yorkshire hospitality is awesome, and I can’t promise that you’ll encounter this kindness everywhere you go, but having a few words might just be what you need to get going.

What is very noticeable is that there are distinct differences between venues, especially where they are different sizes, different demographics, and different marketing for the club. But at the end of the day, if you give a new venue a try and it turns out not to be for you, then as long as you’ve got a few dances in, it isn’t the end of the world.

How To Bounce Back When Your Confidence Is Knocked

I wrote a whole post about what I have learnt from starting a new style of dancing, because there’s a huge number of possibilities for taking a knock to your confidence when you start a new style – even though there are transferrable skills from one style to another. What I can say about the knocks of confidence when you’re starting a new style is that if you persevere for a little while, you’ll definitely see improvements, and so you just have to be mentally ready to not be good at something right away. Keep reminding yourself that you’re going outside your comfort zone, and that as your ability grows, so will your confidence. You went through all this when you started dancing in the first place, and you’ll definitely be able to do it again now, if you really want to. Just stick with it for a while, before you decide whether it really is for you or not.

How To Cope With Anxiety When It Impacts Your Dancing

Oh, my goodness, you’re definitely not alone if you get the wobbles! The wobbles are what a few people I know refer to their anxiety as, and sometimes, the wobbles come along and get you, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t beat them, and unfortunately, they show up at different times.

  • You might find that one week you can’t get yourself off the sofa and out the door to go to class because you’re feeling anxious.

  • Maybe you even get to class – either in the car, or you’re walking – and you find that you can’t face going in.

  • Perhaps you even get as far as actually starting the class and then find it is all just a bit too much and so you exit class quietly, (essentially running away) because you can’t deal with it that day.

These are all situations that I have personally encountered and fought against – and that last one happened to me just this year. I had been taking some medication that didn’t work well for me, and I thought that going to my happy place would make it better, but I had a full blown meltdown when I left the hall. Embarrassing? Yeah, maybe, but the lovely ladies that run the door were amazing, helping me to calm down, and to a better mental state to be able to drive home.

There are a number of things you can do to support yourself when you feel the wobbles come on, and you’ll know yourself well enough to know what works for you. For me, most of the time, I will do my best to fight through them and to go to class anyway, because (in the words of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde) exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy! It is a rare event that I have had the wobbles, and then found that going to one of my regular classes DIDN’T make me feel better. But sometimes you have to forgive yourself if you can’t manage that. Just try your best not to let the wobbles keep you away from the dancefloor for an extended period of time. Your fellow dancers are always happy to see you, even if you’re not feeling quite your best.

Final Thoughts

As your dancing ability grows, so too will your confidence, whether you’re trying to grow your confidence to try to ask someone to dance, or you want to try a new venue, or maybe a different style of dancing. Getting confidence isn’t easy, but when your confidence catches up to your ability is when dancing gets REALLY fun, so it is well worth sticking with it and letting it develop naturally. And let me tell you, finding the confidence to write about dancing, when I’m not qualified to – and then to publish it online?! – that has taken a long time to be able to do. But I realised that I have something to offer, as we all do on our local dance scenes.

Unfortunately, as in all aspects of life, there are loads of times that you might get your confidence knocked during your dancing. But taking a knock – whether that’s because someone decided to be mean for whatever reason, or it is a case of the wobbles – doesn’t mean that you should let those moments stop you dancing, especially if you really love it. Keep going, keep trying, and eventually, you’ll win through – although I’ll totally understand if you want to avoid the meanies from now on!

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