You know the person. Magically, they seem to find a continuous flow of new dancers for the scene… and many of those people actually stick around. They are what I like to call a ‘Dance Evangelist’. 

I self-identify as a Dance Evangelist. Since I started dance, I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten at least 50 people into various forms of dance – and that’s probably on the conservative end. Salsa, West Coast, Zouk. Even Lindy and Blues at a time. So, I feel pretty well qualified to write this, but I am always open to new ways to improve my own Dance Evangelism.

So, how can you be a Dance Evangelist?

1. Persistence Is Key.

You know that person who keeps bugging you to do something until you feel like you have no choice? That’s me. If someone shows even a shred of interest in the idea of social dance it’s game over for them. Every time I talk to them, I will mention it. If there’s an event, I will message them the details. I’ll call them and ask if they’re free, and then try to get them to come with me.

You know those door-to-door bible salespeople? Dance Evangelists are like them – but with dance. And much more persistent. And, because it’s dance instead of religion, I like to think much less annoying.

Of course, there is a fine line between being persistent and being stalkerish. So, here’s a handy Do and Don’t list on persistance:

  • DO mention it in conversation
  • DO text them if you’re going out dancing to invite them out
  • DO Facebook them event details and invite them to things
  • DO back off if they firmly say ‘No More’
  • DO tell them that you’ll stop bugging them if they just try it once (and stick to it)
  • DO NOT kidnap them and stick them in your trunk to take them to the event
  • DO NOT threaten to end your friendship or relationship over dancing
  • DO NOT attempt to hypnotize them to come to dance
  • DO NOT only ever talk about dance. We want them to like it, not think we’re weird crazyobsessed people (Even if we are)

2. Show them the Dance First

Find a go-to YouTube video that is beginner friendly. A yet-to-be dancer cannot tell the difference in subtlety or see the difference between something improvised or choreographed. What sells best?

  • Good Music
  • Good Looking Dancers (dance-wise, not appearance-wise)
  • A Skill Level They Feel Is Attainable
  • Bonus: A dancer who is physically someone they can relate to

For example, West Coast Swing is easy to sell on video because it doesn’t LOOK hard in the majority of cases (even if it is), the music is current and popular, and most of the time people are just doing nice, clean-looking dancing. Usually, anything with Jordan and Tatiana, Jessica Cox, Maxence and Virginie or Michael Kielbasa tends to go over really well. Benji in Showcase – unless it’s a SYTYCD fan – tends to leave people overwhelmed. Basically, I find choreographed Classic routines or good Jack and Jill’s most effective.

Zouk is much harder to sell on video, because people who aren’t in tip-top athletic shape take one look at complicated upper-body movement and go “Holy F**k. I’ll break”. Of course, if you’re trying to sell to a gymnast, athletic dancing can be really appealing… so know your audience. For Zouk, I like to use a Freddy and Andressa class demo. Clean, sexy, fun, generally current music, and people don’t feel crazy intimidated. A Kadu and Larissa routine on the other hand – while gorgeous – can really scare people away from learning.

Lastly, people tend to get more inspired by people who they can relate to. Try to select your inspirational dancers to match the personality or physique of the person you are trying to entice. If someone who is at the top of their game is similar in attitude or look to your victim friend, it’s more likely to resonate with them.

3. Pick Your Venue

So, your favourite dance night is the place where all the pro’s go to play. That’s probably not the best place to take your brand-new friend. It will scare them. They will feel like shit, and never want to dance in public again  (There’s exceptions to this – especially with follows – but generally speaking I tend to stick by this rule).

Think of it this way: you’d never take a first-year university student and decide to make them defend a PhD thesis on their first day. You could probably be arrested for cruel and unusual punishment.

What do I recommend? Pick a place with a beginner lesson, if there is one, and definitely pick somewhere where they will not be the only beginner. Even if it’s not your favourite place, go with them. Being a Dance Evangelist isn’t about you – it is about the person you are trying to draw into this world. Pick your venue right and they will crave to come back. Pick your venue wrong and they may never return.

Are they most comfortable in night clubs? Pick a more bar-style venue. Shy, or prefer something low-key? Pick a lighter, more studio-esque social. I have friends who hate bars and look at dance clubs as an escape, but also have friends who see dancing as a great addition to a nightlife-style experience. Eventually, both parties enjoy most of the same events, but on their way in pick the atmosphere that is most familiar to them.

4. Couple the Evening with Something Else

So, they’re nervous about dancing. Go for drinks before or after. Maybe grab coffee, or dinner. Go see a movie, and then catch the dance lesson after. Maybe even just chill at home before. Whatever it is, if this person is a friend it can help to hang out with them a little before or after – or even just meet up and travel to the venue together. It alleviates a lot of the fear of walking in alone.

I have seen newcomers who refuse to enter the room unless their dancer friend is there – even if the lesson is starting. Meeting up before going to the venue to do a comfortable and fun activity can take a lot of the fear out of the experience.

5. DO NOT Abandon Them!

I cannot stress this enough. The WORST thing you can do for a newbie is to walk in the door, dance one dance, and then abandon them for all your dancer friends. Seriously, it’s a dick move. Don’t do it. If you won’t have time to care for your friend, don’t bring them to that party. It’s just that simple. They’re counting on you. If they ask you to help them with the steps, do so to the best of your ability. If they’re feeling shy, track down people to dance with them.

Here’s some tips:

  • DO introduce them to people.
  • DO ask friendly dancers you know to go ask the newbie for a dance (but don’t tell them you’re doing this)
  • DO encourage your friend to ask dancers you know are beginner-friendly
  • DO check in with them frequently and spend some time talking (I try at least every 2 songs, unless they’re dancing)
  • DO dance with them frequently
  • DO tell them they’re doing just fine, and encourage them to tell partners they are a beginner if they are nervous
  • DO introduce them to other beginners that they can relate to.
  • DO NOT leave your friend for multiple songs to go enjoy your night.
  • DO NOT criticize their dancing.
  • DO NOT point them towards strong dancers who are stuck up or snobby. They can’t tell the difference between another novice and a strong-but-mean dancer, so it’s better to point them towards the friendly one.

Taking care of the new dancer is the most important – but overlooked – part of Dance Evangelism. Put yourself in your friend’s shoes:You know no one. You are doing something completely foreign. You think everyone else is really good at this thing. You’re stressed. You’re nervous.

It’s like going to a house party and only knowing your one friend – it can be exciting, but it’s really really crappy if your friend leaves you to go hook up with people. If you want them to stick around, pay attention to how you can make their experience as great as possible.

Like I said, anyone can be a Dance Evangelist – but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Know your limits. If you are going to an event and you plan on getting tipsy and just dancing your butt off then it’s probably not the night to bring your brand-new friend (unless they’re super outgoing). If you decide to take on the responsibility of bringing someone to dance, it’s on you to make it the best experience possible.

Go forth, my dancers, and preach the word of DANCE!!

Photo: Brian De Rivera Simon, Tarsipix Studios