When we think of ballroom dancing, most people think of elegant couples in ballgowns and tuxedos, or sexy Latin costumes, having fun dancing around the room to inspiring music. But for some people ballroom dancing is a scary thing. On the eve of Halloween I thought it was time to examine those scary viewpoints.

Fear of Getting Started

For many people who have never danced, the very thought of getting on that floor is as frightening as a horror movie. There are many reasons for this fear, but it boils down to not wanting to be seen as incompetent in a public setting. For men especially, the prospect of failing in front of women is something they would rather avoid. Countless times we’ve heard of women who desperately want to dance with their partners, but the men find every excuse in the book to skip those classes.

One time we were involved in a corporate team-building event where a good-sized group of men and women were committed to attend. Part of the event would include a dance lesson and they were told that they would be teamed up to hold a mini contest at the end of the lesson. When the day came, only three people showed up, one man and two women. Every other man in the group, including partners of women in the organization, had a sudden business trip, illness or other reason why he couldn’t attend the team building event.

If this fear is one that you’re struggling with, take a bold step into class and you’ll find that the reality of dance class is way less challenging than you thought. Beginner classes especially are usually full of fun and laughter. Alternatively, you might consider private lessons where it’s just between you and your teacher.

Fear of Competition

Sometimes, dancers decide they want to compete but the very idea of getting out on a competition floor causes extreme fear and anxiety. I know of Pro/Am ladies and amateur competitors alike who get so anxious they almost get physically ill shortly before a competition. Sometimes it can be hard to understand why someone who enjoys being on a competition floor would be fearful of the process, but the mind is a powerful thing.

The fear of things going wrong are behind this anxiety. We can easily imagine a whole host of problems, from forgetting our steps to extremes like tripping over our feet. Once on the floor, most people who suffer from this calm down and everything goes smoothly.

If this strikes you, try to do a run-through of your routines the day before competition to calm your nerves. Chances are good that you are way better than you think and almost all the things you imagine going wrong won’t happen at all.

Chances are good that you are way better than you think and almost all the things you imagine going wrong won’t happen at all.

Fear of Being Watched

Some people who want to learn how to dance are terrified of doing so in a group setting where others might be watching. Again, this fear boils down to that well-known issue of not wanting to fail in front of others.

Sometimes fears like this date back to things that happened in childhood. I worked with one gentleman whose father was extremely hard on him while he was growing up. He would get screamed at for the smallest mistakes. Over time, he learned to be terrified of doing anything wrong. This created a lifelong anxiety that envelopes him whenever he tries to do something new, whether work related or learning a new dance step.

If this affects you, remember that people aren’t really watching you, they are busy with their own lives and are generally watching the best dancers on the floor, not the others. Alternatively, try taking private lessons where the number of people in the studio is limited, until you get more confident about your capability.

Fear of Not Meeting Expectations

Some people are fine on their own and learn to dance without any real issues, but they will not go out social dancing because they are terrified that their skill level will not meet the expectations of their partners.

This condition strikes men and women alike, but in my experience men have been more likely to suffer from this fear because they have to lead the dance.

Unfortunately, some women actually contribute to this fear. I actually observed a case at one social dance where a man (who happened to be a very skilled professional teacher) asked a lady to dance with him. Instead of quickly accepting as most women do, she asked him, “I don’t know. Can you dance?” He glanced at me with a grin and answered her, “I’m not sure, but you’ll only find out if you try.” Obviously, responses like hers would be bad news for a guy who has anxiety issues about his skill level, but most women are a lot more gracious than that! They just love to dance and will overlook even big flaws for a chance to get on the floor.

The more you dance, the more skilled you’ll get so don’t let this fear hold you back.

Fear of Being Typecast

When I was in high school, I knew one guy who ballroom danced. The rest of us guys in that school made life hell for him. We were really cruel. This is a common problem and has led many men to fear being typecast for their ability to dance.

A common view in North America is that “guys play football, girls dance.” So in their view a guy who can dance isn’t really living up to standards of masculinity. Of course, that’s nonsense but it’s a real attack that many men face.

In actual fact, ballroom dancing is a man skill and originated with military men! It was military officers and wealthy aristocrats who took their ladies dancing in the early days of the Viennese Waltz. The Tango originated from a dance called the Milonga that was like today’s Breakdancing, where boys challenged each other. Women were only added in 1908 when dance teachers took the Milonga to Paris and developed it into the Tango. The Paso Doble was first danced by soldiers with no women involved until much later!

This idea that ballroom dancing isn’t masculine has a complex history and dates back to societal fears brought to bear on the North American marketplace as a result of religious pressure that somehow dancing was immoral. Preachers, newspaper editors and politicians used all kinds of tactics to make it seem unappealing to the public. The idea that dance was not masculine enough for “real men” was one of those tactics and those views have stuck around.

Not long ago one of my Facebook friends posted “How is it that Dancing With the Stars is a Thing?” as if it was inconceivable that anyone would want to watch people enjoy the process of dancing and learning to dance. Interestingly enough, he thinks it’s perfectly acceptable for television Poker to be a “thing.” Somehow men have been taught to believe that it’s acceptable to watch people sitting motionless in chairs looking at playing cards, but not to watch them actively engaged in the lively social interaction of dance!

The only way to overcome this issue is for men to just get out and do it. Women love a man who can dance and those involved in the world of ballroom dancing quickly find that dance is one of the most masculine activities they can be involved in, with many social benefits.

Author George Pytlik

Before turning pro, George achieved impressive results as an amateur competitor, holding the 35+ Latin championship in BC, Canada for 7 consecutive years with his wife Wendy. The couple twice achieved a top-3 Canadian ranking in senior Latin as well as a 3rd place Canadian ranking in senior 1 Ten Dance. Today, George and Wendy teach with a vision of growing a strong dance community in Delta near Vancouver, BC.

More posts by George Pytlik

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