Dance Articles > I Can't Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Discussion in 'Dance Articles' started by Don Silver, Apr 30, 2008.

  1. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    Originally published October 7, 2007

    I Can't Dance Like Nobody's Watching

    Maybe you’ve heard someone say "Dance Like Nobody's Watching," and maybe you’ve already embraced it yourself. But I’ve noticed that most people who spit this mantra at you are already strong dancers. It’s easy to dance like nobody’s watching when everybody likes watching you dance.

    I think that’s like the calendar girls who say “the human body is art, and showing it is fine.” It’s easy to be comfortable in a swim suit (or less) when you could be on the cover of Victoria’s Secret. And I’m pretty sure they haven’t seen me without clothes, or they would amend their "body is art" statement.

    Recently, I’ve been thinking about the process of dancing without care or inhibition. In some venues, I do pretty well with that concept, but it isn’t always the case. In most clubs, there are a set of people dancing and a set of people watching, and I just do my thing, effectively ignoring them and focusing on my partner. In that environment, I know I’m a work in progress, and I’ve learned to deal with the discomfort of others being critical.

    Frankly, I realize that most people simply don’t care about me; they’re focused on themselves, on their dancing, on their image. That’s fine with me.

    As a musician, I learned a long, long time ago that when performing, someone is always in the audience saying “I could do that better.” In LA, many times there IS a set of stronger musicians in the audience, so I learned to ignore them and think, “Ok, maybe he could do it better, but he’s sitting in the audience. I have my strengths too. These musicians asked me to perform, not him, so I must be doing something right.” The more energy you spend worrying about what others are thinking, the less focused you are on your performance or social dancing.

    Over time, I matured, and I suspect the same thing applies to dancing. You have to toughen yourself as you grow, putting yourself in situations that are not always comfortable. Over time, you realize that other people think about you much less than your paranoid ego fears they do, and you have to go through the experiences to get better.

    I’ve had a couple times over the years where I’ve thought, “Maybe I should stop going to clubs for X months, and just practice on my own. The next time I show up at the clubs everybody will marvel at my progress.” Then I realize, “Ahhh, that’s not realistic; going to clubs and practicing is what makes me better, so just get over yourself and ignore everybody else while you learn.”

    Of course, it’s easy to say that, but sometimes I’m still moderately embarrassed while working through different phases of growth. Being a work in progress means some days will be better than others, but nothing beats the experience of being in the arena rather than sitting and watching others have fun.

    Here’s a simple example: Sometimes I’m in my car, and working on head, neck or shoulder isolations while driving or sitting in traffic. Funny thing is, I’ll often stop when I realize someone has noticed me doing exercises, even though I dance in front of hundreds of people per week at the clubs.

    The exercise will help my dancing, and the car practice is good time management, as long as I don’t hear breaking glass from impact with those around me. I don’t know these people now, I doubt I’ll ever see them again, they can’t hear my music, and I’m actually making progress with my practice.

    Why do I stop? What’s my problem? In that situation, I’m obviously too worried about them thinking I’m crazy or otherwise abnormal. When I take a cold, hard look, it’s obvious I shouldn’t care what they think.

    If I actually continue my exercises, possibly entertaining them and giving them a good laugh, I’m making their world more interesting and improving my dancing. In a way, I’m giving them a gift, even though they may be laughing at me rather than with me.

    Of course, if I continue and my dancing improves, I’ll have the last laugh. Someday all those car hours of practice will fool people into believing that I’m a naturally gifted dancer, rather than someone who practices good time management.

    Think of them telling their friends, “Yeah, I’m sitting in traffic, and this gray-haired guy in his Lexus is grooving to something. I think he was on drugs, or maybe he was having a seizure, I almost called 911, but then I figured out he thought he was dancing and I laughed so hard I had to pull over and wipe the tears from my eyes. This guy is a hoot. Watch for that gray Lexus.”

    So I’m on crusade: I’m trying to worry less about others, especially those who don’t know me. I’m thinking about what can I do to truly dance or practice like nobody’s watching, and give myself the mental freedom to occasionally look like an idiot.

    How do we toughen ourselves, so we grow to our full potential? We can take different classes where our skills put us in the lower third of the class, then stick with it to become above average. We can read books about mind/body connections and high-pressure performance situations and find situations where growth is required. This may include doing a performance, going to new classes, entering a competition and/or joining a dance team.

    In my case, I’m adopting the same dance attitude I have while playing music, plus taking classes and practicing.

    We should also look for little things, like practicing shines in the line at the bank, or doing a few spins at the grocery store. The idea is to be bolder than you were in the past, doing little things in places where people will notice, knowing you have to ignore them and focus on refining your techniques.

    For example, it would be easier to do our favorite, most rehearsed shine sequence while waiting at the bank, but we should also working on the ones that don’t always work, because the risk of temporary failure makes us stronger. Ninety-nine percent of the people around us can’t do the shines either, so if we “fail” temporarily, refine, and then get it right, it toughens us and makes us stronger dancers.

    In some classes I've moved my location from hiding in the back, to being in the front row, someplace close to the instructor. I'm no longer in the middle of the pack on the "across the floor" exercises, instead going close to the front, or sometimes even last, which means almost everybody else in the class is watching.

    It’s not always easy for me, but I do it anyway, and you should too. I’m wondering what others are doing to toughen themselves?

    Let me know your thoughts and techniques.
    I feel like I'm in a rut. Every time I go to bed at night, I find myself getting up again in the morning.

    --Brad Stine
  2. Laura

    Laura New Member

    I compete and I definitely dance better when people are watching :)

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing it.
  3. DennisBeach

    DennisBeach New Member

    When we were starting out and were concerned what others thought. We would only dance at ballroom and swing dances, were you knew most people were not watching you, because they were dancing.

    As we progressed, we learned, the only people that say anything to you, are the ones that think you are good. Now we dance in places were most of the people are not dancing and don't worry about them. In the beginning we would not do that.
  4. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    What I find interesting for me is I already crossed that bridge as a musician, so intellectually and emotionally I "get it."

    But I'm still a work in progress from a dance perspective. I've toughened quite a bit since I originally wrote that article, but last night I slipped a little.

    In a basic hip-hop class, I was clearly the oldest, out of place student. I was dancing right behind the instructor, back two rows (out of four), in the middle of the class, in a reasonably bold position, where there were plenty of people behind and beside me. (I originally stayed totally in the back.)

    For the first 50 minutes following the instructor, I totally ignored everybody else, even when the moves were far outside my comfort zone. Then he split the class and had all the ladies clear the floor, and there were just the guys. (Most were my son's age, with a few exceptions...) All the females were standing behind the guys, so they could easily see all of us.

    He did 2 songs, and I held my own for the first song, but before the second he announced he wanted us to "freestyle" and as I was getting my water, I just didn't feel good about going back to my highly visible position. I basically stayed on the side, not wanting to be as bold as I've been other times.

    I'm not thrilled with the fact that I didn't stay in my highly visible spot, but I was there most of the class, which is still strong progress for me.

    It also helps me as an instructor when I take classes that are a stretch, since I relate to students who don't feel good about their immediate progress. I know what it's like not getting something that everybody else seems to be getting.

    I'm still working on my mental toughness, and I rarely stop any exercises in the car. I blindly do my thing, working my isolations.

    I also like hearing what others are doing to be bolder in their learning, especially when outside their primary comfort zone or the dances where they are already above average.
  5. DennisBeach

    DennisBeach New Member

    We started cruising after we had been dancing about a year. That forced us to be bolder, because most of the times we had a chance to dance, there were numerous people watching. It was either dance with people watching or no dancing, so we danced and it did make it easier after that.
  6. sweavo

    sweavo New Member

    Interesting. I totally can dance as if no-one's watching, and if I'm honest, if someone's watching I like it more (though my lead suffers a bit).

    However, I DON'T RUN. Not even for a bus, from a dog, or to the hospital. When I run, I just know EVERYBODY IS WATCHING AND MOCKING. Because other people can run and I cannot.

    Maybe that should be my goal for dance growth. Go running once a week so I can get more empathy with those who are self-conscious dancing!
  7. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    I'm ignorant to that term "cruising" as it applies to dance. Does that mean you go to different clubs?
  8. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    Hmmm... I don't know if you are kidding about the running thing.

    My working theory: If we find ways to stretch and be bold while off the dance floor (the majority of our life), some of it will carry over to the dancing.

    Similar to posture. I work on my posture off the floor, so it's just a part of me, instead of having my "dance posture" be so different from my normal posture.

    I'm sure others have some great ideas and I'm interested in hearing your strategies.
  9. sweavo

    sweavo New Member

    Not kidding. Always hated running, never had a positive experience at it, and have manipulated my life to erase all need to do so. Maybe it's time I confronted that one.
  10. DennisBeach

    DennisBeach New Member

    Sorry - I meant going on Cruise ships. It was either 7 nights off not dancing or dancing when most of the people were watching, rather than dancing.
  11. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    I run like a girl. Which I suppose is sort of okay as I am in fact a girl, but it's not very efficient or aesthetic. So I basically try not to run unless something is chasing me or I see the bomb squad running.

    Is it possible to be really self-conscious about social dancing and not at all about dancing in competition? Because I don't care who's watching if I'm competing. In fact I'm annoyed if I'm not being watched. But It's just weird.
  12. chocolatchica

    chocolatchica New Member

    Funny you mention running. When I was in jr high I loved running because I could beat anyone in the PE races. SO one day they have like a little competition and me and a another girl are finalists and I'm al excited to show everyone my stuff. Ok, so I take off super fast and hear everyone laughing and realize once I win that everyone thinks I run really really badly (aesthetically speaking of course). Ever since then I'm not to fond of running in front people. Weird.....Anyways, I am kind of like that for dancing. Because I have danced before I have a little bit more confidence than if I were doing something I had never tried but I still get nervous when some pros are watching me. It's like, "What are they looking at? Am I doing something wrong??? Do I look that bad?"
  13. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    Of course, that's up to you. In my mind it's good to find things where I have to stretch, because winning my personal battles improves everything in life. For most people, winning in one area can build confidence in other areas.

    Since you are already comfortable dancing in front of others, you have to decide if beating the running mindset would provide other benefits for you.

    For me, things that stretch outside my current comfort zone are a win, as they expand my ability to deal with learning while others are watching.

    I have to simply get over myself. Nobody really cares how I'm doing, they worry about themselves, so I shouldn't care.
  14. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    That is normal and makes sense to me. In a competition you are rehearsed and know the plan in advance. That provides some comfort and confidence. It's fun to have someone watch us when we are doing something we know we can do well. You know you have a move coming up that is strong and looks great.

    When social dancing, we are venturing into a different world.

    When it starts, we don't know how it will go. The odds of a "mistake" or a missed opportunity are much higher in a social dance. Sometimes after I start a move, I immediately realize it was a poor choice, because of the music, where my partner was, or the people around us.

    We know our partner can make us look much better or worse, but in either case there are plenty of unknowns. When people are watching, they see the good, bad and ugly, sometimes all in once dance.

    In LA we get to watch many of the people who win competitions and see them social dancing. It's obvious they are different as some of them are strong at both, some amazingly "OK" in the social scene.

    BTW - I'll guess social dancing with your competition partner is also more comfortable, compared to a quality unknown lead.
  15. Hock Siew

    Hock Siew New Member

    Thank you for a very interesting article

    Dear Unlikely Salsero,

    Firstly, thank you for a very nice and interesting article.

    Now, on the following note,

    Oddly enough, I feel differently from what some of the readers here wrote. When I am dancing socially, I do not really bother too much about other people watching (I have been dancing socially for some time now). I focus only on my partner and myself. I do keep an eye on the dancers in the immediate vicinity but that is for ethical/safety reasons. With regards to the dance itself, I’m only interested in how my partner feels. Now, I’m not a performer or competitor (well, I’m not that experienced a dancer to begin with :) ). But the one time I did do a small studio performance; I felt very anxious and nervous. Maybe it partly has to do with the fact that I do not have experience doing performances. But mainly for me, when the dance is a performance; apart from the both of us, we are also dancing for the audience as well as the person/s who asked us to perform in the first place. I guess I feel pressure from this “responsibility”. I don't know - perhaps, if I ever do more performances and competitions, I will begin to feel differently about them :)
  16. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    I'd suspect most people are more nervous about a performance than social dancing, because all eyes are on you. A smaller group will be the opposite and enjoy performing because there is a degree of control.

    Performing and social dancing are related and have tons of overlap. However, most people are much stronger at one and often just OK at the other. I know some amazing social dancers who will NOT enter a Jack and Jill or any other competition.

    For planned performances, you can rehearse 10 times or 400 times. You can take the hardest moves and rehearse them for weeks or months. If you have performed quite a bit, you learn how to manage the nerves. For some people, this makes it comfortable to showcase their experience, and enjoy others watching. Few people are comfortable performing until they have done it enough, but once you cross that bridge, it's fun.

    Social dancing has less pressure for most people, because perfection isn't expected AND overall there is less focus on one couple. Many social dancers will not be the first/only couple on the floor, because that puts the spotlight on that couple and then it trends toward a performance mentally.

    It also depends on the partners... I can be very comfortable social dancing with partner X and not care who is watching, because we have a history of strong dances. I can dance with another partner, who is new, or way above or below my level and feel uncomfortable if people are watching us.

    A small set of people just don't care what others think, and they can dance in almost any situation and be comfortable. They are beyond worrying what others think as they are learning, social dancing or performing.

    I want to join that group, but I'm a work in progress as of this writing.

    I'm always curious what others are doing to expand their comfort zone. Your thoughts and feedback are welcomed!
  17. Hock Siew

    Hock Siew New Member

    I guess it’s the same for me. Because perfection is not expected, I don’t feel pressure when dancing socially. Furthermore, I’ve danced around a bit, so I’m a bit used to dancing in a social environment; even when there is no one else on the floor and regardless of whether I’m dancing with someone familiar or not. However, there are a few occasions when I do feel self-conscious while dancing socially (this would usually be when I think that my instructor is watching me – perhaps it’s because I know they know how good or bad my dancing is :) ).

    At one stage earlier on in my dancing, in order to make myself more accustomed to dancing in front of people; when I go social dancing, sometimes I deliberately make a point to dance on the area of the floor where most people can see me. I guess, for dancing in front of people (like anything else), practice helps.
  18. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl Active Member

    I never worry about anyone watching in a social dance situation. When I think about who I watch when I'm sitting out, I watch the best dancers on the floor. So I figure, if someone's watching me, that means I'm good. And if I'm bad, they're watching someone else.
  19. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    You have it right, although I think both dancing more AND being bolder work together. The more I dance, I continue to improve which also builds my confidence. More confidence makes it easier dancing while others are watching. The more I push myself to dance when outside my comfort zone, the easier it gets.

    I still work on being bold even even I don't feel confident or I'm working on new, uncomfortable moves or attending challenging classes. I see time and practice make a huge positive difference for me.
  20. DennisBeach

    DennisBeach New Member

    I use to use that point with my wife, because she is bothered by people watching us. As we improved, I started regretting ever mentioning that <g>.

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