Own Your Dance Insecurities!

As I’ve mentioned in other articles I’ve written, I was rather awkward and shy when I began my adventures as a salsera. For many years, unfortunately, this slowed my progress because I was too self-conscious to move the way in which I wanted to be able to. Many of us have been plagued by insecurity on the dance floor and that needs to end now.

It’s a new year and that often comes with goals to be better versions of ourselves. Instead of changing aspects of ourselves that we don’t like, I’m going to propose a little more self-love. For a long time, I was insecure about my height as I was taller than most of my partners on the dance floor. It’s tough to hide when you’re tall, but that’s exactly what I wanted to do! Men would sometimes remark, “Oh, you’re really tall!” when I would dance with them and I always interpreted this negatively, even if it was just a neutral comment on their part. I would often tower over my partner when I wore heels and get smacked on the forehead while turning. My long, lanky arms would get in the way and I never knew where to put them. To make matters worse, it seemed as though all of the other women in my dance community were petite (with tiny feet!). Many of the professional dancers I admired were also quite small, despite their huge stage presence.

Instead of embracing my 5’9” stature, I made the mistake of trying to change it. I put away my beautiful high heels and started dancing in flats or short, Cuban heels, even though they made me uncomfortable. I would bend my knees or slouch when dancing with men who were shorter than me. I kept my arms low to my sides and did nothing to style them. This felt–and looked–terrible. My instructors kept telling me I was a beautiful dancer and that I should stop thinking so much, but my own insecurities outweighed their assurances.

One evening during a local salsa night, a stunning woman whom I had never met before arrived and became the life of the party. Her body movement was absolutely breathtaking and she truly had a style of her own. Most notably in that moment, she was at least a few inches taller than me and absolutely owning it. Her heels were remarkably high, her posture was exquisite, and her arms flowed purposefully around her, like water. I thought to myself, what are you doing??  You should be moving like her!

I’ve since become close friends with Tamra and her confidence is beautiful. We have taken many workshops together with wonderful, inspirational instructors. When we met Kathy Reyes and Francisco Junior, it was refreshing to get to know professionals who were so talented and confident, yet humble and willing to share their own stories of insecurities they have felt. Not only did they spend the weekend dancing with amateurs, but they approached us when they were in a pickle and needed some help. It was a relief to realize that no matter how successful dancers become, we share many of the same experiences.

Shortly after I met Tamra, she told me that I should join her posse of tall friends that she has cleverly named, “the salsaltas.” She smiled and laughed while claiming, “Yeah, a few of us girls are taller than everyone we dance with–but who cares?” For so long, I had been foolishly preoccupied with an aspect of my identity I should have embraced. I wish I had figured this out years ago. Who cares indeed.

I have seen other dancers with similar concerns all around me, everywhere I have danced. There are people who are too afraid to ask anyone to dance because they are beginners and they are worried they don’t have enough moves to use throughout a song. There are people who are preoccupied by their size–height or weight–who lack the confidence to dance the way they want to. There are people who are intimidated by other dancers and therefore discouraged to continue dancing. This has to stop. Whatever it is that is bothering you, own it. If it’s something you want to change because of your health, great, go ahead and embark on a journey of transformation. Until then, you are who you are and that is enough. When people compliment you, listen to them and accept it. When people criticize you, use it constructively but don’t let it get you down. Hold your head up high. I realize this is easier said than done, but a minor shift in perspective goes a long way.

My friend and dance instructor, Marissa, is someone I look up to in many ways. She sacrificed a great deal last year when she moved to New York in the pursuit of dance education. Now that she has returned to Saskatchewan to launch Marisabel Dance Company, she is giving women the opportunity to shine in her ladies’ styling class and performance group. Everyone is welcome, regardless of experience and ability and everyone has learned so much in the past few months.

The two of us have also decided to choreograph a duet and along with Tamra, a trio. We are all schoolteachers and around thirty years of age, but so what! It’s never too late to start a passion project and nobody is too old or too career-focused to hit the stage as a dancer. The experience has allowed me to let go of so much of what was holding me back for so many years and finally say, “Who cares what anyone thinks? I’m just going to dance!” These inspiring women have shown me how to embrace my insecurity and own it on the dance floor. Wherever you live, there are classes you can take and salsa nights you can attend where you will fit in and discover your confidence.

If you are already a confident dancer and you think you have nothing to worry about, wonderful. I’m happy for you! Just remember to consider other dancers’ feelings and recall how you felt when you took your first steps. I’ll never forget taking a workshop with the incredible Magna Gopal in Saskatoon and one of the participants asked her: “What if my partner is dancing off time? Should I stop dancing with them?” Her response was so thoughtful and poignant and advice that we should all consider: “It’s only a few minutes. You might be making that person’s night. So what if they’re not dancing on time? Connect with them anyway. I always remind myself it’s not about me. It’s about us.”

We can all learn to be more empathetic and compassionate and that will only contribute to each other’s confidence. Dance is about connection and progress, not perfection. Even world-champion and professional dancers have insecurities, but they have the confidence to combat their fears. Do you have what it takes to combat yours? If you look deeply enough within yourself, you surely do.

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  1. says: Steve R

    Hi Sarah

    Great article, very well put!

    Can I just add that as a competitive Balllroom/Latin dancer most of us would kill for a 5’9 partner ??.

  2. says: Emma T

    Great article, and it’s so true. To be a great dancer, it’s about having that release and just going for it. I’m overweight but since having my son, I’m not worried about what people think as I know I can follow well, and may surprise people. If people are judging then that’s their problem not us. It’s certainly hard to get past any insecurities when starting out, but it can be a turning point.

  3. says: Dutchman

    Ladies, don’t be shy of your height! Escpecially if you’re only 5″9′, which is medium height here in the Netherlands. We have more than a fair share of ladies who are over (!) 5″10-6″ and it’s great to see that they are proud of their height and wear heels when dancing.

    1. says: Sarah Liz Vuong

      That is so true! The more I travel, the more I see dancers of all shapes and sizes totally rocking what they’ve got. Thanks for your input, Dutchman! We all need to just relax and enjoy each dance.

  4. says: Veronica

    I was just thinking about how there should be an article that focuses/validates us taller follows…. My experiences (at 5’10”) have been similar to yours. I’ve often felt like an outcast or minority in the social dancing scene. Wearing shorter shoes, compromising posture, apologizing for my height at times, being afraid to ask for dances, etc… it wasn’t until a professionally trained (trophy winning) male instructor demanded that I own my height and let the LEAD accommodate ME! It was super validating to hear this. 🙂 Anyways, thank you for sharing your experience and words of encouragement. So, how do I apply to become a member of the “Salsaltas”? haha.

    1. says: Sarah Liz Vuong

      Never apologize for your height (or for any of your lovely features as an individual)! I’m glad your instructor was so encouraging; thank you for sharing your story, Veronica. No application necessary–consider yourself a salsalta!

  5. says: Anne Jacobson

    I could not possibly be more proud of my beautiful daughter, Sarah Liz. She has always given 100 per cent towards all her endeavors, academic pursuits and passions. It gives me indescribable pleasure to watch her live her dreams. For the past few years she has been living mine as well. She has become my greatest inspiration!

    1. says: Sarah Liz Vuong

      Aww shucks, Mum, you’re making me blush. In all honesty, you’re the reason I’m as ambitious as I am. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me!

  6. says: Mick Barrett

    A well-written and relevant article Sarah – thank you.Leading a tall partner, or a short one, can pose physical compatibility challenges, no question. Males often fail to use hip and shoulder leading techniques with taller partners. It frees stylish arms and looks very cool.

    A suggestion for all female partners, tall or short, is not to bundle your long hair on top of your head when dancing salsa. It adds hugely to logistical constraints and – wow – don’t you hate it when your hair is ruffled? If looks could kill.

    1. says: Sarah Liz Vuong

      Thank you for your feedback, Mick! Great suggestion regarding the hairstyle–it can certainly add height and it will definitely get messy during a dance. Happy dancing!