Scott H Young

Social Skills and Dancing for Dummies


Dancing.png

I see two opposite camps when it comes to social skills. One is the highly analytical camp that breaks down social behaviors into mechanics and patterns. Although this is often associated with the seduction community, I’m referring to it in the realm of general social skills. The other camp is the “be yourself” crowd that despises these over-thought and sometimes manipulative techniques.

For a highly-analytical guy who likes being authentic, I’ve had a hard time reconciling the two camps. Both have aspects I agree with, and both have aspects I disagree with. I don’t feel I’m alone. However, I’d like to share a story which should relate my attempt to bridge the gap between thinking for yourself and being yourself when it comes to social skills.

Two Left Feet

I never used to dance. I think the first time I danced at an event in public would have been in my early to mid teens. Like a lot of people, I was a bit too self-conscious and didn’t have any experience dancing. I was told that I should just “be myself”, not worry what other people think and just have fun.

But, as I’m sure many of you know, that advice is easier said than done. When you’re unsure of yourself, it feels almost impossible to just “have fun.” (Unless there is a large amount of alcohol involved…)

Although I eventually got up and started dancing, I wasn’t entirely comfortable. When I didn’t drink, I wouldn’t feel comfortable dancing unless I felt I could blend into the crowd. I don’t have an exhibitionist streak, so blending in was important to me.

About two years ago, I made a complete flip on my dance floor self-image. On a whim, I enrolled in a short course for Latin dancing. I learned the basics of the Merengue, Salsa and Bachata. Although I’m still a complete novice, learning the actual dance steps gave me something I didn’t have before.

The truth is, I didn’t even use most of the dancing skills I was taught. Few parties and clubs play Latin music, and even fewer people know how to Salsa. However, taking the class made me more aware of how to dance, even more importantly, it improved my self confidence.

When I dance, I’m not thinking about the steps or paying attention to the beat. I just “have fun” as so many people told me earlier, at a time when it felt impossible. The abilities and confidence lie in the background. Learning the mechanics and thinking were helpful in building those abilities and confidence, even if they aren’t used when I actually dance.

Last Friday I was at a club with a group of friends. The dance floor was crowded and I bumped into a large guy who looked serious. It was an accident, but the floor was crowded and in another minute or two, I had accidentally brushed against him again. He gave me an odd look, and I was considering leaving. I’d rather not ruin my night with a bar fight.

After a few minutes the big guy taps me on my shoulder. He pulls me closer to tell me something, at which point I’m wondering where I might be able to move to avoid a fist in the face. He leans to me and says, “You know, I have to give you credit. You’re the first white guy I’ve met with some decent dance moves.”

Self-Improvement With Social Skills

Several years ago I was incredibly introverted. I felt I had basic conversation and social skills, but I wasn’t incredibly outgoing. I spent most of my time by myself and went to few group functions.

Two days ago I was at a special reception with many prominent people from the business community. I was with a smaller group of students, who mostly stuck to themselves. Myself and one other person took the initiative to say hello to complete strangers. One man told the two of us we, “had a lot of gumption,” for coming up to say hi. I took it as a compliment as I’d rather have gumption than become a wall flower.

I think the ideas about dancing are the same for social skills. An understanding and practice of the mechanics can improve your confidence and awareness of socializing. However, when it comes to the real event, you don’t rely on those theories and go with your intuition. Although I don’t use the steps and mechanics when dancing, learning them gave me a better awareness of how I move my body.

A Highly-Analytical, Intuitive Approach

Public speaking is a similar pursuit that has this apparent analysis/intuition paradox. On the one hand, you want to watch your crutch words, hand gestures and vocal tonality. Forgetting these elements means that you’re harder to understand. However, when you’re on stage, you want to speak naturally, not like a robot reading from a script.

To anyone who doesn’t feel confident dancing, I suggest taking a class. You probably won’t explicitly use 90% of the things you learn. But the awareness and practice will give your confidence a boost. I don’t feel self-conscious even when someone tells me I’m a bad dancer, because I have enough awareness to disregard one person’s opinion.

For social skills, I believe it is important to consider the mechanics. Look for what makes some people funny and others boring. Look at the social norms that people follow to try and pick apart the “rules” people use when having conversations. Think through different theories to see if you can explain patterns in human behavior.

But when you actually go up to dance, forget the steps and trust your intuition. Those ideas and concepts will hopefully give you increased awareness. But they can’t replace empathy, authenticity and genuinely connecting with other people. For those, you need to ignore the steps and just follow the music.

Ignore Social Skill Snobs

Some people, either through genetic gifts or a favorable childhood, built social skills early. They became extroverted and popular. While I don’t want to characterize my past self as a complete geek, I was never one of those people. So I can completely empathize with the desire to improve your social skills.

Social skill snobs, often don’t realize the difficulty and pain that goes into mastering conversations, introductions and humor that many people go through. I’ve received dozens of emails from people who are struggling with this aspect of life. Snobs tend to think that the awareness and confidence they take for granted are available to everyone. That is why trite advice like “be yourself” and “just have fun” is so common. (…and, alas, so unhelpful)

It isn’t that “being yourself” is incorrect advice. It is just that “being yourself” is difficult if you lack that awareness and confidence. Building that foundation often requires spending time thinking and practicing. You need to use your intuition, but if your intuitions aren’t working, you might need to go back a step.

I’m summarizing the process of improving social skills to thinking and practice. This article is already fairly long, so I don’t have much space to elaborate. Toastmasters, joining organizations where you need to deal with people, working in sales jobs and volunteer positions are just a few of the outlets where you can think and practice with your social skills.

In truth, both sides are correct. Dancing has steps and a rhythm. Understanding those steps gives you the awareness to move around. However, when the music starts playing, stop thinking about your feet and start feeling the sounds.


Print Friendly
StumbleUpon It!

This website is supported, in part, by affiliate arrangements (usually Amazon). Affiliate relationships are always marked by bolded links.


45 Responses to “Social Skills and Dancing for Dummies”

  1. David says:

    Yes exactly. Well said Scott!!

    I’m with you in that throughout high school and even my first year of college, I rarely went to parties or group functions or anything like that. I just never really was into socializing with people. I’ve even read books and participated in speech class to improve my confidence/social skills. While I’m getting better with practice and more contexts, I still feel that I have much to learn.

    The question in all this intuition vs. analysis is really what counts as social “success.” My definition thus far has been to make people want to hang around you or start conversations with you (not necessarily deep ones). An analogy that I use is that of a skier. Professional skiers never have to think about all the little movements they make that contribute to their motion. However someone learning to ski for the first time has to think about all the little movements. Simply put, there is a greater degree of habit ingrained in a professional athlete than in your average, everyday skier.

    To achieve this, feedback definitely is useful for some people. I have a friend who is more of a “be yourself” type of person, and yet, going off of my knowledge of the “rules” of social behavior, there are some things he does that would most likely be perceived as “quirks” by most other people that I know. Hence in the past he has had to do a lot of initiating in order to really hang out with people.

    Lastly (sorry for the long reply), having good social skills in high school is very overrated. So to anyone (myself included) who wasn’t so good with socializing in high school, I say that this does NOT mean that you are not sociable.

  2. Scott, this article is something that I can relate to very much! After blogging for so long, sharing much about the techniques, sometimes it robs us from the intuitive and spontaneity that a real conversation needs. Practice, practice, practice, that’s really the key.
    I learned a lot from the article, thanks!
    Robert

  3. Li says:

    Hi Scott, I have a question–
    I’m going to be a college freshman in the fall and I am interested in joining a toastmasters. There’s about 4 clubs there, do you suggest joining the school toastmasters club or another toastmaster’s club in the city? Is there any difference in the effect of your audience in the overall eperience of the club?

  4. Scott Young says:

    Li,

    Go to all four! Most clubs allow for drop-in visits, so you can try each of them and see which suit your style.

    -Scott

  5. Will says:

    I would agree that the metaphor between sports and social skills is fairly accurate.
    For people who don’t care to dance, I would suggest playing a sport, especially a team sport which would have some level of social activity.
    The real essence of “being yourself” is learning to get out of your own head, and be in the moment. This means stilling your inner voice, stop talking to yourself, stop focusing on yourself and focus on the external world (However, I think “being in the moment” requires a certain basic level of understanding. When you’re trying to learn the basic moves, be it a sport, dancing, or social activity, you are by definition “in your head” while you’re trying to figure everything out)

    For anyone trying to achieve that “be yourself state”, highly suggest the book “The Inner Game of Tennis”, which for many people, is not really a tennis book at all.

  6. Diego says:

    This article is interesting because you mentioned something which might be important: “You know, I have to give you credit. You’re the first white guy I’ve met with some decent dance moves.”

    Coming from a mixed ethnic background has made me very much aware of how different cultures treat social interaction. Dancing in latin culture is almost a given and it is always okay as long as it is a social function (professionally is something altogether different) whereas in anglo culture, dancing seems to have an almost ‘sinful’ nature.

    On the other hand Anglo culture seems much more permissive however with just walking up and introducing oneself to strangers while in latin culture an intermediary is frequently used.

    Your article is a great example of how one culture can borrow from another to learn ‘independence’.

    Thank you.

  7. Scott Young says:

    Will,

    Dancing isn’t a prerequisite for social skills. I was simply trying to compare the to, not suggesting one necessarily leads to the other. But, I agree, team sports can be great social interactions.

    Diego,

    I think the context of how you dance has a big impact on the perceptions too. And I haven’t spent much time in Latin America, but many people have told me the opposite (that Latin people are more friendly towards strangers than Americans or Canadians).

    -Scott

  8. Juggler says:

    I noticed u mentioned the seduction community…are u a follower of it?

  9. Diego says:

    Scott,

    I agree context is absolutely important in both situations.

    If I am escorting my cousin and you walk up and ask her to dance and don’t ask me first you have committed a social faux pas.

    If you are from another country and are a visitor you will receive an initial leeway for behavior that a resident wouldn’t get, even in the dance situation.

  10. Scott Young says:

    Juggler,

    Yes and no. As I mentioned in the article, there are parts of the highly analytical approach to dating that I like. Namely, it’s an approach to self-improvement with relationships that doesn’t fall back on New Agey pseudoscientific junk. In that sense, I really admire it.

    But, I’m not a fan of the manipulative “ends justify the means” approach to relationships. Understanding the mechanics of social interactions is important, but there still must be honesty, trust, authenticity and love.

    Diego,

    True. Foreigners are often given more social lee-way from inexperience.

  11. Chris says:

    I’ve got pretty much the same attitude as you towards that kind of ‘Be yourself’ and ‘Just have fun’ advice.

    It’s easier said than done to follow this type of advice when you’re unfamiliar with the basics of a skill (that the advice givers are taking for granted that you have).

    But when you do know the basics, than yeah, part of doing well is dropping the inhibitions and over analysis and letting your instincts take over…. but if you don’t have a framework of skill and basic understanding for your instincts to draw from, then that path doesn’t tend to work.

    One funny thing I’ve noticed is that the social naturals will often give you ‘be yourself’ type advice because they’ve learned social skills as they’ve grown up and never given much conscious thought as to what they’re doing so well.

    But even if you had to consciously learn social skills from the ground up, after a while even you will forgot how hard it was in the beginning and resort to wanting to give vague, ‘bigger picture’ type advice like, “Relax and let it all flow.”

    I think it’s the same with other skills, if you reach a certain level of mastery, it gets hard to break it down for a beginner, because the basics are so engraved you start to lose touch with all the little things you have to do. Well, you can still break it down, but your tendency will want to be to say something quick like “Be yourself”

  12. Andrew says:

    Dear Scott,

    You made a very insightful comparison. Bravo. Have you written any articles on developing, what one may call, “social skills”?

    This is an issue that has been on my mind for quite some time now.
    It seems like certain individuals develop a certain attraction that others simply haven’t aquired yet. What makes some personalities more appealing than others?
    May I suggest this as a possible topic for future posts?

    Thank you for your writing, time and effort.
    Best wishes,
    Andrew

  13. Scott Young says:

    Andrew,

    I do have a few articles on social skills. Do a search for “Mastering Conversation”, it was a popular one a year or so ago. But, yes, I should probably write more.

    I’m a believer that you don’t need to change your personality to become charismatic. The idea that there is only one “personality mold” that everyone finds interesting is complete BS.

    Chris,

    “Be yourself” is a lesson in authenticity. It’s important not to try to fake who you are to get people to like you. However, if you’re summing up human relationships down to two words, you’re inevitably going to miss a lot of advice.

    -Scott

  14. Juggler says:

    Completely agree with you…but it seems like you’ve read your share of books on the subject….has it helped increase your success among the dating world? I’m just curious.

  15. Scott Young says:

    Juggler,

    Yes. I read a fair bit from the community after reading The Game. But, then again, I read a lot from everything.

    I think it has helped my dating life somewhat, but a lot of the ideas I didn’t fully engage with, so I can’t credit them with as much progress. I feel there is a large unfilled need with the dating self-improvement market. Pickup writers can fill that need partially, but I don’t see it as the only (or best) viewpoint available.

    -Scott

  16. [...] Most advice I’ve heard for improving social skills falls into one of a few categories. First, there are trite suggestions like, “be yourself”, which are at best feel-good platitudes and at worst, gross simplifications. Although this advice may be correct, it isn’t practical. [...]

  17. Ruwan says:

    Thanks for the article, Scott.

  18. [...] interesting people, you get to experience the richness of life, prevent boredom, learn a new skill, other kinds of dancing also improves (not just the one you take), you become more comfortable in your body, you learn that no one else [...]

  19. CJ says:

    Still didn’t help with the dancing so it is a failure (SORRY) MC Scratch!

  20. Inspiring article… Scott

    People must read your article. Many people need to learn and learn to improve their social skill. Unfortunately, some of them meet social skill snob to get advice and they still do not now how to make their life better.
    BTW, I was one of them.

    I think they must read your article. Thumb up!

  21. Luisa says:

    Dancing is also a skill

  22. Sandra says:

    There’s a lot that goes into dancing and social skills. A lot of people have a hard time socializing and saying the right things at the right time. It’s called thinking on your feet and if you can do that you shouldn’t have a difficult time being sociable. But some people have these fears of communicating outside of their social groups let alone themselves. Interesting article, thanks for sharing! :)

  23. Mandy says:

    I am doing a 6-month long senior high school exit project on Salsa Dancing. I really like those “for dummies” books, and I was wondering if anyone knew if there was one called “Salsa Dancing For Dummies.” I need to know stuff like the origins of the dance, different styles, and how it’s changed over the years. Not just ‘how to.’ Thank you for your help!!!!!

  24. Julie says:

    WOW. I read the whole post and i was charmed the way you explain the conflict between the two. Moreover, you didn’t pressed any of your ideas. I liked the last para most ‘when the music starts playing, stop thinking about your feet and start feeling the sounds’.

  25. Katie says:

    Nice Article Scout!

    Well I think that you don’t need to change your personality to become charismatic.

  26. Louche says:

    A friend and I decided we’re going to take some ballroom dance lessons. Well, at least one for both of us, and I’d like to go to two or three… Just to get the basics. I suggested it because I want to improve my social skills and feel more comfortable dancing with people. When I went to a club, the music was great, and I was with a close friend, so it was easy, but if the music’s not so easy to dance to and I’m not with a close friend, I’ll need more skills.

  27. Really interesting article Scott. I find the issue of dancing at a party or club really intersting topic because having no set moves means you must use your own creativity, and what makes a ‘good’ dancer is highly subjective.

    As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome social interaction has never been easy and I’ve been very much a late developer in this area. I’m starting to really anaylise social situations I’m in these days.

  28. Gabriel says:

    Everything is a skill. A lot of people who say “you don’t need to learn this” developed it so much early and failed to take into consideration for those who didn’t.

  29. Lou says:

    lol… one time I was just kind of hanging out and carrying my book on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh, and someone read the title and told me, “Don’t read about love; just love.” And I’m thinking, “I wish.”

  30. Kristi says:

    Way to go! I just wish I could have seen you dance :) I myself would love to take dance lessons like that. – But I’d have to drag my husband with me. LOL. Thanks for being inspiring!

  31. “It isn’t that “being yourself” is incorrect advice”

    Being yourself is great, the only problem is it presumes (amazingly) that each and everyone of us already knows what we want to do with our lives and what we’re passionate about. Millions and millions of people aren’t and don’t, hence spend their free cash on Movies and Video Games to distract ourselves. And then, in social situations have nothing to talk about. Once we find passion in our lives, people will be begging us to keep quiet about it, then we have a new, much smaller problem : listening skills :P

  32. Paul says:

    @Gabriel – totally agree. Everything in life is a skill that can be learned. I felt totally self conscious in social settings, especially on the dance floor until I decided one Friday night to start taking Salsa dance lessons. It literally changed my life. Now people ask me for tips! Another thing: ever hear of the 10,000 hour rule. After 10k hours of practice it’s hard to distinguish your learned skill from that of a talented expert, even if you have no talent.

  33. Wonderful goods from you, man. I’ve comprehend your stuff previous to and you’re just too wonderful. I actually like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you’re stating and also the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to maintain it wise. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is really a great web site.

  34. Being analytical helps you understand complex ideas that are hard to grasp, but once you get the broken down pieces by being analytical, you will be natural and everything flows natural, then being yourself socially skilled can come.

  35. Erica says:

    Another parallel between dancing and social skills is that the process is the *point*, not a distraction from it. Sometimes I hear highly-analytical people say they wish dating was “straightforward” or that people didn’t use indirect language, body language and hints, but those things serve a purpose – gracefully exiting a social interaction, or getting a feel as to whether someone will be open to your proposal before trying it. It’s like saying “why bother with all those complicated steps, why not just walk across the dance floor?” Because the steps are what you’re there for and how you communicate and have fun.

  36. Stephanie says:

    After reading this, I’ll admit I’ve been a social snob without realizing it. I often tell my shyer friends to be themselves and just have fun because I sincerely hope they do.

    I used to be rather nervous in social situations but the way I overcame it was by coming to the realization that people don’t go into meeting you negatively judging you. As long as you’re a sincere and happy person, they’ll enjoy your company. Hence the “be yourself” and “just have fun” advice.

    So despite my good intentions, I’ve become a snob. How would you suggest helping shy/socially nervous friends in a social situation? I try not to make them uncomfortable but sometimes when I invite them somewhere, they become awkward even when I know them to be really fun.

  37. Jason says:

    Great article, Scott!

    I grew up a shy, fat, lonely kid, and starting at about the age of 19, I developed a pretty problematic case of social anxiety disorder. I’m now 37, and to make a long story short, the last 18 years of my life have been, how should I say, less than fulfilling. I’ve had major issues with depression, loneliness, and overwhelming feelings of personal inadequacy. Currently, I’m a fairly sociable person who can generally “get by” in most social situations. The average Joe/Jane on the street probably would never suspect that I struggle with so many issues. Due to my problems with social anxiety/self-esteem, I basically put college off for many years, going for a few semesters, missing several semesters, going back, etc. I am now back in school (CSULB) attempting to finish a degree that I started many many years ago. I get sad when I see 19,20,21 year olds around me doing things that I was not even close to being able to do because of my social struggles. It was like I was on a different planet, stuck in a cell with my own insecurities.

    But a major problem I deal with now is learning to accept the “phoniness” that I ALWAYS feel in social situations. If I were to “just be myself,” I’d sit there, quiet, not saying anything. Or maybe even never even venturing outdoors. My natural instinct is to be quiet, introverted, and non-engaging. But to develop friendships, to meet people, and to function in social situations, I have to “ACT” and wear a social mask. And that bothers the hell out of me. It’s phony, it’s a facade, it’s a social pretense, but I don’t know of any other way. I feel so fake!

  38. Brendan says:

    Jason can you tell me your email address. My email is brendanfromireland@gmail.com. I dont know how to contact you otherwise. I’d like to talk to you

  39. Ruslan says:

    Pretty much all the advice you hear from people who have always been good at socializing, is all BS

  40. Jeni Brought says:

    I’m impressed, I must say. Really hardly ever do I encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, you’ve gotten hit the nail on the head. Your thought is excellent; the issue is one thing that not enough people are talking intelligently about. I am very completely happy that I stumbled across this in my seek for something regarding this.

  41. Adel-Alexander says:

    Wow, that episode with that big guy must have been scary! Frankly.. I wasn’t much of a dance person, unless a lot of alcohol was involved. In fact, the first time I was dancing was in a night club where it was the first time I was out partying with friends. And it was also the first time I got drunk… The dancing floor wasn’t that crowded. Not at all! So I had plenty of space but you know.. It was fun to dance. Even when I became sober later on that night. It was still fun to dance.

    In my case, when I started on college. I became insanely drunk during the introduction party. I became pretty social during that time.. Talking to random people and then walking on to new ones, (I still can’t remember every single person I talked except for a few) I know that it’s a stupid move but hey! I was drunk at the time.

    Frankly.. Being drunk that night made it actually easier for me to become friends with a guy who was selling the alcohol. Because he was just as drunk as I was and he sold me a pizza for free since they were selling pizzas that night. Being drunk made me overreact and I ended up hugging him and all that stuff.. And since he was drunk as well, he did so as well. From that night on we became pretty good friends since we would remind each other on that introduction night. If I were sober that night I would simply have thanked him and minded my own business.

    So getting drunk can be a good thing when it comes to social skills & dancing haha! :P

  42. Sarah Lewis says:

    I enjoyed the article. You should always be yourself and see what happens. Usually when youre being yourself, good things happen.

  43. Abdul Rauf says:

    Haha title attracted my attention. Dancing for dummies? Is it real? Then the image of that dancing girl.

    Being yourself is damn easy and great! You just need to realize it.

    Thanks again for the superb post, Scott!

  44. Chris says:

    The problem is, the people who say ‘just be yourself’ are usually the socially savvy types that have never had to think much about the issue. They often advice people that struggle socially to just be themselves, simply because it’s worked for them. However a shy or socially awkward person, or someone with asperger’s needs something more specific and tangible they can apply in order to succeed socially.

    I’ve explained in this video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR11I5xhU9o

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

Leave a Reply