Putting yourself 'out there' is kinda tough.
I'm not referring to the act of stepping out on the dance floor. I talking about that more important act beforehand: going to and asking someone for a dance. It's something that fledgling salseros, believing me an old hand, quiz me about a fair bit. Usually this happens at the edge of the floor, so I only have a few seconds to reply.
The short answer, at least for beginners and males, is that if you don't ask, you don't dance. The question then really becomes, "how much do you really want to dance?" After that, growing the rhino-hide and the self-assurance not to take rejection of a very personal act personally, becomes academic.
Sometimes I sugar-coat it a little, but if the fledgling finds it difficult to take an honest answer, well, then he or she only tends to hang around the edges of the floor for a few more weeks before disappearing.
Salsa has a brutal underbelly.
Appreciating this, I never turn down a request to dance unless my would-be partner is obviously drunk beyond the point of my being able to navigate her safely about the floor (think 'listing galleon'). It likewise holds true for those who might have serially turned me down in the past - life's too short to indulge in point-scoring; and that, for me, isn't what salsa's about. Partaking of Nottingham's generous salsa scene is a strange role-reversal where women outnumber men dance-wise (it reminds me a lot of what Sheffield was like fifteen years ago). It was there that a partner used exactly the same words I'd used, "you don't ask, you don't dance".
But clearly the more experienced you get at reading people, the better you maximise the chances of someone agreeing.
Which brings me nicely to what prompted me to this post. A salsera friend wanted to know what I looked for in the sort of person that I would ask.
"Easy!" I said. She looked at me as if she understood that I was simply after partners of negotiable morals.
"Just three things" I interjected, avoiding a clip around the ear.
"The most important is to see laughter in her eyes. This tells me why she's dancing.
"The second is whether she tries to use floorspace considerately, partner allowing. This speaks to me of her generosity.
"The third, and least important of the three, is the quality of her back-step. One unstressed backward step tells me more of a dancer's ability, training and persistence than a fancy triple spin with sauerkraut ending. It's the most overlooked probably because it's unsighted, even the so-called professionals seldom get it right."
I've long since given up the empty calories of eye-candy. Why people dance, who they are, and how they dance - that's what makes me decide. What they dance doesn't even get a look-in.
And then I asked her to dance. Strange... her back-step's feeling a bit lumpier than usual...