Back when our community consisted of less than 20 people, I could say confidently that I knew everyone that fell in love with Kizomba. Today, I'm happy to report that I don't and that's because our community has grown so much over the past few years. I can't even attend all the events that we have any more and I believe this is largely a good thing.
When a community grows, the whole idea of "one big happy family" is hard to sustain without a regular presence of a "mom" or "dad" figure setting the tone so its is only natural that cliques start to form.
Just in case, I looked up the definition of clique:
a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.
I've been in and out of so many scenes and I totally get the clique thing. I've been on the side that feels unwelcome and I've been on the "cool kids" side and what I learned is that no matter what you try to do, someone will always feel unwelcome. In other words, there's no pleasing everyone.
Everytime I start in a new dance or group activity, its easy to spot "that group": the cool kids. When I was learning how to swing dance, I always envied that group that was having so much fun in that corner of the dance floor, all chummy chummy with the instructors and DJs. I wanted to get to know those people and I wanted to be included.
Sure, I felt like they didn't want to get to know me at all and sometimes I got discouraged but mostly, I just wanted to dance like them or dance so well that they had to take notice. So I focused on learning and getting better and getting to know the peer group I was learning with and in a few months time, I was being asked to dance by the "cool kids" and they started to take notice of me. In some cases, I became a cool kid myself.
Here's the thing - you can't avoid the cliques: people will naturally gravitate to each other to form friendships and smaller groups will form within a larger community. You all know how hard it is to maintain relationships, especially as an adult with so many other things pulling and competing for your time. Most of the time, the folks in a clique just have so much fun with each other, they don't have time for other people.
SO - what to do? I submit that if you are a newbie, you should try to flip things around and not make it about the clique but make it about you. Yup, YOU getting better, feeling good about your dancing and making new friends.
It would be nice if there was always a welcome committee for new people [HINT HINT to some of our more established peeps and thanks to the ones that are consistently doing their best to welcome new people]. That being said, if you're new, and you feel a little left out, try something that will make you feel a little uncomfortable and observe the crowd to see who you could say "hi" to and make a new friend.
I know this is hard. I still succumb to this difficulty despite being able to bring large groups of people together. Here's what I look for and advise:
- Friendly smile
- Someone that everyone says hi to and hugs
- Don't go after someone who's too cool for school, you're just setting yourself up
- Observe - does this person say yes when asked to dance? Good - odds are, they will say yes to you :)
- Be open and smiling yourself: don't be the wall flower and stand in a corner with your hands crossed or head hunched over. Sway to the music and smile like you're having a good time (cuz you are) - it works. Someone will say "hi!"
- For you beginning leads, embrace your newness and have fun. Don't be apologizing for every little thing. People understand that beginners need time so take advantage of their understanding to just dance and have a good time. [This is true for follow's too, I just wanted to address the leads specifically because there's bit more pressure on a lead in the beginning. ]
Finally - here's the one thing I would say about you and the whole clique thing:
One could argue that the cool kids should be putting something back into the community and welcoming new people into the fold. Sure - I get that and as a former cool kid myself, I try my best to do that when I can. The bottom line is that dance is about YOUR OWN personal enjoyment and expression. Part of that is who you choose to be with and dance with but most of it is about what YOU love about the dance and who you are. If you're enjoyment of dancing is limited to what other people think of you, then its not the best reason to dance. You have to dance for your own enjoyment and expression.