Have you found that although you take lots of group classes, your social dancing doesn’t really feel or look any different?
Maybe if you’re a man, your repertoire of moves hasn’t increased – you get stuck in the same turn patterns which you repeat over and over. Maybe there are certain patterns that you can never get the lady to follow. You can do the routine fine in the class but can’t recreate it freestyle on the floor…even if you are lucky enough to remember it.
You see some guys doing really cool stuff with their feet but are so caught up with what to do with your arms that you just haven’t got a chance of doing anything different down below.
If you’re a lady, maybe you are following your regular partners with no trouble, but struggle when you dance with someone different, or maybe you get your feet round ok but it doesn’t always feel comfortable. Maybe your double spins feel laboured and triples completely out of reach? Maybe you wished you knew exactly how and when to style…beyond just shooting an arm up in the air in order to stop it being trapped.
These are all questions that rear their heads more and more as you leave the improver ranks and join the intermediate and advanced classes. And the more advanced partners you get to dance with, the more obvious these issues become and the more potential they have to wreck the dance.
In my opinion group classes aren’t the best way to learn Salsa. I actually believe they can hinder improvement.
I can say this, because it’s the way learnt when I started. I didn’t know better at the time, wanted to run before I could walk and get to all the fun stuff as quick as possible, and didn’t believe it could really be that hard, so, because I considered myself to be co-ordinated and a fast learner, I skipped learning a lot of technique because it was never impressed upon me how important it was.
I eventually realised that the only way to get out of intermediate and into the advanced ranks was to find an awesome teacher and take private lessons. I’m not suggesting you should do the same, but if you want to get seriously good then you need to be aware of the limitations imposed by group classes and how they can actually mess with your social dancing and confidence rather than improve it.
Most Salsa teachers know this. But they are also business people and realised they needed to fulfil a demand for accessible, low cost lessons that would attract as many people as possible. The problem was, as salsa gained popularity, the growing demand dictated the lesson format, and negatively affected the depth and quality of the content.
What ensued was a dilution of both style and standards as teachers tried to dumb down techniques that took many months and years to master, in order to accommodate aspiring dancers who wanted a “now” result.
This evolution allowed the public to believe that because salsa is a freestyle, social form of dance, it’s also a technically “loose” and unstructured dance, when actually the opposite is true. And this lack of awareness has created a situation where the majority of mainstream social dancers are ignorant to the elements of the structure they are missing, these often being the very things that would transform their dancing experience by allowing them to understand and navigate the mechanics of the dance better, and also correct simple technique flaws which make their partnerwork erratic, inconsistent and frustrating.
I believe there are seven deadly sins that are rampant in many Salsa clubs, and these have the effect of keeping dancers stuck at the same level indefinitely.
Here they are:
1. Vagueness and inconsistency.
Different teachers – sometimes within the same club – call moves by different names and teach them differently. Not such a problem if you are taught by the same person all the time, but as you start to spread your salsa wings to different clubs and teachers it can make life confusing.
What makes life more confusing is when the moves aren’t named at all. When turn patterns become more complicated, footwork becomes crucial for the lady, and it can be hard to spot through demonstration alone whether it is a variation on copa, cross body or something that is choreographed and can’t actually be led freestyle.
2. Allowing dancers to take part in classes above their current ability.
There’s nothing worse than turning up for a class that’s been advertised as “advanced” and realising even before you’ve rotated two partners that in reality the level is way below what you are capable of.
3. Not ensuring basic technique is mastered well enough in the lower levels.
This means that complex turn patterns with multiple spins, direction changes and style elements are attempted without the technical foundations that make them achievable which leads to major frustration for leads and followers, as well as teachers of advanced classes.
4, No system for evaluating progress.
I was a personal trainer and fitness coach for many years. And it was unthinkable to allow a client to go more than a few weeks without being tested and measured and their progress recorded.
If you are learning any skill, it’s important to know what “good” looks and feels like. It’s also important to know what you did that made it good so you can recreate it on future occasions. Every sport has a system that ensures players are graded and matched according to their ability, and this ensures that the game is enjoyable and fair for everyone.
Many Salsa clubs don’t have set benchmarks that their students have to reach before they progress to the next level, and if they do this isn’t upheld formally. This means that classes can be held back by those who haven’t mastered the specific skills needed to be successful in that class, meaning that they may feel out of their depth or that they are holding the others back by not “getting” it quickly enough.
5. Making learning take longer than necessary
Authentic Salsa style and technique starts with core body isolations, not steps. Again, an untruth has pervaded, creating a situation where, if dancers want to progress beyond a certain level, some of the movement patterns that have been embedded into their neurological pathways have to be unlearned and replaced.
It takes 500 repetitions to create a new movement pattern from scratch. It takes nearer 5000 to break an old, incorrect one and replace it with a new one.
You can see that the job of learning Salsa becomes much harder and longer for most people by this traditional route.
6. Wrong Emphasis
Group classes teach turn patterns. They don’t teach ladies to understand where they are in the dance and own their part of it, which is essential if you want to be able to add in styling without ruining the flow. Guys get wrapped up with trying to remember and replicate exact versions of long routines when it would be more helpful to understand that they can create infinite variations of what they already know just by altering their positioning, hand holds, speed and quality of movement, and footwork styling.
7. Not defining minimum standards for each level.
Very few “advanced” classes are truly advanced. Mostly that just means a really long routine with a few fiddly bits.
At Salsa Intoxica, we will introduce advanced classes towards the end of 2015. They will feature triple spins, cross bodies will have extra turns and everyone should be comfortable with the content coming thick and fast. You should own your shines and styling…in fact we expect you to be developing your own style at this point, not adopting ours.
We don’t care if there are only two people in the lesson. The top level class should be something to aspire to and work towards, not a god-given right because you’ve paid your money.
That’s how we intend to maintain our standards and reputation for excellence.