If you’re a lady who’s been dancing for more than a few months, you’re probably in a place where you want to make your dancing look better, but do you really know where to start?
Few ladies do. Styling is often seen as one of the big esoteric mysteries of Salsa. You either do or you don’t…there’s no halfway house with it, but how you navigate your way over to the dark side is rarely explained clearly.
I want to make clear first though, that styling is NOT just shooting a free arm into the air at opportune moments. It’s a whole lot more. Styling is the language that you use to express how you feel about yourself, the music, the dance, and your partner. It’s not rehearsed, it’s in the moment. And it’s unique to you.
That’s most likely the primary reason why true styling isn’t really taught in mainstream group classes, but there are other reasons…
Styling has to sit on top of technique. It’s the technique, mostly, that produces the style.
The fundamental movement pattern in Salsa technique is the Afro-Cuban figure-of-eight ribcage pattern. This spiral motion is actually a natural movement that occurs with human locomotion – walking! The steps SHOULD produce this figure-of-eight automatically. Unfortunately in most people, they don’t.
The problem is that most of us, by the time we become adults, have dysfunctional gait patterns due to hip restrictions, poor foot mechanics, and lack of spinal mobility amongst other issues – usually a product of sedentary lifestyles, postural stress, asymmetric sports, and/or prior injury.This means that this spiral movement becomes asymmetrical, inhibited, or even non-existent…so by the time you start learning Salsa, your body isn’t physically capable of creating it, and your nervous system has probably forgotten what it even felt like.
The current model of Salsa teaching doesn’t even attempt to introduce this figure of eight pattern until a student reaches quite an advanced level. But by that time, the movement patterns for all the salsa steps are embedded into your nervous system and have to be undone and re-learnt with the ribcage spiral woven in.
The thing is, this ribcage motion completely changes the look and feel of your dancing. And because it improves the natural flow of the dance, it automatically becomes easier to find the narrow windows where you can insert arm extensions and other style elements that look part of you…like they flow from the core of your body.
There is another reason that many ladies don’t style convincingly. In order to express what you’re feeling in response to the music, you have to first be fluent in the language of that music. That means being able to play with the rhythm and phrasing, pick up on the voice of the individual instruments, and accent them.
You also need to be fluent in your own style language, and able to move your body with control and conviction. In order to do this, you have to know what it is you’re trying to express…who you are at that moment in time and the mood you’re trying to create in your dance. It sounds so obvious that it’s actually overlooked by almost everyone, but lack of awareness of this leads to a very one-dimensional and narrow styling vocabulary.
There are essentially two methods of bringing styling into your dancing…
The first is to learn shines which have been pre-choreographed either by yourself or someone else. This is useful because, providing you’ve practised sufficiently, it means you will always have material on tap when you need it ad hoc on the dancefloor.
The disadvantage is that some shines don’t suit every piece of music, and you may have days where you simply forget what you’ve rehearsed.
The second method, which is longer, but I believe ultimately more authentic and gratifying, is to spend a lot of time playing with, practicing, and putting together moves in front of the mirror to as many different tracks as possible. Eventually, you’ll end up with your own dance language. You will never run out of options, because you will style differently every time, according to the music.
There are four pillars to my teaching model which form a more logical framework, underpinning the whole process of learning:
- Physique: Preparing your body for dancing – creating freedom to move and postural control
- Technique: Essential building blocks of Salsa – footwork, core moves and partner connection.
- Style: Improving the aesthetics of the dance with variable elements to accent the music.
- Expression: Showing up as yourself in the dance – creating and developing your own unique style language.
When you learn Salsa following this system, the style will start to show up in your dancing a lot sooner. It does take work, and consistent effort, but the results will make you look amazing!