When you first start to learn Salsa, traditionally you start off in beginner and improver level classes where you learn the basic steps and the rudimentary mechanics of leading and following.
The next step on the ladder is classes which teach linked moves in a linear format known as turn patterns. The idea of this is that these can then be remembered and recreated on the dance floor.
It is my belief that these classes serve no one in the long term.
Typically what happens is that the men tie themselves in knots trying to juggle footwork and lead delivery at the same time whilst the ladies either (a) inwardly bitch and whine because the men aren’t leading the routine brilliantly, (b) get bored because they haven’t got any interesting moves to do, or (c) moan because there’s a double spin and they can’t get round quick enough.
The instructors get frustrated because not everyone is technically strong enough to perform the routine they prepped, so they have to dumb down the moves, substitute double spins instead of triples and chop the last few bars off the end.
None of the really good dancers bother coming to classes because they don’t gain anything…not because there’s nothing left for them to learn.
After the class, when the floor opens up for freestyle, the more adventurous guys will have a go at dancing the routine, by which time all the ladies have forgotten because it’s not their job to remember. They feel the man tense up as he gets ready to launch them into a series of moves that he struggled to lead on a slow count without music, and the whole thing falls apart when the lady tightens up in response.
The men then get scared to try anything different and revert back to their tried and tested comfort zone, and never understand why they can’t get certain moves to work in social dancing.
Most club dancers never get beyond a certain level because the technique they need to progress isn’t made a focus of intermediate and advanced classes. It’s taught at the beginning, and then ditched. The assumption is made that once you have the basic techniques, this will carry you through for the rest of your dancing career.
This simply isn’t the case. Movement skills in sport and professional dance are trained progressively over time as the neurological and muscular systems adapt to handle more complex challenges.
How can you be expected to master movements which require a high level of balance, postural strength and co-ordination without putting in the work to acquire those skills?
It’s a bit like setting out to drive a Formula 1 car round the Monaco circuit after only having passed your basic driving test and your only experience driving a Ford Fiesta to Sainsburys and back. Or making a six year old girl go up on pointe in ballet class!
Technique teaching should be ongoing, throughout intermediate and advanced levels, with the aim of building on the basics, and sharpening the skills needed for better leading and following. This doesn’t mean boring or dry – it just means delivering, facilitating practice of, and explaining the importance of the underpinning technique that will make complex turn patterns possible and achievable.
Teachers should teach people how to become better dancers, not disciples of their own cleverness.
Then maybe one day we will have dance floors filled with guys who can create their own awesome turn patterns on the fly, and ladies who can follow with more precision and style.