For me, styling my Salsa dancing has always been about freedom of expression and choice.
However as our dance scene evolves, trends in shows and performances influence social dancers, and the stylistic boundaries that separate one dance from another become blurred and movable, I think it’s important to have clarity on what styling is and what we’re aiming for when we use styling to embellish our social Salsa dancing.
1. Styling should be musically driven
When you first start learning “styling”, it feels a bit like an add-on extra…where certain arm movements and pieces of footwork get attached to certain moves.
However ladies who style well don’t think of it in those terms. Their styling will be a product of what they’re hearing in the music, and a perfect fit for it.
Don’t fall into the trap of rehearsing a shine over and over and regurgitating it every time your partner breaks away.
Always, always, always start from the music that you are dancing to.
2. Styling should be improvised in the moment
Styling is all about options. The skill of improvisation is not really taught in typical Salsa clubs, but it is essential if you want to express yourself fully without committing multiple shines to memory.
After all, there’s no guarantee that you will be given exactly the right number of bars in which to execute a set piece.
Learn foot patterns, syncopations and shines, but also learn how to change them with rhythm variations, different accents, movement and direction of travel.
3. Styling should be a conscious choice
Once you’ve learned a few embellishments and where you can slot them into a dance, it’s easy for them to become embedded into your nervous system and muscle memory.
This leads to them becoming an automatic response to a certain set of spatial cues in the dance rather than a choice you’ve made in response to the music.
4. Styling should not interrupt the lead
Following the lead is your primary job in Salsa. If you take an arm out to style, you need to have it back in time if the guy wants it.
Excellent followers who can read their partner well may be able to buy themselves a longer window in which to execute their styling, but they will still be able to respond on time and have everything in place for the next move.
5. Styling should respect the intrinsic style of the dance.
Each of the 5 main Salsa styles have their own unique intrinsic style.
Accomplished dancers are aware of these style differences and adjust their body movement, shines and styling to suit.
Although you have no real choice if your partner decides to lead Cuban to a Mambo track, it sets you apart if you can hear the different musical styles and style your dancing sympathetically.
6. Styling should fit your personality
We dance to express ourselves. Us. No one hears music or feels emotion in exactly the same way as we do.
It’s great to get ideas and inspiration from other dancers, but copying their moves and styling makes you a second rate version of them, not an uncopyable version of you.
7. Styling should spring from feeling
We dance to music because it stirs emotion. Styling is a product of that emotion, signifying that you are fully present in the dance, collaborating with your partner in a few unique moments of joy.
8. Styling should complement what your partner is doing
Styling (and especially shines) shouldn’t be a selfish opportunity to go “awol” for a few bars and do your own thing. It’s an opportunity to get playful. Don’t abandon your partner, interact and have fun with him.
Guys love it when they realise you’re paying enough attention to what they’re doing to mirror, copy or steal a few of their moves.
Unless they abandon you, which gives you carte blanche to completely outshine them 🙂
9. Styling should be grounded in excellent technique
An arm wafting aimlessly in the air is NOT styling.
All technique and body motion in Salsa is a product of footstrike and weight transfer.
All styling is a product of that technique.
If it isn’t, it looks disconnected and half-hearted, and like it wasn’t fully intended.
Practice technique, execute with precision clear intent.
10. Styling never stops evolving.
Salsa music is constantly evolving.
We are influenced by other dances we may be learning, the dancers we watch weekly at our local clubs as well as the artists we see at festivals and on Youtube.
There is lots of inspiration out there.
Use it for ideas and then integrate snippets into your own styling so you are creating your own unique styling journey.
That way you’ll never get bored and will carry on discovering more about yourself, the way your body moves, and how you can express yourself and your creativity.