This will be a trigger question for many teachers out there.
When I started teaching it was the same for me…I was frustrated by the students who were constantly showing me YouTube videos of the pro dancers at congresses and asking me to help them break it down for them.
It made me feel redundant and disrespected.
I realise now that this was my own insecurity and feelings of inadequacy.
I have a different perspective now, and I’ve actually changed my opinion. I’m happy if students are serious enough about their dancing to be thinking about it when they are not with me. If that includes supplementing my classes by doing further learning and research online, what’s not to like?
Personally, I now think online classes can be very useful…but only in certain circumstances, and only for a specific kind of person.
If it hadn’t been for online classes and other learning resources made possible by the internet, I wouldn’t have progressed my dancing so far in the last couple of years.
It wasn’t geographically or financially possible to work with the teachers I wanted to work with.
YouTube is a great resource and didn’t exist when I started dancing, but it has enabled me to expand my knowledge of Salsa in all sorts of ways.
Another side to this is that learning content is one thing – steps, moves, shines and combinations.
Retention and implementation of the content and then being able to improvise with it is quite another
I’ve always been highly motivated and able to get maximum mileage from everything I’ve been taught. I’ve never needed to be spoon fed by my teachers and have done most of the work on my own once I’ve been taught the core principles and techniques..
Many teachers are scared of their students becoming too self-sufficient and not needing them anymore, but this is one of the realities of being an educator or coach – no client is for life.
But there are dangers with online Salsa classes:
Most beginners jump straight onto YouTube where they are overwhelmed with a vast quantity of videos, some of which are highly suspect in terms of the teacher’s technique and the content.
When you are starting out, you have no way of knowing what’s good and what’s not so take care to do your homework. It’s essential to get some real life dance floor experience too.
For more experienced dancers there are some great videos of the top Salsa stars delivering their classes at international congresses. Mostly you will only get the end of class demo, and with counts if you’re lucky. The technical breakdown is where the real value is for most people, and to get that you have to attend the event.
Having said that, you can slow YouTube videos down to watch them at half speed which makes it easier to see what’s actually happening in that tricky shine or partnerwork combo.
Which brings me onto my next point:
Hijacking content from one off YouTube videos isn’t going to get you very far because without understanding how it relates or connects to what you already know, or understanding the essential technical or musicality principles behind the moves, it will only have limited value.
You need context for what you’re learning.
However for advanced dancers who already have a sound technique and know what it is they are looking at, these congress videos can be a great source of inspiration if you have the patience and vision to use them well.
It’s easy to miss the smaller details on video – exactly how and when the weight transfers, the subtleties of body movement, the timing and dexterity of hand changes in partnerwork.
Good dancers can make it all look so easy that many students underestimate the difficulty and complexity of what they are doing.
But that’s why they are so good – BECAUSE they can make something very challenging look deceptively easy.
Or the moves themselves can be very simple, but taken to a different level by the styling and musicality.
One of the most important reasons for attending in-person classes is to get corrections and feedback. Most people who do club based classes will find that the amount and usefulness of feedback varies considerably from teacher to teacher, and can depend on numbers in the class amongst other things.
When you learn online, you have nothing except the mirror and your own judgement to tell you how it’s looking or feeling for your partner.
Like most things in life, you do get what you pay for, and if you want to learn online for free, you will have a lot of leg work to do to get what you need. If you are relying on YouTube you will probably trawl through a lot of stuff that is not very useful or even very good.
There are very few teachers who have online schools.
Very likely this is because filming and editing the videos is a pain, hosting the content on a website requires specialist tech skills, and promotion and monetisation is a full time job in itself.
It’s not cheap either, if you want to do it well and want the end result to look professional.
Without careful planning of the syllabus, it leaves students in a similar dilemma to in-person classes – a lot of material but with very little idea about how to extract the most value from it, or use it effectively.
Without clear context, structure and progression, presentation of the core principles and underlying techniques, you are throwing mud at the wall. This is an important function of online schools which can be overlooked – how the material is organised within an over-arching syllabus or system can make or break the experience.
To sum up, I think online classes can be extremely useful, but are best for highly motivated, independent students who are looking to expand their repertoire quickly, have time to practice, and don’t need constant external validation.
Also those who want to learn the intricacies of a specific style from specific teachers and can’t travel to their location may be well served by an online option.
There are some great online Salsa resources, but do your homework first, as you would with any other live class.
I believe that a good online class will still always outweigh a bad in-person class.