One of the things that bothers me most as a Salsa teacher is when I ask my students (or any novice or beginner) for a dance and they shift around nervously, their stress levels visibly start to rise, and sometimes they even back away, make an excuse, or run off.
Now it’s anyone’s right to choose not to dance if they don’t want to, but I know in the case of many of these newbie or less experienced dancers, mostly they really do want to.
That’s why they’re there, after all.
It’s just that the pressure of dancing with a teacher is too much, and the fear and self-doubt is overwhelming.
They think they aren’t good enough.
I’m of the opinion that no one should ever have to apologise for where they are in their Salsa learning journey – especially if they are actively working on their dancing by going to classes or taking private lessons.
You are where you are and that’s ok!
But often the fear they have comes from a misunderstanding of what us teachers really want to see, feel, and experience with our students on the dance floor.
You probably think I only want to dance with super-advanced dancers.
Maybe you think I want to be wowed with super flash combos, or spun until my head falls off.
Maybe followers think that as a lead I want to see loads of arm styling, or will be annoyed if they mess up, or don’t yet have the speed or skill to follow multiples of multiple spins.
This simply isn’t true.
For sure, I love to be stretched by dancing with better dancers who can give me just the right amount of challenge, both technically and musically.
And I definitely enjoy dancing with those regular partners who I’ve built a strong dance floor rapport and connection with over the years. There’s nothing better than when you feel tuned into the way your partner moves and how they hear and feel the music.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to dance with those less skilled, less experienced dancers who genuinely want to learn and improve.
I love seeing my own students grow and progress, and the most fun place to enjoy that is on the dance floor where I can be part of those moments when it all just clicks for them.
This is where I can encourage, and help pick up the pieces, and pick up their mood if it goes a bit wrong – which social dancing does for EVERYONE at times.
And I can see where things maybe aren’t working so well and know what I need to focus on teaching more of in class.
So to cut the confusion, here’s a list of what really impresses me (and turns me off) when I dance with beginners and improvers, and I bet it isn’t what you think:
Things That Will Impress Me
- Just getting up and having a go, being consistent about coming to class and investing in your journey.
- Doing the basics well, transitioning smoothly between moves and finishing combos on the correct timing.
- Followers who maintain a good connection without clinging on for dear life and can stay on the line, and finish turns on balance.
- Giving a clear, well-timed lead without dragging, shoving or towing me though moves, or instructing me verbally.
- Asking me to dance instead of me having to ask you.
- Responding to the music in real time by changing your energy levels and moves to match, and respecting the pauses, transitions and breaks. Simple, practical musicality is not an advanced skill.
- Copas! Being able to lead or follow even the most basic version of a Copa will take your game to the next level.
- Asking for help if something isn’t working. That’s not to say I’m going to give up my social dance time to give a private lesson on the dance floor, but if you have a specific question about something you’re struggling with, I’ll try and help if I can. Just realise it won’t always be the answer you’re looking for, as some things can only be fixed by unravelling a bunch of bad habits and re-learning and refining your technique.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t try new things to challenge yourself more, but constantly working on fundamentals to improve weight transfer, footwork, balance and connection is almost always the key to unlocking more complex moves and combos.
Advanced Dancers Mess Up More!
In fact, often the most advanced dancers mess up more – simply because they try more things spontaneously and will go with the flow of the music, and see what comes out. Improvised freestyle dancing is about creating in the moment, and experiential learning is a huge part of getting better.
What the best dancers will tell you is that you learn as much – if not more – from the things that go wrong, than the things that go right.
Yes…your brain will log the experience, make adjustments next time round, and figure out a way to make it work better. This is how practice and repetition work, and it’s where expert feedback can be really useful.
But it won’t happen if you attach negative emotion and “failure” stories to everything that didn’t work perfectly.
So check out the list again, and pick one or two things to focus on, and you’ll find that your Salsa teachers will be smiling when they dance with you, and you won’t be running away to avoid dancing with us any more!