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Following- some seem to think it is a rather mindless activity. They are wrong. Following involves intricacies unthought-of by many a dancer.
In my experience there are two main goals to following. The first is listening to your partner. This is not listening with your ears, but with everything else in your body. It is your posture. It is where your weight is placed. It is what you are looking at. It is a state of utter readiness.
Your posture needs to be correct in order to follow correctly. Ever notice that your ability to dance decreases in direct proportion to how tired you are? That is partly because your tiredness means that you are moving and dancing halfheartedly- the first thing you let go is your posture. What exactly does your posture need to be? Let’s start at the bottom: your toes.
You need to be on them. If you are standing with your feet together, your heels need to be able to shift from side to side without you having to adjust anything in your weight. Therefore you need to be leaning forward. I have always found the higher my heels are off the ground the better my salsa technique becomes; as the saying goes- Nose over Toes. If you draw a line from your nose perpendicular to the ground, that line should be well past your toes. This leads to two results. Your technique improves incredibly and you get beautifully shaped calf muscles!
Added to you posture needs to be your core muscles (stomach muscles). These need to be engaged (somewhat clenched). This helps with balance and keeps you centralised. It is rather difficult to be aware of your core muscles in a dance, therefore this needs to become muscle memory. It needs to be practiced. Keep them engaged all day- when you walk, talk, sit and work.
Moving further up, your chest and shoulders need to be upright and rolled back. When you are standing with your nose over toes, lift your chest as if you are proud of them then role your shoulders back and keep them there. It feels strange at first but later you’ll feel like you’re a dancer!
Why is this posture so important? Without it, you will be unbalanced and your weight will be all over the place and thus you will not be able to follow the steps your partner has in mind.
Another part of listening to your partner is what you are looking at. If you are looking at the people watching you, it is very likely that you are thinking only of yourself. Self-consciousness; be it from pride or from embarrassment will kill the dance. If you are looking at nothing in particular, it is very likely that your mind is elsewhere, go there or let it go and focus on the dance. Your eyes need to meet your partner’s eyes. This is true for leads and followers. They must meet the eyes of the other as much as is physically possible. Eye contact opens up the lines of communication. It makes you aware of his movements and more aware of his lead, and thus your following improves. It also leads to smiles, laughs and sometimes even giggles which always perks up a dance!
If you find yourself dancing with such a rude creature, you’ll have to make do with focusing on his nose or the center of his chest (depending on his height and yours) as much as possible. This at least will keep you aware of his movements, even though the human connection has been utterly lost!
The second goal to following is listening to the music. At the most basic level, you need to be on the beat- that is (in LA Style Salsa) your right foot hits 1, your left foot hits 5 and you have your quicks and slows in all the right places. Hopefully your partner is also on this beat. If you are having an unfortunate dance and he is not, it is your unhappy task of finding the beat that he is on. This may mean NOT listening to the music.
Moving away from such sad thoughts let’s focus now on the music. Salsa music is intricate, there is a lot happening in each song. Some people, who heard salsa for the first time, commented that it sounds like noise. If you listen to salsa often enough and become much more intimately acquainted with it, you’ll learn to pick out the different instruments and hear the tunes and beats that each instrument is adding to the song. Part of this is also learning to distinguish the different highlights. These are the “special moments” in the song. They can be one particular beat or note or they can be a pattern repeated once or twice in the song or every so often. Part of following is being able to “hit” these highlights without it affecting your partners lead in any way. Thus you “hit” them by moving you arms (if they are free) or your hips, legs or feet, shoulders and sometimes even your chest or bum to the rhythm of the highlight. Therefore you use any part of your body which your partner is not using at that time. We call this styling. Styling often happens without the highlights of the music. But it is best and at its most beautiful when the styling and highlights become one and the same. This takes time and practice to perfect. It takes lots of time and lots of practice, especially because it may not affect your partner’s dance.
Listening to your partner can only be practiced when you are dancing with someone- in a class or on the social dance floor. This is also best practiced by dancing with many different leads of many different levels. Listening to the music needs first to be practiced off the dance floor. You need to get to know the genre intimately. Listen to it all the time. In the car, in the shower, when cooking, when cleaning (it makes cleaning so much more fun!) when chilling, and if you are able to, when working as well. While you are listening during your daily routine, hit the highlights whenever you can. While soaping up in the shower, hit the highlight with your free hand. While driving, use your shoulders or a chest pop. When you reach the level of highlighting while queuing in the shops, you know you are getting somewhere. Once you get used to what the highlights are and you start hitting them on your own then start adding them to your dance while following your partner. Soon you will be doing what I love to call PLAY.
Till next time,
Play! Feel! Express!
I don’t mean in life, for that you’ll need more than just our help! I mean in Salsa. What is the correct timing for L.A Style Salsa or Salsa-on-1? How do you find the first beat? Do the rest of the beats matter?
The first beat is important. It is where it all starts, and it is where you need to start! There are tricks to finding the first beat, sometimes it is an emphasised beat, sometimes it is the beat that the singer or the background singers start on. Mostly, you’ll just have to practice and keep practicing until you get it, eventually! If you want to look at the technicalities of finding the first beat have a read of what the Dancing Irishman has to say in How to find that goddam 1 beat in salsa.
Once you have found the 1, you need to move on to the 2 beat, really quickly. The 1 & 2 beats in LA style salsa are quick beats and follow in quick succession of one another. This is the first “quick-quick”. It is important because without the quick-quick there is no slow. Beat 3 and 4 are the slow. This is where you transfer your weight from one foot to the other more slowly. They are the chill-out phase where you can gather your thoughts and often your breath for a fraction before moving on to the next quick-quick. The second quick-quick is 5 and 6. These need to be at the same speed as 1 and 2 and is the quick-quick which precedes the last slow, 7 and 8, the second chill-out phase and slow transfer of weight. Thus you get:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
quick-quick slow quick-quick slow
If all your steps are quick and there is no slow, it means you are not giving time to the 4 and 8 and therefore you will find yourself out of time with the music. If all your steps are slow in your salsa basic, it generally means that you are completely out of time with the music! There are of course those steps that you will learn at a more advanced level where this basic rhythm changes, but the more you practice this the better you will become! And here is another tip, the faster the song you are dancing to, the more important this rhythm is!
So listen, listen, listen! The music is not there to create a nice party vibe while you dance; it creates your dance- keep listening!
Happy Dancing peeps!
Arriving at Cape-Town & Just Dancing Salsa!
It’s pouring with rain in CPT, cold and wet. How very inspiring!
Coming from Hamburg I’m on business & time out at the other end of the world. So there are many evenings to fill even with a full schedule… I brought my dancing shoes, not really knowing what to do with them. Finally, I am a female social scientist, past my fifties, mother of five great kids – and not thoroughly a dancing queen and definitely not in a totally unknown country.
But then friends told me about “Just dancing Salsa” at the Barbosa, near the Waterfront. Hmmm.
“Why not give it a try,” I asked myself?
After some bad cancer events I had two Salsa classes in Hamburg which taught me at least when and where to put my feet, not with too much fun. That was not really “dancing”, that was more sort of jumping around rather clumsily. And so I felt: just clumsy. Should I really try again…???
I did, one Wednesday, stepping in on one of the Salsa classes with Lani & Carlos, Just dancing Salsa, being more scared than excited.
But what a surprise?! Even after only a few minutes it was good fun, though I was clumsily tapping around, getting confused with steps and rhythm in a foreign language and scarcely getting my feet out of the way of others. But Lani & Carlos just focussed on the positive results. So there were some veritable remarks like “awesome!” and “great!” every now and then coming from Carlos and they sound truthful, despite how I felt.
“This was hope,” I thought!
After this first lesson, which had brought me right in the middle of an advanced class, Carlos & Lani talked to me, suggesting stepping into the running courses and as well having “some additional private lessons” with both of them in order to keep up with the rest of the group and “to get the feeling of Salsa”. Well, this sounds reasonable! They also suggested joining the Bachata beginner class in order to develop a better rhythm-feeling.
Now let’s talk plain stuff: Bachata was the least I wanted to experience in CPT after two of those dances in Hamburg!
Me? No! Never ever! Not this knee bumping, hip wagging, dancing-with-my-legs-apart what-ever-it-was-thing!
But both were smiling at me. “You’ll just improve your understanding of dancing Latin rhythm…!” Carlos said with a broad and cheeky smile coming from under his fancy little hat while Lani just looked sweet and calm at me. Could I resist this innocent smile? No, I couldn’t.
So we agreed on me having an additional Bachata class as well.
When I was driving home that night, with rain pouring out of all heavenly doors and corners, I was happily smiling while trying to get my car right on the wrong side of the road. After all, everything was on the wrong side in this country: cars, gearstick, windscreen wiper, blinker, even the crossing lights. So why not do things which I promised myself never to do?
So from that moment onwards I was learning to dance Salsa & Bachata as well as driving on the left side of the road: Lani & Carlos made it easy, always indicating that Salsa was a social dance – and men were supposed to lead the way.
This was going to be a major topic during our dancing lessons. I realized this from my first private lesson onwards.
Now, how can I accept that, being an old German business lady used to living a sort of self-determined life for many, many decades??? My mind would get the message but my body was just resisting. What was I supposed to do? How can you a man let lead the way? It really was a hard time for me…
I realized very soon that it was one thing to understand mentally of how to. But it was something totally different to have your body and steps being moved by a man! It was also especially because this moving & looking into the women’s eyes – my eyes! – actually was looking & feeling very sexy. Even if I felt unsure, I just had to watch Lani & Carlos: Yes, it was sexy! Very sexy indeed.
“One –two – three – and heeep! Five – six – seven – and heeep!” Lani’s teaching expertise kept us all busy, learning and laughing. This Bachata rhythm you will never forget, I tell you! So finally I fell in love with dancing Bachata.
Anyhow – it was all simply studying and training and both Lani & Carlos were encouraging all their students to dance: after the classes, in between the classes, on every possible occasion! Since we regularly changed partners, being couples or not, everybody learned to dance with everybody else, and everybody got the same chances to experience to dance with either Lani or Carlos, meaning to experience the difference of dancing styles and levels. What varied experiences!
And very often there was this inspiring comment from Carlos, “Awesome!” when a turn was ok. And even if the person did not really believe the truth of his judgement, it still was giving confidence and certitude. Is there anything else you need on the dance-floor when you are a beginner?
I decided not!
So finally I ended up dancing Salsa or Bachata four times per week, taking every advantage of dancing Salsa in town. When walking up Lion’s Head, I still tried to do my Salsa rhythm and turns when nobody was watching. So sometimes people would look funnily at me on my way down.
And the really nice experience was: Very often Lani & Carlos would turn up at the Salsa Parties in town and we could watch them. It was always amazing to see how beautifully they were dancing, Lani swirling around and bending like an elf while Carlos seemed to lead her very soft and gently. But however beautiful they were dancing together, Carlos later would always be dancing with all their students while Lani was swirled around the dance floor by the other guys.
Even on the party floor Carlos would comment on the progress everybody had made with an “awesome…!” you just had to believe.
There is a moment when you really start believing that! And then progress starts by itself.
So after 6 weeks of training, fun, enjoying and party, I felt safe on the Salsa dance-floor! My turns are swift and gentle, I get the rhythm right (ok, mostly…), my partner runs a fair chance of leading me – and I had a wonderful time, much fun and lots of new and inspiring experiences!
And then I even found somebody to make my personally designed Salsa dress, which is now swirling around my legs when I turn…! IT IS really awesome!
August 5th, 2012, back home in Hamburg:
Many beginner leads complain about not being able to remember the turn patterns they learnt in class. And they do not feel confident that they will be able to remember their steps and leads when taking a lady onto the floor.
Here’s the thing: YOU DON’T HAVE TO!
When you want to grow from this, do not try and remember the entire routine you learn each week. Rather pick one step that you particularly liked, or the only one you remember and add that to your repertoire. That way, over the year you could possibly add 52 steps to your collection. Since the most experienced dancers usually use less than 20 actual steps/patterns and then repeat them, you will have more than enough to allow any salsera to enjoy her 4 minutes on the dance floor with you! And that is really what you are after- nothing fancy, just simple enjoyment!
So be confident men… the ladies are longing to dance with you!
I’ll see you ALL on the floor at the MASQUERADE SALSA PARTY!
Starting salsa is for most people like a baby learning to take its first steps: it can be scary, you feel completely uncoordinated and people may laugh at you! But like learning to walk, being able to dance makes it well worth the effort!
So here are some tips for the new Salseras and Salseros
Tip 1: Count continuously!
Keep counting and don’t stop even when your feet get all muddled up! Counting keeps your rhythm and your timing going. Keeping on counting will make it easier for you to keep moving even when your body is lost. It will also help to build up your muscle memory.
Tip 2: Dance on tip toes!
Stay on the balls of your feet. Dancing on the balls of your feet will help lift your centre of gravity which makes your body feel lighter and makes it easier for you to move. This will mean you keep to the timing of the song and that you move with more ease.
Tip 3: Small steps!
How can you tell if someone is a beginner dancer? By the size of their steps! Keep your steps small, no bigger than your own shoe size. This will not only help your timing but will also help you to move more naturally, which is key to looking natural on the dance floor!
Tip 4: Arms up!
Many people don’t know what to do with their arms and it makes them feel awkward. Keep your arms up as if you were running- no one runs with their hands dangling by their sides! Lifting your arms tells your mind and your body that it needs to be ready to move.
Tip 5: Repetition!
That hated concept: practice, practice, practice! Alas, the body was made for repetition! Without practice your body will have to relearn steps every week! But if you go through the steps a few times in the week the next class will be so much easier!
With these aspects in place the awkwardness of being a beginner will be whisked away and you will start feeling like a dancer!
See you on the dance floor!