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!
Here are some tips to remember when social dancing:
Ladies when a man asks you to dance, do not say no! This poor guy has used a huge amount of his courage to ask you.. he has put himself out there..his ego is on the line.. there are people watching.. don’t leave him hanging! If you say no and he happens to have a healthy salsero ego (usually these are rather large), it is quite likely that he will never ask you again…if you do this with enough men, you may run out of partners to dance with… your choice ladies!
Gentlemen, when a lady asks you to dance, she has gone against convention, gotten tired of waiting for you to ask her, gotten tired of waiting around for the men to man up in general, just wants to hit the dance floor, thinks you may help her to enjoy her few minutes on the dance floor, and no she probably doesn’t want to date you… Be a man and dance with her!
2. Be protective!
When you are on the dance floor, gentlemen, it is your job to protect the lady you are dancing with from all the other wild dancing people around you. Protect her from being bumped and jostled or knocked off balance. Most of all protect her from being tread on by another salsero or worse another salsera’s heal! This hurts, and if it happens she will be VERY tempted to walk away and leave you on your own in the middle of the floor, even if it is purely out of pain! Don’t tempt her, protect her!
Ladies, likewise, you need to be aware of where you put down your feet. When you are dancing in a crowded area keep your weight off your heals. This way when (I say when because it will happen some time or other) you accidentally step on someone the pain will be considerably less. You can also take much smaller steps which will minimise the pain you and those around you may otherwise be forced to feel.
Shower and put on antiperspirant and something nice smelling and VERY clean clothes, and brush your teeth, before you go dancing. Just do it! No dance can be enjoyed when you are trying to hold your breath!
Buy at least one drink from the bar. If every salsero and salsera always only drinks the provided tap water, the venue owners will very quickly get very sick of having you all there, unless they are themselves addicted to salsa. This is not usually the case. So buy a drink (mineral water counts, if you buy two… 🙂 ) and in this way say thank you for having a place to come to and dance with your friends.
It is totally legit to say no to dancing with a drunk man or a drunk woman. They will forget what you said by morning! Only dance drunk, if you have proof on YouTube that you are just as spectacular, and in control and aware, when you are drunk as when you are sober. Also when you are drunk it is very likely that your breath stinks, so I’ll point you back to rule #3.
This is the most important rule of salsa. Enjoy yourself! Have fun, be playful! Be nice and help others enjoy themselves, this will very likely mean that you enjoy yourself more.
Till the new year then…
Happy Dancing Everyone!
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!
What takes a dance from being a series of spins and steps to being that 3-minute-moment you want to repeat over and over again? Is it the song? Is it your partner? Is it your own dancing?
I say, all of the above and more!
There are several aspects for me which takes a dance from just a dance to that dance, the very reason you came out that evening.
The first aspect is the music- when the music strikes its first note within your being and you start moving to it before you hit the dance floor, you know its going to be a very good three+ minutes, but there are several more aspects which come into play.
One is your partner during that song. Is your partner enjoying the music? Do they connect with you by looking you in the eye and smiling? Is there laughter between you when a mistake is made by either of you? Or is he or she too worried about the next step? Or too worried about the people watching so that they are forgetting to enjoy the moment with you? Or too worried about his leading or her following? These things make a huge difference in a dance. Are you overly worried while you’re on the dance floor? Your partner can tell and it is minimising their enjoyment of the dance. The next time you dance with anyone, look them in the eye, allow that connection between you, smile and laugh and enjoy yourself!
But there is another aspect in making the dance that dance. That dance is a dance which includes what I like to call play. Play I will define as spontaneous movement originating from either of the partners, to which the other partner responds spontaneously without either partner taking away from the current step or beat. Therefore play at a simple level could be seen as styling, but it is also so much more than styling. It is dancing! It is styling that involves spontaneity within a four-way connection. It is your connection to the music, your partner’s connection to the music, your connection to your partner and your connection to yourself.
To play in a dance you need to be able to dance with more than your feet and the steps and patterns which you have been taught. You need to dance with your entire body! Play can involve popping or rolling, flicking, combing, twisting and even hopping and so much more!
Play can make a dance, and a lack thereof can break it…
Do you play when you dance?
If you’re keen to learn a little more about how to play within a dance, pull in at our BODY MOVEMENT WORKSHOP on SATURDAY 24th November at 3pm at Barbosa Social Café! Contact us to book your place!
Salsa, like anything in life is learnt by practice. Therefore, the quickest way to learn how to dance salsa is by immersion. Immerse yourself in the dance. Find a place to dance as many nights of the week as possible. Contact us if you are unsure of where you can go in Cape Town.
We have lately taken a beginner to an advanced level within 6 weeks merely because she danced 5 nights a week! The more hours you put in, the quicker your ability and confidence will grow.
When you are out dancing, dance with everyone! Be certain to dance with those who are better than you as well as with those who are at your level. Dancing with someone at your own level is great, you learn and play and practice together. Dancing with someone who is above your level is like a free 4 minute private lesson. Every move is a lesson learnt- cherish it! Every track is an opportunity- don’t waste the music!
Another means of immersion is to listen to salsa music- all the time. Salsa music is very complex and many hear it simply as a whole lot of noise in the beginning of their salsa journey. The more you listen to Salsa music the more your ear and then your body will be able to understand it and respond to it. So, fill up your Ipod with some amazing salsa tunes and play it all day.
Here’s to hours and hours of fun!
Simply put… Stubbornness.
The best dancers are incredibly stubborn! When they know they can’t do something, they do it. Usually over and over again so that what they cannot do becomes what they can do. Often it irritates them so much that cannot do something that they determine to get that something right usually before the next time they are going to dance.
Seldom do they get it right in a studio. Most often it is in the kitchen or in front of the tiny bedroom mirror, in the shower or randomly in the street. Or, and this is a common one, in the grocery queue. This is because the best dancers dance absolutely everywhere while life happens around them. They do not let it go! It’s stubbornness!
Every opportunity to dance is taken. It is not given up for the comfort of home or for an enticing fad. Whenever they can dance, they do. With whomever they can dance, they do. If they happen to hear the right music, they dance. If there is a dance party, they go and they dance. If there isn’t a dance party they throw one, and they dance.
Dance stubbornness perseveres. It doesn’t leave you be. It doesn’t stay for only a short time. Good dancers do not dance for a few months only, they stick to it for years. And their stubbornness sticks with them.
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!