LEARNING THE LATIN RHYTHM
He arrives at the club. 9:15pm. He looks good, really good. His dance shoes glisten, even in the dim club lighting. His tight black shirt strains slightly at the seams, hinting at the powerful masculine physique underneath. He quietly surveys the room, searching for the girl who will christen the dance floor with him tonight. He sees her and makes his move! Not a word spoken - just an outstretched arm and a half smile. He leads her and she, willingly, responds. The DJ - a picture of concentration behind his console high on the stage, begins a new song and pushes the volume to the max. The dancer, taking the girl into his strong arms, begins to move. With a smile, she follows. He confidently leads her through a seemingly never-ending mix of twists, turns and contortions. The soles of his shoes literally heat up as he moves and spins - to the all powerful rhythm that pounds in his body. The rhythm of Salsa! With the beat of the clave loud in their ears, he dances...
Unfortunately for Fred, though, the rhythm that he is dancing to is not actually the rhythm of the music. His dance steps are, in fact, about 2 & ¾ beats behind the actual music. You see Fred is one of the many poor souls in the Salsa scene who is, what would be referred to as, "rhythmically challenged". Yes girls, that's him. Fred's the guy that insists on dragging you through five straight dances without a break whilst not once putting his foot on the floor at the same time as the drum beat! He has absolutely no sense of rhythm whatsoever! None, nada, zip! Making matters worse, he is probably totally unaware of it. Worse still - perhaps even unconcerned! He is the "no rhythm man".
The sad truth is that approximately one in every four amateur dancers lack a good sense of rhythm and without this ability, unfortunately, these people will never be able to consider themselves good dancers, no matter how many tricky, master level spins and contortions they put their partner through.
So, what is rhythm?
One encyclopaedia defines Rhythm as "all aspects of music concerned with its motion through time and, thus, with its time structure".
Although this is technically exact in defining what rhythm really is, I think you'll agree with me that the word rhythm conjures up less of a considered definition and more of a definite feeling. It's a feeling within the whole body and, no matter if you're a dancer or not, there is no denying that our lives are governed by rhythm in every regard. We wake and sleep with the rhythm sun, we move through our working days to the rhythm of our breathing, our hearts beat to a rhythm, and we make love to a rhythm. How then could it be so unnatural for some to lack the ability to dance to a rhythm?
I don't think I have a very good sense of rhythm when I dance? How can I improve?
The good news is that no one is born without a sense of rhythm. The reason that some seem to have a sense of rhythm and some don't is that some people choose or are encouraged to develop their sense of rhythm from a young age and others do not choose or are not encouraged - that's all. Some people, as children, spent their time playing sports while others chose to wade through their parents old record collection, listening intently to the instruments, voices and various musical rhythms. These kids put themselves immediately at a distinct advantage when it comes to rhythm and may have moved on to experimenting with body movement and dance.
Now, if you feel that you do have a problem with rhythm on the dance floor, there are several things that you can do to help improve yourself.
1. Listen to more music!
Quite often, people who attend salsa classes and clubs, do so for recreation reasons. They might attend once a week or once a fortnight and, apart from this, their only exposure to music could be the Top 40, 20 minutes in the car on the way to and from work. This is not enough! Make an effort to play more music while at home or in the car (Latin style CD's would be most helpful). Get a Discman if you walk or take public transport. Expose yourself to some music more regularly and your sense of rhythm will naturally improve.
2. Concentrate on the 'rhythm section' of music when you listen.
I think you'll agree that most people focus on one thing when they listen to music - the singer. If you don't believe me, just try to name four famous Bass Players and Drummers and I think we'll concur. The singing voice in music is the focal point because it is at a frequency which stands out more obviously to the human ear than bass or drums. People usually want to hear what the songs is about, which can also influence the attention. If you really wish to improve your sense of rhythm then try focussing on the rhythm section of the music while you listen ie; Bass/Drums and Percussive instruments like claves, etc. Focusing the minds attention here will have an immediate effect on your sense of rhythm, and your mind will automatically begin to process and 'learn' about what you are hearing and will co-operate with your body more as you continue to improve on the dance floor.
3. Practice clapping or drumming on the table in time with the rhythm of the music.
Sounds stupid? Well, if you want to see the people in a crowded club who have good rhythm, then it's easy to find them. They're usually the ones who can't sit still while the music plays. Tapping their feet, clicking their fingers and drumming on the table with their hands while they listen. If you can't find them, it means they're on the dance floor, burning it up with some sexy guy or girl!
4. Get some private lessons.
Another good way to improve is to seek the help of someone who already has improved. Private lessons can be an excellent way to help fix that rhythm problem, and will provide "one-on-one" attention so you can learn at your own pace. They're generally more expensive than group lessons but excellent value in my humble opinion.
Hopefully, if you have identified that you have a problem with rhythm, you won't simply throw in the towel and give up. Like I said, everyone has rhythm. It's simply a matter of how well developed that sense is. Some cultures instil it from a young age. Some do not. We are all fundamentally the same so why should our innate sense of rhythm be any different?
The steps I have outlined are not an instant magical cure for your current lack of rhythm, however, if you do choose to follow any or all of these suggestions, I can almost guarantee an improvement will follow very quickly.
This article doesn't just apply to guys either. Girls also have a duty to make sure they can follow the correct beat and perhaps help the guy out if he's having some trouble. Just be sensitive in pointing it out to him!
Ultimately a good sense of rhythm in the long run will lead to better, more rewarding dancing for you and all your partners, and a better looking and better moving Salsa scene for everybody!