SECRETS OF LEARNING SALSA
Salsa. The very word gets your heart racing with anticipation. You've had your first unforgettable encounter, the rhythm is coursing through your veins and your feet are itching to embark on your newfound talent. You confidently approach the dance-floor. Yet, within a few steps, you exchange grace, skill and sensuality for awkwardness, clumsiness, and frustration.
We've all been there and the aim of this article is to provide a few
handy hints to help you through the most difficult time in salsa dancing
...the transition from beginner to salsa sensation! And remember -
you CAN do this! With a little perseverance, all the fun and passion of
salsa will be yours!
Master the Basics
Probably the most common mistake that beginners make is to rush through the basics in their desire to advance to the next level. Your basics form the solid foundation upon which you execute more complex moves with good technique and styling. So start off correctly from the beginning! You'll find the learning process much smoother and less frustrating, and it is always harder to correct flaws in your technique once you've become more advanced. For those of you who have already progressed to Intermediate classes, try participating in Beginner classes. Pay particular attention to your technique now that you are confident with the moves.
Timing and Rhythm
For those of us fortunate enough to have a background in another form of dance or music, finding the first beat and dancing in time is no biggie...but for those who are a little rhythm-deaf it can be their undoing! Being able to hear the rhythm makes learning salsa SO much easier as it is something less you have to think about. For those having trouble, try listening to salsa music (or any music for that matter) and try to count out the beat. In many songs, the first beat of the bar is accentuated which helps a great deal! Being able to follow the rhythm then gives you a guide to which foot you should be on. We dance salsa to eight beats: one, two, three (tap/pause), five, six, seven (tap/pause). Guys always start on their left foot and step forward on the one, so they will be dancing left/right/left and will find themselves on their right foot on the five. Girls will be the exact opposite. They'll step back on their right on one and should end up on their left on five. Always remember on which foot you should be, on the one and the five, and you'll find the footwork much easier, especially when you get into the more complex moves!
Move those hips!
So how do those dancers that we all aspire to be sway their hips so seductively? Fortunately, you don't need a double hip replacement, just a little time and effort invested in how you place your feet and transfer your weight. Every time you ground your foot, your weight should be transferred to that leg. For example, try standing up straight and then transferring your weight to your left leg. You should naturally feel your left hip swing out to the left as your leg straightens and your right knee will bend slightly. Now try shifting your weight to the right leg. The best way to practice weight transfer is to dance merengue. Merengue is a lively dance to two beats instead of four and DJs love to slip a merengue in amongst their salsa tracks! Next time you hear one,
give it a go! Thankfully, you already know how to dance merengue -
just dance your salsa moves! Foot placement is a little more difficult
to explain but revolves around keeping your feet slightly pointed out
to the side, bearing more weight on the inner part of your foot and
using a rolling motion from toe-to-heel rather than heel-to-toe as
Leading and following
Salsa would not be salsa without definite gender roles (apologies to all the
new-age independent women out there, but alas, it is true!). The best
couples dance effortlessly together because each plays their role
accordingly! It is the guy's responsibility to lead the girl with clear, decisive
signals and to give her enough warning to execute the move in time. It is
amazingly difficult for guys to learn their steps, timing, etc. and learn to lead
simultaneously, so don't be too hard on yourselves! Learning how to lead requires time and will become more natural as everything else falls into place. However, if your partner is having difficulty following your lead, it might be time to make your lead a little stronger and more decisive. The girl, in turn, has to be receptive to the guy's lead and try not to fight him! Developing the right amount of tension in the arms and hands to be able to receive leads and then execute them takes practice. Dancing with more experienced leads helps a great deal! Probably the worst thing for a girl to do is to pre-empt the guy's lead. It not only puts you off-balance if you get it wrong, but the guy can get pretty miffed at you for taking control!
The mere word is anathema to so many of us - yet they look soooo good! This is where persistence really pays off! Before spinning with a partner, it's essential to be well balanced on your own. Posture and practice are the keys here - stomach in, stand tall, don't drop your head. Try to maintain a line of gravity through the centre of your body as you spin - any deviation from that central line will throw you off balance! Guys can help by keeping the girl's arm above her head as she's turning to maintain her centre of gravity. Spotting is really the only way to maintain your balance once you delve into the world of multiple spins, so it's good to practice spotting from day one.
When all else fails...
If, after several classes and numerous dances, your frustration is still getting the better of you, then private lessons might be the go! Nothing can compare with one-on-one private instruction from one of Club Salsa's very friendly and talented dance instructors! I was amazed with the progress I made and the knowledge I gained after just a few lessons with them!
Practice is really the only way to improve your salsa - but it is hardly a chore given the energetic atmosphere created by the music, the lighting, the beautiful people and the breathtaking moves witnessed at any salsa nightspot! The best way to practise is to form a small network of regular dance partners that frequent the same places you do. Fortunately, this is very easily done given that everyone in the Sydney salsa scene is exceptionally friendly! Don't ever be too scared to ask someone who's better than you for a dance - the experience and their feedback can be invaluable! If you're more comfortable dancing with people of a similar standard to you, meeting people through dance classes is the easy way to go.
Have FUN and DON'T GIVE UP!!
Never lose sight that salsa should be fun!! You're out there to enjoy it not to conquer it! It is also important to recognise that everyone has good days and bad days. There are times when you feel you're improving out of sight, then the next time you dance you wonder why you're going backwards after all the time and effort you've invested. It's also only natural to gauge your progress against everyone else around you and on these gloomy days, it's very easy to feel disheartened by your seeming lack of progress as opposed to other more advanced dancers. But don't despair!! Let these more experienced dancers INSPIRE you rather than intimidate you. Have faith in your ability - one day, you too will be a dancer others will look up to and admire! And with a little perseverance, salsa will potentially be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life!
We all understand the frustration you feel taking those first awkward steps, but there really is a light at the end of the tunnel...and as long as you don't give up, you, like thousands of others throughout the world, will have the opportunity to share all the fun, passion and excitement that is SALSA!