November « 2009 « Salsa Addiction Centre
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    Practice Makes Perfect

    I always feel so good when I finish a level and while 9 weeks can just fly by, you learn so much that it would be a crime to lose that knowledge over the weeks from one level to the next. Here are a few practice tips that I use so that when I show up to the first class of my next level that I haven’t completely rusty.

    Practice Tips:
    Get a Wingman/lady : I was very fortunate to meet my good friend Mike in level 1. The great thing about having a salsa wingman is that you motivate each other to go out dancing, make sure you go to every class and you can bounce ideas off each other. Some of my best salsa memories were hitting up Alleycats or 6 Degrees after Mike had somehow convinced me that I wasn’t too tired for dancing on a weeknight.

    Get a Practice Partner : I find that having a practice partner speeds up your learning by a million. By going over your moves together, you quickly improve your leading/following skills, you can break down the moves/combos and will always have someone to learn the outing turn patterns with. You don’t much space to practice and there’s always a salsa night going on every night of the week.

    Get out there : Someone once said to me that shooting baskets through a hoop isn’t basketball and if you really want to be a good dancer, you need to do it with others. Not only will you become a greater dancer, you will also see how people from other schools dance, style and interact. If you’re a leader, you need to get out as much as possible to perfect the skill. The best part of getting out there is that you will meet a million new people who all want to dance with you!

    Salsa in the city : There are a ton of places that have practice socials (TDS has a great one Sunday evenings), but there are a ton of salsa practices throughout the week where it’s a no-pressure learning environment.

    Write it down : One thing that helped me was to write down the moves I learned in class. Once I got home I’d boot up word or grab a piece of paper and write something like this:

    Ladies Right Turn:
    1-2-3: Prep the Right Turn using a J-stroke (left arm makes a J type movement and ends up in a high-five position), do normal salsa basic steps.
    4-5-6: Apply a little pressure and give the girl a right turn by drawing a little halo over her head, complete the basic by stepping back on 5.
    Writing everything down will help you remember the moves as well as serve as a cool database when you’re working on putting combos together.

    Mirror, Mirror : Practicing at home should be a standard for all dancers. What I did was instead of doing 20-60 mins of cardio on the treadmill, I replaced that with salsa practice and then hit the weight room.

    The best way I found practicing at home was to replicate the warm-ups that you do at the beginning of every class, starting with your basics and working in all of your shines. I find the best way to improve your movement is to practice in front of a mirror and watch yourself dance. Seeing yourself in a mirror while you practice will give you a sense of how you’re moving and where to improve. You will improve your spotting, shoulder, hip and arm movements and topping it off by smiling while you dance.

    Ask questions : While you’re practicing you’re going to go from knowing the moves to understanding why we do the moves. Cross Bodies aren’t there just to look pretty, they serve both transitional and protective purposes. The point here is that as you practice things are going to come up in which you may need the advise of the experienced dancer.

    Who ya gonna call? Start with your instructors and helpers in class. They are there to answer your questions and will do their best to get you up to speed. Another option are the forums on this site. These forums are filled with a massive library of questions and advise that have amassed over the years. Yet another option is to ask your questions on this blog and I will do my best to answer (even if that means I go to the top and get Sharon and Evan’s advise). The more you ask, the better your understanding so fire away!

    Youtube & Online resources : Need music, new moves or ideas? Check out youtube by typing ‘salsa’ into the search bar and you’ll get a million videos. Some will be great, some not so great. I find that I catch the SYTYCD and DWTS routines on Youtube as I have little time to catch tv shows.

    These are just a few ideas to start with but if you have any practice tips, feel free to comment them!

    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros!

    The Weeping Salsa

    Musically-speaking, salsa is bold, sexy and romantic but if you don’t understand Spanish, it’s very easy to miss that lyrically, the songs are written about heartbreak, pain and suffering. The Weeping Salsa, a play currently playing at the Zocalo Theatre (Queen & Dovercourt), exudes heartbreak, pain and suffering through a masterful combination of drama and dance. While at times I found the themes were on the dark and disturbing side, the acting, dancing and production were phenomenal, making the Weeping Salsa a great event for the salsa lover.

    Great dance is founded in smooth transitions and the Weeping Salsa has some of the most impressive transitions that I’ve seen. From the way the story effortlessly flashes back and forwards through time, uses minimal props for maximum effectiveness and intertwines drama and dance (without that surreal ‘musical’ vibe); this show is quite powerful.

    The dancing was fantastic, featuring one of the sexiest cha-cha routines as well as some of the darkest salsa. Choreographed by my level 4 teacher, Carol Cuizon and Angus Dirnbeck; the dancing was top-drawer and was a big part of transitioning the time shifts, violence and romance. I thought it was pretty amazing as when I watched the actors dance, I could see Carol and Angus’ styles reflected in them.

    I highly recommend the Weeping Salsa but must warn that the show has some very dark themes that could disturb some people. It’s currently playing till November 29th and if you see the show, feel free to post your thoughts.

    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros!

    A little dose of salsa…

    Need a quick fix of salsa songs? The Salsa addiction centre will be posting a few tracks each week to keep your playlists fresh and spicy!

    Here are a few songs that I’ve heard in class, at clubs and outings…

    Speaking of Salsa music, have you checked out Dj Duck’s Salsa mixes? Each month he posts great tracks from current hits to Salsa classics!

    Hope you like these as much as we do!
    Till next time,
    Stay Shining, Salseros!

    Get the lead out – A few survival tips to becoming a better leader

    It was roughly one year ago where I went out to a salsa club, dug up the courage to ask a girl to dance and try out some of my new salsa moves. It was roughly 30 seconds later that she politely ended the dance and I decided that I had enough of dancing for the night. It was somewhere in between a few misdirected turns and prematurely losing a dance partners’ interest that I made a pact with myself to become a solid salsa leader, at any cost necessary.

    Here are some of the things that I’ve done to improve my lead over the past 12 months:

    Learning to dance on time.
    Dancing on time is paramount and I recommend practicing as much as possible to stay on time. Need help with timing? Check out my previous post on timing.

    Learning to read your partner.
    Solid leading isn’t about doing a million turn-patterns, it’s about observing your partners’ body language and adjusting your moves/style to better match hers. Starting with the basics and throwing in a few turns will give you a good sense if you should amp up the moves or keep it simple. Learn to read your partners well and your dance card will always be full.

    Guide, not force your partner.
    This is easier said than done and the number one cause of frustration for beginners. Simply put, a leader guides their partner by using confident signals (J-stroke for a right turn, hand flags for in-and-outs, etc) and not by forcing them with Wookie-like strength. If you feel that you must make your partner do a move by adding more force then fall back to moves that they do feel comfortable with. It’s not ‘he who has the most moves wins, its he who has the most dances’.

    As for developing the proper amount of resistance, the best way to learn is to dance with as many partners as much as possible. Whether it’s at the Sunday Social or a friend from class, ask them to let you know if you need to apply more or less ‘juice’ in your leads. While it may hurt at first, after a while you’ll instinctively develop the right pressure for everyone you dance with.

    After I made my pact to become a better leader I practiced the basics and all of the moves I was learning every chance I could get. This meant everything from one-hour drill sessions in my living room to getting out to the outings and clubs as much as possible.

    Observe other leaders.
    When you’re not dancing, use the opportunity to see more experienced Salseros on the dance floor. See how they style, move and communicate with their partners as they dance. It may seem weird at first but trust me, you’ll pick up little things here and there and will be a true leader in no time.

    Fake it till you make it.
    I’m a huge believer in this one. Be confident even if you are not even close. Take comfort in the fact that you’re just beginning and that you’ve got a lot to learn. It’s the learning that’s the fun part and every step you take out there is one step closer to leading mastery!

    Have some tips of your own, I would love to hear from you!

    Keep Shining, Salseros!

    I’m too sexy for my (Empress) walk

    Elton & Velina’s ‘Sexy Bachata Workshop’ was so sexy that it drew a massive crowd of passers-by getting a glimpse of the sensual and romantic dance of the Dominican. With a few blushes at the beginning E&V managed to teach proper form, new basic, turns and a pretty complex combo within 90 mins! Having personally experienced the class I highly recommend that if you want to put some spice in your bachata step, I would email TDS and see when the next one will be scheduled!

    Great job Elton & Velina!

    Dancing on time: How I learned to stop worrying and love the one

    While being relatively new to the Toronto Dance Helping scene, one thing I keep getting asked about is timing. This makes total sense as being on beat is essential to all dance styles and couldn’t be more true for the highly syncopated rhythms of salsa. Trust me, learn to be on time and your dance card will fill up faster than the off-time person who knows a million moves.

    If you count out a standard salsa phrase you’ll find that it’s based on 8 beats and it’s all started by the elusive 1 beat. While you think that since it’s the first beat that it would be quite apparent but for those who are just diving into salsa music it can be quite elusive. The good news is that you can train your ears (and hearts) to feel the beat, the bad news is that you have to work at it a little. I’ve come up with a few suggestions to help you improve your timing and if any of you have your own techniques, I’d love to add them to the list!

    Timing tips:
    -Can’t find the 1? Put on a salsa song, close your eyes and take a few deep breathes. Start listening to the song and you’ll notice that out of all the repeating 8 beats that the 1 will be the loudest. Start clapping out the 8 beats for the entire song and when you sound like you’re in sync with the band, pick another song and try it again.

    -Still not hearing it? An easy way to tell where the 1 lies is by listening for the lead singer as they usually start singing the verse and choruses on the 1 beat.

    -This one I call the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ Technique as I put a bunch of songs on the ol’ ipod and step in beat with the music ala John Travolta. Try to step with the beats, if you can’t quite get them, try to line up your steps to the instruments playing, such as the cowbell or clave hits. It sounds silly but when you’re in sync you’ll actually feel like the music is walking you down the street.

    -Have you read the blog about the ‘Salsa beat machine?’ Basically this cool web app allows you to control salsa from the internet and the best part? One of the instruments featured is a voice who calls out the 1 and 5 beats. What I do is play the song with the voice calling out the beats and practice my basic (don’t worry, you can speed up and slow down the music if you’re not ready for the 120 bpms). Once I’m confident with stepping to the voice, I turn it off and start counting the beats out loud while I step. After a few sessions with this I no longer had to wait for my instructor to call out the beats at the beginning of class.

    -Count out loud. Trust me, I still count out loud and anyone who dances with me knows that if we’re in a classroom, I count. It may sound silly but you’d be amazed at how in sync you’ll be with your partner when you’re both counting together. Another good thing about counting out loud is that if the music is too fast, you can count slower while you work on your new move and your partner will be in sync to you. Protip: While counting out loud in class is great, please refrain from doing it out at the clubs.

    -Practice your basic to music that you love that isn’t salsa. Whether you love Lady Gaga, Nirvana or Wu-Tang, by dancing to music that you already are familiar with you will learn how to line up your foot movements to the beat. When I was learning timing, I would throw on some of Prince and Michael Jackson’s more upbeat songs and basic my brains out. Try switching up songs so first it’s Billie Jean then it’s Ran Juliana followed by Rock My World.

    -If your problem seems to be more physical and that you can’t step quickly enough, try smaller steps. If you have to, practice your basics in tight spaces that limit you from taking anything but small steps.

    -Listen. Seems simple but a lot of people who salsa don’t listen to salsa music when they’re away from class. Trust me, all of the good salseros have massive playlists at home and listen to salsa 24-7. By becoming familiar with the music you will start hearing not only the 1, but all of the instruments, what beats they come in, what beat the singer sings, you’ll hear the ‘call & respond’ of the horns and singers and even know the words to Me Libere even though you don’t speak Spanish.

    -Watch other dancers. When you’re out in the clubs take a break for a few songs and watch the people out on the floor. Now while normally everyone watches what their torsos and hands are doing I want you to look down and check out their feet. See how they step to the beat and see how some step ahead of the beat, some on and some behind the beat. Some of my biggest timing related breakthroughs were spent looking at dancers’ feet on the floor (Just don’t try to give off a creepy vibe as you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable).

    Trust me, timing isn’t learned overnight but it is something that you can learn with practice. We all start out and have to overcome this issue as timing is something that will be with you forever. Try out some of these techniques and if you have any questions or tips of your own, let me know!

    Till next time, keep shining salseros