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    We’re not broken, merely syncopated

    A good friend once told me that most of the people who get into salsa, do so because they are in some way, broken. Whether it’s from a failed relationship, workplace stress or simply lacking confidence; we all come to our level 1 classes searching for something. After spending many hours thinking about being broken, I suggest a revision to this concept and say that we’re not broken, but beautifully syncopated.

    For those of you who aren’t as big of a music-theory geek as I am, the definition of syncopation is as follows:
    Syncopation is a general term for a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm; a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur.

    More simply put, anything syncopated in a song doesn’t conform to the regular beats. Yknow when you hear the horns play at really odd times? that’s a syncopated rhythm.

    Let’s get back to the subject at hand as having been feeling out of my element lately. Was I broken when I started? yes. Having gone through a life-altering break up, I was at a pretty low point. Overweight and about an ounce of self-esteem, I stumbled around learning my basics and that crazy ‘back-across-together’ move. I would go to socials and dance 1 or two times before feeling frustrated and heading home.

    Something happened along the way, I think it was closer to the end of level 3, where I started meeting some pretty exceptional people who started charming their way into my crazy world. Next thing I know, I’m starting to say hi to more and more people and dancing perhaps, 10-20 times a night. It’s from these people that I realized that all of the stress from work, all of the hurt that haunted me from my past and everything that ails me; it just disappears.

    While we may see ourselves as broken shells of who we used to/want to be; Salsa sees us as syncopated. We are
    not cast-aways but simply people with rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur. What hasn’t killed us has only made us stronger dancers.

    You see, it’s because of our stresses, our pain and remorse that makes us better dancers. Our inner demons arise and cause us to move and express ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t be able to anywhere else. I see people who you’d never suspect be great dancers start moving and just become beautiful.

    Ask anyone and they’ll tell you of one day where they could barely go on and when the music hits them; they light up and feel amazing.

    That happened to me today at Sunday Social. I had a weekend that pushed some old wounds to the surface, told me I was broken and made me believe it. Forcing myself to go to social, I saw some of my most favorite dancers, and they reminded me, through their dancing, that I am not broken; but beautifully syncopated.

    So if you’re having a rough time lately, or feel isolated or frustrated that your life hasn’t turned out like you had planned… Join me on the dance floor for some serious group therapy. This is the salsa addiction centre, after all.

    The dance floor is my rehab, break-backs are my 12-steps and coca-cola’s are my breakthroughs.

    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros

    Readers’ Suggestion: What Makes Someone a Good Bachatera/o?

    It’s funny how many ways a question can be answered.
    Recently, a friend of mine asked me, ‘what makes someone a good bachata dancer?’
    While I’m not an expert, I have spent much time trying to improve my bachata skills and here are a few things that I’ve noticed along the way…

    I never truly understood bachata until I went to the Dominican and saw how it was properly done. I was amazed to see that it wasn’t about turn patterns but rather how the bodies speak to one another through subtle movements on the dance floor. When Shakira sang about ‘hips don’t lie’, she was definitely speaking about bachata, as all of the dancers were very close and their bodies were telling stories on the dance floor.

    The best bachata dancers always seem to have a cascading effect to their movements. From a subtle shoulder roll leads the dancer’s body’s to arc one way and then crescendo into a full around-the-world movement. To me, it’s not about doing a one cool move into another; but rather how you move when you do a cool move into another.

    Which leads me to something similar yet slightly different…
    Call and Respond
    Another trait that I love about good bachatera’s is how they respond to the movements that I’m making. If I go from a side basic into a ‘on-the-spot’ movement will she acknowledge that quickly, or will it take a few steps? If she catches that I want to do an ‘on-the-spot’ movement will she respond by accenting her body movement? This is all call and respond.

    A term used most-often in music, Call and Respond refers to when one instrument will play and then another will play in a way that it’s almost talking back to the first instrument. In Hip Hop, you’ll see M.C.’s often ask a question and the audiences will respond with an answer, which in turn the M.C. will either repeat his question louder or perhaps add a new question making the Call and Respond more of a game.

    In Bachata, great dancers feed off one another in their movement. Sometimes they are so good you swear that they have choreographed this at home, but great partners watch each other for subtle movements from the shoulders, hips and body; and move accordingly. It makes your dance sexy and shows your partner that you’re paying attention.

    Dominican dancers love to get close, but that doesn’t mean that the same thing goes here in Canada. While many people do get close, we are for the most part, an intrinsic people and getting close means that you trust your partner to show you a certain level of courtesy. I’ve heard many tales from lady dancers who complain about guys who politely ask them to dance only to press up against them in an ungentlemanly way!

    Those who know me well, know that I only have a small group of people whom I feel comfortable dancing such a close and sensual dance with. I can also name off about a dozen other dancers who feel the same way. The best dancers are the ones who will keep their space with their partners until it feels more natural to get close.

    Being Playful
    With the respect issue out of the way, I love watching the dancers who are flirty/playful with one another. In her classes, Sara, is always saying how you can flirt your dance up a little with the smallest of things. From spotting your partner just a little bit longer before you turn, or even Sharon’s motto of ‘there’s never a bad time for a hip roll’; one can really make it great with small, subtle-movements. Personally, I like to exaggerate my arm movements, as if I was underwater. It sounds weird, but makes all of my combs look like romantic gestures instead of ‘insert-arm-over-partners-shoulder’.

    One of my favourite dance partners says that her favourite bachatero’s play with timing. One thing that Emely really made apparent is that the basic is just that, a base for all of the fun movement. There have been a few classes where we would spend swaying in different rhythms and times to demonstrate how beautiful it can be when two people are just moving to how their bodies feel they should move to the music. I remember looking in the mirror in one of those classes only to marvel at how together, the class looked like a swaying bamboo forest.

    Have fun with timing. Take the full 8 counts to do a hip roll, accent the guitars by popping back and forth a few times…take a chance.

    This is to me, the most important factor in what makes someone a good dancer… no matter the style of music, it’s how the dancer reacts to the music that matters. Think of the last song (or movie, or book or photo) that made you want to cry. Someone about it just effects you and you react to how you truly felt when experiencing it. You should always dance this way.

    Dance is expression and the best dancers truly listen to how the music makes them feel. I see so many people out on the dance floor whipping through moves that don’t match the music that it makes me want to cry. This isn’t ‘Step it Up’ and we’re not out there to ‘serve’ our partners… we’re out there to express how the music makes us feel and hope that in turn, it lets our partners know how the song moves us.

    My favourite dancers speak to me on the dance floor, and if you truly listen, you’ll speak back. Bachata is a beautiful conversation that’s sensual, romantic and best of all, a conversation that only you and your partner will truly understand.

    Tracie’s Top 10 Survival Tips for Followers:

    For today’s topic I had to go all out and call in an expert as the subject is one of the most difficult for followers to grasp: How to survive following new moves. So without further delays, the salsa addiction centre 
    proudly presents :

    Tracie’s Top 10 Survival Tips for Followers:

    (instructor’s note: all of these tips are based on general rules of thumb in any kind of partner dancing.  We all know that rules are meant to be broken!)

    (1) React, but don’t overreact. 
    Internalize these lead/follow technique rules: your lead brings your arm up into turning position, it’s probably a turn.  So engage your core and have your turning arm engaged, but don’t assume which direction the turn is taking or how many turns he’s going to lead. If he opens up 90 degrees off your left side (i.e., opens the slot) it’s probably a cross body lead.  So do your half basic and be ready to travel, but don’t assume that he’s going to lead you into a turn, or even straight across (because he could also check you) – don’t go through the slot until he tells you to.  

    (2) Pay attention to the dance conversation. 
    Remember that all partner dancing is a conversation. What is his body rhythm telling you?  Definitely do not watch his feet – pay attention to his entire dance frame.  His body tells you where to go next – does he get out of the way (for a travelling pattern) or is he staying on the spot (for an on the spot pattern)?  His arms will communicate what to do next (turn or check) but his body rhythm will always give you hints as to what type of move is coming next (on the spot or travelling).

    (3) Keep your frame 
    If his body rhythm is going to communicate with yours, you have to make yourself receptive to the dance conversation.  If you are tense in the chest or the hips (or in the knees or your arms) you are blocking his ability to communicate with you.  In order to provide something for him to communicate with, you must provide a solid follow body – this requires you to have an engaged core (from your sternum to your bellybutton), but remain soft in the shoulders and hips and “elastic” in the arms and legs (don’t lock your knees or elbows).

    (4) Remember that Tension does not equal strength, and softness does not equal “floppiness”
    You’re not in a wrestling match!  The more complicated a move is, the more signals he needs to communicate, which means you need to provide adequate tension in your follow to be more elastic (i.e., to absorb the force of his lead and use it to help you move), but not strong.  The tougher his lead, the softer you need to be (tension without strength, softness without being a limp noodle).

    (5) Be a little bit stubborn (but not desperate!).
    Maintain connection as much as possible.  Don’t take your hand away unless he tosses it away.  Don’t disconnect from his hand on your back unless he pushes you hard enough to disconnect.  On that same token, don’t “give” him a hand that he doesn’t ask for (i.e., don’t assume a hand change) and only reconnect when he initiates the reconnect.

    (6) Be square with your partner at every opportunity. 
    General rule of thumb in turning is that once you start a turn you must complete it (with proper weight changes and timing) until the turn is completed. If he leads you into 1.5 turns (in any direction) and does not check you, you must continue turning until you face him (complete 2 full turns). Once he leads you into your break step on your right (i.e., your basic step  and your frame is square with his) then you know for sure that turn pattern is over.

    (7) Try to stop thinking of what you “should” be doing – just do whatever your leader tells you to do, even if it feels a bit odd and unfamiliar.
    Sometimes leaders feel like experimenting – they’re trying something new with different hand holds or they were watching a youtube video (or another dancer) and are trying a new move for a first time. Mistakes will happen in the way he leads you because he’s still learning how to lead the new move properly.  All you can do is follow the lead as per your rules of thumb – if you don’t do what he expects you to do he’ll realize quickly it’s his lead and not your follow.

    (8) When in doubt, rely on your foundation technique of body rhythm and weight changes.
    In other words, don’t stop moving!  Always do your 1-2-3, 5-6-7 steps with full weight changes.  It is always better to move through a pattern then to stop dead in your tracks when faced with something unfamiliar.  When in doubt, do your basic!  

    (9) Styling is gravy, but your dance is the meat.  Sometimes meat is ok by itself!
    For higher level dancers the desire to add as much styling as possible is pretty strong – especially if you go out dancing a lot and know pretty much all the music that the DJ plays.  You can’t help but hit those awesome trumpet lines with some wicked arm styling or those marimba hits with some fancy footwork, but sometimes styling compromises your follow body and causes you to disengage your core.  Be aware if you’re falling off balance because of the arm styling or if your styling is making him nervous and he’s not able to lead you properly.  Reign it in and enjoy the dance for what it is!

    (10) BREATHE and relax.  It’s only dancing!  
    If all else fails (but it shouldn’t) a good basic rule of thumb is just to RELAX.  Breathe, and expect the unexpected.  keep your core engaged and focus on your body rhythm and turning arm(s).

    And the most important survival tip for followers is to go out and PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.  The more people you dance with the more you will learn how to read different types of leads.

    Good luck and have fun!

    >> So there you have it, amazing tips from a Salsera Pro! Have any comments, ideas and tips of your own? Please comment!

    Till then,
    Stay Shining Salseros!