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.
Stay Shining Salseros
Now if you’re somewhat new to the Salsa scene you may be hearing about this thing called ‘the Congress’. What is it? you may ask; well, let me do my best to give you a quick overview.
The Congress in a nutshell:
A Salsa Congress is kind of like the Superbowl and the Oscars (but way more fun and sexy!). Salsero/as from around the world go to the hosting city and showcase their dancing skills through competitions, demonstrations, workshops and (my personal favorite) social dancing. Usually spanning over a weekend, Congresses are 1-stop shops for everything salsa-related.
Some Highlights of This Year’s Congress:
Opening Night Gala:
Featuring the Canadian Salsa Championships & amazing social dancing afterwards
Need new shoes? shirts? DVDs? They’re all here
Last year I saw some of the most amazing dancing performed by teams from around the world
From Lady’s Styling, Lifts and Tricks to Cha Cha and Sexy Salsa moves…you can learn from the best
Beginner Boot Camp:
Still new to salsa? take this day-long workshop to get your salsa steps up to par
Here you’ll find hundreds of dancers ranging in all skill levels for some of the most fun dance sessions that you’ll ever have!
There are a ton of price options from those who want to do it all to those who just want to dance the night away. Check out the Congress website for more options, one thing that’s for sure, is that the congress is THE event for all salsa dancers!
See you on the floor!
Stay Shining Salseros!
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.
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.
One of the most difficult things for leader is to master the whole idea of turn-patterns and combos. While it only gets more complex as you advance, it’s advised to understand how to approach your move arsenal and execute them with as few errors as possible. While one could write a whole book on the subject, here are a few tips for turn-pattern mastery.
Rock, Paper, Scissors :
One of the most potent bits of advise given to me by my teacher was to approach executing moves by understanding which handhold you’ll be in when you’re at your transition points ( the end points of your previously executed move). Once you recognize the hand-hold you can randomly choose any move from your arsenal that begins with that hand-hold. Like ‘Rock, Paper Scissors’, if you see the hand-hold will be a ‘left-to-left’ hold, you can then play any move that lands in that position.
An example would be you could either do a ‘Rainbow/Titanic’, a funky ‘In & Out’ or possibly a ‘Double Comb/Sombrero’
Here are the common holds:
Open, Closed, Left-to-Left, Right-to-Right, Right Chain Hold, Left Chain Hold
How do you get started?
Make a list of all of the moves that you know (I do this in Excel, but any text editor is fine). Make a column for each type of hand-hold, so all Right-to-Right moves will be in column A, all left-to-left moves will be in column B, etc.
With the list complete, start dancing a move and randomly pick moves from one column. When you come to a move that ends in another hand-hold, randomly pick a move from the appropriate column. Keep doing this over and over again and keep in mind all of the random patterns you can make from your list. You’ll be surprised at how many combinations you can make with even only a few moves!
Increase Your Arsenal
Here’s one thing that all good dancers do: scour the interweb for interesting new moves. While the ‘Palm Drop’ was boss in level 2, everyone does it so why not check out cool variations that will set you apart from everyone else? There are literally hundreds of sources online which give free lessons for new moves. Trust me, it’s awesome to hear a lady ‘ooh’ when you pull off a simple, yet unique move.
Outing / Club Lessons
Another great way to learn new moves is by checking out the TDS (and other) club outings. There’s always a lesson at the beginning and they always try to throw in moves that aren’t taught in your regular classes. A lot of my cool moves have come from hitting up the outing lessons and from teachers who have their own style.
Free Style…Your Style
Whether you’re a rocker, r&b or even have ballet you can throw in moves from other dance styles to mix it up. You wouldn’t believe how cool it is to see someone who throw in some pop’n'lock moves or even some rockNroll kicks in their shines. While your school teaches you certain fundamental rules, by all means throw in your personal style as a regular right turn can seem like an entirely new move when you put a different vibe on it. Don’t have any previous dance moves? Check out your favourite music videos on YouTube, I’m sure you’ll see something that you can transpose.
Make-Over Your Combos
Every time you learn a new combo from class, outings or online; revert back to your ‘Salsa Matrix’ document with the moves in different columns. Take some time to see how you can mix up your current combos by randomly throwing in new moves.
When In Doubt, Steal Moves!
Sometimes when I’m feeling like my moves are stale, I’ll head down to a salsa club and watch all different kinds of leaders to see what they’re doing right and wrong. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a move that you can use (don’t forget it in between those bottles of Coronas). Don’t rip other leaders’ styles completely, but a move here and there is quite cool.
While difficult, being a combo/turn-pattern master should be a fun and adventurous process!
Feel the Music
On a final note, one thing for sure is to realize that you don’t have to do a million moves for every song!!! I can’t stress enough that your dancing should reflect the song. There’s no need for 5 whirlwind Coca Colas in a romantic-style song. Keep your moves subtle during the soft parts and amp it up a bit during the choruses. If you need any sort of validation if you’re doing it right all you have to do is look at your dance partner. If she’s smiling, you’re doing it right!
Stay Shining Salseros!