Only have a few moves and want to look a little more advanced? Why not try to work on your dance swagger. What’s swagger? Well, as the Urban Dictionary puts it:
“How one presents him or her self to the world. Swagger is shown from how the person handles a situation. It can also be shown in the person’s walk.”
In salsa, a person’s swagger is a mixture of how they move, their personality and how they make their partners feel. While this may sound silly to you, it’s something that resonates on the dance floor. You’ve seen those people out there…the sexy ones, the ones that always have their partners laughing, the romantic ones, the crazy dippers, the ‘getting-all-my-cardio-for-the-week’ ones, the dark and mysterious ones…
Now here’s the best part: you can have any dance floor swagger that you want.
While some people develope it naturally as they progress, you can learn how to fake it till you make it. The best way to start is to watch dancers who personify the type of personlity that you’d like to incorporate. Watch how they move, their style and think about what you can do to interpret it.
In Tango and Bachata, we talk about the dance term, ‘Intention’. By moving your frame and a certain level of condfidence your lead will be easier to interpret. I’m always saying in class that in order to develope intention, I dance as if I were Batman. He’s confident, strong and has a bold movement style. In reality, I’m Tony, a somewhat soft-spoken guy with a fondness for hats, but on the dance floor, I am a armour plated superhero who’s ready to save damsels in destress from bad dances! By being ‘Batman’, I feel less shy about doing sexy moves or pulling off a dip in true superhero-fashion.
You don’t have to be Batman, you can be James Bond, or Madonna, or Lady Gaga, or Jim Carey, or Don Juan… anyone you want and whenever you want. My buddy will be leading the more romantic bachata one-minute to having the funniest cha-cha the next.
I remember learning how to make my combs more ‘romantic’ by watching a few different ‘romantically swaggerific’ dancers do theirs. I even asked one of them for advice on how they interpret their combs. Then I went on to watch youtube videos of other dancers and have created a comb that I feel that matches my personality.
You may be thinking, ‘How do you make a comb look romantic?’. Being a swimmer, I started to pretend that I’m doing a comb underwater, so that I ease out my combing speed at the end. I also turn my hands like how gentlemen used to ask ladies to dance (from classic movies). Yes, it does sound super silly, but wow, the girls love it when I treat something as simple as a hair comb with such care.
Another great way to start thinking about adding some style to your dancing is by taking a styling class. TDS offers both STUDS and DIVAS classes that focus on adding styling, attitude and fun to your dancing. Over the years I’ve spent much time taking styling classes as well as emulating my favourite dancers to create a dance swag that’s truly my own.
So get out there, watch those dancers that you admire and figure out what it is about them that you’d like to help shape your swag. Usually it’s the little things, watch how they lead turns, how they step during a cross-body and even how they spin.
Just a word of advice, try to not let your swagger get in the way of you enjoying your dancing! It’s just a tool in your arsenal to help you have a little more expression. Also beware of the dark side, as people usually don’t like people who have creepy, arrogant or mean styles of swagger.
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.