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Improving your salsa timing

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Joined: 22 Aug 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 23, 2008 9:57 pm    Post subject: Improving your salsa timing Reply with quote

While surfing the net I came across some good writings on common errors beginner salsa dancers make and how to improve your salsa timing. I am adding some excerpts from that which I found very helpful:

3 ways of being 'out of time' and other common errors…

Learning often requires the knowledge of where typical mistakes are made. Here we describe the three most common ways of being 'out of time', in decreasing order of 'seriousness':

Dancing completely out of phase with the music. This happens when the dancer is totally disconnected with the music. He or she can not hear the beat, can not find the 1 or the 2, and constantly guesses the rhythm. Coordination with the partner becomes impossible. This is what we call 'not dancing', movements and music have nothing in common.

If you fall into this class, it is probably wise for you to go back one step. Concentrate on the music without dancing, until the basic understanding of the rhythm is clear.

Dancing too fast - faster than the music. catching up all the time. The dancer has a vague perception of the music, but fails to recognize the proper timing. The richness of the salsa percussion confuses the dancer who is not able to 'abstract' the underlying beat. Many percussion instruments playing at the same time create the general impression of 'speed'. He or she dances too fast. occasionally he/she realizes it and catches up with the closest beat.

Learn how to count. Don't be ashamed to count when you dance, you are at the stage at which you probably need to. Soon the counting will become automatic and you will not need to think about it anymore. Going through this stage, although frustrating, will considerably shorten your learning process. You may feel this slows down your learning unnecessarily, but if you fix this problem now your progress will be so much faster afterwards. You will more than compensate for this time investment.

Dancing at the proper speed, but just ahead of time. This is the most common mistake and affects also non-beginner dancers. Occasionally, you can find this in advanced dancers as well. It is the least serious and most subtle mistake. Because of this, it is the hardest to recognize and to correct.

The dancer recognizes the music and fundamentally dances at the correct speed. However his or her steps are just a fraction ahead of time. That is, he or she steps just a bit too early. How much too early? Our experience in studying salsa videos frame by frame has taught us that being ahead of time of as little as 1/10th of a second is enough to be noticeable. Our body is very sensitive to timing.

How does it feel? Probably perfectly normal to you. But to your partner it gives a sense of rush to the dance; it gives the feel that he or she is not given the time to execute figures properly. The dance does not feel relaxed. Somehow your partner feels you he/she can not enjoy each beat of the dance and each figure to its full extent.

This is a hard mistake to fix, because the dancer fundamentally understands the music. You need to relax. You need to take your time. You need to try to force yourself to dance as slow as the music allows you too. You need to force yourself to move after you hear the beat, rather than anticipate it. Try to dance in response to the beat, rather than 'on it'. If you are afraid you may end up dancing too slow or late, you should not worry. dancing too slow happens very rarely, it is by far the exception to the rule.

Switching between dancing 'On 1' and 'On 2', or between 'On 1' and 'On 2'. A very bad habit which may result from dancing out of time, especially if you dance too fast, is to try to catch up with the music by jumping on the closer beat without paying proper attention to the music. Switching between dancing 'On 1' and 'On 2' or, even worse, between dancing 'On 1' and 'On 2' is a typical consequence.

Another common mistake: confusing power with speed. Beginner dancers at time confuse the tempo of a song that is its speed, with the energy of the song. In salsa, powerful music not always means fast tempo.

How to improve your timing...

1) Listen to salsa all the time. There are two reasons why pop music comes so naturally to you. First its beat is easier. Second, you grew up with it; you spent thousands of hours listening to it. And there is one reason salsa is so natural to Caribbean people, they grew up with it and they spent thousands of hours listening to it. You need to catch up. Listen to salsa whenever and wherever you can: in your shower, in your car, when you do your housework. Day by day, you need to let it sediment on your brain. Initially you will not notice the difference, but one day it will suddenly 'click'.

2) Dance to slow music. All beginner dancers find it easier to be on time with fast music. The reason is simple, at fast speed mistakes are less noticeable. Pauses are shorter; not emphasizing them can be easily 'covered up'. Since beginner dancers tend to dance faster than the music, they find it easier to tune into fast music. To improve your timing you need to do the opposite. Practice to slow music. Very slow music if possible. Try to dance salsa to Cha Cha Cha. You will have to control your movements to be able to discriminate the subtleties of the accents. Learn to enjoy taking your time on the beats. Only when you are fully comfortable with this, then proceed to fast music. This is the rule music students have to follow when they learn to play an instrument, there is no reason it should be any different in dancing.

3) Count the beats. Don't be ashamed to count when you practice or dance. Everyone has to learn from the beginning by doing this. This is essential for you to learn to discriminate the fundamental salsa beat from the rest of the percussion. Count even when you listen to music and you are not dancing.

4) Play or vocalize the percussions. This is the next step after counting is under control. Try to dance while you play some percussion music, the clave being the best choice. Try to vocalize, that is to sing, the conga or the clave or the piano when you practice your basic steps or when you are listening to salsa. This will teach you how to isolate the instrument and how to 'find' it within the full salsa band. Then you will be able to listen to it and dance to it in a club.

5) Never, never, never practice any salsa figure out of time! At times you may find yourself practicing a figure that you have just learned and you may feel temped to execute your movement without marking the salsa beats; maybe because you just want to make sure you remember the figure. Train yourself to NEVER execute a dance movement out of time, whether at home, at a salsa class or in a club. If you need to try a figure slowly, do it at half speed. If you do not have music with you, count the beat. Train your brain to always associate dance with music, movements with rhythm.

6) Dance with people with good timing. This may sound a bit cruel to beginner dancers, but nothing helps your timing as much as dancing with advanced, confident dancers; and nothing damages it as much as dancing with other dancers with poor timing. Mistakes just get reinforced and harder to erase. Be nice to good dancers and try to practice a lot with them. When you become good, remember this, and be nice to beginner dancers by offering them a few dances.

7) Exercise. And don't even hope you will learn salsa without exercising- it just won't happen. Whether you want to learn nuclear physics, playing a piano or dancing salsa, exercise and practice is essential!

8 ) And the very final suggestion. What ever salsa figure or shine you execute don't forget to dance!!

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nina bambina

Joined: 19 Apr 2007
Posts: 46
Location: Downtown Toronto, ON

PostPosted: Tue May 06, 2008 8:11 pm    Post subject: Salsa Timing Reply with quote

Wow, great article...thanks for posting this analytix! Timing is definitely THE biggest challenge for beginner salsa dancers and there are some really good tips there to help us fix those common errors. I remember it took me MONTHS of listening and practicing to salsa music before I finally understood the timing of the music. I don't have a musical ear and did not grow up listening to salsa music so this was a big hurdle for me. This article has now got me to re-examine my I anticipating the music or dancing in response to the music? Thats a tricky one to fix!
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Joined: 10 Feb 2008
Posts: 207
Location: Toronto

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 7:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree, this is very valuable information. Often, we get consumed with the desire to learn as many new moves as possible and we forget to put emphasis on fundamental dancing factors such as timing and rhythm. At the end of the day, quality of dance moves takes precedent over their quantity.
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