In my travels, I get the opportunity to talk to dancers, learners of dance, lovers of dance, from all over the world. What often strikes me is the vast similarities that salsa dancers face, no matter what level of dancer they are, where they are from, what their goals are for their passion.
Here’s a little compilation of things that dancers can pay attention to in order to increase their dance capability – what do I mean by this? Well there’s learning, and then there’s smart learning. There’s having a new skill then there’s applying a new skill effectively. There’s knowing a dance, and then there’s understanding the dance. By increasing your capability as a learner of dance, you will be able to learn better, dance more effectively, and deeply think about the emotional value you achieve from dancing!
Some of the things below may not be easy to think about or define clearly – dancing is both an extremely physical as well as mental and emotional sport – and challenging they way you think/feel about any passion in order to surpass your current physical abilities, is arduous! It’s extremely hard to implement a lot of it as well, so for each item I’ve included a little action list, to help your thought process along with the amazing journey that is learning to dance!
1. Choose your coach
Many students stick with the first dance teacher they ever had, without trying anyone else, for reasons of comfort and familiarity. Some students stick with their coach because they are encouraging and nurturing. Some don’t leave their instructors despite them not being supportive, because they feel too fearful of the unknown.
A good coach will not just nurture you, nor would a good coach encourage you to never learn from anyone else. Find a dance coach who will give you honest feedback, who would be proud of you if you ever surpassed them, rather than feel threatened. Find an instructor who not only has genuine passion but also a personal commitment to their own continuous improvement. Experience challenges – do not go to a dance school where you are the best dancer there – find a space where you can consistently be pushed to higher levels.
A good coach always pushes you hard, whilst being supportive. A great coach gives you consistent and thoughtful feedback without putting you down. A fabulous coach pushes themselves harder than they push you. An amazing coach teaches you to analyse the issues in your own dancing so you can do effective self training. Find a coach that inspires you, and that you can trust 100%. Always have a coach, no matter how good you are – you are never beyond needing a coach, even when you are beyond needing a teacher.
- Make a list of the qualities you want in a coach, and those you don’t desire
- Make a list of the feelings you want to experience when walking out of a great training session
- Have a think about whether you are experiencing the above right now
2. Establish Peer Reviews
Find a group of peers whom you can practice with. Meet regularly, whether it’s at a social event, you rent a studio, or have a picnic in a park, and not just social dance, but also give each other salient feedback over a drink after.
Discuss what you’ve learnt in class that week, provide information on other teachers, schools, events, and more. Discussion and community sharing is one of the best proven ways to improve knowledge dramatically, and this is even more true in dancing, where contact and feedback is the quickest way to improve. Talking about dancing and its techniques is certainly a fantastic way to understand the intricacies of it better, and allowing your mind to explore and embrace the ideas behind certain movements will help your body get it right too!
- Write a few dancer friends an email, and organise to have dinner before going social dancing.
- Outline the kind of feedback you want about your dancing, and explain your reasons for wanting peer review.
- Talk about the best classes you’ve experienced lately and ask them for theirs.
- Post dancing, have a coffee – and discuss the amazing night you just had!
3. Learn to learn
Learning how to look at yourself and your instructor, and get maximum benefit from understanding what to look for, is a skill in itself. I call this “learning to learn” – where you get taught about how to be an effective learner of dance, and I frequently spend time in class going over this technique of learning to learn. Everyone knows one dancer who seems to pick everything up quicker – it’s not necessarily about innate talent – often, it’s because that person understands how to learn effectively.
Book a session in with your instructor to simply teach you about HOW to watch yourself and your coach in the mirror, and quickly imitate the movements involved. This session should cover what the instructor is looking at how to match your silhouettes in the reflection, how to analyse the body’s lines as a whole, and how to effectively correct your poses with simple changes in angles. This one session will change the way you think of learning dance, and ensure that you get huge mileage out of any classes you attend from now onwards!
- Book in a lesson with your instructor and ask for a lesson in how you can learn more effectively, and how to use the mirrors to mimic body movements
- Write down the things you would like to change in your basic body frame – posture, awareness of space, loose limbs, stronger core, and implement an action plan. Once you correct several of these, your dancing will improve exponentially!
4. Watch yourself
So many people hate watching themselves on video or in the mirror – I’m one of them too! Watching yourself though, is the single most underrated thing in learning to dance. It’s also the single hardest thing to do when reviewing your improvements/issues. In the past, I have asked friends or team mates to video each other dancing, whilst out socially. I also have recommended my students video themselves doing a routine after a class, so they can firstly have a record of what they learnt, but also have immediate comparison to how it looked when the instructors demonstrated it.
Watching a video of yourself social dancing is the ultimate learning experience – if you can get an array of videos of you dancing with a variety of partners, from people you are familiar with to strangers, and in an array of levels of dance, you will achieve extremely good insight into the issues you may be facing in lead, follow, timing, footwork, spinning, floorcraft, and more. Celebrate and try to understand what makes you look amazing on the dance floor, and analyse the consistent mistakes that you make when confronted with surprises on the social floor. This will give you incredible ability to identify issues as they are happening on the dance floor, and correct them with ease.
- Get a friend who’s a non-dancer to come along dancing with you. Bribe him/her with a meal or favour! Ask them to video you dancing all night.
- Watch the videos and as you watch them, jot down anything of interest – what you liked, what you didn’t like. At the end, explore the overall feeling you had about your dancing, and decide the main things to work on.
- Every 3-4 months, rinse & repeat.
5. Find Joy
I nearly titled this “BE INSPIRED”, however rephrased it to reflect what I think is an often overlooked aspect of dance – finding joy. This can take many forms – sometimes you may spend so long working so hard on a performance or routine that you lose enthusiasm. Sometimes you may feel jaded by the dance scene, your progress, the lack of inspiration around you. You might feel bored by the music being played, or feel that you’ve lost your mojo. These are all extremely common, and you are not alone.
My tactic – is to find joy. Rather than describe it more, here’s your action plan. Follow it, and remember all the simple things that drove you to dance in the first place. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that it will re-ignite your passion for learning faster than anything else.
- Find joy in watching 2 absolute beginners getting it so wrong that they are hysterically giggling on the dance floor.
- Find joy in just swaying to the music in the corner of the dance floor by yourself.
- Find happiness in screaming and cheering on a group of performers, no matter what or who it is. Go nuts being a great audience.
- Dance with 3 beginners a night and watch their face light up.
- Do a beginners class and remember the joys of learning simple rhythms.
- Spend an entire song just clapping to the rhythm instead of trying to dance it.
- Click your fingers. Shake your bum.
- After each dance, truly thank each partner for giving you 5 mins of their time.
I hope this list has been helpful – becoming a good dancer whilst maintaining your enjoyment of it, and keeping clear goals, is not easy, and is certainly a reason that many dancers experience burnout or a dip in passion. Having simple mindsets such as the above can hugely assist in clearing your mind and allowing you to focus on the dancing itself, whilst staying an extremely effective learner!