Why You Need To Dance With Better Dancers

2 Jul
If you want to get better you've got to go "toe to toe" with the best!

If you want to get better you’ve got to go “toe to toe” with the best!

I’ve landed on my face, been punched in the ribs, kicked in the throat, I’ve even taken a shot to the “meat and two veg” (thank God for sports-cups). I’ve had my pale Irish arse handed to me on a plate numerous times and truth be told I’m grateful for every single experience.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not referring to some sick “Fight Club” version salsa where you not only have to keep on time with the music but you have to watch out for body blows from your partner and everyone else on the dance-floor. While the thought of becoming a salsa dancing version of “Tyler Durden” does fill me with intrigue, I can’t see the whole movement really taking off (nobody wants bloodstains on their favorite dancing waist-coat).

No, I’m taking about when I used to spar competitively in karate tournaments.

As a kid I was never big into team sports (I’m still not) which was “unusual” for my village in Ireland where both boys and girls were almost expected to play gaelic football, hurling and soccer (which all three of my brothers play). So in order to not feel left out in the trophy cabinet I contributed with trophies and medals I received for kicking people.

I appreciated sparring a lot; it’s a beautiful balance of speed, timing, accuracy of movement and adaptation to your partner. It’s no wonder then that a lot of salseros I know also have a background in martial-arts. The two disciplines compliment eahc other beautifully. in fact, there are very few differences between a well performed “kata” and a perfectly executed salsa combination.

Better Partners
I learned very early on in my karate career that if I really wanted to improve my sparring ability, I needed to spar with partners who were better than me. If I spent the majority of my time sparring with beginners I made very little improvement. However, if I went a few rounds with the bigger, more experienced guys in the club I made noticeable improvements in very little time.

I loved getting to spar with my coach and the older guys who knew what they were doing. As I said, I had my arse handed to me plenty of times but I knew that every time I stepped on the floor with them, being pushed to my limits, I was getting better and better.

That all came to fruition (sort of) about 3 years ago when I got my black belt and entered a regional karate tournament n southern Japan. In on of my fights I was put up against a guy who my coach “casually” mentioned just before I stepped on the floor , had won the world championship the year before.

I learned two very important things from that fight:

  1. Protective head-gear really does very little to soften a punch and…
  2. There is no better learning experience than going toe to toe with with your clear superior

“Your Salsa is Strong, Grasshopper”
This is something that salseros should take into account when they’re dancing.

When I was a salsa beginner I used to spend most of my time dancing with other beginners for 2 simple reasosns:

  • I knew the other beginners from the salsa classes and we were friends
  • The mere thought of dancing with the really advanced dancers made me break out in a cold sweat

This obviously meant that I wasn’t making much progress in the beginning!

My first salsa “break” came when I left Japan for a 10 day salsa vacation to the Philippines and Hong Kong. I improved hugely in those 10 days because I was both dancing much more regularly (thank you law of 10,000 hours) and I was dancing with seriously good dancers. It was a winning combination.

Dancing with dancers much better than yourself is one of the best ways to to up your salsa game… fast. You learn timing and rhythm, proper hand position and signaling, better body movement etc. Like I’ve always said before, the dance floor is where you really learn to dance!

Obviously a beginner girl dancing with an advanced guy is going to improve quicker than a beginner guy with an advanced girl. This is simply because the guy has more points to master and this is the main reason that women advance in salsa much faster than men.

The challenge of seeking better dancers
Going out and dancing with all the the great dancers that you see on the dance floor is much easier said than done, I know, but you don’t have to spend ALL your dances with the best in the club.

While you might not always find a partner as good as Tanja "La Alemana" you can surely find plenty of dancers better than yourself!

While you might not always find a partner as good as Tanja “La Alemana” you can surely find plenty of dancers better than yourself!

Obviously the more great dancers you dance with the better but even trying to have 3 or 4 such dances a night will go a long way to improving your game.

To do this originally, I set myself a challenge. My challenge was to find the woman that I considered to be the the best dancer in a club and ask her for a dance. I remember the first night of that challenge too.

I was in Fukuoka and my target was a beautiful salsa instructor from Colombia. I set my sights on her early in the night and it literally took me a whole night of heart palpitations, sweaty palms and aborted attempts (imagine me walking up to ask her and then suddenly doing a 180 as soon as I got close, numerous times) before I finally asked her to dance.

When we eventually did dance, it was awesome. She responded to everything I threw at her (which in all honesty wasn’t really that much) and I finished the encounter feeling like a million bucks and wondering why it had taken me so long to ask her to dance in the first place.

Get out of your Comfort Zone
I think that’s the problem! We stop ourselves from leaving our nice, safe comfort zones because we focus on all the things that could “possibly” go wrong! We scare ourselves into believing all these terrifying disasters can happen if we take little risks. That’s no way to live.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and dancing with people who are better than you is simply one of the best things you can do to get better.

You need to remember that we get better due to necessity, due to a stimulus that tells our bodies that we need to improve. Just as a guy who lifts weights heavier than he’s used to gets bigger and stronger or just like a child that is sent to school in a foreign country learns the language quickly, so to will your salsa improve when you dance with great dancers because IT NEEDS TO!

You need the stimulus of a challenge, of something more difficult than what you’re used to, to improve.

So on your next night out dancing, step out of your comfort zone and ask out a few of the best dancers you see and prepare to get a whole lot better.

Keep dancing folks.

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9 Responses to “Why You Need To Dance With Better Dancers”

  1. Chilly July 15, 2013 at 3:41 am #

    HERE, HERE!
    I also had the exact same problem when I started dancing. I couldnever get myself to approach the Advanced Dancers. I was intimidated & afraid that they would be bored out of their mind. So to force myself our of my comfort zone, I presented myself with a challenge: Dance with EVERY SINGLE girl at every Salsa Social – from the Beginner to the Advanced Salsera.
    It was daunting at first, but in 1 month my dancing had improved more than it had in the whole year I had been dancing prior to that. Then it hit home – if you ever want to grow in anything, you need to step out of your comfort zone.
    Cool Blog Post.
    P.S. Rich – Tanja is coming to Cape Town. So here is another reason to attend the Mzansi Cape Town Salsa Festival.

    • The Dancing Irishman July 16, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

      Awww come on man. Don’t tempt me with things like that, beautiful women are my weakness. Dilemas like that keep me up at night!

  2. Jay Nandu August 27, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    Reblogged this on Kizomba Musik and commented:
    So inspiring

  3. northernzoukiera August 27, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    I agree about dancing with better dancers, but it is a falsity that follows advance more quickly than leads ‘because leads have more points to master’.

    Following is a complex skill, and following at an advanced level takes just as much skill as leading at an advanced level. The only time that leads have it ‘harder’ is at the very, very beginning.

    I say this as a dance instructor and someone who dances fluently in both roles in several dances.

    • The Dancing Irishman August 27, 2015 at 11:19 am #

      Hi Laura, thanks for the comment.
      I just want to point out that I never said that following doesn’t involve skill or is less complicated than leading. Just from my own personal observation of new dancers (and from confirmation through conversations with other instructors) I tend to see women reach what would be considered an advanced level, much faster than men.

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