Why “Social” dancers are killing Salsa

22 Apr

Purely social dancers have started pissing me off.

Let’s get something straight: Salsa IS a social activity. Most people who take it up do so to get out more and to meet new people. That’s one of the reasons I dance myself and I consider myself a social dancer (just not in the sense that I’m writing about here). Long story short, Salsa needs to be enjoyed. Today, however, I’m gonna talk about a very different type of “Social” dancer!

There seems to be a natural progression amongst great salseros that goes a little something like this:

  • They begin Salsa without many expectations
  • They enjoy the new activity and the new social outlet
  • They improve and their improvement leads to greater enjoyment
  • Greater enjoyment leads to greater desire to improve…

    Great dancers continue to get better over time (in an ideal world of course)

    Great dancers continue to get better over time (in an ideal world of course, so in reality this never happens)

… and so continues the Salsa cycle!

This increased enjoyment and desire to improve is what leads to the development of the incredible dancers we get to watch in awe and admiration on dance floors around the world. These people are true Salsa addicts; the simple taste of what it feels like to dance beautifully drives them to strive for more and more intense highs… to strive for perfection.

However, there is another cycle that some people get caught in. This cycle is more simple that the first and goes a little like this:

  • They begin Salsa without many expectations
  • They enjoy the new activity and the new social outlet
  • They improve a little and their improvement leads to greater enjoyment
  • They become content with their basic Salsa level and see no need to improve

    Some dancers, however, get to a basic level and stay there

    Some dancers, however, get to a basic level and stay there

I call this the “Bah!” (Basic And Happy!) Cycle.

People in the Bah! cycle have achieved a certain rudimentary level of Salsa, they’ve made new friends and learned that they can enjoy themselves “dancing” without putting in too much effort… and that’s it. They remain in a state of perpetual mediocrity (or worse, perpetual awfulness), they never learn to understand or “feel” the music or the real passion that it brings but as long as they can continue going out dancing once or twice a week, they’re happy! Salsa is nothing more than a “social activity” for them.

Two Extremes
Obviously the two diagrams above are two extremes of the same scale. In reality, there is a huge amount of variation with the progression that individuals make. In reality the top graph is probably never achieved, it’s just there to illustrate a point. People don’t keep improving indefinitely but they don’t need to. Often people achieve a decent level and possibly continue to improve at a much slower rate over time, depending on circumstances and interest. These people fall into a broad category of what constitutes “good dancers”. Importantly, they are fun to dance with. Being good has nothing to do with technicality or turn patterns… it’s just dancing the basics WELL!

Bah!-dancers, on the other hand, have stopped improving at a low level. They may just barely be able to handle the basics, enough to get through a song in a haphazard, not-s0-pretty-to-look-at manner… and not much else. They don’t understand the concept of “feeling the passion of a song” and are generally, not fun to dance with.

Bah! does not mean Beginner
Now of course, I’m not referring to recent converts to the church of Salsa, that would be unfair. Improvement takes time and Salsa beginners need time and encouragement to help improve their level.

In a period of (let’s just randomly say) 12 months both men and women (especially women) can achieve a very decent level of Salsa. However, some don’t.

We all know Bah-dancers
They’re the ones who go to Salsa congress’ to get away for the weekend and have a blast but never actually learn anything new. They’re the ones that go to regular low-level Salsa classes and aren’t really pushed if they don’t pick up the intricacies of a new turn or a lead as long as they get to chat about how “tough” the class is with every new partner they dance with. They’re the ones who often spin out of control, or can’t maintain their balance on turns or can’t keep up with the rhythm but just laugh it off and never stop to think “Why is this happening?” or “Is their something I could do to fix this?”. Often they’re completely oblivious to the issues they NEED to improve.

They can be very difficult to dance with and in some cases even dangerous. I’ve nearly had my shoulder dislocated a couple of times from trying to keep someone (with years of dance “experience”) from spinning out of control and into other couples. They dance generically and don’t react to changes in the music/rhythm of a song, their dancing lacks life and soul.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black
My own Salsa skills leave a lot to be desired; I’m still not comfortable dancing On2 timing, I still have issues maintaining eye contact with my partner, I haven’t learned a new combination in “I don’t know how long”, my attempts at shines verge on the ridiculous… the list goes on and on and on (humiliatingly so). However, I’m aware of these shortcomings and my need to improve. I sometimes ask my dance partners (those that I’m close with) what areas I can work on or what they don’t like about how I dance. That self-awareness is very important to me and to my development. Bah!-dancers, on the other hand, don’t seem to care!

Bad to worse
Since I returned to Ireland last year after almost two and a half years away, I’ve had the chance to dance with (and see dancing) many people from the Salsa scene when I lived in Dublin 3 years ago. Many have improved incredibly and I noticed it from the first moment I danced with them or saw them dancing.

However, some, amazingly after almost 3 years, haven’t improved at all. In fact, some are worse dancers than what I remember. They are Bah! Basic And Happy!

So let them be Bah!
I’m all in favor of people doing what makes them happy. At the end of the day, if something makes you happy and doesn’t negatively affect you or others, then go for it.

However, the proliferation of Bah!-dancers has far reaching repercussions, well beyond the individual Bah!-dancers themselves.

Let me give you an international example. I moved to Cali, Colombia because I had heard it was the world capital of salsa and I wanted to learn all that I could from those famous Colombian dancers. I went and I was disappointed (but only on the technical level). Cali’s “Professional” dancers are, without a doubt, amongst the best in the world but the regular dancers that you meet in the clubs are a different story. The social activity of choice in Cali is Salsa. This means that everyone attains a certain basic level of Salsa that they can use when they go out socializing with friends, family and colleagues. Theynever feel the need to improve (generally for the rest of their lives) because most people dance at the same basic level. However, at least in Cali most people “feel” the rhythm of music much better than people in non-latin countries. This is, of course, a generalization but from two years of living in Cali, I feel it applies to a lot (obviously, not all) of people there.

So basically, a city known for its fine Salsa dancers has remained in a state of stasis (on the level of social dancing skill) since the Salsa boom in the 70’s. It’s still a great place to dance though 😀

This is why Bah!-dancers are detrimental to a Salsa scene. If the number of Bah!-dancers reaches a certain critical mass, it creates a precedent for others to follow. What this means is that when people are exposed to large amounts of mediocre dancers they have no incentive to improve as everyone is already dancing at the same low level and is relatively content doing so.

And just like a Bah!-dancer gets caught in a cycle of mediocrity, so too can an entire Salsa community. This is just not good for Salsa.

**Now the important thing to note about this is that it’s much more significant for smaller or developing Salsa scenes! Bah!-dancers are probably not even an issue for large, well-established scenes like New York or London where there is an abundance of good dancers.**

This “mediocrity” is a typical “stage” in the development process of any Salsa community but mediocre dancers SHOULD eventually give rise to better dancers, which in turn, encourage others to start improving too. This kind of Positive Feedback is essential for a Salsa community to flourish and grow. The perfect example of this is New York city; it attracts the finest dancers on Earth and because of this other dancers there are not only held to a higher standard but also rise to meet and exceed it. Some of the finest social dancing I have ever seen in my life was on the dance floors of the Big Apple.

This is why we need lots of great dancers in a Salsa community and why I recommend people dance with as many good dancers as possible. Great dancers inspire us, they make us want to be better, to try harder, to go that little extra that takes us away from the safety of mediocrity and down the hard path to greatness. More of us need to taste what it’s like to dance with a cloudy dancer to fuel our desire for greater things. By no means does that mean you need to become a “great” dancer yourself… not “bad” would be a great start for many.

Unfortunately, a surplus of Bah!-dancers reduces the relevance of great dancers. They can be ignored as outliers, on the sidelines of the Salsa community, not part of the main group, unreachable. Most of us still behave like sheep and stick with the herd mentality of “do as everyone else does”. If that’s the case and you’re surrounded by Bah!-dancers, how are you going to end up dancing?

You may think you're pretty damn awesome but you're just too content to notice you're not!

You may “think” you’re pretty damn awesome but you’re just too content to notice you’re not!

I’m a monster
This article is going to make me rather unpopular.

Despite our constant desire to hear it, the truth rarely makes us happy. It’s for exactly that reason that I’ve written this; If I don’t, no one else will and nothing will change.

The only solution to the Bah! Cycle is self-awareness. Awareness of one’s own need to improve. We can’t expect others to tell someone they’re a Bah!-dancer, it could be too easily taken as offensive. But then again, people go years without noticing. It’s a tough one to call. This is where constructive criticism from friends could come in handy.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to strive to be an “amazing dancer”. I’m too much of a realist to assume that’s even possible. I do feel, however, that a lot of individuals and even entire Salsa scenes could do well by setting there standards higher; from “Basic” to “Good”!

If this article has offended you, stop for a minute and think. Why have you been offended? Have I struck a personal chord? Have you realized something about yourself? Have you become self-aware? If so, do something about it!

Keep dancing folks.


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156 Responses to “Why “Social” dancers are killing Salsa”

  1. Bah dancer April 24, 2014 at 12:38 am #

    Hello there, I am a “bah dancer” (stopped improving at a low level) with decent at best following skills who feels like her growth as a dancer has been permanently stunted. BUT I have absolutely no desire to be or remain a “bah dancer.” I want to be the very best salsera that I can be! I will admit that some obligations and things beyond my control keeps me from missing the last half of my weekly classes but if it were up to me I would be at every class, a few socials each week, workshops, and congresses improving myself. Still, I am constantly working on overcoming these issues. When I can’t make it to class, I practice at home even though it’s not the same. I take responsibility for the role that I play in my bah dancerness but lately I feel like my scene, which is full of salsa snobs, also plays a huge role in keeping me at a “bah dancer” level.

    Here’s a few things that make me question the impact of my scene on my growth:
    1. The salsa snobs who think they’re God’s gift to salsa, complain about everyone they danced with that night except for (most) other pros and semi pros, and will not dance with you unless you can match their advanced skill set, are one of their friends, or you’re a woman who possesses above average attractiveness.
    2. When one of the salsa snobs does their good deed of the day by blessing me with a dance, I end up looking like a fool by being given patterns far, far beyond my skill set. For example, my last dance was with someone who knew I was a beginner yet gave me advanced turn pattern after advanced turn pattern that I couldn’t follow. Instead of toning it down to my level or breaking away to do a shine, he walked away in the middle of the dance. Afterwards, no one else asked me to dance that night which was so disappointing considering that I was super excited because it was the first social that I could to make it to in a long while.
    3. My salsa snob dance instructor is always pushing us to improve and grow but won’t dance with the students. Instead of dancing with us, the instructor thinks that turning our guys into better leads will make us better follows. I think this is a flawed strategy that becomes even more flawed by the fact that most of our leads disappear after a few classes and the ones that have continued learning have made as little improvement as I have. Only 1 follow out of our many students has greatly improved since my nearly a year of dancing on and off but the main reason she has done so is because she is within the salsa snobs clique of friends.

    I would do anything just to reach my short term goal of being an intermediate bachatera but not if it means befriending those who I feel are the main contributors to the overall mediocrity of our scene. At this point, I am so frustrated that I’m thinking of quitting and leaving my beloved bachata behind for Argentine tango but I know that is not the solution to my problem.

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:54 am #

      Before anything else, let me say this: You are not a Bah dancer if you have a genuine desire to improve. That desire is what we all need.

      I think your comment is hugely relevant because it’s getting to the real underlying cause of the problem:
      Salsa snobs have no place in the community. Salsa is about inclusion and anyone who goes against that is contributing to the destruction of the scene.
      People should always adapt there level, that takes a bit of trial and error in a dance but I hate seeing people try to make others look ridiculous by trying overly complicated moves.
      And yes, teachers should know better and dance more regularly with their students.

      You’re on the road to being that amazing dance you want to be, just give it time.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Salsa_Samurai April 24, 2014 at 2:36 am #

    Reading these great comments it became clear to me that the anatomy of the Bah-dancer differs from country to country and dance style – it depends on the onlooker too.

    Some of you wrote that Bah-dancers – “the critical mass” – don’t drink enough and that’s why clubs are declining, but again, some of you emphasize that a big number of Bah-dancers is good, because they are the fertile ground for good dancers and venues.

    As I see, the original post is not about elitism, only a healthy concern in an issue which may be non-existent or non-critical – even beneficial – in other countries/styles.

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:42 am #

      I wish I could shake your hand for that last line alone.
      Excellent comment!

  3. Adrianko April 24, 2014 at 4:16 am #

    That’s the typical European view, which occasionally drive this world into something grotesque like the phony dance competitions, where usually Russians are world champions. Coming from a latino country, I rather the scene where people dare to dance just out of their love for music and the party, instead of having a place where people goes for training and drink only mineral water… boring.

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:40 am #

      Hey Adrianko
      This is actually a really big point that I’ll be talking about soon, the difference between the Latin-American scene and that of the rest of the world. I just think calling one or the other boring is a little unfair.
      Thanks for the comment.

  4. adam April 24, 2014 at 5:57 am #

    Very interesting article. Made me consider things and I think what you’re also talking about is a problem with the interaction of subgroups within salsa

    1. Good dancers should encourage Improvers. Hate it when I here leads complaining about a someone not being able to do a move. Dancing is about fun. Keep your level at that which makes your partner look good and have fun.

    2. Go to lessons. It helps everyone. How is a woman’s posed to understand a lead when she hasn’t felt one more than a few times. This includes women. How can you learn to lead when there is nobody there to follow exactly what you lead? ( side note good followers follow lead’s mistakes so they can see what leading does)

    3. Teachers dance with the students. Also more woman teachers not assistants. When a woman is teaching those little techniques pre-social class’s I swear the women are better and we all have more fun

    I think the problem is that beginners never see how to get passed bah. The responsibility isn’t with bah though it’s with people above to give them a chance. Favourite sorta quote is “a good dancer is one who makes their partner feel good” in a class the other day someone told me how different it feels with someone who can do it. Anyone who has had that moment where it all fits into place knows what I mean. That’s good dancing even if it just basic turns

    Basically for me if you not dancing as in two people moving together then you’ve not experienced salsa and should go to a club

    Ps yes we should all drink a bit more to support places. Maybe try and find another way to monetise things for venues, food? Also you’ve made me realise I need to do more. Watch out bahs here i come!….

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:37 am #

      Hey Adam
      I really like what you have to say here. Numbers 2 and 3 which I mention above are especially what I’m trying to get people to think about with this article… “the reasons why”.
      Oh and what you mentioned about the interaction of subgroups… looks like you’ve been reading my mind because that’s going to be a big topic on this blog very soon.
      Thanks for the comment.

  5. Nicole April 24, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    This isn’t just limited to the Salsa world! I Lindy Hop (swing dance) and I stoped dancing locally because of this issue. Nobody was working to become a better dancer and I would end up going home feeling unsatisfied with my one or two actual good dances after paying $10. When I’ve tried explaining this to others, I felt like a total snob. From now on, I will just direct them to your article. You put what I was thinking into words, thank you.

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:30 am #

      Hey Nicole
      Yeah, I figured this would translate to a lot of other dance genres and it really is a pity that people automatically label you a snob for having such opinions. I’m gonna have to give swing dance a try some time seeing as it was such a big influence on the development of salsa.
      Thanks for the comment.

  6. Artemis April 24, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    As a Salsa dancer I’m having more than a few issues with this article. I understand the author’s wish for progress and improvement of level of dancing at the social dance floor.

    However ba(s)hing those who have had a semester or two of salsa classes and still have technical problems doesn’t sound productive to me.

    Instead I’d would have liked the author to focus on the instructors and top level dancers role… “How do you motivate people to learn and go to more classes?”

    A Salsa scene without social dancers does indeed risk dying out…and that would be a really, really sad day for us all…

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:27 am #

      Hey Artemis
      Nice comment. One thing I’ll say is that I’m definitely not talking about beginners or people with little salsa experience (I try to make that clear in the article). It’s the ones who have been dancing for quite some time I’m talking about.
      As for what you mentioned about the instructors… I think you may have actually figured out what I’m trying to get people thinking about… “the why”!!!
      Thanks for the comment.

      • JUSTIN April 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

        Hey man very interesting article,this is a worldwide thing.I am from the island of Trinidad and over the years I have realised certain aspects about dancing.People tend to want to stay in the “comfort zone”,just basic stuff.Some do complain about workshops and how hard it is but not realising it is hard because they do not know something like timing.I tell you it aint easy.Forget about the negative comments,you are just trying to make ppl aware.I have had students who would join for the first time and when I give them some drills which would make the dance easier they drop out.Some ppl want to learn to dance good but are not willing to put in the work and are actually satisfied with just complaining how hard it is but they do not even know where “1” in the music.It is frustrating.I still practice and look for clips on anything that can help me improve because we are always students and people need to realise that we never stop learning.The women want to improve but if a man does not even want to learn how to “prep” a double spin it becomes frustrating to the women.To even attempt to do a lead and follow workshop is a waste of time because ppl would not attend.The male ego is the biggest problem on the dance scene,men reach a certain level and once women like them that is all they want and they cool with that.I hear you and I am glad to know that it is everywhere because I thought it was in Trinidad alone.We have good dancers here too but they are the ones who put in the work and are always looking for ways to improve.

      • The Dancing Irishman April 27, 2014 at 7:18 am #

        Hey Justin
        Thanks for the solid comment. Two things you said really hit the right note with me: “we never stop learning”, absolutely true and there are plenty of people who didn’t like the article who would throw this quote around freely. The other “The male ego is the biggest problem on the dance scene”, while I wouldn’t agree that it’s the biggest problem, I definitely have come to notice how serious an issue it is.
        Keep dancing friend and thanks for the comment.

  7. Tonya Caballero Outlaw April 24, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Thank you for a wonderful article. I agree with you 100 percent! I am a card carrying member of the Spread Salsa Love association. Okay, maybe I made that up 🙂 but wouldn’t that be an awesome organization to be a part of?
    Seriously though, all we can do is continue to share our love of the dance, teach others to dance, perform out in our communities and make learning a wonderful experience for our students.
    Fayetteville NC

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      Tonya, set up the Spread Salsa Love association and sign me up as a lifelong member 😀

      • Tonya Outlaw April 25, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

        I’ll make you VP of SSLA! ☺

  8. Espie Hernandez Dance April 24, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Reblogged this on Espie Hernandez Dance Talk.

  9. Andy April 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    I think dancing is about joy… not all of us can join the church of salsa, just as so few of us can write virtuoso-esq symphonies. I occasionally pick up my guitar in the evenings. I can do very few basic things; I am limited to a handful of chords really, that I string together. I do this for pure enjoyment. I honestly get real pleasure just out of tuning the guitar. I will never be great; I seriously lack will and motivation at the end of a long day. But, I will continue to gain great enjoyment from it.

    This is very akin to my salsa experience. When I had lots of free evenings, I went to salsa classes quite frequently, and found there in the freedom of expression, and the simple beauty of sharing rhythm with other beings, a truly wondrous time. It created in me a sense of enjoyment for life, and confidence in the world at large, that I had a number of months of heightened enjoyment that I have yet to experience since. But alas, as with the guitar, I am bound by responsibilities that make it difficult for me to find the time for these things. But my point is, I am basic and happy (when I do dance). Same with my guitar. I do want to improve, I want to reach unknown heights, but these things get pushed aside by the demands and harsh realities of life. So I am Bah! on your curve and may be so forever. When I do get to dance (or pick up my guitar), I am still striving for the other, the beyond, the connection with the greater world behind the everyday world. I am happy now as basic because that is all I can be for now. I will also be happy if/when I reach the next level.

    There are few true sources of unblemished pleasure in the world. Music and dancing are the core of these. I don’t believe this to be subjective. Some may disagree (likely not readers of this blog), and I would argue that they have lost their way. In the end, your argument seems to be that average dancers can taint dancing. I would agree inasmuch that mediocrity and lack of desire to obtain a higher lever is threatens much, but much more than dancing. It threatens the very fabric and future of humanity. But dancing for the sake of dancing, for the sake of pure enjoyment, should not be discredited or discouraged. If anything, one should reach out to someone who shows genuine interest, and try to direct them to more advanced stages of dance. Help them challenge themselves, awaken in them the same passion you have in yourself. That’s all I got. Thanks for inspiring me to write a response!

    • The Dancing Irishman May 1, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

      Hey Andy
      Thanks for this fantastic comment.
      “dancing for the sake of dancing, for the sake of pure enjoyment, should not be discredited or discouraged. If anything, one should reach out to someone who shows genuine interest, and try to direct them to more advanced stages of dance. Help them challenge themselves, awaken in them the same passion you have in yourself” You’ve got a real way with words Andy, I couldn’t agree more 😉

  10. Juan April 24, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Your article fails to recognize that all dances started as popular dances and then move on to ballroom when they go international. When this happens, you lose and win, I discovered to my surprise this also happened to Salsa. Growing up in LatinAmerica, i was shocked when I moved to the US and found the different approach to salsa there. On the bad side, it is less about rhythm and feeling the music and more about following a preset pattern of moves. On the good side it became very technical, easier to teach and a therefore, you get a lot more enthusiasts involved. In the case of Tango for example, we make the distinction from “argentine Tango” to Ballroom Tango, when the former is what started as original “uneducated” dance among immigrants in Argentina and the latter is practiced worldwide in competition. settings with judges and scores. In the process you lose connection and improvisation in exchange for maybe, flashing choreographics. What your preference is, that is another problem. Your article also is prescriptive about what “good salsa” is (definition?). Lastly, you labeling of Bah dancers segregates people that maybe ARE socials dancers, and maybe do want to get better but can’t afford the money or time for classes. (how did you followup on every dancer to see that they did not seek to improve?)

    • The Dancing Irishman April 27, 2014 at 7:32 am #

      Hey Juan
      I totally agree with what you have to say about the changes that have happened in salsa along with its popularity.
      In the article I was intentionally ambiguous about the definition of a good dancer in order to get people thinking. Unfortunately a lot of people who didn’t like what I said “assumed” I meant a good dancer was one who uses lots of crazy acrobatics and turn patterns.. I didn’t and don’t believe that at all.
      And finally, people who genuinely want to improve are, by definition, not Bah dancers. They have the desire and will eventually get better.
      Thanks for the comment.

  11. Elaine April 24, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    Other people aren’t obligated to like dance or do dance for the same reasons you do. Every micro-culture has variety, and should.

  12. Carlitos Brigante April 24, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    Nice Debate. On the other hand, it not for the “Blah” dancer, most nightclubs and TV dance shows would not be in business + Salsa would be on the endangered species list. If not for the “Blah” dancers, nobody would be drinking at the bars generating revenue for the nightclubs trying to stay open. Social dancers are nice & pretty, but nobody wants to dance forever in their bedroom or in small dance studio forever. Just my 2cents… and yes, I’m Puerto Rican so dancing is 2nd nature to me 😉

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:20 am #

      Hey Carlitos,
      When you think of it like that, I’d probably still be dancing like a crazy man in front of my mirror at home if I hadn’t found a salsa scene 😀
      Nice comment

  13. Stellan April 25, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    It’s all about the teacher, if the teacher inspires then the students become inspired, after a few years new students see the more experienced dancers and get inspired and so on. I’m very proud that I have achieved this positive cycle in Bristol. 😀

    • The Dancing Irishman April 25, 2014 at 7:46 am #

      Hey Stellan
      You’re spot on, the teacher is hugely important. We can’t lump all of the responsibility on them, obviously, but yes, they have a major role to play. It’s a pity so many people who read this article didn’t see where it was all pointing.
      Thanks for the comment.

  14. Boris April 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    After I left my comment (thank you for your enthusiastic response) I realised something.

    Perennial beginners are a feature (and pay the bills) of dancing and MUST be accomodated (In fact the ever popular Ceroc is (in think) based around that market) So i’d like to see another post on what teachers and advanced dancers can do to “push the “average” higher.” so to speak.

    One of the things that really worked for our scene was using the weekly fund buildup to largely-pay for international teachers to come over for a weekend. The enthusiasm, drive and modern approach to teaching that they displayed was fantastic and really motivated people. Myself included.

    • The Dancing Irishman April 29, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      Hey Boris
      That does indeed sound like it would make for a good article. I’ll keep it in mind in the coming months.

      Also, hearing what you do with your “fund buildup” is fantastic. You’re actively reinvesting in your salsa community. More of us need to think of ways we can give back to our communities like that.
      Great comment again!

  15. James Foley April 25, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    Hello Don, this article has created a lot of debate on whether or not mediocrity benefits or hinders a dance community. Here’s what we’ve been saying the past two days: http://www.facebook.com/ABQLDF

  16. The Dancing Latina April 26, 2014 at 12:42 am #

    Hello Mr. irish dancer man…

    So I read your article recently… a couple times actually… and while I do agree about wishing there were more advanced dancers around… (Don’t we all always want that… I’m convinced there will just never be enough) I have to say I don’t quite agree with your article… For a little background.. I, myself, am a dancer who’s very active in a few different social salsa scenes and who has worked and performed professionally for about 10 years now… Salsa and otherwise…

    While I do acknowledge the right to your opinion… Respectfully, I have to say… I find your point of view to be maybe a little judgemental and kind of entitled and actually even a little selfish. I think maybe your perspective may be generalized and slightly skewed by your own intentions for salsa and what salsa is to you.

    First… the title of your article: “Why ‘social’ dancers are killing salsa.” That’s a bold statement. May I ask… killing salsa for who?? you? the salsa student/dance enthusiast? This is what I mean by entitled – It may be “killing” things for you and your opinion of what a salsa scene should be… but I’ll tell you who it’s not killing it for… the musicians playing the music… the bar owners or studio owners or congress organizers who provide venues… promoters and sometimes food vendors… the people who are looking for something new to do… Latin people who want to go out for the night and be around their culture and have a little piece of home… or those who want to go out and have a drink and listen to some music… PLENTY of other people belong to a salsa scene besides just people who want to learn the ins and outs of the dance aspect… Let’s not forget that the heart of salsa, bachata, merengue… all came from Latin CULTURE – People who danced in the streets, needed escapes from oppression, had african music/dance roots & influences… those people weren’t out to impress… or learn shines or styling… or even improve… they danced to let their souls free – to enjoy/make and perpetuate music, dance and culture… and share it with others in their community. Even now… you find salsa at weddings, cookouts, barbershops, living rooms, even funerals… pretty much any social get together where the Latin culture exists. They are culturally rooted dances that came into mainstream as social activities. You can’t forget that fact and you can’t ignore that part of the salsa scenes. It’s always been there, and always going to be… Many of the people who you’re addressing – who plateau and dont improve are people who learned from the parents or relatives growing up… it’s not a hobby for them, it’s their culture… and you’re right they don’t care about what a suzy Q is… or what the difference between On1 and On2 is. It’s not about that for them… it’s about the music and living in it and sharing that with another person – basic or not. That’s the whole spirit of salsa anyway, no? That’s what drives people to fall in love with it so madly… Music and living in it and sharing that. People don’t have to feel the music and find passion in it in the same way that you do. For you, it’s advanced movement… For Another… maybe it’s just simply moving to certain lyrics that they are passionate about… an artist… a certain instrument… with a certain person… at a particular venue… the experience of sharing a great time with a group of people they know and are comfortable with… It doesn’t all have to be patterns and turns and partnerwork… there’s so much more to it than that.
    Also.. (So… I’m not going to use your acronym as I do find it slightly negatively connotated… so I will simply say “Basic and Happy” dancers.) Basic and Happy dancers don’t “kill” a salsa scene, sir. They perpetuate it. They are the reason some salsa nights even exist. Without those dancers, salsa nights/events/culture would die… Bar sales decline so the bars (and bands) stop making money, then – no more salsa nights – Everybody loses. Those are the dancers that are also usually around for years. They may come out and do the same moves over and again… but they are also out supporting venues and paying covers and buying drinks over and over again. They keep the scene ALIVE.
    Not everyone is out to be a great dancer. Not everyone one wants to improve or go take classes. If you do, that’s great! More power to you… But we can’t negate the relevance or importance even of ANY people who support the salsa scene, EVEN IF their dancing is Basic but happy. If we left the salsa scene up to solely those salsa students/dance enthusiasts who want to constantly improve their level and learn all the technical science of it… it would take a matter of months for it to fizzle out. In my experience, the amount of people who want to take classes and learn about patterns and footwork and partnering and such are always a fraction compared to the amount of people who want to get dressed up, come out, have a drink, live in the music and do what they know. Even in larger cities… unless you are at a studio, social, congress or some other event directed solely at salsa dancers… go to a regular salsa venue where the latin people are… same situation. So contrary to what you’re saying about basic and happy dancers being at a detriment to a scene… they are the core of it. Without them… numbers would drop immensely, it would make a more intimidating environment for newcomers (and it’s already PLENTY intimidating)… and eventually the scene would just cease to exist… That’s what socials and congresses and studios are for – to create the atmosphere of plenty of your type of dancers who want to learn and learn and dance with other great dancers and take classes and appreciate the academia of it.
    Let’s be honest here… the likelihood of there being a large demand of people who want to be excellent salsa dancers in any community that isn’t a large city like New York is just unrealistic. You can’t assume that if you take a community with intermediate dancers and match their number with advanced dancers that it will fix dance gap you speak of. It may just mean those intermediate dancers stop dancing with people they can’t lead or follow, and then your advanced dancers are again recycling each other and youre stuck with the same problem.
    It takes time, money, commitment and honestly travel to become a more knowledgeable dancer… Not everybody has that to commit… but that doesnt mean they shouldn’t enjoy it. Being a fantastic salsa dancer just isn’t on many people’s priority list… And you are correct. Some people dont care about getting better… thats not what salsa is about to them. That doesnt… and shouldnt… stop them from being a part of the scene. Salsa is all welcoming and we need them to help keep it going! If there are mass amounts of dancers in a scene who are at an intermediate level… that at least means the scene is lively! The incentive to improve comes from watching or dancing with the dancers who are advanced… and the ones (if any) who feel so inspired afterwards will follow suit by either learning from them or taking classes…. and they will seek that out on their own. It can’t be forced on to them… They have to want to… and if they do… GREAT! But we can’t just discount their participation by bashing them for not learning more. That just makes them not want to come back(including people who may have run across your article). After all, the best way for getting dancers to WANT to improve is by inspiring them… NOT shaming them. Shaming them just makes them feel judged and less open to trying new things.

    Food for thought: If you want the community you dance in to get better, instead of sitting and writing articles like this, judging basic dancers and shunning them for staying at their level… how about this: YOU reach out to THEM. Attitudes and articles like this will just make a person… especiallly one who may be less than confident in their skill… feel more self conscious and shut down. If they just want to enjoy themselves… they dont want to go out to be judged, criticized, and corrected. People get enough of that at work, home, school… Other places. They don’t need that while they’re out.
    If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re starting to notice that you’re getting better than the dancers around you.. and it’s no longer fun b/c you’re not dancing to your abilities anymore… that means you’ve hit the cap of talent in the pool of the peers where you are … so congrats to you for your growth BUT now, just like anything else, it’s up to you to make it enjoyable. That may mean you have to travel to go to congresses, classes and workshops when you can to continue your growth as a dancer so you don’t plateau. And at home… take some initiative in your community instead of bitching about how much it sucks. Ask those people to dance… And when you do… be open and encouraging and maybe even say “hey… check out this new, fun move I learned!”… or “I love this part of the music – listen”… and teach them… Share what you’ve learned. You know what will happen…? They slowly learn stuff and start to get better, they will have fun doing it, they may even pass things on and you know what else will happen? You’ll start to enjoy dancing with them more. Then… the community as a whole is open to growth/learning more on a social level because they are used to people approaching each other in an open fun friendly way… It’s a slow but worthy process…
    Try it- that’s my challenge to you… Ask them to dance instead of sitting on your high horse saying, ‘Hey you… go dance with better dancers, so you can improve for my sake. You’re ruining the scene for everyone.”
    That’s so selfish!
    How is it selfish you ask? Because IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. We forget that sometimes.
    Remember as you’re watching them – They may not have perfect (or any) technique… they may do nothing but a basic and a right turn the whole time… but they dont dance for you. Or anyone else for that matter… they dance for them.. and they dance whenever or however makes them happy. That’s the whole reason anyone dances – how it makes THEM feel. Even if they just want to dance the basic step the whole time, let them. That’s their choice. And that absolutely doesn’t diminish their capacity for “feeling the passion of a song” as you stated. In fact, I would almost even argue the opposite… Maybe you connect to salsa through advanced dance… maybe they connect it another way… And don’t judge their non-growth… You don’t know why they stay at their level… Maybe they have an injury/ bad knees/arthritis? Maybe that’s all their teacher taught them and they think they know everything there is to learn already (there’s plenty of awful instructor out there)? Maybe they feel too intimidated or nervous in a classroom setting? Maybe they grew up with salsa as a cultural thing like I said before? Maybe there’s a ton of other stuff going on in their lives – parenthood, work, bills, schedule, financial obligations- and salsa dancing isn’t their priority? Maybe they go to take the classes at congresses b/c they enjoy it but they just aren’t coordinated enough (workshops move much faster than regular classes)? Maybe they had a bad experience with a teacher ? Maybe congresses are their only experience with classes? Maybe they just don’t want to? and you know what? THAT’S THEIR RIGHT! We need to stop judging them!!!!!!! You don’t know their story. It makes advanced dancers look snotty and arrogant and that’s why that reputation exists. And who wants to be like that anyway? Don’t get me wrong… I empathize with your plight here… again… i’m convinced there will never been enough advanced dancers and I much prefer to dance to my potential… I dont enjoy dancing just basics when I go either… but you know what? If it’s not fun for you and you’re not open to trying to reach out where you live… then just dont dance with them! You say its dangerous dancing with someone or you feel like your arms are being ripped off? Either man up and communicate and say, “Someone told me this once and it really helped me out… do you wanna try it…?” Or just don’t dance with that person… They’ll probably figure out faster that maybe they need to fix something if they keep getting turned down anyway… Save it for you tried and true partners and for socials. You wont get to dance as much you say? Sorry… nature of the beast. (My turn to return your touch love approach.)

    My point here is… Not everyone is like you and that does not make them less valuable and it certainly doesn’t “kill the scene.” It just means they dont use or enjoy dancing salsa the same way or for the same purpose you do. We should really stop pointing fingers as to why the scene is dying – It’s not other responsibility to make our experience enjoyable, it’s ours. We need to take it upon ourselves to help it grow the ways we want it to instead of complaining and we should be open, encouraging and appreciative of anyone who supports and enjoys salsa however they do it.

    the dancing latina

    • The Dancing Irishman May 15, 2014 at 8:02 am #

      Hey Dancing Latina
      First off, my apologies for the delay in replying to you, I’ve been busy lately and I wanted to actually take my time to read your reply well. You put time into writing it so you deserve that.

      On the issue of the title. It was an attention grabber and it did its job. It didn’t reflect the content entirely but I’m ok with taking that liberty. Some people took too much offense to it without reading the content fully and that’s unfortunate. You, as you said, actually reread the article which I really appreciate.

      Next I need to make it clear that I’m not an advanced dancer. I’m intermediate at best and have never claimed to be advanced. I also (intentionally) never mentioned what constitutes good dancing. Everyone’s interpretation varies. I didn’t say, however, that good dancing involved lots of acrobatic spins and fancy moves and shines… because I don’t believe that. I’ve also lived in Cali, Colombia for two years and I’m well aware of the simplicity of dancing social salsa there, and the pleasures of doing so.

      Perhaps it was due to my poor explanation in the article (and therefore entirely my fault) but a Bah! dancer is one who can’t even handle the basics despite years “dancing”. A latino (in general) will catch the rhythm of a song and will know when to step and move and will react to a lead (although styles vary hugely) and will give you a thoroughly enjoyable dance. They may not know lots of turns but that’s not important, they move well, and have their basics and rhythm nailed. A Bah! dancer doesn’t. It’s not about them not being able to do loads of turns or whatever, it’s simply about basic control, which they for some reason they lack despite years of Salsa.

      “Ask those people to dance… And when you do… be open and encouraging and maybe even say “hey… check out this new, fun move I learned!”… or “I love this part of the music – listen”… and teach them… Share what you’ve learned.” This is and has always been my philosophy for dance. I will dance with anyone and as I know myself how hard it is to start out in salsa, I do all I can to encourage others to stick with it.

      I genuinely think that if you and I had a conversation you’d see that we share a huge amount in common about what we think about salsa. I’ll leave that for a time when we might actually meet on the dance floor 🙂 .

      One last thing I want to point out is that I actually received a surprising amount of emails from people telling me that the article had encouraged them to try harder and improve. I didn’t expect it myself but it was a wonderful occurrence and if you read the other articles I’ve published you’ll see that my overall objective is encouragement (which is what we all should aim for).

      Anyway, I’m rambling. Thanks again for all the time you put into your reply. I do appreciate it. Hopefully I’ll see you on the dance floor sometime.

  17. Stefano Castiglioni April 26, 2014 at 6:39 am #

    I didn’t get the point of the article, please can you explain better? How would you like to evolve salsa scenes?

    • The Dancing Irishman April 27, 2014 at 7:20 am #

      Hey Stefano
      I didn’t go into solutions because I wanted the dialogue generated to move in the that direction. More people are thinking now so that’s a great start.

  18. Sarah April 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    You know this is the same in any other field.
    You would think experience showes us at least anything, but no.
    Hate all you want but the world changes rapidly, and none of us have no control over it.
    E.g., imagine Obama had enough balls to put Vladimir to his place, but it seems like it’s never happening, welcome third world war.
    Great post, thanks!
    Sarah http://phyto-renew350i.com/


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