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Do Choreography-Groups make Better Salsa Dancers?

21 May

This is it.

Months of practice have culminated in this moment. Your heart is racing. Your palms are sweaty (blah, blah, mom’s spaghetti etc.). You run through what you need to do in your mind. No backing out now. You hear the announcement followed by the cheers of the audience. Your heart stops for a split second with the surge of adrenaline (if you needed to lift a car off someone right now you could probably do it). You grab your partner and strut out. You see lights and camera flashes but you don’t see a single person in the audience, you have more important things to focus on. You move into position and grasp your partner as you’ve done what seems like a thousand times before… but this time is different! This time is real!

Everything goes quiet. Ominously so. You center yourself. Take one last, deep breath and… the music begins.

The next thing you know, you’re holding your partner in the final pose, breathing heavily, the audience  is roaring, applauding and whistling. You line up, smile, bow, smile again, turn and walk away.

Once off stage, you finally snap out of the trance you’ve been in. You realize that it’s all over and you don’t remember anything from the last 3 minutes. Post-Traumatic Amnesia. You don’t care… you did it!

Choreos
A lot of people who dance have experienced exactly this. When people start dancing, be it Salsa, bachata, tango, swing or whatever, inevitably they’ll be presented with the chance to join a choreography group or maybe even asked to do a pair presentation.

I’ve done a few myself over the years; Salsa in Miyazaki, Japan (when I was just taking my first steps in Salsa), Bachatango (I know, I know) in Dublin, Salsa caleña in Cali, Colombia (wearing the most flamboyant costume you can visualize) and Bachata in Belfast this past weekend (hence the inspiration for this article).

Let's not forget the real reason people do performances... Flamboyant Costumes!!!

Let’s not forget the real reason people do performances… Flamboyant Costumes!!!

I’ve always been reluctant to get involved in choreos (I’m a pretty shy guy and despite all my experience with public speaking, shaking my booty in front of large groups of people still freaks me out a little). Despite the initial unease, though, I usually feel pretty happy with myself once a performance is over. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment that anyone who has done a choreography will attest to.

Worthwhile… just not in the way you’d think
Specifically for that feeling of accomplishment , and for a few other reasons I would happily recommend people give choreos a try.

However, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few people that may be under the wrong impression as to what doing a choreography will do for their dance ability. Worse yet, I’ve met way too many people that feel that doing a choreo makes them a dance superstar. Some folks (thankfully a minority) feel that simply having done a choreography makes them advanced dancers. I think everyone reading this will agree that just isn’t the case.

We've all met them!

We’ve all met them!

Choreos and Social Dancing
I think a major assumption that some people have is that skill in a choreography translates directly to skill in social dancing. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Practicing a choreography will make you good at one thing in particular: doing that choreography! Usually you practice with the same partner who knows exactly what to expect. They know what they have to do and they do it, probably even if you make a little mistake here or there. That’s what a good partner does.

Try to do some of the moves you’ve learned in a choreography, however, and you may end up pretty frustrated.

Bruce Lee, often compared practicing martial arts without actual sparring practice to “dry land swimming” and left us this quote:

“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you”

You can compare a performance to practicing to swim on dry land; you may learn the movements but I wouldn’t rely on it to save your ass if you fall into a lake. I’ve said it many times before that the best practice for social dancing is… social dancing. It teaches you how to adapt what you’ve learned in class to other dancers in real life, to react to their idiosyncrasies. There is no substitute for social dancing! (and appropriate practice).

So why join a choreo-group?
Choreography practice and the performances themselves do, however, have benefits to offer that can improve your social dancing.

  • Confidence: going in front of a group of your peers and performing, despite being pretty nerve-wracking usually does wonders for improving confidence, particularly for beginners. Anything that improves confidence will improve someones dancing. Just don’t become so full of yourself that you think you’re ready to give Frankie Martinez a run for his money 😉
  • Styling & Shines: This is particularly important for but not limited to female dancers. Performances are choreographed to look pretty so all the practice will usually give you a few ideas of how you can “sex-up” your own individual social dancing.
  • Socializing: Joining a small choreo-group will mean you’ll be spending a lot of time with some people you might not initially know well or at all. By the end, you’ll have probably made some great new friends and feel better connected to the salsa community. This was actually my reason for doing my latest choreo. It was an excuse for me to go to Dublin regularly and I ended up meeting some really wonderful people 😉
  • Muscle Memory: Again, this is something that really benefits beginners but the constant practice of a choreography helps to lock certain basics into your muscle memory. I found this really handy for getting the hang of some of the fast footwork of Salsa caleña.
  • New Challenges: Sometimes we set ourselves new challenges… just because! It’s something new and different and makes us step out of our comfort zones which in my opinion is something we should try whenever we can.

Give a Choreo a try… or not!
Will doing a choreography make you an advanced dancer?… I doubt it.

Will it make you a little better?… Probably (especially if you’re a beginner)

Will it be a bit of a laugh?… Yeah (and you may meet some great people)

If you fancy the challenge, go for it. It definitely won’t do you any harm. If you don’t feel like it, don’t. It won’t hold you back from becoming a great dancer.

Either way, keep dancing folks.

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Salsa: You’re doing it wrong!

29 Apr

“If you don’t have African or at least Latino roots you will NEVER dance Salsa well”.
Did you know that?

Or did you know that “Studio Salsa (whatever that is) is watered-down Salsa that has lost its sabor”?

Or that “Puerto Rican street Salsa is the only real Salsa there is”?

Were you aware that “for Salsa to be good it has to have a multitude of turn patterns, acrobatics and footwork”?

No? Well, neither did I… but according to some of the angry comments that I received on last weeks hugely popular article, this is what some “Salseros” actually think (and very adamantly at that). All those ridiculous statements you’ve just read above were the opinions of people who wrote some rather unpleasant comments on my blog or Facebook page last week.

They were either deleted or never allowed past moderation (my house, my rules 😛 ).

Controversy
Last week’s article did exactly what I had hoped, just on a MUCH larger scale. It went viral and created one of the biggest international dialogues in Salsa that I’ve ever seen (although, in fairness, my Salsa history is pretty short).

People from the entire Salsa sphere gave their two cents; social dancers (like myself), performers, instructors, promoters, club owners… the whole shebang! It was like an international Salsa focus group 😀 . A massive array of opinions and ideas were shared and I couldn’t care less if people agreed with the article’s content or not. The simple fact was: It got people talking and that kind of dialogue is great for the salsa community and I really am proud that this blog was part of it.

The Killers Within
Unfortunately, there were some particularly vocal individuals (and I call them individuals because I’m certain they don’t represent the views of the groups they claim to speak for) who made me aware of the unfortunate way some people think of Salsa. The people who seem to be fighting to keep Salsa segregated.

Salsa-Factionists
Some people got REALLY upset at the article. After reading their comments I realized that the vast majority of them completely misunderstood what I was getting at. The title was intentionally misleading, most people got that, but some people decided to carry their anger from reading the title with them through the rest of the article (assuming they actually read it :/  ) and then took the wrong meaning from virtually everything I said. Also a lot of people completely misunderstood what I meant by a Bah! dancer (someone who, after years, doesn’t even manage the basics well but has no desire to even get their rhythm in order… it’s all about a Bah! attitude i.e. they don’t care about salsa!). People seemed to think I was demanding everyone train to be a performance level, fancy footworked, acrobatic Salsa wonderkid! Nothing could be further from the truth.Some people made some seriously inaccurate ASSUMPTIONS and that unfortunately led to the misunderstanding.

How I felt reading some of the comments! (that guy's almost as white as me!)

How I felt reading some of the comments! (that guy’s almost as white as me!)



Anyway, anger at the article turned into anger at me and that’s when I realized how segregated our Salsa community is. Some nasty comments directed at me opened my eyes wide open. There were even some people who were supporting my views but who had some completely ridiculous (elitist) ideas too which I would never be in favor of.

Our salsa is best
Basically, the gist of everyone’s blame throwing was this: Everyone considered their particular faction to be the best!

I had people telling me that the only way to dance Salsa is studio style (?) with as many crazy combos as possible. Nope, can’t agree with that!

Some said too many Latinos in clubs were the cause of Salsa’s decline. Really? The people who brought us Salsa? I didn’t know where to begin with that one!

Others said that people who “learned” Salsa in a classes couldn’t hold a candle to those on the street. A universal untruth in my experience.

Some told me that Cuban Salsa was the only authentic way to dance with sabor. Funny that I’ve seen people dancing every other style of Salsa with sabor too.

Some people told me that white people like me (I really am as white as you can get :/ ) would never be able to dance well. I know a lot of dancing albinos like myself who’d take offense to that lie.

Some commentors even suggested I should start refusing people dances based on their style or level. Can you believe that? I, for better or worse, just don’t say “No” to a dance. It’s one of my most important rules of Salsa etiquette.

Some people misinterpreted my comment about Cali (which I’ll gladly admit wasn’t worded well enough). Just to be clear, Salsa in cali is “Rica” but if you don’t know what that means look it up because, according to one angry commentor, if you don’t speak Spanish and understand Latin culture you will never dance with real sabor (I know, seriously, so many salseros are doomed).

Apparently we've all been completely mistaken about Salsa!

Apparently we’ve all been completely mistaken about Salsa!

 

***You know what, don’t even worry about what I said last week, these might be the attitudes that are actually damaging Salsa!***

And there I was worried about peoples skill level when there’s a whole heap of people spreading hate like that in the community!

I’ll stick with what works
After all those wonderfully “inclusive” suggestions I received I think I’m just gonna ignore them completely and keep doing exactly what I’ve been doing up until now:

  • I’ll continue dancing with everyone regardless of style or level (good thing I never suggested such an extremist approach in my article. I guess I’m a monster for wanting to encourage beginners 😛 )
  • I’ll continue dancing as many styles of Salsa as I can (there’s a reason I’ve traveled around the world dancing as much as I have {LA, Colombian, Cuban, NY} it allows me to dance with almost anyone I meet on the dance floor. Puerto Rico is on my list too, I’ll get there eventually 😀 )
  • I’ll continue trying to learn and improve whenever I can because I’m still convinced I’ll be able to shake this bright white booty with as much sabor as anyone with adequate melanin levels).
  • And you know what? I think I’ll continue encouraging people to do the same.

I‘m sorry for having such monstrous views. Clearly I’m an awful person

Be different
You know, people will always prefer and dance different styles of Salsa and that’s beautiful. It means we’ll always have the beauty of variety in the Salsa community.

It’s just not cool when people start promoting the idea that one style is better than the others and then ridiculing those who dance those different styles. That is most definitely NOT what I wrote about in my last article.

Thanks for everyone’s opinion
To those of you who wrote ridiculously angry comments to make your point, I’m sorry you’re so angry, the internet seems to bring that out in people. At least you provided the inspiration for everything I’ve written here. And to those of you who gave well rounded, mature comments with genuinely insightful suggestions I want to say thank you for contributing to our Salsa community… And it most certainly is “our” community (see my article on why), no matter what the angry comments say, no matter if your style is Cuban or Puerto Rican, NY, LA or Colombian… no matter if you’re African, Latino, European or Asian… or if you dance street or studio, technical or simple… We are all part of one big Salsa community. I’ll see you all on the dance floor.

Keep dancing folks.

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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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Why Salsa Dancing is the Greatest Fat-Burning Exercise EVER!!!

8 Apr

I hate cardio!

Seriously! I can think of nothing worse than spending 30 minutes or more jogging or doing lengths in a swimming pool. The monotony is mind-numbing. In fact, the only time I ever mildly enjoy jogging is when the weather’s good and I can enjoy the sun on my skin and the view of the mountains from my route… but I live in Ireland where “good weather” is one of those legends we hear of as children but only really get to experience a handful of days out of the year… stupid North Atlantic weather.

Don’t even get me started on treadmills. How anyone can spend more than 5 minutes running in the same place, breathing the same stale air and looking at the same gym scenery is utterly beyond me. People who can spend 30 minutes on a treadmill have truly mastered the art of mentally shutting down and zoning-out. Maybe they’ve learned to meditate while jogging. Or maybe they’re just dead inside!

So why bother?
Well, the cold hard truth is that people do cardio because no one want’s to be fat. Extended periods of moderate intensity exercise (read “cardio”) such as jogging, swimming, biking etc. are good ways to burn body fat. All of these are classified as “aerobic” exercises which means they use oxygen to produce energy. Your bodies preferential fuel source for aerobic exercise is fat as opposed to to anaerobic exercises (such as sprinting or heavy weight lifting) which use carbohydrates as their energy source.

I’m certainly not saying aerobic exercise is better than anaerobic (my own training routine would contradict that), I’m just saying that aerobic exercise has a role to play in getting us ready for beach season.

Bikini season is coming... I've completely lost my train of thought

Bikini season is coming… I’ve completely lost my train of thought!

So what’s wrong with cardio?
Simple answer: IT’S BORING!!!
I actually have to psyche myself up to go for a jog and I know I’m not the only one. As soon as I step on the pavement, all I can think of is “when is this going to be over”. I feel the same way swimming laps in a pool. I’m just counting down the minutes until I can stop. That’s not a good way to encourage physical activity.

Geeky answer: It produces cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone that your body produces in times of stress. Stress can be induced by lots of factors (as we all know) but one of them is exercise, particularly sustained moderate/high intensity cardio.

Now, cortisol is not all bad, it actually induces the beneficial effects of exercise through its catabolic (break down) effects. Basically it signals your body that it needs to get stronger by breaking down tissue. However if cortisol levels remain high your body gets stuck in a catabolic state and can’t get into the anabolic (build up) state that it needs to improve conditioning. Basically your body is stuck breaking down muscle tissue as opposed to building it up. This can result in a whole host of problems such as reduced muscle tone, higher susceptibility to infection, poor sleep and increased abdominal fat (everyone’s favorite type of fat 😉  ).

Excessive cardio (e.g. long distance running) can often result in the body type seen on the right. Probably not the look most people are going for.

Excessive cardio (e.g. long distance running) can often result in the body type seen on the right. Probably not the look most people are going for.

This is a perfect example of too much of a good thing. Excessive moderate/high intensity cardio makes you produce too much cortisol.

Do what you love
The best way to exercise, in my opinion, is to do something you love.

When you enjoy something, you stick with it and when it comes to getting the benefits of exercise, consistency is key.

That’s why it’s better to do something that you enjoy doing for the sake of doing it, rather than just to get exercise. Be it soccer, tennis, basketball or no-holds-barred hopscotch, finding an activity you enjoy is important.

In my final year in Japan I had no trouble maintaining low body fat because I was surfing regularly (I lived next to the sea and had my own car to take my board around). I didn’t go surfing because I wanted to get exercise, I went because I loved catching waves (even though I sucked). I did it regularly and it kept me lean.

Another advantage of doing an activity that you love is that it helps to combat stress which actively reduces cortisol and helps to prevent its negative effects.

Salsa Caliente
I have noticed that I have no trouble staying lean if I’m social dancing around 3 nights a week.

When I lived in Dublin a few years ago, I took a month off form social dancing while I was doing a CELTA course (there was hefty workload in the evenings). Apart from the lack of dancing, my diet and my weight training (which I did in the mornings) didn’t change. I did, however, notice that I was gaining weight. Once I started dancing again, the weight just melted off.

Now, salsa dancing isn’t overly intense. Have a look at the “estimated” calories burned (for someone weighing 70kg) for 30 minutes of the following activities*:

  • Salsa: 214 cals**
  • Biking: 245 cals
  • Jogging: 210 cals
  • Swimming: 315 cals
  • Vigorous Sex: 120 cals (I think they might be doing it wrong)

*Source: http://www.calorielab.com
**Source: SalsaPhD

Now, except for the value for Salsa dancing, I’m very skeptical about the veracity of the remaining values (especially the last one) but lets assume they’re relatively accurate.

Over 30 minutes, salsa appears to have a caloric expenditure similar to biking and jogging. Fair enough, that seems about right. However, I’ve never known someone to go social dancing for just 30 minutes.

The great thing about salsa is that it’s so addictive. When I go social dancing, I can be out dancing for one, two, three or more hours. And I’m enjoying every second of it (as opposed to jogging where I’m just wishing for it to end). So when you look at it like that, dancing for two (very enjoyable) hours could burn ~860 calories as opposed to 210 calories from a torturous half hour of jogging (the value for salsa will obviously be lower due to breaks taken on a night out dancing).

Anyone who has had a good night of salsa dancing also knows how out of breath and sweaty one gets by the end of the night.

Out of Breath and Sweaty?
Sounds like cardio to me. And that’s just what it is. A night of salsa dancing is an extended period of moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Salsa is one of the best low intensity exercises you can do.

Salsa is one of the best low intensity exercises you can do.

It beats the hell out of jogging as it’s a hell of a lot more fun, it’s easier on the joints, it helps to reduce stress (and associated cortisol levels) and it’s a social activity you can enjoy with friends. You can check out a whole load of other reasons to dance salsa here. Think about it though: Which would you prefer, a half hour of running or 2 hours of salsa dancing?

Why a salsa class won’t help you
Now, after saying all that, if you think going to an hour-long salsa class three times a week is going to give you abs you could grate carrots on, you are sadly mistaken.

Most salsa classes are focused on teaching you new techniques and thus the intensity is far too low. In all honesty, how many times have you been sweaty and out of breath after a salsa class?

The only exception would be Zumba but that’s more aerobics than dancing (no disrespect to zumba, I’m just calling it like I see it).

A few hours of hot and sweaty social dancing, two or three times a week is really one of the best “no will power needed” fat-burning routines you could ever try.

You enjoy it = You do it regularly = You get results

The Secret Ingredient
Let’s not forget the most important factor when it comes to dropping body fat:

“Abs are made in the kitchen”

You can do all the exercise you want but if you’re not eating well, the only time you’re going to see abs is watching Ryan Reynolds movies (damn that guy looks good).

I hate Ryan Reynolds for looking so good!

I hate Ryan Reynolds for looking so good!

Don’t let your good efforts on the dance floor go to waste, make an effort with your food and you’ll be able to put Mr. Reynolds to shame. If you need some tips on tweaking your diet you can check out these articles here and here.

So get up and shake that booty
I don’t have the option to go dancing right now (here in the middle of the mountains) so I have to settle for jogging as my regular cardio (and it is a very distant runner up to salsa). So to those of you who can, get up, get moving and a dance a few songs for me.

Keep dancing folks.

EDIT: After I initially published this article I was contacted by Pablo Alberto Domene, a PhD student at Kingston University who is studying the the physical and psychological benefits of Latin dance. He very kindly corrected the caloric expenditure values I had originally used for salsa (which were too low) based on his own research. You can read up on Pablo’s work on his excellent blog: SalsaPhD
Thanks for your help Pablo and I wish you continued success in your studies.

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The Salsa Community: All Warm and Fuzzy

5 Mar
If you're in a salsa community you're in one of the best communities around.

If you’re in a salsa community you’re in one of the best communities around.

Let’s get all warm and fuzzy.

Salsa offers us many benefits; new friends, exercise, a new social outlet… I’ve written about them before and the list is long.

Like many others, I started salsa years ago and I’ve stuck with it all this time to reap all these benefits but recently I’ve been appreciating one of them in particular; the sense of community.

I was born and raised in the countryside, in a small village where everyone knows everyone (for better or worse). I was BORN into a community. Whatever social events I went to I would see the same people. I’d see them at mass or at a football match. If ever something happened in my life, good or bad I knew people in the community would always be there with a word of encouragement or congratulations or whatever I needed to hear.

When I moved away from home at 18, my classmates in university became my community. When I worked as an English teacher in Japan, the people doing the JET Programme just like me, became my community. However, as someone who has moved around more than their fare share in life I’ve come to realize that as we get older and move to new cities, it becomes harder to feel part of a community. I think many people will agree with me that the places with the most people are usually the places we feel most alone.

That’s where salsa has helped a lot in my life.

Salsa: Community in the City
I recently moved back to Ireland after almost two and a half years abroad. I’m back home in the countryside but I’ve been going back up to Dublin a lot lately and I love being there. Despite the fact that a lot of time has passed, I simply slotted right back into the salsa community. There are a lot of new faces but there are plenty that I recognize from before and they couldn’t have helped me feel more welcome after my time away.

It’s not just Dublin either. When I lived in Colombia, my main group of friends were those I went dancing with regularly. I would see the same faces out dancing every week. Exposure breeds familiarity and those faces became friends, my Colombian family.

When I lived in Japan, during my final year, I started organizing salsa parties in an attempt to start building a community. I guess it worked because that community is still going strong in semi-rural Miyazaki and I’ve maintained my strongest links, amongst my Japanese friends, with those people whom I danced with.

That sense of community doesn’t even have to be confined to a place where you live either. It can just as easily be formed while traveling.

During the course of my three weeks in Cuba I spent virtually all my time with the instructors from the salsa school I went to. We ate meals together, chatted throughout the day, visited the beach and of course danced our asses off every night.

The best example probably comes from my time in Charleston, South Carolina. When I arrived there in mid-October last year I had only intended on staying a couple of days and moving on to New York. Luckily for me, my first night there I went dancing and met a great bunch of people in the small but close salsa community that is growing there. They welcomed me with open arms and I ended up staying for a week, doing workshops, eating out, going for drinks and dancing our asses of every night (I see a pattern emerging here).

When I was in New York, I was lucky enough to have friends who I knew through salsa who gave me a place to stay and even helped me with some of my first steps into dancing On 2.

I had no connection with virtually any of the people above apart from one thing: We All Love Salsa!

And that’s the real amazing thing about salsa. It brings everyone together. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, the color of your skin, your religion, where you’re from or whether you love Marmite or not. As long as you want to dance, you’re golden!

Love it or Hate...It doesn't matter as long as you dance salsa.

Love it or Hate…It doesn’t matter as long as you dance salsa.

When I go out dancing in Dublin I get to spend time with the most diverse group of people you can imagine; gardeners, tennis coaches, bakers, truck drivers, doctors, geologists, bankers, immigrants, parents, students and manly men with beards (grrrrr!). All brought together by our love for shaking our booties in time with music. It never ceases to amaze me the incredible mix of people I find at a salsa night and eventually end up calling my friends.

I felt the need to write this after the past few weekends in Dublin. Whenever I visit, I always end up crashing on the couch of a salsa friend (thanks Dave). When I go out for coffee, it’s with fellow salseros. When I randomly bump into someone I know on the street there’s a 90% chance they’re someone I know from salsa.

This weekend I went to birthday parties for salsero friends, went dancing and met people who I haven’t seen in years and was greeted with the warmest of hugs, made new friends with people more recent to the community and even learned a load of bad words in European Spanish… all thanks to salsa. I even went out to brunch on Sunday with a huge group of people of whom I had only met two before but ended up having an amazing day and instantly making some new friends because… just because everyone danced. It was beautiful!

Diversity united through salsa!

Diversity united through salsa!

Dublin may not be a huge city by international standards but it is still a city and in any city it’s easy to feel alone or lacking a sense of community. Salsa gives us the community that we need. It makes us feel like we’re part of something bigger, something special and I think that we’re all looking for that… to feel part of something that’s bigger than us.

This may sound ridiculous but I genuinely feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I go into a salsa club alone and spend the first 5 minutes shaking hands and hugging and kissing all my friends who I may have seen as recently as the night before. There aren’t many situations in cities these days that allow someone such a sense of intimacy and belonging amongst the masses. Salsa is a true blessing in this sense.

Nothing’s Perfect…
…nor will it ever be perfect. Just like every community in the world (or just like every family) there are issues. We can however chose to ignore them and just focus on the good (which is what I’m doing with this article).

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: if you’re part of a salsa community you should feel damn proud of it. Appreciate it. Appreciate the wonderful things it has brought you in your life, not least the amazing friends it has probably blessed you with.

Be happy that you have found such a healthy, wholesome way to spend your time.

Keep Dancing Folks.

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Women’s Vs Men’s Reasons for Starting Salsa

14 Jan
Shakes head slowly in disapproval!!!

Shakes head slowly in disappointment!

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What to do when you’re S#!T at Dancing (or anything else for that matter)

7 Jan

I wrote this article last month, less than a week before I left New York. I’ve waited until now to publish it because January is a time of many, new (usually self-imposed) challenges for lots of people and I genuinely think that this could help a lot of people to break through their limitations and succeed where otherwise they might have given up. I got a little worked up writing it so please excuse the profanity. I hope you find it useful (the article, not the profanity).

Why they hell do I even bother? I’m just useless. Why have I been wasting my time for all these years? I have absolutely nothing to show for it.
I’m still an awful dancer. I should just give up already!

Things like this have been running through my head a lot lately. Some nights when I’m dancing I even let them get the better of me. Those are pretty shi##y nights.

Almost two and a half years ago I left Ireland, moved to Colombia and started learning Cali-style salsa. While it’s not the most technical type of salsa (at least in the form that it’s danced in the clubs there) I wanted to learn to loosen myself up when I dance, to dance more naturally and relaxed, to dance more “like a Latino”.

Many times I just wanted to give up. Who was I to think that I, an Irishman, could ever dance naturally… with “sabor”?

But I didn’t give up. I just kept going, as much as I kept telling myself to do otherwise.

Eventually, I loosened up. Now I dance salsa caleña.

About 3 and a half months ago I left Cali and landed in Cuba. I got straight into learning Cuban-style salsa, pretty intensively. I progressed quickly in the classes but as we all know, when it comes to dance, learning something in class is one thing, applying it on the dance floor is another.

On some of my first nights out dancing in La Habana I couldn’t remember any of what I had learned that very day and kept giving up and just reverting back to LA style. I kept a journal while in Cuba and I remember one particularly bad night at a club where I just slipped into a complete state of self loathing and wrote this while sitting outside the club:

“I’m just getting so pissed off with dancing.
I can barely remember the moves I learn let alone put them all together in fluid combinations. And then my body movement is awful, there is no sabor to my dance. I see other people dancing so well, making the dance their own doing incredible styling and I can’t go up and share the same dance floor with them. I feel too embarrassed to do it. I don’t know how I can have such highs and lows as this. Sometimes I feel like I wasted the last 2 years of my life in Cali…”

That night, the bad thoughts got the better of me and I left angry and disillusioned. However, the very next day I went right back into class and practiced again and again and again.

At the end of my 3 weeks there, I could dance salsa cubana and hold my own on the dance floor.

Sometimes it can seem easier just to give up.  Nothing was ever achieved that way!

Sometimes it can seem easier just to give up.
Nothing was ever achieved that way!

A little over a month and a half ago I found myself in New York city and about 2 weeks ago I started learning to dance On2. My first ever dance On2 was actually a three minute long shine as I didn’t even hold hands with my  partner. It wasn’t completely On2 but it was a start.

I’m writing this post, one week later, on the train ride home after another night of dancing in the same club where I danced that first “dance” On2. I had promised myself that I was going to try to dance On2 as much as possible.

I started off awfully. I was stopping and starting, messing up my timing, just making a general mess of things. I wanted to stop right there. I looked at the other dancers, at how well they danced, at how well they maintained their timing, at how much better they were then me.

I danced with someone else. Not much better. I was so close to just walking out, right there and then… But I didn’t. I danced with someone else. Terrible; I kept slipping off time and ended up apologizing to each of my partners at the end of each song.

Some of them were so nice, even saying they didn’t even realize I had slipped into On1 during the dance. I doubt that’s true but I appreciated the fallacy.

I would walk away, mentally face-palming myself, praying that no one had watched my pathetic attempt at New York style.

Then came the last dance. With pretty much the only girl remaining with whom I hadn’t already danced. I let her know in advance what she was in for, just as I had done with all the others, out of courtesy.

It was a relatively slow song, smooth… nice. I stepped back and started leading, frantically counting “1,2,3…5,6,7” in my head, applying the moves I knew from LA-style. 3 minutes later, the song was over, we were both still standing… and smiling. I had danced the entire song On2…

Tonight I won.

She thanked me and told me she had no idea why I warned her at the start of the song. I thanked her back.

Tonight, I didn’t let the voices in my head get the better of me. Tonight I ignored them. Tonight I won.

Learning to ignore the voices
Whenever we try something new, something that requires skill, we inevitably get to a point where we feel that we’re only wasting our time. The voices that tell us that we’re no good, that we’ll never be any good, get louder.

I’ve heard them many times with so many things that I’ve dedicated time to: dance, karate, surfing, cooking, languages etc. Sometimes I listen and that’s it for me with that endeavor… for that day!!! However, I come back the next, with a clear mind and I get right back to it.

And that’s how we win.

No matter what we do in life, the voices will always be there, we can either listen to them and give up or we can just get better at ignoring them.

We will have days when the voices win. Days when we concede defeat and go home, with our egos bruised and our heads hung low. It’s ok, everyone has days like that at times but the only way we will ever savor the sweet taste of victory, the only way way will enjoy the fruits of our labor is if we keep those days to a minimum.

And how do we do that? We stop listening to the voices. We will always hear them but we don’t have to listen. They might scream out “You Suck” but you can hit ’em right back with a “F@#K OFF!” and get back to what you were doing… winning.

At the end of the day it’s all in our heads. Seriously, in the VAST majority of cases the culprit behind our failures in life is that stupid part of our brains filled with self-doubt. That’s where the voices come from.

To enjoy victory, it’s just a matter of ignoring those voices and saying “You’re wrong, I can do this. Just watch me.”

I did just that tonight and it was hard. I wanted to throw in the towel after every awkward dance… but I didn’t. Tonight I won and victory, my friends, is sweet!

Success comes when you scream louder than the defeatist voices.

Success comes when you scream louder than the voices.

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Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it 😉

Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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