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What to do when you F&#K up while Dancing!

24 Nov
You’re never so good that you don’t mess up every now and then!

While perfection is a wonderful goal to aim at, helping us aim higher, it is “addictively” unattainable (an important point to keep clear at all times lest you drive yourself mad pursuing something you’ll never have).

However, even though you’ll never be perfect, with practice, you might get pretty damn close (like my ability to put off writing for this blog, I’m getting better but thankfully I haven’t perfected it). This applies to everything  from dance, to languages to professional air-hockey.

So, even if you consider yourself “hot shit”, YOU’RE GOING TO MESS UP SOONER OR LATER!!! How you deal with those little mishaps will play a pretty big role in how you approach your activities in the future.

Make a mistake… You suck… Quit!

If Bill Murray says so, it must be true!

If Bill Murray says so, it must be true!

When I used to teach salsa in Cali, I had one student in particular whom I had to “talk down from the ledge” of quitting salsa on more than a few occasions.

He had some major confidence issues but he was a dedicated student and learned well. His main problems stemmed from his lack of confidence; he was afraid to try new things on the dance floor (especially anything to do with body-movement) and whenever he made a mistake or a dance didn’t go well for him he would pretty much decide to NEVER dance again. On more than one occasion I got text messages from him at 2 or 3am announcing his resignation from the world of salsa, all due to a bad dance. I’m pretty sure I spent about 15% of our time together trying to convince him to get back out dancing and that everyone makes mistakes now and then.

For him, every mistake was a screaming symbol of his incompetence (which he wasn’t) and those beliefs really held him back. It was especially hard to see him like that because I could see both how much he wanted to improve and how much he was sabotaging himself.

Suffice is to say, this is not a good mentality to have when dancing. If everyone gave up when they made a mistake we’d have some pretty empty dance-floors!

It just looks so sad without people dancing on it.

It just looks so sad without people dancing on it.

Learning to laugh at yourself!

I remember one particularly eventful night of dancing in Cali. I was out with a big group of people and we decided to go somewhere different. The place had a huge dance floor, full of people. Near the end of the night the floor started to thin out and I invited my friend Francy out for a dance. 

Francy is a professional dancer and she was one of the few people I could dance LA style salsa with in Cali so we used to have a ball together whenever we got to dance. Now for those who don’t know, typical “social” Cali-style dancing is a pretty simple affair, lots of sabor (hopefully) but simple. So when two people start dancing something a little more involved than Cali style, the people nearby tend to notice. Especially when one of those people is white enough for everyone to safely assume that he’s not Colombian.

We were tearing it up. We had loads of space and the night was coming to an end so we pulled out all the stops. At one point I noticed that we had garnered the attention of quite a number of the people sitting at tables around the dance-floor. For some reason that really got my adrenaline flowing so I may have started throwing caution to the wind. I could hear the music nearing it’s final few beats so I decided to finish it all off with a dip. I thought it would look great as Francy (as a pro) was all about the show and would have struck a great pose at the end.

I heard the final beats, lead her into a cross body lead with turn and as she was turning realized that there were still a couple of beats left in the song… it threw me completely and what happened next involved various flailing arms and legs and a sudden drop in altitude accompanied by the sound “Rrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiip”!

As soon as I came to my senses I realized I was lying on top of Francy, sprawled out on the dance-floor with a decent crowd of people looking at us. I looked at her and she looked at me… and we both burst into laughter!

Seriously, in the milliseconds I had to process everything I decided that it would be far better to take what had happened in my stride and laugh it off together with one of my good friends, than to run off the floor crying and moaning about how awful a dancer I am.

We dusted ourselves off and skipped off the dance-floor together… at which point I realized that I had ripped a gigantic hole in the seat of my jeans when I did my belly flop. Oh well, at least it was the end of the night! (additional lesson to be learned: always wear dark solid color underwear when dancing… pink hearts on a white background tend to be a little to visible in the event of tears!!!)

Even if you mess up and it results in the dance equivalent of this pile-up... just dust yourself off and laugh (or run away quickly)

Even if you mess up and it results in the dance equivalent of this pile-up… just dust yourself off and laugh (or run away quickly)

Laugh it off

At the end of the day, laughing off our mishaps really is the best way to deal with them.

I’m notorious for obsessing over my shortcomings but I always make sure I don’t let that bad attitude get the best of me. If I did I certainly wouldn’t be dancing salsa or doing much else  for that matter.

So, the next time you make a mistake (which if you’re anything like me should be pretty soon) be it missing the beat in the music, forgetting a combination or doing a bellyflop on top of your partner, remember you have two options:

1. Give up right there and then because you’ve made a mistake and no one who has ever become great at salsa ever made any mistakes

OR

2. Laugh it off and get back to doing what you love

Keep dancing folks

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Welcome to the Latin Dance Community

1 Oct

Todays a big day folks.

No, it’s not my pancake day (unfortunatey 😦 ).

No, I haven’t figured out what women really want.

And, no, I am definitely not giving up Salsa to focus on my true love, Merengue.

Today, marks the birth of the Latin Dance Community.

Oooh yeah! We've got a snazzy logo too! Which proves we're legit!

Oooh yeah! We’ve got a snazzy logo too! Which proves we’re legit!

“The what now?” I hear you murmur confusedly as your eyes glaze over. Well, to put in the far more eloquent words of the website:

“Latin Dance Community (LDC) is a collaboration of writers from around the globe who are passionate about latin dance. Our mission is to serve as the leading online resource for the latin dance community by providing entertaining, educational, and informative articles on Salsa, Bachata, and Kizomba.”

Ok, ok so Kizomba may not be a latin dance but it certainly is making its way through latin dance scenes worldwide.

I’m a writer!!!!
Yes, you read right! Me, the Dancing Irishman, I’m officially a writer now (and not just the crazy, old, bearded man sitting at desk made of an old ironing-board supported by empty paint cans, cackling while I right inflammatory blog posts as I drink partially curdled milk from a skull-bowl… as most of you assumed I was. Right?)

I want to say a big thank you to my brother from another mother, Chilly for getting me involved in this little group of dance-literati. It’s a real honor for me to be working with all of them on this project.

To boldly go where no dance website has gone before
The LDC has some pretty modest goals:

  • keeping the world informed on current opinions in latin Dance
  • providing interviews with current dance innovators
  • world domination… making all you dancers happy 😉

So what are you waiting for?

Get your fine ass on over to Latin Dance Community and check out all the great articles we have to offer.

Oh and don’t forget, keep coming back here to The Dancing Irishman for my semi-regular updates on dance, language, nutrition, exercise and pictures of interesting cats.

Keep Dancing Folks.

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The Dancing Irishman in Barcelona

25 Sep
Just getting to know my new neighbourhood. That's just the local amphitheater, nothing special.

Just getting to know my new neighbourhood. That’s just the local ancient-Roman amphitheater, nothing special.

So… I live in Barcelona now!

Which means that in the last 4 years or so this is the fourth country I’ve “officially” lived in. After 4 years living and teaching in Japan I left in 2010, lived in Ireland for a year working at the Japanese embassy, moved to Colombia in 2011 working as a freelance translator, came back to Ireland via Cuba and the US at the end of 2013 and now, after all that, I am resident of one of Spain’s most famous cities.

I’m beginning to understand why my friends constantly tell me that they can never envision me settling down in one place. I’m not quite sure if I should be worried or not.

The Irish Diaspora
Since 2006/7 emigration out of Ireland (particularly of young people) has increased significantly; part of the great global economic depression. I was always secretly proud of the fact that I didn’t leave Ireland because I had to, because there was no work for me but because I wanted to experience life in other places. Hence my stays in Japan and Colombia.

This time is a little different
This time, I couldn’t find a job that I wanted to do. A job that I could actually see myself doing and importantly, enjoying, long-term. Anyone who has been following this blog will know from an article I posted a little over a year ago, when I left Colombia, that I left because I wanted to start thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.

Well, this year, living back home on the farm in the far south of Ireland, I had plenty of time to think. If we want to get all “touchy feely” about it, I wanted to do something that I loved. So I had a few options. The blog itself is actually a pretty decent window into the things that float my boat:

  • Dance: After all this blog isn’t called the “Administrating” Irishman. I do love dance and it is a huge part of my life. I’ve even taught dance before but it’s not what I see myself doing in the long term. I’m much happier working on my own dance and learning as much as I can fit in myself.
  • Languages: I’ve been working as a freelance Japanese translator for a few years now and while I enjoy the freedom it affords me, the work isn’t exactly regular. I may have “future” kids to think about and a “future” family to provide for so something a little more stable is called for. Also, my particular field of expertise, biosciences, while interesting, hardly makes for riveting translation.
  • Travel: I really don’t know how I could make a living just traveling the world. If you do, just drop me an email. That said, I think I’ve come to a point where I’m starting to want just one place to call home (other than my family home).
  • Fitness: I love researching fitness, putting it into practice and helping people get started in the gym or just exercising in general. That said, I don’t think I’d really make it as a personal trainer. I just don’t have the pecs for it.
  • Food: Now we’re getting somewhere. I do spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about food; cooking it, eating it, rolling around in it. However, while I considered becoming a chef in secondary school I pretty much turned against the idea when I realized I would probably be working social hours. That, and Gordon Ramsay in “Hell’s Kitchen” scared the crap out of me.
    Which leaves us with…. Drumroll please
  • …Nutrition: I love being able to improve my health through the food I eat, I love reading up on the latest research in nutrition and I really love helping people with their diets. It genuinely makes me feel fulfilled. Add to that the fact of the western world’s expanding waistline and it looks like it may be a rather lucrative little industry too 😉

Sooooo… I am about to start a Masters degree in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Barcelona & the University Rovira I Virgilli. Further education is going to be my first stepping stone towards the career I really want.

Why so far away, Irish?
Firstly, it’s cheaper than living and studying in Ireland. Significantly so.

Secondly, it allows me to indulge some of my other loves at the same time (we wouldn’t want to neglect those now would we?):

  • Salsa: Barcelona is well known in Europe for having a spectacular latin dance scene
  • Language: I get to do my Masters through Spanish and maybe learn a little Catalan too
  • Food: it’s just sooooo good here

Presenting… The Nutritioning Irisman!!!!
Hmmm, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? Maybe I’ll hold off changing the blog title.

In any case, I’m going to do my best to keep updating the blog and providing you with as much helpful and mildly humorous info as I can… just from Barcelona.

If you have any tips on the salsa scene here I’d be very happy to hear from you.

Keep dancing folks.

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Is it OK to refuse a dance?

19 Aug

This is the article I really didn’t want to write!

I’ve been putting it off for a while now but some recent dance happenings kind of gave me the final push to go through with it. So here it is… ugh!

I want to bring up a little, controversial topic that some people feel pretty strongly about:
“Is it ok to refuse a dance?”

In my experience from speaking to other dancers there are two main sides to this; either “Yes” or “No” (making it appear unrealistically black and white). Before you choose your camp (although many of you will have done so as soon as you read the title), give this article a little read.

I love dance!
I really do… and salsa has changed my life, unquestionably, for the better. So, nothing makes me happier than to promote dance, get new people dancing and to see them improving as dancers and enjoying all the benefits that this “hobby” (for want of a much better word) brings.

I get a buzz out of seeing someone new to salsa, after a few months, really coming into their own and tearing it up on the dance floor. I mean that both as someone who has taught salsa and as a member of the broader salsa community.
I’ve also said it many times before that newcomers to salsa need all the encouragement they can get and they NEED the opportunity to dance with more experienced dancers. That’s how we improve.

One of my personal favourite articles on this blog (I know, I’m so CONCEITED, right 😉 ) is “The Etiquette of Salsa” that covers, amongst other things, the manners of the dance floor and if my mother taught me anything, it’s that I should never wear navy with black… and that manners are important! Thanks mam!

In the article I wrote a section about refusing dances and I think the topic merits repeat here:

“DO NOT REFUSE A DANCE! (The Golden Rule)
I would prefer to say “NEVER refuse a dance” but I rarely use the word “never”, as life is full of exceptions. However, my sentiments on this point verge on those conveyed by the word “never”.

The reason; IT HURTS!

For those of you who are more experienced dancers, try to imagine how nervous you were when you first started dancing. For beginners, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to work up the nerve to ask someone out for a dance. Imagine yourself trying to work up all that courage and finally asking that person you’ve been wanting to dance with all night, only to get shot down. For guys, it ranks pretty close to castration (at least it did for me) and I’d imagine it feels worse for ladies who have the extra hurdle to get over, of not being the sex that normally requests a dance (which I personally believe shouldn’t be the case. I love it when a girl asks me out for a dance).

I remember the first time I was refused a dance all too well. I was in a salsa club in Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong on the second leg of my first salsa training expedition. I was pretty green but I knew a few moves so I decided do ask a dance of a girl I’d seen dancing really well earlier. I walked up to her, smiled and politely asked “Would you like to dance?” to which she responded, without so much as a smile to dull the blow, with “no”, followed by a halfhearted “maybe later”.

After recoiling from the initial shock of (what felt like) having my internal organs ripped out and stepped on in front of me, I picked up what was left of my testicles and scurried away to a dark corner to hide my shame. I did however recover and go on to have plenty more dances that night but I will never forget how I felt.

Beginning salseros need to be encouraged especially  by dancers with more experience. I will dance with anyone (I’ve even danced with men who want to practice their following. That usually gets a few odd looks) because I know how it feels to be refused a dance. I’ll even dance with someone who tells me before hand that they’re not the best dancer or that they’re only a beginner. I’ll just modify what I do to make sure they have as fun a dance as possible.

There are a few situations, however, where it’s ok to say “no”, for example if you don’t like dancing a particular style (like merengue for me), if your last dance was particularly vigorous and you want to take a breather, if you need to go to the restroom etc. You should always smile and explain the reason and tell the person that you will dance the next song with them instead. Be nice.

I try to imagine myself in the shoes of beginners and I try to encourage them with salsa as much as possible along with trying to help them avoid any of the “unpleasant” situations I’ve experienced in the past.”

Let's face it, no body wants this response!

Let’s face it, no body wants this response!

As you can see, at the time I was pretty damn adamant about never refusing a dance. Times, they be a changin’!

What’s happened to you, man?
I used to follow my “Don’t Refuse” policy, almost dogmatically. The problem with dogma is that it results in extremism, be it in religion, politics or professional hotdog eating. I’ve even written about the problems with dogma and the diets we choose to follow. Basically, dogma can make everything appear black and white when we live in a world with multiple shades of grey (maybe as many as fifty… or so I’ve been told).

My “refusal to refuse” has resulted in two things:

  1. I dance with a lot of beginners. Beginners feel comfortable approaching me for a dance, which I’m very happy about and I get to meet lots of new people. It’s fun!
  2. I dance with some people I genuinely dislike dancing with. I’m talking about people that genuinely suck the fun out of dancing and/or make me feel REALLY uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing… DANCE IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!!!

The ways someone can make a dance “less than fun” are almost unlimited but I covered some of the main culprits a while back in an article titled “God Awful Dancers”. Which begs the question “Why would I knowingly ruin something that I love so much by dancing with someone I know I really don’t enjoy dancing with?”

Truth be told, I don’t have an answer.

I have some dance friends who refer to people who they dance with despite not wanting to do so as “Charity Dances” which I think is a down right mean term. They still dance with these people but don’t enjoy it. I also have friends that tell me that they flat out won’t dance with certain dancers for reasons including; dangerous/rough leads, dangerous/rough following or “inappropriate/ uncomfortable” behvaiour on the dance floor.

And you know what? Those are perfectly legitimate reasons. The problem is, at the moment, I can’t bring myself to say “No”.

But like I said, there are certain individuals I just don’t want to dance with. They actually suck the soul and enjoyment out of a dance and I end up feeling a little empty at the end. I avoid them at the start of a song and, this is going to sound awful, if I’m dancing and see them hovering on the edges of the dance floor nearby, waiting to strike when the song ends, I gradually dance my way over to the other side of the floor. I know, I’m a monster. But if they catch me and ask for a dance, I don’t say no!

Admit it, if you had someone like this waiting for you when a song ends, you'd move to the other side of the room too!

Admit it, if you had someone like this (female versions included) waiting for you when a song ends, you’d move to the other side of the room too!

There is no nice way of saying this…
I really don’t think there is a way to avoid dancing with someone without hurting their feelings.

You could say you: want to rest for this song/ don’t like this song/ are going to the restroom… but what if someone else you want to dance with asks you?

I’ve been told that if you say “No” a couple of times in succession, the person will just stop asking! It still means you have to say no.

What do you do?
I know I can’t be the only person in the dance community that feels conflicted about this. On the one hand I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings… on the other dancing with certain people  just does not feel good.

So, here’s what I’m asking, if you have any insights on the matter, leave a comment and share them. What do you think about refusing a dance? I’m genuinely curious and I think a lot of others are too. Keep it friendly though 😉

Keep Dancing Folks.

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The Salsa Congress Survival Guide

24 Jun

I can’t feel my legs!

Add to that a serious sleep deficit and a feeling of complete euphoria and it’s pretty obvious that I’ve just come back from one hell of a salsa congress.

This is pretty much how I feel the day after a congress! (just not as cute)

This is pretty much how I feel the day after a congress! (just not as cute)

The 9th Irish Salsa Congress (formerly and nostalgically “Salsa School”) was a roaring success and my thanks and respect go out to everyone who made it so. You did a spectacular job folks 😀 .

I had forgotten how much a congress can take out of you so I decided to write up this quick little survival guide made up of my observations, some of the things I did right and a LOT of the things I did wrong.

NAP!!!
Anyone who has gone to a salsa congress can tell you that you will work up a serious sleep deficit over the course of a few days. Add that to all the dancing and you will quickly wear yourself out.

Grab a nap whenever and wherever you can. An hour here and an hour there will go a long way to keeping your energy levels up for the long, late nights of dance mayhem.

Not a nap person? Neither am I but I learned through necessity at this last congress. Dancing through all the way to breakfast isn’t unusual at some congresses.

If you're not a natural napper, a sleep mask is a great help.

If you’re not a natural napper, a sleep mask is a great help.

Pace Yourself
It’s perfectly understandable to feel that you need to go to every class on the schedule to “get your money’s worth” at a congress. However, you’ll quickly wear yourself out that way. There is nothing wrong with skipping one here and there to have a little extra sleep or to grab a nap in the afternoon.

Do some research and prioritize
Before you go, find out what teachers are doing what workshops and ask around about what classes to do from people who’ve taken their classes before. Then prioritize the classes that you feel you’ll get the most from.

For example, this past weekend I focused mostly on Musicality and On2 classes; two areas that I feel I really need to work on.

Remember that some of the teachers may have come from quite far away so this is your opportunity to learn from some fantastic dance-instructors. Prioritize things that you may not be able to learn in your local salsa scene.

Eat well
This will vary at every congress and depends a lot on where you stay. If you have self-catering accommodation you can bring your own food and “cook”. I’ve also heard of other congresses where the only food some people eat all day is the breakfast buffet.

Either way, remember that if you eat healthy you’ll feel much more energetic and enthusiastic dancing. If you eat crap, you’ll feel crap and sluggish and no one wants to dance like that.

Bring healthy foods that are quick to prepare like fruit, instant oats, cottage cheese, protein shakes, eggs, ready-to-eat salad bowls and you’ll feel a lot lighter on the dance floor.

Healthy, Quick and Easy. Healthier food will keep you dancing longer!

Healthy, Quick and Easy. Healthier food will keep you dancing longer!

Make new friends
Congresses are a great chance to meet other dancers from other cities and even from other countries. You’ve all got one thing in common, dance, so take advantage and get chatting to people in the workshops during the day. It’ll probably get you more dances at night.

On top of that it’s great to get to know dancers in other cities; if you ever visit you’ll have a contact with info on the best places to dance and maybe even a couch to sleep on.

Dance with strangers
Don’t confuse this with “dance with strange people”!

As I mentioned above, congresses are your chance to dance with people who normally you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to dance with again. The more and varied dancers you dance with, the better you’ll become.

Play safe 😉
Again, in relation to the fact that you’ll be meeting lots of new people at the congress (some of whom you may never see again) and coupled with the sensual nature of latin dance… it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring a few packs of condoms with you… just in case 😉

Know Your Etiquette
If you’re new(ish) to salsa don’t forget to study my Guide to Salsa Etiquette. It’ll keep you from committing any of the faux pas that might otherwise cause some awkward moments on the dance floor.

Bring a SSK (Sasla Survival Kit)
I’ve covered these already in my guide to salsa etiquette but they’re so important that there’s no harm in mentioning them again.
I carry a courier-bag with me everywhere I go and in it I have my SSK:
  • Spare T-shirts
  • Chewing gum
  • Wet-wipes
  • Deoderant
  • Handkerchief
All guaranteed to keep you smelling nice even after hours of craziness on the dance floor.
Everything you need to stay fresh on the dance floor!

Everything you need to stay fresh on the dance floor!

Dress Well
This may seem irrelevant but you may end up getting more dances if you show a little fashion sense. We all know that salseros have “quirky” fashion styles so feel free to put in some extra effort at a congress. That goes for the workshops during the day too. Make a good impression there and you’ll have plenty of dance partners at night (I wasn’t aware of this but it actually turns out it’s a topic of conversation amongst the ladies at congresses)

If you're wearing something like this, don't expect too many dance offers!

If you’re wearing something like this, don’t expect too many dance offers!

Practice what you learn
All that amazing stuff you learn in the workshops is no good if you don’t put it into practice on the dance floor.

Record
If you’re anything like me you may not be able to remember new patterns or styling tips after an hours class. If that’s the case make sure you record the moves you’re taught in the workshops so you can go back and review them later.

You can also share videos with people who have done different workshops from you (another reason to not worry too much about missing classes here and there).

Hydrate
Carry a bottle of water with you. If you get dehydrated you’ll feel crappy, tired and grumpy. Who’d want to dance with someone like that?

Ask questions
If you’re at a workshop and something isn’t clear… ASK!!! More than likely you’re not the only one who’s a little confused. A good teacher will be happy to clarify any points.

Look after your Feet
You’re going to be on your feet pretty much all day so make sure you’re wearing comfortable dance shoes that will help you take the punishment. This goes for practice footwear at the workshops too.
Ladies, I know style is important but there are plenty of dance shoes out there that look great and go easy on your footsies. Ask other salseras what they wear. Make sure you break them in too. A congress is probably not the best place to field-test a brand-new pair of shoes that may end up causing you some serious foot pain.
Also, a good friend of mine swears by a 30 minute foot-bath with Epsom-salts after a hard night of dancing: give it a try. Look after your feet and they won’t let you down when it counts.

OK, so you may not be able to manage the flowers or the personal masseuse but taking care of your feet should still be a priority.

OK, so you may not be able to manage the flowers or the personal masseuse but taking care of your feet should still be a priority.

And most importantly, Have Fun!
Congresses are amazing. You make new friends, dance until the sun comes up, learn loads… it’s some of the best fun you can have with your clothes on (even though they probably won’t be on all the time 😉 ).
Keep Dancing Folks.

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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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Fiona Uyema

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