Tag Archives: Dance

What is Salsa Caleña (a few educational videos)

20 Dec
Pura salsa caleña! No hay nada mejor!

Pura salsa caleña!
No hay nada mejor!

Before I came to Cali I knew from glancing at a few videos on Youtube that they danced a very different style of salsa from what I had learned in Ireland and Japan. Add to that the fact that some people who had actually been to Cali before had told me that I wouldn’t get to far dancing the way I did and you’d be right in thinking that I was a little worried about strutting my stuff on the dance floors of Cali.

With the world famous “Feria de Cali” (a week-long party that begins right after Christmas) just around the corner and for the benefit of those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit the world capital of salsa, I’ve found a few videos showing just what salsa caleña (in it’s many forms) looks like. Enjoy.

Here’s a great example of what the local dancers call Salsa Cabaret which is basically salsa caleña on steroids (as many twists, flips and displays of showmanship as possible).

Here’s another lightning fast cabaret performance.

Here’s some great footwork from the 2 time world champions Ricardo and Viviana (pity about the awful commentary)

Here’s a solo performance that shows the level that some caleños achieve with their footwork.

On the other end of the scale here’s an example of how salsa is danced in Cali on the streets at a typical neighborhood party.

and here’s another example of a style of street salsa that has become very popular recently.

Finally here’s one of the most famous videos of Cali club style dancing (although this is much more professional than what you normally find).

I hope you liked them. Watching them has really put me in the mood for a rumba tonight.

Keep dancing folks.

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Be inspired!

23 Oct

Dancing with great partners really keeps you on your toes!

I dance well!

I am far from being a great dancer but I get by. I stay on the beat, I use a variety of moves to keep things interesting, I adapt my dance to the level and style of my partner, I avoid stepping on toes and probably most importantly I haven’t dropped anyone on their face in months!

What this adds up to is that at times I can begin to “believe” that I’m good. Don’t mistake me, there’s nothing wrong with confidence, in fact it’s essential for all aspects of dancing. From actually getting you out on the dance floor in the first place to allowing you to feel comfortable doing things outside of your comfort zone which is the only way to improve; confidence is essential.

Over-confidence on the other hand can be detrimental to your progression. Thinking you are the Shiz-nit (I’ve always wanted to use that word) may make you FEEL like a great dancer but it doesn’t MAKE you one at all.

Searching for Swing
Case in point: I recently took advantage of a 4-day weekend with a little trip to Bogota to give the salsa scene there another try after a mediocre experience there a few months back. I went out dancing two nights and had two very different experiences. Both nights I went out with some very talented Caleña dancers as partners (I’ll admit I didn’t hold out much hope for the local dancers) so for the experiments sake let’s say that that factor was fixed.

The first night we went out we strolled around a particular nightlife hot spot in Bogota looking for a little rumba. We tried two places, “Quiebra Canto” first and then “Salsa Camará”. In both places I can unfortunately say that I was the best dancer there. Now before everyone turns there nose’s up and scoffs at the cocky Irishman who’s full of himself, allow me to clarify. What I’m saying is that the standard was very low!

My dance partners and I were the main source of visual entertainment that night, both because we danced well and because we danced a lot, which can’t be said for the other couples there. I’m not criticizing the other couples though; they were social dancers and were content with having a little wiggle on the dance floor every 6 songs or so… and that’s fine!

I, however, am not interested in just “a little wiggle” on the dance floor. I want to be good! After some great dances with my partners we left the club and as we were doing so I thought to myself: “I really don’t want to be in a place where I’M the best dancer”. The next morning, all I could think was that Bogota is missing some “swing”, the word dancers use here to describe a combination of feeling, emotion, musicality and skill when dancing.

Eye Opener
The second night was a very different story. We went to “El Panteón de la Salsa” a place that had been recommended to me by an Italian salsera who had lived in Bogota. She told me it was the only place to get some real dancing in the capital. It’s in a slightly dodgy part of Bogota and I was advised by quite a few people not to go there but after coming all the way from Cali and for the sake of my “research”, I had to go!

I knew things were different as soon as I stepped through the door. The dance floor was full, the air was hot and humid and the atmosphere was alive with salsa. People were dancing salsa caleña, linear salsa and salsa cubana. There were people doing moves I’d never seen before, people sweating buckets in the heat and best of all everyone was having fun with the dance in there own unique way. There in that one little club with it’s two little dance floors was Bogota’s Swing!

I danced the night away and apparently got plenty of attention because I was the only foreigner there and I knew how to dance. However I was far from the best dancer there and that’s what made it so much fun. I could happily sit down and watch the other dancers, wishing I could do some of the things they could do. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the whole night!

Being around people that are better than us makes us want to improve. If you’re the best dancer in a certain club or certain city or even a certain country, what incentive do you have to improve?

Probably not much, right? This is one reason why the big international salsa congresses are so beneficial. They give people who have gotten used to a certain salsa scene the opportunity to see, dance with and learn from amazing dancers from all over the world! For example I’ve heard some great things about the recent Berlin salsa congress after a lot of my Irish salsa dancing friends attended it a few weeks back.

Finding Inspiration
To avoid developing a false sense of over-confidence we need to put ourselves in positions or places where it’s obvious that we’re “not all that”.

Try dancing with the the person you consider to be the best dancer in the club. Try going to a new club or class to learn from dancers you haven’t seen before. Try to keep yourself on your toes. There is nothing worse than becoming complacent.

I’m lucky to see amazing dancers every time I go dancing here in Cali. They are the minority but they exist and seeing this amazing minority is enough for me to want to make myself a better dancer.

Remember, confidence is a good thing as long as you temper it with the knowledge that there will always be someone better than you. This is what it’s all about, getting to see all those amazing dancers out there that are better than you and being inspired to better yourself.

If you can’t find anyone who inspires you in your current situation it’s time to shake things up, time to try new things, maybe even time to go somewhere new. Find that new source of inspiration. That’s how great dancers are made!

Keep dancing folks!

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Humble Pie (and why you need it!)

17 Oct

When was your last slice?

To those of you who have been dancing for a while and have reached a decent level, when was the last time that you had a good portion of humble pie?

I recently joined a dance company that has nothing to do with salsa. I joined to learn new styles of dance, new movements, and to meet some new people. The group has a great reputation and a very strict director that maintains it as such.

My first 2 practice sessions  with them weren’t overly challenging as they were going easy on the new guy! However, I arrived late for my third practice session with them and after I warmed up I moved to the back of the room to watch the rehearsal of a particularly fast paced choreography. The room itself was round with windows on all sides so everything could be seen by all the people outside (the practice hall is in a public park). At the back I clumsily tried to copy some of the movements I saw performed in front of me. I was pretty embarrassed as I knew the people outside could see me doing it and and doing it badly at that.

They then did the whole choreography to music. It was fast. So fast that during the 3 times they did it, my jaw hung open somewhere around my ankles.

Then came the moment that I hoped wouldn’t come. The director called my name (actually he called me “Michael” first until someone corrected him) and asked me what part I had been watching. I froze! I had been watching the whole choreography in awe and hadn’t even thought of memorizing the moves. I didn’t answer and just stood there with a look something similar to what I looked like when I realized I was getting mugged for the first time “Is this seriously happening?”, “Oh God no!”.

A friend of mine ran over to me and asked again what part I had watched and I stuttered that I hadn’t watched any one part in particular and that I couldn’t do the dance. She told me with the sternness of a parent to a child who doesn’t want to go to school, that I had to do it. My fate was sealed. I was getting schooled whether I liked it or not!

I walked to the position the director picked for me, looked around and took the pose of the guys around me and then the music sounded and in less time than it takes to say “Dear God No!”, the choreography started.

Quick turn, new pose, start spinning, new position, pose in front of female partner, rotate around her, spin to new partner, take formation with the other men, move around the room, pair up with yet again new partner, spin her a few times, dance around her… and so on. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I imagine it looked something like the first few minutes of the D-Day landings in Normandy as viewed by the allied troops… “We’re FU$KED!”

Another member of the group actually chased me around the room shouting directions at me and telling me where to move. All I could think about was how badly I was doing it and all the people outside looking at me, laughing and thinking of me as the uncoordinated foreigner who thought he could join this dance group.

The moment the music stopped was the sweetest sound (or I should say silence) I have ever heard. I was humiliated, I felt like crying, I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me down and I had a whole 15 seconds to feel that way before the choreography started again. Of the 5 times we rehearsed, none were quite as humiliating as the first time but they came shockingly close.

I’ll be honest I really felt like I wanted to give up the idea of dancing with the group, right there and then.

Sucking like a vacuum cleaner
When was the last time you felt that way yourself? Might it have been after your first uncoordinated salsa class? During your first awkward “attempt” at a social dance? Right after you were refused a dance for the first time? That time you dropped your partner on her head?

I’m assuming, however, that you didn’t quit, that you grit your teeth and kept going and because of that you dance the way you do today.

What I’m trying to get at is that before we get good at something, we have to SUCK at it big-time first. We humiliate ourselves, we look like idiots and we feel like quitting but every time we practice we suck a little bit less.

I think that’s the whole point, to suck a little less every time. It’s called practice because the whole idea of it is for you to get better, eventually. If we were automatically good at everything we tried we would never feel that sense of achievement that we get after putting in some hard work and suffering through the embarrassment of sucking for a while.

The demeaning ordeal with the dance group really helped me remember what it felt like when I first started dancing and made me appreciate how far I’ve come since then. I used to actually wait for songs to be almost finished before I asked women to dance to avoid the embarrassment of only knowing a couple of moves. Now I can’t get enough dances in during a night out!

As long as I remember how far I’ve come with salsa (or Japanese or Karate or anything else I’ve achieved for that matter) taking on new challenges doesn’t phase me much. I know from experience that to get to the point where I’m good at something I need to go through a “perceived” humiliating period of seriously sucking at it.

Go out and get a slice
Being humbled every now and then would do us all some good every now and then. Try to remember when you had your last slice of humble pie. I’d you can’t remember it’s probably due time for a big piece so go out and look for a new challenge. Find something you’ve always wanted to do and just do it. And if you suck at the start (as most people will) just eat that portion of humble pie and shout out military style “THANK YOU SIR! CAN I HAVE ANOTHER SIR!”. The slices will get smaller and smaller every time!

As for me, I plan on going back to practice with the dance group this week for my next portion of humble pie. I’m going to suck, but not as bad as the last time, and that’s what it’s all about.

Keep dancing folks.

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The Greatest Salsa Playlist EVER!

10 Oct


If you’re impatient you can go straight to the playlists here.

First off, my apologies for my lack of posts these last three weeks. It’s been kind of crazy at work during the day, which I’m not so happy about and I’ve been dancing a lot more in the evenings, which I’m very happy about.

Moving on, I’ve been spending a lot of time playing around with my latin music playlists and I think I’ve come up with something spectacular.

There are songs that, as soon as you hear them, make you want to get up and dance. It might be the chorus, the opening or the variation in the rhythms. It might be the lyrics, the percussion, the piano or the brass. What they all have in common is a certain magic that makes my body want to convert that music into pure dance energy. All of the songs on my new playlists have to meet this requirement.

Asking Around
Recently I’ve been asking a lot of friends and readers of this blog for their favourite songs for two reasons:

  1. to remind me of songs that I may have forgotten to include and …
  2. to introduce me to new songs which I hadn’t heard before.

What I’ve come up with is what I feel is an amazing mix of songs for dancing the 4 main styles of salsa: Linear On1, Linear On2, Cuban and Cali style.

This list is by no means finished, it is going to constantly grow and evolve. I’m going to add more songs as I encounter more that I like and more importantly, my tastes are going to evolve themselves.

Since I moved to Cali, I’ve been exposed to to much more salsa music (and every other latin genre) than ever before. I’ve come to enjoy really fast salsas that I can really get my feet moving to. On the other end of the scale, I also now love slow salsas which are danced very close and sensually here.

And on top of that, I still love dancing linear (cross-body) salsa to the more medium paced songs that are popular in such salsa communities outside of Latin America.

Learning Spanish and finally understanding the lyrics of songs has affected my taste in music too and has given me great motivation for my Spanish practice.

The Playlists
You can see the lists here on the blog or you can check out all my songs on The Dancing Irishman’s YouTube page which is more up to date and you can also view the individual Salsa, Bachata and Latin Mix (very eclectic mix of very different latin music genres that equally, make me want to get up and dance in one form or another) lists.

It’s my list
You may love the songs I’ve chosen or you may hate them. This is my list and for me it is the Greatest Playlist Ever! If I mixed the salsa, bachata and latin mix lists together and used them in a party I would have the greatest night of dancing ever!

Thankfully, you’re different. You and your style are unique. I do want you to like my lists but more than that I hope this will give you the incentive to go and create your own, to discover more about your own tastes and to learn more about the incredible wealth of music out there. I guarantee it will make you much more complete, not just as a salsero or bachatero but as an all round rumbero.

Keep dancing folks.

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The Cloudy Dancer

22 Aug

“The wind blows gently and the cloud follows,
one giving its force
one giving its form
together, united, as one,
The wind blows gently and the cloud follows.”

A dance with a “Cloudy Dancer” is nothing short of magical!

For me, it’s the ultimate dance. A dance where you barely feel your partner while at the same time feeling everything! The guide is light as is the contact between each dancer but a light touch is all that’s needed. Just enough for the idea, the intention to be understood between each other.

It doesn’t have to be the most complicated dance ever, nor the most spectacular. What’s important is that everything just works; no tugs, no false leads, no off timing… pure dance magic!

I first started using the term “cloudy dancer” to describe some wonderful salseras I had the pleasure of dancing with when I moved to Dublin. Dancing with a cloudy dancer is just how it sounds. Their touch you barely feel yet they respond to your lightest lead with a precision that astounds me!

Clearly, the name I went with isn’t that original, nor does it sound particularly catchy but it describes exactly what I feel when I dance with a “Cloudy Dancer”. Like a wisp of vapor; I’m aware of her presence only by the lightest of sensations on my fingertips.

What’s even more special about them is that they’re not all that common but, by God, once you dance with one you’ll thank the heavens for their existence.

As soon as the music plays and you both start dancing you’ll feel it. The connection without resistance, the flow without force, the magic. You won’t be able to hide the smile on your face and you won’t want to. Your confidence will skyrocket, inexplicably knowing that whatever you do will just work… and work beautifully at that. Adrenaline will flow and hearts will race and when the music comes to an end you’ll want to embrace her… or kiss her… but you won’t.

You’ll thank her and walk away, your feet as light as her touch when you danced, feeling a euphoria which only comes from the near perfect orchestration of two individuals moving as one. At this stage you won’t mind going home. It’s the type of dance that fulfills your whole night, the type of dance you can retire on.

At least that’s how it feels for me!

I also know (although I don’t know why) that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it’s like to dance with a cloudy dancer. My salsa still leaves a huge amount of room for improvement and as I get better I know that I’m going to feel the dance like I’ve never felt it before… and I can’t wait.

This post hasn’t really offered anything in the line of advice but if anything I hope it motivates you go out and dance with more people in the hopes that you’ll get to experience a dance like that for yourself, that will fill you with a reinvigorated love for salsa or bachata or whatever. It really is something very special.

Thank you, Cloudy Dancer!

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Up your numbers! The August Challenge

2 Aug

Start dancing and watch those numbers soar!

It is a new month and I’ve decided to make it a month of challenges.

A few posts back I wrote about the rule of 10,000 hours and how the best way to get good at something is through huge amounts of conscious practice.

Around the time of writing that piece I also happened to come across this article written by a kindred spirit who goes by the name of Chilly (he’s got lot’s of other great articles too so check them out).  Chilly had the clever idea of challenging himself to a variation of the 10,000 hour rule whereby, instead of putting in 10,00o hours of dancing, he set out to have 1000 social dances in June and July.

The idea is to get as much practice as possible and setting yourself a goal (such as 1000 dances) is a fantastic way to motivate yourself. In fact, achieving the goal is irrelevant. What matters is getting out there and getting as much practice as you can possibly get.

If you think 1000 dances is unachievable why not set yourself a slightly lower goal. If your just a beginner why not say that you’re going to try and get 100 dances in your first month. If you easily achieve it, just aim higher for your next month.

I’m a huge fan of recording stats in order to monitor progress “what gets measured gets managed”. Chilly decided to use a tally-counter (like in the picture above) to record all of his dances. That way he knew exactly how many dances he got in the time frame he gave himself. If you do the same yourself you can try to beat your own record and don’t have to worry about comparing with anyone else.

I doesn’t have to be used just for dancing either. Try setting yourself a goal for doing sit-ups or push-ups to get fit; starting conversations with complete strangers to get over shyness; writing pages of that book you’ve been meaning to finish. Whatever you want to do, set yourself a challenge and use that motivation to achieve it.

Why not mention your own challenge in the comments below?

I’m starting my dance challenge tonight. What about you?

My salsa is better than yours!

12 Jul

Why limit yourself to dancing just one style of salsa (or to just one partner for that matter)?

The world is full of salsas: On 1, On 2, Cuban, Caleña, Lineal, Verde, Picante… with so many types it’s no wonder that things can be confusing for a budding salsero.

Almost everyone you talk to will tell you:

  • their style of salsa is the best
  • that it’s the most widely danced
  • that it’s the easiest to learn
  • that it looks the most spectacular
  • that it will help you meet the most beautiful women!

All I can say about this is: BULLS#!T, BULLS#!T, BULLS#!T.

Salsa is a dance that has evolved over the years from it’s 0riginal form in Cuba to the many diverse and beautiful styles that we see today. Just like with languages, every distinct type has something unique and beautiful to offer so it’s impossible to say that there is a “best” type. English is not the “best” language on Earth just because it is the most widely spoken nor is French because it is considered the most romantic (by some). The same applies to the different styles of salsa.

I’m very lucky in that living in many different places over the years has given me exposure to and appreciation for many different types of salsa. I started dancing LA style in Japan and got to practice Cuban style when I moved to a new city there, I was introduced to New York style in Hong Kong and later in Dublin and now I dance Cali style every week right in the World Capital of Salsa. Over the years I’ve learned to piece the different styles together helping to give my salsa it’s own particular flavor and I think that everyone should at least experiment with doing the same.

What’s your salsa?
The 4 main styles of salsa are:

  • Los Angeles (LA)
  • New York
  • Cuban
  • Caleña (Cali style)

Of these, the first 3 are probably the most widely danced internationally. I’ve included Cali style because I consider it (or at least variations of it) to be very popular in South America and because of some of its characteristics which make it unique.

LA and New York style are lineal salsas i.e. salsa that is danced forward and back in a line (or slot) whereas Cuban and Cali style are non-lineal salsas i.e. they are danced in a more circular or side-to-side fashion.

And before anyone calls me on it and tells me there are many more styles of salsa; stop right there. I’m well aware that there are other styles but they are not as widely practiced as the styles above and I don’t really have the time to research and write about them all! Maybe in another article.

LA Style
LA style salsa is also commonly known as On 1 because the “break” (i.e. the change in direction from forward to back) occurs on the 1 count (and on the 5 count when returning) with the lead starting by stepping forward.

It is probably the most popular style of salsa internationally (i.e. outside of South America). Any large, developed city in Europe, Asia, North America or Australia probably has an LA salsa community.

It features complicated hand combinations and “swing” style movements as can be seen in this video:

New York Style
Also called On 2 or Mambo, this style breaks on the 2 count (and 6 when returning) with the lead starting by stepping back which allows for a “smoother” looking dance.

It is the most popular style of salsa danced in New York (obviously) but there tends to be On 2 “sub-communities” anywhere LA style is danced.

Dancing On 2 is often seen as an evolution from dancing LA style On 1 with many advanced dancers sticking with On 2 after making the switch. Frankie Martinez gives a great quote about the transition from On1 to On 2 in this interview.

Music for On 2 dancing is influenced heavily by jazz (lost of brass and piano) resulting in a very elegant dance style that often features “shines” i.e. a time during the dance when the partners separate and dance by themselves, interpreting the music in their own ways.

Cuban Style
Salsa Cubana, also known as “Casino” is probably the second most widely danced form of salsa internationally. It developed from Cuban “Son” and the African influence in salsa can easily be seen with the freedom of movement and focus on shoulder motion.

Cuban salsa, unlike lineal salsa, is danced in a much more circular manner with the partners changing positions constantly during a dance. It also features many complicated “knot-like” hand combinations with the lead often ducking in and out of different closed hand positions. Salsa Cubana does not have a cross body lead but has a similar movement known as “Dile que no”.

Rueda de Casino: is the name for a Cuban salsa group-dance that features 2 or more pairs of dancers performing synchronized combinations and exchanging partners while dancing in a circle (rueda). The moves are directed by a “caller” who calls out the next combination to be performed. Rueda de casino circles can be huge!

Cali Style
Salsa Caleña, is the style of salsa most commonly danced in Colombia and from what I’ve seen myself, in many parts of South America. It takes a great deal of influence from another popular Colombia dance called Cumbia.

It is a non-lineal salsa with a lot of diagonal “back-step” movements and huge focus on exceptionally fast footwork and hip twisting. The basic objective is for partners to move their feet together in a synchronized fashion which can be as simple as just stepping on the same counts or it can involve very complicated leg flicks and kicks with not a huge amount of focus on arm work. There is no movement similar to the cross body lead or “Dile que no” in salsa Caleña.

Salsa Caleña also features an interesting “false” double step where the dancer taps his foot down and quickly raises his heal up and then down again which makes Cali style footwork look incredibly fast. Apparently professional dancers in Cali practice this step for hours on end supporting themselves with their hands against a wall to make themselves faster.

I’m confused! Which style should I pick?
That depends on a lot of things:

  • What styles of classes do you have available to you in your area?
  • What is the most popular style danced in your town?
  • Do you plan on learning to dance in preparation for visiting a particular country?

Do some research, and find out about your nearest salsa scene. There may not be much point in learning how to dance New York style salsa if you’re going on a two week vacation to some place in South America where no one can dance it.

But…why bother picking?
I can’t think of any logical reason why someone would want to dance only one type of salsa (apart from wanting to dedicate their time to get really good at a particular style).

Learning different styles of salsa enriches the style that you already dance and allows you to dance with even more people (just like learning a new language).

For example, in both Japan and Ireland I’ve danced with latin women (who danced salsa but never took a single dance class in their lives) and I noted straight away that they couldn’t follow a linear style of salsa. However I had taken a few Cuban salsa classes before and knew how to guide them through a more circular style of salsa that they were used to.

I spoke a little of their salsa language and because of that I could communicate better with them than if I had just continued “speaking” in my own. Have you ever been abroad and had a local shout at you in their language, hoping you’d understand if they continued long enough? Well it didn’t work then and it won’t work in salsa (at least not in the time it takes to complete a song).

Be proud of your style
People who know me know I dance a particular way and that I throw in a few extra kicks and foot flicks for flourish, which I picked up from the few classes of Cuban salsa I’ve taken and I also frequently add Cuban style turns to my mostly lineal dances. Since I moved to Cali I’ve added a lot of Cali-style moves to my toolbox too.

I’m proud of the style I’ve developed over the years through my different backgrounds and experiences and I really think everyone should aspire to develop their own unique style of salsa.

So forget about deciding on what’s the best style of salsa out there and just focus on learning as much as you can from as many different sources as you can find. You’ll be a much better dancer for it.

Keep dancing folks!

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Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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