Tag Archives: Goals

Following the Dream

30 Jan

Hey folks, you may have noticed that the content on the site is becoming less frequent that before (was it ever truly “frequent”?). I just want to keep you up to date as to why.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I moved to Barcelona to do my Master’s degree in Nutrition and Metabolism. That goal was competed last summer and now I’m moving on the next stage of my plan.

I’m currently setting myself up as an online nutritional consultant based out of Barcelona, basically pursuing my passion of helping people live healthier lives. There’s quite a bit of work ahead of me with website design and content writing for my new site but I’m very, very excited about it.

On top of that I’m also writing articles for Latin Dance Community which I find very rewarding too. All of this means that I may not be dedicating as much time to the Dancing Irishman blog for a while. I’m still here, just focusing on other projects at the moment.

Anyway, I hope you’ll still be looking forward to reading my stuff when I finally get back to it in the future (it could be next month for all I know).

Keep Dancing folks.

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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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Stick to your Guns (How to make new habits automatic)

31 Jan
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If I hadn’t stuck with salsa I’d never have learned just how much fun dance really is!

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine a few months ago, a guy who had traveled to Colombia to find a new, less stressful life much like myself.

He was working here and telling me how much he disliked his new job (he had started a little over a week before) and how he had read from some online guru that people shouldn’t spend their lives doing things that they don’t enjoy. He told me how much he agreed with this “guru” (he quit said job less than a week later) and how he firmly believed that people should constantly pursue new experiences.

“I don’t want to be the kind of guy that can’t remember the last time he tried something new” he told with a smile and a lot of confidence. “I want to try new things as much as I can”, “That’s” how you live your life”!

I felt a little sorry for him as soon as he said it!

Not that I disagree with him. I really believe that new experiences keep life interesting and keep us, as people, on our toes both physically and mentally. If you can’t remember the last time you tried your hand at something new, you really should take a good look at your life to make sure you’re not sinking into a rut.

My problem with what my friend said stems from that fact that he was so fervent about his belief in “new experiences” that he forgot how important it is to dedicate time to ones endeavors, to develop them beyond the superficial.

I’ll explain this the best way I know how; through salsa.

Let’s assume that when you went to your first salsa party a few years ago you were looking at salsa as your new experience. Let’s say you stuck with it for a few classes and learned the basic steps, a cross body lead and a turn or two and were pretty proud of yourself for it.

Then you decided to take up spear-fishing! All in the pursuit of new experiences.

You would never have learned the things that you have in all the time you’ve been dancing. You would never have learned how to enjoy music and dance as much as you do now. More importantly you wouldn’t know all the amazing people that you have met thanks to the world of dancing.

Give it time
As I said, new experiences are amazing but if you don’t dedicate yourself to new activities, you’ll never experience them the way they’re supposed to be. You’ll have just scratched the surface, thrown them a superficial glance and missed out on all the secrets that would have been revealed to you had you only “stuck to your guns”.

New Year, New You
I’m mentioning this now at the end of January because I’m sure many of you started out the year with great intentions and I’m also sure that many of you have thrown some of those goals out the window, just as I have.

Doing something new is easy the first time in the sense that you don’t need to dedicate yourself to it. Keeping it up is what’s tough, keeping it up is what takes effort and keeping it up is what reaps the greatest rewards.

My first salsa class was fun and, in a way, easy because I didn’t have any expectations for myself. I knew I was going to suck. Sticking with salsa for my first year however was tough. The few salsa parties I went to (they were surprisingly hard to find in rural Japan. Who’d have thought?) were like torture. I was terrified of making mistakes and beat myself up after for not having the confidence to ask more people out to dance. I thought to myself many times how easy it would be to just not bother, to give up and try something else.

However I also knew that if I stuck with it I’d be able to do the amazing things that I saw all those people doing on the dance floor and I’d be able to enjoy it as much as they seemed to be.

So I stuck to my guns and now they’re fully loaded (sweet pun, I know). I can dance (something I never imagined I’d be able to do) and dance has improved my life in many more ways than I can go into here.

Give yourself time
All dancing aside, if you want to achieve something, anything, you have to be dedicated to it.

How many of you said that you were going to eat healthier this year and are currently munching on the stale doughnuts you found at the bottom of your handbag? How many of you said you were going to get yourself a new job and your old resume remains only partially updated from the time when you got your last job?

Research these days says that for a new habit to stick, you need to stick with it for between 20-28 days. What that means is that if you try something regularly for just 3-4 weeks you break through a certain wall and suddenly maintaining that habit becomes a hell of a lot easier.

3-4 weeks is not a lot of time but that doesn’t mean that being dedicated that whole time is easy. It’s not. But if you stick it out, if you put up with the unpleasantness and inconvenience for just a few weeks your body will reward you by making it a whole lot easier for you. You’re not running uphill anymore, you’re cruising on the flat and straight road to victory.

Obviously 3-4 weeks doesn’t apply to everything. I takes me much more time to get used to something but from experience I know that there comes a time in every endeavor when things suddenly become easier, when things make sense and it all becomes a whole lot of fun.

I experienced it in salsa when my basic step became automatic and freed up my arms to do combinations and I’ve experienced it with Japanese and Spanish when I learned enough vocabulary and grammar to make conversations automatic instead of tediously over-thought.

Automation
In fact, that might be just it. You just need to give something new enough time for it to become automatic. Once that happens it’s clear skies and a nice wind at your back.

So what is it you want to do or learn?

If you want to get fitter then dedicate 3-4 weeks to going to the gym or going jogging at least 3 days a week.

If you want to eat less junk-food make yourself a promise that you won’t touch the stuff for a whole month.

Give yourself a month and once you start to see and feel the benefits you won’t need anymore will-power to help you achieve your goals. You’ll have made it automatic and that’s when the real magic starts to happen.

Forget January guys, your month starts here.

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How to dance salsa: My story (or “How to get blood from a stone”)

20 May
Español: Reevolución XIII Festival Internacion...

You may have already figured this out but that’s not me in the pic!

I am an Irishman and I dance salsa!

You could interpret this in a couple of ways:
You could think “hmmm, those two things don’t sound like they should go together”, as I used to, before I started and maybe even a little during the beginning of my salsa journey.
Or you could think “Sounds like an new member’s introduction at a Salsaholics Anonymos meeting” as I sometimes feel these days.

In any case, the fact is that a little over three years ago I didn’t dance at all (besides an occasional, embarrassed Irishman-shuffle when it couldn’t be avoided) and now I can’t imagine my life without dance. How things change!

What I hope to accomplish with this post is to show you how I, a mild mannered, arrhythmical, introvert “defied the odds” and became a salsa dancing machine, a salsero! I hope that this may encourage those of you starting out in salsa (or any dance for that matter) and make the whole process even more enjoyable and a whole lot faster.

(Note: the following guide speaks mostly about lineal salsa i.e. LA or New York style and from a mans (known as the lead) perspective but can be applied to any style of salsa, indeed most styles of pair dance and of course to women (known as the followers).

So, let’s rock and roll.

Step 1: Find a dance class

You can watch as many videos on YouTube as you want but without someone to correct your mistakes and form, progress will be slow. At the very least find someone who can dance and get them to go through the basics with you until you’re comfortable with the rhythm and can find the beat yourself (which comes with plenty of time and practice listening to salsa).

In my case, this is the reason I was so slow at improving during my first year of salsa. The most regular salsa classes  in my area in Japan, which were run by the famous (at least in the Miyazaki salsa world) Yano mama & papa, were every two weeks on a Sunday and because of my weekend surfing habit I initially only made it there once every two months. Yeah, that’s right, every 60 or so days.

I did however find another class, for ballroom dancing in fact, which included an hour of salsa once a week. I would usually hop in for the salsa and duck out when it came time for things like the foxtrot and the Charleston, much to the disdain of the instructor.

She was an older Japanese lady who all the students respected without question but as the weeks went by I realized that her teaching methods weren’t the best. What I mean is that her explanations of moves and combinations were a little ambiguous and relied a lot on her doing the move for the students to see and expecting them to imitate it without much referral to the timing of moves within the context of the salsa beat (I’ll write more about this in the future).

So I learned a few new moves that I could “kind of” do although often it would be hit and miss. The important thing was that I was practicing and listening to salsa music and improving my basic step, which brings me to…

Step 2: Master the basic steps

I can’t stress the importance of mastering the basic step in salsa. Until you can do this without thinking, that is, until it becomes as natural as walking, doing additional hand movements and patterns is going to be very difficult indeed.

When I hear salsa music these days my body automatically starts swaying to the rhythm (thankfully I live in Colombia where it’s a little more acceptable to “get your dance on” when waiting in line at the supermarket, where they’re always playing salsa. When I lived in Japan there was one store I visited occasionally which was always playing salsa music in the background for some reason. I couldn’t help breaking into a little salsa shuffle whenever I was there, despite the protests of my girlfriend at the time).

You should aim to become as comfortable with salsa as you can, make it automatic. The best way to do this is plenty of repetitive practice. Yano papa, who was manager of a bank, told me he used to practice his salsa basic step under his desk while sitting in his office and that was how he “automated” his footwork. You shouldn’t have to do that yourself but you should find as many opportunities as you can during the week to practice so you no longer need to think about what your feet are doing when you dance.

Step 3: Find a dance partner

You should try and find someone to practice with during the week to help consolidate any new moves or steps that you’ve “learned”. Learning a new move and doing it relatively well at the end of a one hour dance class means absolutely nothing if you forget it by the end of the week (I forgot the vast majority of moves I learned when I first started salsa for this reason). Having a dance partner allows you to practice those moves again and again at your own pace to make sure you remember them.

I’ve been very lucky over the past few years to have been blessed with many amazing dance partners (and friends). From Yano mama and Chihoko, the original members of my salsa group in Japan, to all my beautiful partners in Dublin and here in Cali, I’ve always actively sought out someone to practice and improve with.

I also think having multiple partners is a fantastic idea (minds out of the gutter people, you all know what I’m talking about!). Practicing with different people teaches you how to adapt and react to different dancing styles ( and everyone develops their own style and idiosyncrasies) which is something you need to be able to do in the real world, especially when you dance with someone for the first time.

Try and find a partner that’s a little (or a lot better) than you too. Just like in martial arts where sparring with someone above your level leads to quick improvement, the same can be said for dancing. A good partner (and plenty of practice) will help you to “up” your salsa level in no time and will help you make some amazing friends along the way.

Step 4: Record to remember

Record new salsa moves (with a video camera) and keep them all together so you can review them after your class and practice them again. This will also help you remember moves that you may not have tried on the dance floor in a while and thus have temporarily “forgotten”.

You may of course be one of those savants that can remember something forever after seeing it only once, in which case, good for you! However, if you’re anything like me you have a mind like a spaghetti strainer and have a lot of trouble keeping track of new salsa moves.

I solved this problem by outsourcing the task of memory retention to my computer hard-drive. Whenever I learn a new move I record a video of it (mobile phone cameras mean I don’t have to carry a separate camera around with me) and load it onto my computer (remember to try and get whoever is doing the move to do it relatively slowly and if possible calling out the step-counts as they’re doing it).

I also download salsa videos from sites like YouTube using keepvid and keep all my dance related videos together in a file on my computer. This means that whenever I’m practicing with my partners I can just open this file, watch a video and practice any move that I want to (and I don’t have to worry about forgetting it).

Step 5: Dance

“You learn the moves in class, you learn to dance on the floor!”

This step is by far the most important step of all. You can spend hours practicing the same move over and over again with your partner but that all means nothing if you can’t lead someone new to do it out on the dance floor.

The only way to really perfect a combination is to try it over and over again with new partners, constantly tweaking and refining your form, learning what works and what doesn’t, getting better every time.

Unfortunately, this happens to be the the step that most salsa newbies find the most emotionally traumatic. I’ll admit, at the beginning it’s not easy asking someone new out for a dance. Your mind is full of “what ifs”; what if I forget my basic step? what if I lose my place in the music? what if they get bored with my lack of combinations? what if I try a turn and accidentally hit them in the head with my elbow sending them into a 5 year coma after which they wake up unable to handle all the changes that have happened and seek me out for cold blooded revenge?

My attitude to this is “it happens”. All of those “what ifs” have happened to me at one time or another (except that last one, it was actually more like a 5 minute coma…no revenge…yet).

This is where you’ve got to bite the bullet, confront your fears and take the bull by the horns. It’s time to man-up and dance!

Easier said than done right? I’ll be honest, I had a lot of trouble getting over this fear when I started. I was afraid that I would be repeating the same moves over and over again and the person I was dancing with would get bored and never want to dance with me again. The first time I went to a real salsa party (Salson in Fukuoka) I was very green in salsa terms. I went with my girlfriend and apart from her I only managed to work up the courage to ask one other person out to dance (after 3 hours and near the end of the night). Obviously I felt pretty stupid for being such a chicken.

However, after that, I came up with the ultimate method for getting over this fear, a method that I am happily going to share with you as I know it will get your beginner salsa progress off to a flying start.

Here it is: all you need to do is wait for a song to start, wait a further 2-3 minutes and then invite someone out to dance for the last minute! That’s it. You’ll have about one minute of pure, unadulterated dance time. If you don’t know many moves, you won’t have to worry about boring someone for a full 4 minute (approx.) song and if you feel that you suck, all will be over in about 60 seconds. You’ll have gained valuable dance experience and (hopefully) your ego will still me intact

That’s it! For a beginner, if you follow the steps here you’ll improve quickly and will be a salsaholic in no time. Of course this is only the beginning, the first baby steps on the road to salsa super-stardom (which I’m slowly trying to follow myself) and there are many more aspects to salsa that you’ll become familiar with yourself and which I hope to introduce to you in upcoming posts.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful or at least it has taken down a few of the barriers that might have been preventing you from giving dancing a try.

If you have any tips of your own or any questions that you think I might be able to answer, right them in the comments below and I’ll try and reply as soon as possible.

Keep dancing.

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Fiona Uyema

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