Tag Archives: Salsa

Hands-Free Salsa (a way to switch from On1 to On2)

30 Nov
Switching from On1 to On2 can be tough. Try this  hands-free follow method to automate your new timing.

Switching from On1 to On2 can be tough. Try this hands-free follow method to automate your new timing.

Don’t worry folks, I’m still alive.

Due to some unexpected circumstances I’ve been unable to update the blog this month (hence this quick post I’m writing just to make sure I at least publish something for the month of November).

The same unfortunate circumstances have meant that I have done virtually no dancing since I arrived in New York. For those of you following what I’m up to you’ll realize that I’m not very happy about this. Anyway,starting a few days ago, I finally have some time to take some dance classes; a total of two, with the lovely Maria Torres. I’ve also been out dancing on 3 occasions; Jimmy Anton’s Social, Santo Rico’s social in Queens and Candela Fridays where I danced last night.

My Confession
Now, I have a pretty major sin to confess. Every time I have danced here in New York, I have danced On1. But wait, wait, before you turn up your noses and decide to never read this blog again, hear me out.

My first two nights out, my jaw was literally hanging around my ankles watching the level of the dancers I saw. If I had attempted to dance On2 (without any practice whatsoever) it would have been the salsa equivalent of watching two white Americans hugging; Awkward!

I didn’t want to put anyone through that and also… I just wanted to dance (I really needed to dance off some pent up stress). So I just asked around, found out who could dance On1 and had a great time dancing with them (one girl actually told she hadn’t realized it could be so much fun to dance On1!)

Last night at Candela Friday on 34th street I had one dance with a girl who I had noticed was not completely comfortable dancing On2; she was an excellent dancer but I could see from the expression on her face as she was being turned that she wasn’t completely comfortable with the timing. It turns out she was German and much more used to On1. So I started my night off with LA style and figured that it was going to stay that way for the rest of the night 😦

However, I noticed this one girl who was dancing beautifully but she wasn’t holding hands with any of her partners. She was pretty much just dancing shines the whole night (and dancing them with an awesome Hip-Hop style that I would definitely be happy to see more of).

Anyway, my Irish accent has giving me a lot more confidence when approaching people here so I had no problem in moseying up alongside her and asking, point blank, “So, do you just really like dancing shines or what?”. I got an instant laugh and an explanation. Turns out she was nursing a rotator cuff injury and wasn’t comfortable using her arms but she also couldn’t resist the urge to go out dancing (with such an awesome scene as in New York, I can’t blame her).

She asked me if I wanted to dance (specifically, she asked “would you like to dance across from me?” 😀 ) and I (with my usual awkward laugh indicating I’m not comfortable with the answer) told her that I couldn’t dance On2. I gave the explanation you guys just read up top.

Ms. Motivator
She gave me pretty much the exact same advice I would give someone in the same situation. You’ve got to practice to get comfortable with the timing and to make everything automatic. Absolutely spot on! However, I was intimidated by the level of everyone else and didn’t want to look completely uncoordinated (I know, I’m such a hypocrite).

Then she did what it appears most girls have to do with me these days and took the bull by the horns. She walked out on the floor and told me we were dancing (and I had no say in the matter).

And we danced, with no hands, starting back and forth and then doing cross body and lots of shines… On2. Fair enough, I slipped back into On1 on occasion but I caught myself and got right back On2. And you know what? I had a blast.

And that my dear friends, is the story of my first ever dance On2.

No major disasters, no uncomfortable fumbling with combinations… just a really enjoyable dance with a really cool follower (or should I say lead in this case?).

Lesson learned
So yeah, I just learned a great way to switch over from On1 to On2. Dancing hands free with a partner who knows New York style well to “lead” the timing helps you maintain your footwork On2, and not having to worry about your hands frees up your mind to improve the muscle memory in your feet. Also it’s great for working on your shines.

If you’re considering switching over to On2, give it a shot.

Ciao from New York and keep dancing folks!

Note: This whole post was typed up, edited and published on my iPhone in about an hour and a half. It was a total pain in the backside and I’m going to blame it for any errors or irregularities in the text. My apologies, I’ll be using my laptop next time.

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My Cuban Salsa Adventure: 3 Weeks of Casino, Rumba & Sabor

24 Sep

In this article I’ll be giving some recommendations of salsa schools in Havana and also on places to go dancing. Next week I should have an article on general traveling tips for Havana, a city you should definitely consider visiting.

The car that was waiting for me at the airport. I knew this was going to be a good vacation!

The car that was waiting for me at the airport. I knew this was going to be a good vacation!

 

 I’m currently in the U.S. of A folks, I arrived in Miami last week after 3 weeks in the Mecca of salsa; Cuba. Here’s the article I started writing over there.

It’s been a few weeks of highs and lows.

I started writing this article in El Escorial, a beautiful café in the equally beautiful Plaza Vieja in Havana’s old town, one of the most architecturally stunning neighborhoods I have ever visited in my life. This is one of the highs.

However, I started writing this article because I physically can’t do anything else… I injured my neck this morning and can barely move without wincing in pain so it’s either sulk in the air-conditioned comfort of my “casa particular”… or write. I chose the more constructive latter. This is one of the lows.

We’ll get to my neck injury later.

In my last article, almost a month ago, I wrote about my challenge to learn Cuban-style salsa, casino, as well as learning as much about this country (or at least Havana) as I could in my short stay here.

Let’s be terribly unoriginal and summarize some of the more interesting points from this little adventure:

  • I took 27 hours of private lessons of salsa, rumba and a little reggaeton
  • I went out dancing a total of about 14 nights
  • I walked aimlessly around the streets of Havana enough to wear holes in my sandals
  • I discovered it’s actually possible to sweat more water than one consumes in a day  (some additional water may have been lost as tears)
  • I received countless offers of taxis, cigars and chicas
  • I went to a Cuban wedding party
  • I met some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered
  • I got to see a traditional Santería (Cuban religion of African origin) party in someone’s home
  • I learned that Cuba has some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen

Cuban Salsa from scratch (almost)
Let’s get down and dirty and talk about what people most want to hear about from that list (this site is, after all, mostly about dancing (or at least my attempts at it)).

My previous experience with casino had been a few sporadic classes in Miyazaki, Japan when I first started dancing salsa. I ended up forgetting most of what I had learned as I stuck with LA-style salsa but I regularly used one or two Cuban turns even when I danced LA and this helped me a lot when I started dancing Cali-style salsa.

To give you an idea of my “transformation”, I’ll explain things like this:

On my first night out (Friday) in Havana (before I had taken any classes here) I sat on a sofa in the bar of “Hotel Florida” with my jaw hanging somewhere around my ankles, staring in awe at some of the most intricate dancing I had seen in years.

I psyched myself up (this took a while) and finally worked up the courage to ask one of the local girls for a dance. Before we started I told her clearly that I didn’t know how to dance salsa cubana. The look of discomfort that I saw flashing in her eyes caused the flock of butterflies in my stomach to go on a rampage.

What happened next… was not pretty. I managed to pull off some basic turns from salsa caleña but in general things were sloppy. Let’s just leave it at that. I sat down disheartened after only one dance and thought to myself: I need to start classes soon.

Fast forward to the night before writing this article (Sunday, 16 days after that first night) and I danced Casino… all… night… long. I filled my dances with “dile que no”, “corona”, “habana loco”, “America”, “setenta y tres” and a whole host of other moves who’s names escape me. Now, it may not have been the most finely choreographed display of salsa cubana ever performed but I can definitely say that I now dance casino… and I love it.

How to dance Casino in under 3 weeks
First things first, I owe my progress entirely to the fantastic teachers in the school recommended to me by my friend Tanja from The Cuban Food Blog, who was my initial contact for all things Cuban (thanks for everything Tanja 😉 ).

The formula that worked for me was the following (and in my opinion it’s the best way to learn any social dance):

  • regular classes with good teachers
  • recording new movements learned
  • regular social dancing

I took about 25 hours of private classes with “La Casa del Son” (it would have been more had it not been for my neck injury calling a halt to everything that required… you know… movement!). The majority of the classes were of Cuban salsa but I also spent a good amount of time learning rumba (a traditional Cuban dance of African origin that heavily influenced salsa). Rumba is not easy, especially with my teacher Adrián the perfectionist but I think it can really enrich one’s salsa and especially one’s body movements (although don’t expect to see results quickly, the road to rumba is a long one).

At the end of every salsa class I took I a video of myself and the teacher dancing the combinations we had learned. This is vital for remembering not only the sequence required for each movement but also for just remembering the sheer volume of moves that you can learn in a couple of intensive weeks of salsa classes. Even on nights out dancing socially, if I couldn’t remember a particular move I would just take a quick look at the video on my phone to remind myself.

Finally I went out dancing very regularly. The great thing about the school is that the teachers go out as a group quite regularly so I was able to go out and practice what I had learned frequently and with great dancers. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times “You learn the moves in class, you learn to dance on the floor!”. The more frequently one dances socially and with the greater the variety of partners the better one commits new moves and combinations to muscle memory, making them far easier to execute in the future.

Picking a Salsa School in Havana
If you go to a popular salsa club in Havana you’ll probably meet a whole host of amazing dancers who will offer you private classes. However, being a good dancer does not necessarily translate into being a good teacher so bear that in mind.

Luckily my school was recommended to me and I can gladly recommend it to you too. I took the grand majority of my classes at “La Casa del Son” and I was very happy that I did.

The school has 4 separate, mirrored practice-rooms and is located in the center of old Havana (the heart of the tourist area). The school has a team of 6 male and 7 female instructors who are not only great dancers and teachers but they are also one of the most fun groups of people I have ever had the pleasure of hanging out with. They really take you under their wing at the school and make you feel like one of the family. Going out dancing with these guys is an experience and a half.

They offer classes in Salsa, Son, Rumba, Afrocuban folkloric dances, Tango, Kizomba, Bachata and Reggaeton so I really recommend taking the opportunity to learn as much as you possibly can with them.

The school’s details are as follows:

  • Address: Empedrado No. 411 entre Aguacate and Compostela
  • Telephone: (53 7) 8671537  or  (53 6)2641047
  • Email: lacasadelson@bailarencuba.com

Ask for Ray when you visit or email them and tell him that Richie (the dancing Irishman with the beard) sent you. I hope to get a few favors out of sending them a little business (just so we’re clear).

To be honest you’re best off visiting the school as soon as you arrive in Havana so you can organize your class’ and so you can get information on where to go dancing every night of the week (they really helped me out with this). It’s also great because the teachers can become your social circle while you’re visiting the city and it’s always more fun going dancing with a group of friends than going solo (especially in a new city).

I also took classes with Maria Elena Hernandez, a teacher at the well know Marisuri Escuela de Bailes Cubanos. They classes I took were mostly on body movement but she also teaches Folklore, Rumba, Casino and Son.

  • Telephone: (05 2) 760194
  • Email: marielenala@carpusmail.com

I also can recommend a newly opened school called Salsabor a Cuba, which has a group of fantastic dancers teaching salsa, son, cha cha cha, rumba, folklore, and reueda del casino.

  • Address: Calle Oficio No. 18 (First floor, Apartment 5) entre Obispo and Obrapia
  • Telephone: (53 7) 8608982  or  (53 5) 3027501
  • Internet: www.salsaborcuba.com

Where to dance in Havana
You can only enjoy the salsa in any city if you actually know where to find it. This can be issue when you first arrive in Cuba. Luckily I just had to ask my teachers at the end of the day where they were going to go that night and I had an instant destination and a group of dance partners.

I’ve included a very basic night by night list here that can “help” you decide where to go. I’ve left out a huge amount of places that will no doubt enrage other Habana experts but I’ve decided to just include the safe bets that I visited myself. You will be able to find the directions to each venue by asking at any large hotel in Havana (i.e. I’m too lazy to look up the address/contact details).

  • Monday: Hotel Florida
  • Tuesday: Casa de la Musica (Miramar) for the matinee (5-9pm)
  • Wednesday: Casa de la Musica (Galiano) for the matinee (5-9pm)
  • Thursday: 1830 (pronounced “mil ochocientos treinta”) until 12pm (I loved dancing here)
  • Friday: Hotel Florida
  • Saturday: Hotel Florida or Casa de la Musica (either)
  • Sunday: 1830 and the secret club full of locals that I’m not going to reveal for fear of ruining it 😛

Remember this, when all else fails, Hotel Florida is a safe bet for dancing every night of the week all though I  didn’t really like the atmosphere in the place. It’s full of tourists and people trying to take advantage of them. That said, if you go anywhere with a group of friends you’ll have a good night.

I recommend the matinees in La Casa de la Musica because it’s cheaper and you tend to get more regular locals there dancing. The later shows tend to be frequented by people on the prowl for foreigners.

Feeling like a beginner again
The interesting thing about learning a new style of salsa is that it makes you feel like a complete dance beginner all over again… which really sucks.

I went from being totally confident in my environment in Cali where I know I dance well to a new environment with new rules and new standards that made me feel like I knew nothing. And you know what, that’s probably one of the best things that could have happened to me.

I think it’s great to feel like a beginner again, out of one’s depth. Obviously it sucks at the time as you lose confidence and you feel overly self-conscious about your dancing but you overcome it because you’re reminded of how you were when you started out with other styles. Then all you have to do is remember how much progress you made with those styles and it actually encourages you to drive forward.

On this trip to Cuba I experienced many moments where I felt like I didn’t want to dance in public because I felt I would look ridiculous around the people who had been dancing for years. My confidence hit a low and I would get frustrated (as I regularly do). However, all I had to do to get over it was remember that I’ve done it all before, with LA style salsa and salsa caleña. And thinking of that got me right back in the game.

With dance, the initial learning curve tends to be uncomfortable but just remember that all great dancers most likely had to go through a brief period where they “probably” sucked. That’s the price to pay to dance well and honestly it’s a bargain.

Loads more for another time
This article already is way too long and there’s a lot more that I want to write about dancing in Cuba but I’m going to have to save it for another article.

Note to self: when taking pictures of sunsets, ensure iPhone is pointing at the sun!

Note to self: when taking pictures of Cuban sunsets, ensure iPhone is pointing at the sun!

My adventure in North America is just starting so I’ve got lots to keep me occupied for the next few weeks. Remember, if you have any recommendations for dancing or places to visit along the east coast of the U.S. drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

Keep dancing folks.

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Goodbye Cali, Hello Cuba!

29 Aug

It’s the end of an era!

Today, after almost 2 years living here, I have left my “Cali bella”. I’m leaving Colombia.

I’m writing this post in El Dorado Airport in Bogota (funnily enough this song was playing when I got off my flight from Cali) as I await my connecting flight that will take me, via San Salvador, to my next destination: La Habana, Cuba.

I’ve spent the last few weeks answering the same questions from my friends over and over again:
-Why are you leaving?
-Did you get bored of Cali?
-What’s are you going to do?

I probably should have written this post a lot sooner to preemptively answer those questions but, as a lot of my friends in Cali pointed out to me over the last few days, I seem to have taken to procrastination after spending so much time here. Better late than never, right!

Why am I leaving?
I’ll be brutally honest: I feel like I’ve stagnated here in Cali and I’ve felt that way for a while now.

I came here with the goals of learning Spanish and adding more “latin sabor” to my salsa. I now speak Spanish (far from perfect but enough for some Colombians who have been speaking to me for a few minutes to find it necessary to confirm that I’m not originally from Colombia) and I now dance very differently from how I danced before I came here.

So now I think it’s time to move on to another challenge (more on that in a moment).

I also feel I need some time outside of Cali to think seriously about what I want to with myself, long term. I was speaking with my mam a few weeks ago and she dropped the “You’re nearly 30” bomb on me. She’s entitled to do it; she’s my mam and she only wants the best for me and she wants to make sure I’m doing something with my life. It still hurt like a kick in the teeth, though.

I’m hoping a change of environment should help me to think and plan a little better. At least that’s the idea.

Did I get bored of Cali?
The best way to answer that is: No, I didn’t get bored of Cali BUT Yes I did get bored of the salsa here.

I’m the Dancing Irishman (yup, it looks like it’s gone to my head) and salsa is a huge part of my life. I’ve become far too comfortable in Cali (typical Irishman; thinks something’s wrong when things are going too smoothly). Dancing socially in Cali doesn’t challenge me the way I would like it too. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out with my friends and dancing into the wee hours but it has become quite repetitive for me. In general I can only use a limited amount of moves in salsa caleña.

I want to learn other styles. I want my own style to continue evolving. I want to get better.

This is why I feel I need to move on and find new challenges.

So what am I going to do?
Cali is known as the world capital of salsa but there a few other places around the world that would like to claim that title.

Hence my first stop: Cuba.

I arrive tomorrow… or this morning… or whatever, I’m tired from a week of going away parties. I’m going to spend 3 weeks there (very short I know but the length of my stay has been dictated by the pitiful-ness of my budget. The plan is to learn as much Cuban salsa as I can, dance my ass off, and get to know the country (and its people) that claims to be the birthplace of salsa.

And then, near the end of September, I arrive in Miami. The idea is to start there and slowly but surely dance my way up the east coast to my final destination: New York City.

Yes folks, it’s time the Dancing Irishman learned to dance “On2”.

And that’s my plan, in all it’s naive simplicity.

Mi nuevo camino
I’m looking at this like an adventure. I’m following my heart (can you say cliché?) and going where the dance takes me.

If you happen to live some where on or near the east coast of the US and you have some advice for me on places to visit (salsa or non-salsa related), if you want to meet up for a coffee or if you want to offer me a couch to sleep on during my travels 🙂 drop me an email: richie@dancingirishman.com

As I’m a big fan of Couchsurfing I’d be very happy to hear from you. Bear in mind that while I’m in Cuba (until September 20th) I won’t have much access to internet but I promise to reply once I arrive in the US. This means I probably won’t publish any new posts for a few weeks.

To my friends in Cali
I can’t finish this blog without mentioning that which became more important for me than anything in Cali: the beautiful people I got to know and the incredible friends I made.

In just two years I truly feel that I became part of Cali, that it opened its arms and accepted me as one of her own (albeit an exceptionally pale one). The people here made me an honorary caleño, ve!

They made me feel welcome, they thought me how to appreciate salsa on a level I never even knew existed, they helped me find my latin “sabor” (turns out I’m white chocolate) and when I was leaving they made sure to say goodbye in a way that would make me want to come back as soon as possible.

Las sonrisas bellas de mi gente linda! That was one hell of a Farewell Party!

Las sonrisas bellas de mi gente linda! That was one hell of a Farewell Party! Try and find the Irishman!

I love you Cali. I love you my Caleños. Les quiero mucho…e hasta pronto!

Cuba, here I come!

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The Most Famous Salsa Teacher in Cali, Colombia (and he’s Irish???)

8 Jul

As of last Wednesday, July 3rd, the Dancing Irishman is now probably the most well known salsa teacher in Cali, Colombia.

I was featured in an episode of the show, “Tiempo Real” which aired last week on the local Cali channel, Telepacifico. You can check out the clip below.

The whole thing came about when a journalist friend of mine (muchas gracias, Paola) mentioned my story to a a friend of hers who was looking for stories about foreigners doing things a little bit “different” in Cali. Apparently and Irishman teaching salsa in the “world capital of salsa” qualifies as different… (go figure).

In the clip you can hear some of my students talking about my teaching technique and a number of them mention a couple of things that have given me my own little niche here in the (as you can imagine) “saturated” market of salsa teachers in Cali. Those would be:

  • I speak English (which makes teaching a hell of a lot more efficient when your students don’t speak Spanish)
  • I break down the movements in a way that local teachers simply don’t do because that’s how I learned myself and that’s why my students, some of whom have never been able to dance in their lives, learn salsa so fast.

Another thing that I think has been helping my students is the fact that I only teach moves that they can use (in the “wild”) in salsa clubs in Cali. Most big dance schools here tend to teach a huge amount of complicated footwork which is fine if you eventually want to perform in a show or something like that but in general, you don’t see that out on the dance-floors in Cali and very few “untrained” girls can follow it.

On the other hand I stick to refining my students basics, body movements and turn patterns so they can use everything they learn on an average night out in Cali with the vast majority of dancers. It looks like that plan has been paying off.

Wouldn't you like a mild mannered, poorly accented, bearded Irishman as your salsa teacher???

Wouldn’t you like a mild mannered, poorly accented, bearded Irishman as your salsa teacher???

The Accented Irishman
In the video you also get to hear my spectacularly awful Spanish accent. I literally cried when I heard it for the first time :-(. Thankfully, some of my friends have assured me that I don’t speak that way normally so I’m going to put it down to being nervous in front of the cameras (I’m really very shy 😉 ). It has, however, given me the incentive to work more on my accent in Spanish, so I should have an article on that in a few weeks.

Anyway, since the show aired last week I’ve been getting a huge amount of emails from people (most of whom are Colombian) wanting to take salsa classes with me (Wuhoo for mass media). I guess with the World Salsa Championships just around the corner (August 5th) people want to learn what their city is famous for.

So there you have it, how an Irishman ended up teaching salsa in the World Capital of Salsa: Cali, Colombia.

Keep dancing folks.

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Why You Need To Dance With Better Dancers

2 Jul
If you want to get better you've got to go "toe to toe" with the best!

If you want to get better you’ve got to go “toe to toe” with the best!

I’ve landed on my face, been punched in the ribs, kicked in the throat, I’ve even taken a shot to the “meat and two veg” (thank God for sports-cups). I’ve had my pale Irish arse handed to me on a plate numerous times and truth be told I’m grateful for every single experience.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not referring to some sick “Fight Club” version salsa where you not only have to keep on time with the music but you have to watch out for body blows from your partner and everyone else on the dance-floor. While the thought of becoming a salsa dancing version of “Tyler Durden” does fill me with intrigue, I can’t see the whole movement really taking off (nobody wants bloodstains on their favorite dancing waist-coat).

No, I’m taking about when I used to spar competitively in karate tournaments.

As a kid I was never big into team sports (I’m still not) which was “unusual” for my village in Ireland where both boys and girls were almost expected to play gaelic football, hurling and soccer (which all three of my brothers play). So in order to not feel left out in the trophy cabinet I contributed with trophies and medals I received for kicking people.

I appreciated sparring a lot; it’s a beautiful balance of speed, timing, accuracy of movement and adaptation to your partner. It’s no wonder then that a lot of salseros I know also have a background in martial-arts. The two disciplines compliment eahc other beautifully. in fact, there are very few differences between a well performed “kata” and a perfectly executed salsa combination.

Better Partners
I learned very early on in my karate career that if I really wanted to improve my sparring ability, I needed to spar with partners who were better than me. If I spent the majority of my time sparring with beginners I made very little improvement. However, if I went a few rounds with the bigger, more experienced guys in the club I made noticeable improvements in very little time.

I loved getting to spar with my coach and the older guys who knew what they were doing. As I said, I had my arse handed to me plenty of times but I knew that every time I stepped on the floor with them, being pushed to my limits, I was getting better and better.

That all came to fruition (sort of) about 3 years ago when I got my black belt and entered a regional karate tournament n southern Japan. In on of my fights I was put up against a guy who my coach “casually” mentioned just before I stepped on the floor , had won the world championship the year before.

I learned two very important things from that fight:

  1. Protective head-gear really does very little to soften a punch and…
  2. There is no better learning experience than going toe to toe with with your clear superior

“Your Salsa is Strong, Grasshopper”
This is something that salseros should take into account when they’re dancing.

When I was a salsa beginner I used to spend most of my time dancing with other beginners for 2 simple reasosns:

  • I knew the other beginners from the salsa classes and we were friends
  • The mere thought of dancing with the really advanced dancers made me break out in a cold sweat

This obviously meant that I wasn’t making much progress in the beginning!

My first salsa “break” came when I left Japan for a 10 day salsa vacation to the Philippines and Hong Kong. I improved hugely in those 10 days because I was both dancing much more regularly (thank you law of 10,000 hours) and I was dancing with seriously good dancers. It was a winning combination.

Dancing with dancers much better than yourself is one of the best ways to to up your salsa game… fast. You learn timing and rhythm, proper hand position and signaling, better body movement etc. Like I’ve always said before, the dance floor is where you really learn to dance!

Obviously a beginner girl dancing with an advanced guy is going to improve quicker than a beginner guy with an advanced girl. This is simply because the guy has more points to master and this is the main reason that women advance in salsa much faster than men.

The challenge of seeking better dancers
Going out and dancing with all the the great dancers that you see on the dance floor is much easier said than done, I know, but you don’t have to spend ALL your dances with the best in the club.

While you might not always find a partner as good as Tanja "La Alemana" you can surely find plenty of dancers better than yourself!

While you might not always find a partner as good as Tanja “La Alemana” you can surely find plenty of dancers better than yourself!

Obviously the more great dancers you dance with the better but even trying to have 3 or 4 such dances a night will go a long way to improving your game.

To do this originally, I set myself a challenge. My challenge was to find the woman that I considered to be the the best dancer in a club and ask her for a dance. I remember the first night of that challenge too.

I was in Fukuoka and my target was a beautiful salsa instructor from Colombia. I set my sights on her early in the night and it literally took me a whole night of heart palpitations, sweaty palms and aborted attempts (imagine me walking up to ask her and then suddenly doing a 180 as soon as I got close, numerous times) before I finally asked her to dance.

When we eventually did dance, it was awesome. She responded to everything I threw at her (which in all honesty wasn’t really that much) and I finished the encounter feeling like a million bucks and wondering why it had taken me so long to ask her to dance in the first place.

Get out of your Comfort Zone
I think that’s the problem! We stop ourselves from leaving our nice, safe comfort zones because we focus on all the things that could “possibly” go wrong! We scare ourselves into believing all these terrifying disasters can happen if we take little risks. That’s no way to live.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and dancing with people who are better than you is simply one of the best things you can do to get better.

You need to remember that we get better due to necessity, due to a stimulus that tells our bodies that we need to improve. Just as a guy who lifts weights heavier than he’s used to gets bigger and stronger or just like a child that is sent to school in a foreign country learns the language quickly, so to will your salsa improve when you dance with great dancers because IT NEEDS TO!

You need the stimulus of a challenge, of something more difficult than what you’re used to, to improve.

So on your next night out dancing, step out of your comfort zone and ask out a few of the best dancers you see and prepare to get a whole lot better.

Keep dancing folks.

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The Sneaky Trick that Every Salsa Beginner Needs to Know (Better salsa in just 60 seconds)

19 Jun
60 seconds will soon add up!

60 seconds will soon add up!

This article is an expansion of a point I made in one of my first articles on how to dance salsa.

One of the hardest things for any salsa beginner is asking someone out for a dance, especially someone you don’t know.

However, asking is just the beginning of your worries because when you ask someone out to dance you are pretty much making a contract. It’s a contract that contains two main clauses; (1) you are going to dance with the person and in doing so (2) you are going to entertain the person (through your skills on the dance-floor… one hopes). You need to dance with this person for the full length of the song (at least 3 or 4 minutes) keeping things interesting with all the different moves and patterns which you have apparently learned up until this point.

This means that if you don’t fulfill either of the aforementioned clauses you are in breach of contract. You have reneged on your promise. You have been a very naughty boy and you must be punished!

Thankfully, this punishment doesn’t come in the form of the your partner screaming at the top of her lungs for everyone to hear, how bad you suck at dancing (although she may tell her friends). Nor does it entail you having to wear a large luminous-yellow hat stating “Please Dance with Caution! Sucky and Boring!” for all the other dancers to see and ridicule (although I will admit this appeared in the majority of dance related nightmares I had when I first started dancing salsa).

No, the punishment comes in how you make yourself feel when you believe that you haven’t performed well. You make yourself feel stupid and useless, like the previous few weeks or months of salsa classes have come to naught, like you have no business out there on the dance floor with the other people who “supposedly” can dance.

In short it can be a Salsa Career Killer!

Every beginner feels this way at the start
I can guarantee you that this “fear” of not performing to expectation was one of the main reasons that I had so much trouble in asking people out to dance when I first started and this was one of the specific reasons that I was so slow to improve during my first year.

I was so nervous about what I was capable (or incapable) of doing, nervous that I was going to bore my partner that I would spend nights at salsa clubs dancing virtually exclusively with my girlfriend or one or two friends in order to avoid the risk of making a fool of myself with people I didn’t know.

One thing that made it worse for me was the fact that I learned salsa in Japan. That meant that if I went to a salsa club I stuck out big time (fair hair, pale skin and the beard). In general, the only other foreigners in the clubs at the time were the foreign instructors so that meant some people would assume that I was… you know… good! This only added to the pressure I  felt.

You learn the moves in class, you learn to dance on the floor!
That’s the paradox, you don’t want to dance because you think you suck but the only way you’ll actually improve is by dancing.

So what can you do. For me, the main issue was the length of salsa songs. I could relatively confidently lead the basic steps, a cross-body lead, a basic turn and a cross-body with turn. The problem was that if I had to constantly repeat those few moves over the course of a 4 minute song I started to freak out. Big time!

So, I came up with a little trick. A cheat that helped get me out dancing with other people and saved me having to worry about entertaining for the length of an entire song. It’s a trick 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! If you’re a beginner, hopefully that will get you out dancing more regularly and with more people and that is all you need to start improving.

More Dances + More Partners = Better Salsa

Obviously this isn’t going to continue forever. You’ll quickly get better, learn more moves, gain more confidence and soon enough not even an 8 minute song will be enough for you and your mad salsa skills.

This one little trick was all I needed to get over my fear of boring someone on the floor. I may have only been dancing for a minute at a time but those minutes add up and they make all the difference.

Now get out there and wait for some songs to be nearly over 😉

Keep Dancing Folks!

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The Worst Four Minutes of My Life

2 Apr

Last week I wrote about some of the GADs (God Awful Dancers) that can almost make you want to call it quits in your dancing career.

That post actually started out with me thinking about the worst dancing experience I ever had and the article took a slightly different turn. So this week I though I’d tell you about the horrifying event that inspired last weeks article.

Once upon a time…
… in a far away kingdom called Colombia, in the sultry heat of a city called Cali, there was a Dancing Irishman.

I was relatively fresh off the boat, having only arrived in the city a couple of months previously but I was already fairly familiar with the dance scene in the city. I was far from being a great salsa-caleña dancer but I could definitely hold my own in the clubs where a few basics will get you far.

It all started when a buddy of mine asked me to join him and his girlfriend on a night out dancing. To be more specific he told me that he “needed” someone to accompany his girlfriend’s sister. It’s normal in Colombia (unlike salsa scenes in non-Latin countries) for people to go out in groups or couples and just dance with the people in their group for the night. So it’s usually better to have an even number of guys and girls when going out in a small group.

My buddy told me that he really needed someone to dance with his girlfriends sister because they just “had to” take her out that night. That should have been my first warning.

Me being the (foolishly) friendly guy that I am, I said something that I would later regret for the rest of my life…”Sure”.

Who could say "No"?

Who could say “No”?

La Noche de Horror
The night arrived and we went to what’s called a “Cross-over” club just outside the city limits. A “Cross-over” club is one that plays a mix of different latin music sytles like salsa, bachata, merengue, reggaeton, cumbia and vallenato as opposed to “salsotecas” which just play salsa.

We all hung out a bit and chatted and drank at our table for a while until eventually my buddy took his girlfriend out for a dance. Seeing as her sister wasn’t much of conversationalist I figured that now would be as good a time as any to take her out for a dance.

We walked onto the quite crowded dance floor, I put my right hand on her back and with my left hand grabbed her right. I listened to the music, a nice standard salsa that I had danced to may times before and when the timing was right I gave her a gentle push back to start.

Nothing.

My initial thought was “What the fudge?”. I tried again and once more she was having none of it.

She then started her own “basic step”. It took me about 5 seconds to realize that this was not going to be pleasant.

She started doing something with her feet that resembled a combination of merengue and drunken staggering. I would say that she was dancing on the wrong beat but that would imply that she was actually dancing on a certain beat in the music. That was not the case. This girl was marching to her own beat, a style of dance that hasn’t been created yet and if it ever is, will probably end up being called the “Drunken Monkey” or maybe the “Try and guess what I’m gonna do next”.

I tried to mirror what she was doing but there was genuinely no timing to her steps. I started grabbing at straws. I tried to bring her closer and change the steps to more of a circular closed style of dancing common in Cali, similar to close bachata. I figured if we were closer it would be easier for her to feel the rhythm from my body…

WRONG!
She clearly thought she knew what she was doing because she managed to distort the rhythm (and my body) to her own erratic beat once more. Every attempt I made to get us back on the beat was firmly subdued by unsmiling partner. Resistance was futile!

Even my attempts at a few simple turns to break the monotony were met with ridiculous wobbles and my arm nearly getting torn out of my shoulder socket by her vice like grip. She was being very clear: “I’m wearing the pants in this dance…bitch”.

I praised the Lord that the room was so dimly lit.

In the first 45 seconds of the song she had managed to reveal herself as a “Bossy Bertha”, “Lost Boy”, “Poker Face” and “The Claw” all rolled into one. I had met the “Anti-Dancer”!

At that stage I had realized that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop this and, like many guys in prison shower-rooms, I was just going to have to take it like a man. I mentally shut down and tried to find a happy place in my head; someplace to hide for the remaining eternity (or 3 minutes, I’m not quite sure) of the song.

A “happy place” was not to be found but I did what I could to mentally distance myself from the the unspeakable horror that was being committed against me (and against dance in general). My legs went to automatic, but that’s not easily done when your trying to follow something that spits in the face of coordination.

I tried a couple of times to signal to the other dancers around me that I was in distress. I thought the look of pure despair on my face would convince some good Samaritan to put me out of my misery; maybe by throwing a bar stool at my head… or something equally effective. My pleas for compassion went unanswered.

I will be bringing one of these stickers with me for such emergencies in the future!

I will be bringing one of these stickers with me for such emergencies in the future!

Finally, just when I felt I couldn’t take any more and I might have try and pretend to pass out to get of the dance floor, that ray of light that is the wind-down in the music came to my hears and I screamed for joy internally, yelling to myself “You’ve done it lad. You made it. She can’t hurt you anymore”. The song ended and gave her the most untruthful smile and “gracias” that I have ever produced in my life.

I walked back to the table, frail from my ordeal.

There waiting for us was my buddy and his girlfriend. He pulled his chair next to mine and with a with a huge goofy smile, whispered in my ear “She’s a horrible dancer isn’t she”!

The Fall Guy
I then realized why it was so important that he find a partner for his girlfriend’s sister that night. Why I was so essential. He didn’t want to dance with her himself. I was the “Fall Guy”. Betrayed from the start by my own friend. I felt things couldn’t get any worse… until I remembered that that was our first dance and we still had a full night to go.

What about you guys? Have you had any horrible dance experiences yourselves? Let me know in the comments (seriously, it might make me feel better about how bad my experience was).

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Dancing Salsa like an Irishman

20 Mar
Dancing for truth, justice and good old St. Paddy

Dancing for truth, justice and good old St. Paddy

Last Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of everything Irish and a great excuse for a party. Never one to turn down an opportunity for a rumba (party) I held a “little” shindig in my apartment to celebrate St. Paddy (NOT St. Patty), Cali-style.

All in all I had about 70 guests and a great time was had by all with lots of great music, great dancing and a whole lot of sweating in the tropical heat.

Video Antics
As you know from previous posts like this one I’m a big fan of videoing oneself dancing in order to see where you need to improve and how you’re progressing.

So I got a friend of mine to grab a quick video of my dance-partner Kelli and I dancing a mixture of LA and salsa caleña. Check it out below.

First off, I know, I’m sweating like an animal. If people can sweat dancing salsa in Ireland in the winter, just imagine what it’s like dancing in the tropics.

For those of you unfamiliar with Cali-style salsa, you can recognize it here from the basic back step (side to side in some cases) and the more circular, cuban-style turns. The majority of stuff with complicated handwork is LA style.

Post Game Analysis
One thing that I’m finally starting to improve is my eye contact which is something that I’ve always had trouble with. It might just be the fact that I’m dancing with Kelli who I’m very comfortable with by I manage to get a nice amount of eye contact in during this dance.

One thing that annoyed the crap out of me is the fact that I still hold back from doing more complicated Cali-style moves and footwork when I social dance. I tend to stick with the safe stuff which doesn’t do me any good in the long run.

Help the Irishman Out
What do you think yourself? Where do you think I can improve or what do you think I need to work on? I thrive on constructive criticism so if you think you could offer me a little bit of advice please let me know in the comments.

Excellent New Song
The song we’re dancing to in the video is “Mother’s Delight” from the new Irish salsa group “Baile an Salsa”, check them out. It’s a mix of traditional Irish music and salsa and I really think it’s a fantastic song for dancing linear On1 or On2 salsa. It’s not the most appropriate song for dancing salsa-caleña, however, so that may explain why I didn’t do many Cali moves in the video.

Dancing Alone
You might want to know why Kelli and I are the only couple dancing in the video. I asked the same thing to a Caleño friend of mine that night and he told me it was because the locals weren’t familiar with the song (or the Irish-style music for that matter). He said that caleños tend to only dance to music they’re familiar with. I’ve noticed this when I’ve DJ-ed before, anytime I put on a song that isn’t heard regularly in the clubs in Cali, people tend to shy off the floor and get some conversation in instead. Just a little observation.

We had a great time here in Cali last weekend and I hope you all had a Happy St. Patrick’s Day too, wherever in the world you are.

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Help Out South Africa’s Mini-Dancers

12 Mar

Make South Africa’s Khayelitsha Kid’s dreams come true
After salsa-promotor Albert Torres watched the children from Khayelitsha (a township in Cape Town) dance, he decided to give them a platform to showcase their talents at the Los Angeles Salsa Festival in May 2013.

Help send these kids to the Los Angeles Salsa Festival.

Help send these kids to the Los Angeles Salsa Festival

My buddy Chilly, one of South Africa’s most well known salseros and bloggers told me all about their campaign to raise money to send these talented kids to Los Angeles to showcase their dancing talents.

You can find out more about the campaign for the Khayelistsha Kid’s here!

Salseros give something back
This is a fantastic opportunity for the international salsa community to band together and do something amazing for some fellow dancers.

Imagine you were one of these kids and how you would feel being able to travel to the other side of the planet to one of the world’s foremost dance events to show fellow dancers just what you can do.

How to help
You can support this very worthy cause by making a donation on AllOutSalsa.com

But you can help even more by letting more people know about this. Start promoting this project by sharing this article on Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon and whatever other social networking site you can think of. Use the links below to do just that. The more people who know about this the more money can be raised for these young dancers.

Do something special this week and help make the Khayelistsha Kids the first South African group ever to perform at the Los Angeles Salsa Festival in May.

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22 Ways Salsa Makes Life Better

19 Feb
You can quote me on that!

You can quote me on that!

My life has changed hugely since I started dancing salsa, unquestionably for the better and I’m certain that this is the case for everyone else who dances.

Whether you’re already reaping the benefits or you’re looking for a little motivation to start dancing, here’s a little list of the things that make salsa so popular and addictive.

1. New Friends: Getting into salsa opens up a whole new world of people from literally every walk of life who you otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet. I’ve even made a lot of salsero friends through this blog, whom I haven’t met in person, yet! I am so grateful for the huge amount of great friends I have made through salsa.

2. Lose Weight: When I’m dancing 3 nights a week I’m at my leanest. If I ever go through a period when I’m not dancing for an extended period of time I really notice the weight pile on quickly! Dance and say goodbye to those love-handles.

3. Stay Healthy: Doctors recommend you get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to keep your heart healthy. Salsa is a great way to up your heart rate and boost cardiovascular health and the fact that it’s so fun means you’ll stick with it. It’s definitely more entertaining than hitting a treadmill for 30 minutes. Social dance has also been shown to keep the mind sharper as we age, better than any other physical activity!

4. Improve Coordination: Salsa teaches you how to coordinate complex footwork with arm combinations. Countless studies and personal experience have shown that coordination gained in one physical activity is transferable to a whole range of others. So if you want to move well in general, dance!

5. Forget about Life’s Worries: I think one of the major reasons I fell in love with salsa was that it became a form of meditation for me. Dance allows you to focus all of your thoughts on the dance and forget about everything else for a few minutes (or more). Losing yourself in the moment when dancing is probably a therapy that a lot of people could use in this day and age!

6. Learn New Languages: Salsa communities the world over tend to be very international and that makes them a great place to learn or practice a new language especially Spanish (well, you may as well learn what all those songs are about: Short Answer = Lovey dovey crap).

7. New Cultures: For the same reason mentioned above you can learn so much about different cultures from meeting new people through salsa. This really helped me to learn more about the large Polish and Latin communities in Dublin.

8. Better Love Life: While salsa should never, ever be considered a dating service I can honestly say that it has done absolutely no harm to my love life.

9. Better Understanding of People: Salsa is social. You will meet all sorts of new people and form all sorts of new relationships and gain new insights into how people work. I can’t begin to explain how salsa will affect every interaction you will have with people in your life but it will, for the better.

10. Discover Passion: This was and is huge for me. Through salsa you discover the passion of dance, the passion created between a couple as they move together as one in harmony with music and then you begin to discover it in every other aspect of your life. And once you taste passion you will never want to look back at how your life was before.

11. Appreciate Music: I never really listened to music before I started dancing but ever since then it has become a huge part of my life. I pay attention to new music, not just what I can dance to, appreciate it, enjoy it and feel it.

12. Travel: I’ve lost count of the amount of countries and cities I’ve danced in. Salsa is truly international and if ever you’re in a big city where you don’t know anyone you can just google a salsa club, get dancing and start meeting the locals and maybe they’ll even show around their city too.

13. Learn to Relax: I’ve always found it tough to relax myself physically, so much so that a Japanese masseuse once described me as the tensest human being she had ever worked with. Losing yourself in the music and letting yourself flow with the rhythm is one incredibly effective way of relaxing your whole body, not to mention how well you’ll sleep after a great night of dancing.

14. Improve your Fashion Sense: While this doesn’t apply to everyone I’ve definitely noticed that when people enter the salsa community they become a lot more adventurous with their clothes, start to pay a little more attention to their appearance and basically “sex-up” their whole wardrobe. I know plenty of guys who have discovered the wonders of hats and waistcoats through salsa (you know who you are).

15. Boost Confidence: Probably the biggest difference most people experience with salsa is just the sheer confidence boost you feel once you get into. In salsa you have to step out of your comfort zone all the time; asking people to dance, trying new moves etc and this definitely transfers to other areas of your life. Sex, business, sports, you name it! An extra bit of confidence goes a long way in life.

16. Discover Other Dances: Once people start dancing salsa, they often don’t stop there. Salsa is like a “Gateway Dance” into a whole world of other dances like bachata, merengue, cha cha cha, kizomba, tango and a whole host more. What will your poison be?

What will your poison be?

What will your poison be?

17. Drink Less: This really applies in Ireland where we have a ridiculously alcohol-centered social culture. In my experience, salsa dancers don’t drink much (some of us not at all) and this may be why some people turn to salsa. It offers a social outlet that doesn’t revolve around booze which is a blessing in some countries.

18. Overcome Addictions: Salsa is addictive! Many people find themselves that the best way to get over one thing is to replace it with something else. Be it smoking, alcohol, drugs, food, popping bubble-wrap, an ex-relationship or whatever, salsa is a very healthy and rewarding alternative.

19. Dodge Pedestrians: This might (probably is) just be me but ever since I started dancing I’ve found I’ve become really good at skillfully dodging oncoming pedestrian traffic when walking on the sidewalk. I don’t walk around people anymore, I glide!

20. Physical Contact: This applies more to people in Asia and the English speaking world but dancing salsa makes you much more comfortable with human contact. Obviously when you dance you’re going to be in close physical contact with your partner but on top pf that, salsa communities, thanks to the Latin influence tend to be warmer and closer; people greet each other with kisses and hugs. The world needs more of this.

21. Meet Me: When I asked people on my facebook page about how salsa has made their lives better, a lot replied saying that it had helped them meet me 😉 So there you go: Dance salsa and meet The Dancing Irishman, what more could you ask for haha!

22. It’s Fun: I can’t believe I almost forgot to throw in the most obvious reason of them all. The more fun in our lives the better right! Dance passionately with countless beautiful people to fantastic music until the sun comes up. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on… the rest comes later.

What about you? How has salsa improved your life? Let me know in the comments.

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Fiona Uyema

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