Dancing Salsa: 10 Surprising Insights After Just 2 Months of Learning

I wrote about my Salsa hate turning into an obsession a while back. It has been more than two months and now have a couple of tricks (though sometimes patchy) up my sleeve. I have completed a beginners course and started in the upper beginner. In this post, I will be sharing my learnings and none of them are actually the description of fancy moves.

The School And The Teacher Are Very Important 

A good teacher can keep people motivated and continue learning. In my case, the beginners’ classes instructor happened to be the owner of the school too. This created a positive effect from the top down. Every other teacher that works in this studio is friendly and passionate about teaching. 

I often see him walking around the studio dancing with a happy look in one of those “dance like nobody’s watching” moments. He seems to be genuinely happy to be there and enjoying what he does, even though he’s been doing it for the last 20 years.

The classes are also structured similarly to martial arts schools with different skill levels classes running a few times a week. Muscle memory favours repetition and consistency and this is a perfect way to cover both.

What You Learn In Introduction Classes Is Not What You Will Learn In Advanced Levels

Introduction sessions are always a teaser where the focus is on fun and less technical aspects of the dance. Turning first lessons into a mini dance party makes it less intimidating for most people. The point of the first classes is to create motivation and show what’s possible. Advancing further will be more focused on the mechanics of the dance and that’s where the real work begins. This will require practice and commitment.

I Am Skipping “Socials” Until Later

When you start you will hear that you need to start going to social dancing as early as possible. Despite everyone saying that I am not planning to do that for at least another four months.

This recommendation may be true for follows but as a lead, I need to have a decent amount of moves baked into the muscle memory. Going to socials is about practice and having fun for both partners and three basic steps are not going to cut it.

You Can Learn A Lot About A Person From One Dance

In early levels when people are not familiar with specific technics they dance primarily with their personalities. Dominance, shyness, mischief, and attachment to others shine through the dynamic of the dance. Unlike language or facial expressions, we do not learn to control our body movements to be congruent with the social personals we create.

Salsa Is Not A Precise Language, And Teachers Will Have Different “Accents”

It can be a little confusing to hear a slightly different step-by-step for the same move. That does not make them right and wrong but it’s more of a preference. One of my biggest realisations was the Sala or any non-choreographed partner dance is a language. When the lead makes a move the follower knows how to respond to it. Like with any language, there will be slight variations based on the dancers’ personal style.

Repeating The Same Level Twice Is Boring But Useful

Most of the dance improvisation is based on muscle memory that takes time to develop. While consciously you may know the move your body has not caught up to it just yet. 

The solution to it is a boring repetition. This however is a grueling experience as my mind picks on new subtleties of the movements that I did not recognise before. Another important aspect is the music and beat. Most Western music counts on all four beats whereas Salsa uses the first three. 

It is also referred to as the quick-quick-slow style and can be very confusing. While I can pick the right beat in 90 per cent of the songs the beginning of the count is still an issue. Listening to more Latin music is definitely helping with that.

It Gets Really Awkward To Look In Your Partner’s Eyes

I’m definitely getting better because, in the beginning, I kept looking at my feet, and walls anything but the person’s face. It is weird to dance complete strangers while holding hands and gazing into each other eyes. 

The solution is to “acknowledge” the person but not to stare or completely ignore them. I also expect that it will be less of an issue at social dancing when there are other things to worry about. When you are busy maneuvering between other dancers with a faster than learning music glancing at your partner to make sure they are doing ok feels almost necessary.

Buying Dancing Shoes ASAP

Some people dance in their favourite running shoes with a strong grip and that’s concerning. The question “How do I stop my knees from hurting when I do the right turn” gets asked in every beginner course. I suspect that most leads suffer quietly.

Shoes are important because you don’t want to ruin your knees when turning. You only have two of those and they are needed pretty much for everything that involves moving around.

This is a small investment that will save you money and protect your body in the long run. Considering that this is the only training equipment required for Salsa you should definitely buy them. It is possible to hop up or transfer weight momentarily to take the load off the turning leg but it is tricky. As a beginner, there are other things to worry about.

I also tried dancing socks which are really fabric sleeves that you put on everyday shoes during practice. They are fine if you do not want to carry a bag with the shoes however they have an annoying tendency to slip off in a middle of a turn.

It Takes Two To Salsa

Dancing with some partners on the same level is a smooth experience and with others is a clunky ordeal. My default state is to assume that it is me not executing moves correctly and trying to fix it. 

As I found out it is not always the case. At this point in my experience level, I simply ask the instructors to help with troubleshooting because I often don’t have a clue what goes wrong.

In The Beginning, It Is All About Feet And Beat

First, focus on your feet. Do not worry about hand positioning or anything else you think is important. Once your feet are in the right order you can work on the rest.

And second, try to listen to the music so you can pick up the right beat to start or recover. Quick-Quick-Slow rhythm needs you to initiate the movement on the right count.

Figuring out where the beginning of the music phrase is probably one of the hardest things for a lead in the beginning. I still cannot tell the difference between 1- 2- 3 and 5- 6- 7 counts which is important. 

Salsa Finds A Way To Other Places

These are more observations of how I feel rather than learnt experiences.

I am a pretty social person though I became more so in the 12 weeks of learning Salsa. I also found myself dancing to regular music when waiting for training or cooking in the kitchen often.

Another interesting detail dance classes energise me even after a long day. As long as I can make it to the studio in the evening the rest is taken care of by the music, teachers and environment.

What Will Be My Focus For The Next 4 Months

After finishing level one, which was a beginner’s eight-week course I am now learning more sophisticated moves. This is where body positioning and hand movent are refined to clearly communicate with the partner. I may also venture out to a social but this will depend on how much progress I make.

I hope this inspired you to find a hobby or passion and may be even start learning Latin dances. Please subscribe to my monthly emails where I share my discoveries and experiences.

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