I had absolutely zero talent for dance when I showed up for my first dance class but five years later I was competing in the world championships. This article is a discussion about the efficiency of your learning experience. I have seen a lot of people learn how to dance salsa, but I have also seen a lot of people not learning salsa and often it was not because they did not want to learn.
I have had a special interest for learning and teaching all my life. I can tell you that how effective you learn salsa depends on how you learn new things (intuitive or analytical), your teachers ability to adapt to the way you learn and your teachers ability to systematize information.
Mastering the mechanics of dance
Although I initially wanted to learn salsa because I knew it was a brilliant way to meet girls, it was my love for learning that became my driving force. You see, I had absolutely no talent for dance when I started. I had been an academic for many years, and after all that time with my nose into books, I had basically moved my mind out of the body and into the brain. Because I was so disconnected from my body it was a massive struggle to learn those salsa steps.
Teaching is: helping somebody connect what they don’t know/understand to something they do know/understand
What made it interesting was that every time I managed to learn a dance move, it happened because I was able to relate that movement to something I had done before. For example, to execute a right turn, the movement does not come from where you place the feet, it comes from the upper body, just like when you unscrew a light-bulb in the roof with your right hand. Such achievement of understanding was a relief and I wanted more! In my experience, most adults learn in a analytical way. They need to analyze the unknown and everything must be connected to some other reference that was experienced in the past. That is why I define teaching as helping somebody connect what they don’t understand to something they do understand.
A few adults, and all children, use their intuition to learn. They don’t try to analyze, they just do it! They mimic things and eventually they just get it.
As a learner of dance I found it difficult to be instructed by intuitive learners. I have taken private lessons with some incredible dancers, but those who learned their skills since they were children were rarely able to help me much. I struggled to figure out what they were really doing as they demonstrated and when I asked they said “just do it like this” and demonstrated again.
The progress becomes slow when the learner has to do the job of “translating” the movement. As a side-note, my wife Consuela is a intuitive learner. She can see some new movements and immediately execute it perfectly and it’s amazing to watch. It typically takes a few months later before I get the aha-moment, but then I can explain it as well.
Everything I know in salsa dancing can be related to something that is not salsa.
Before I started teaching salsa I wanted more people to learn this amazing way of celebrating life – by moving the body to the latin beat.
The reason I started teaching salsa was because I saw the need for analytical teaching. The goal should be to learn quick and easy so that the fun can begin as soon as possible. As a student, why repeat something to death when all that is needed is a good explanation? Trust me, everything I know in salsa dancing can be related to something that is not salsa such as running in ice cold water, pushing a car that is stuck in the snow, maneuvering a shopping cart, wearing a jacket that is too small, etc.
Learning in a systematic way
The observer that is new to dance may watch a couple dancing and be able to see that there are some basic steps and some dance figures. In the beginning I was amazed by how many cool dance figures exist in salsa and I tried to learn and remember as many as possible.
Unlike today I could not just take my cellphone and film the moves after dance class, I had to write it down. In the end it became so much that I realized it would be impossible to remember all of them. I could dance a whole night and still not use all the moves I had learned. But even worse was that I started to forget many of the ‘old’ moves because I had explained it in such a weird way to myself.
So in 2003 Consuela and I started to analyze all we knew about salsa to make it more easy to understand what salsa is all about. We came up with a system consisting of 4 elements that covers everything. If you master these four elements you can dance salsa. period. And we can teach this to people in the first lesson. One of the elements cover the techniques behind all the couple dance figures you will ever see. There are 10 techniques that we know of. You only need to master 2-3 of these techniques to be able to dance comfortably, but once you know them all, you will be able to do anything you may see on the dance floor.
To be able to see the dance as one simple system became a massive shortcut for us, and the reason we could go to the world championship three years later, and it became a massive shortcut for our students when we started teaching.
Getting the experience
A salsa dancer is somebody who can dance at parties and in the night clubs. It is not enough to learn the mechanics of the dance, you must also learn the social aspect of the game. At some point you must take the step from dance class to the clubs if you want to become a salsa dancer.
Your first time in dance class may feel intimidating before the lesson and all the fun begins, and the same will happen when you go out to dance at a real party for the first time. It does not matter if you have just finished level 1 or level 4, the feeling is the same. Going to the clubs will give you the opportunity to practice your moves a lot while having fun, it will help you become adaptive and confident in your skills. You will become a lot better just by dancing all that you know for a night out. But don’t worry, at Impulso we don’t just teach dance, we create salsa dancers. We simulate situations that are equivalent to a real salsa party and eventually we invite all our students to join us in a real salsa party.
The end result is that it all becomes intuitive. Once you have learned and understood, dance becomes natural and you don’t need to remember a million details. So now, if somebody like myself from the past comes to learn dance, they will be in safe hands and will be thriving on the dance floor in record time. The only thing I cannot promise is that you will never need to come to class anymore because both Consuela and I are still learning, and classes are still the same fun!
So, is salsa easy to learn?
Learning salsa is not necessarily something you do once – and then you know it. Learning salsa is also a luxury that you give yourself – if you love learning. I will not tell you if it should be easy or not, but I can tell you it should be fun, interesting and you should feel massive progress in your social wealth, knowledge about your body and in dance skills.
Is it easy to learn enough to survive on the dance floor? Yes, definetly! But it is subjective what you think is enough knowledge – luckily Consuela and I are still learning, it’s a journey!
Having a coach or a teacher to guide, correct and inspire you is a huge advantage. If you find the right teacher for you, you will have fun, you will learn fast and you will never want to stop! If you are looking for somebody who can teach in a understandable, systematic and logic way, we are at your service!
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