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Making it easy to learn

Most people who attend a beginners salsa class feel a tiny worry about having enough talent. But let me tell you, no matter how hopeless you think you may be, I know you can learn. I started out as a hopeless case. If I could do it, so can you! I had absolutely no talent when I started. I had never even heard about salsa dancing until I was 30. My lack of talent coupled with the fact that I had spent more than a decade sitting behind a desk made it a complex matter to learn those salsa steps. The speed of my progress was nothing to brag about, but my long lasting experience as a beginner became useful later. It provided me with valuable insight about the tweaks that would have enabled a much quicker and enjoyable learning process.

Skrevet av: Erik Roland
Author: Erik Roland

In my experience, the most decisive factor for how effective you’ll learn is your teachers ability to adapt to you. If you don’t know anything about dancing or learning dance steps in advance (the normal situation for most of us), it’s not enough to see and copy the moves. So if you struggle, doubt the teacher before you doubt yourself. During my own journey as a beginner I witnessed many giving up trying to learn salsa because they were more confused after the course than before they started.

Learning became an obsession

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Although I initially wanted to learn salsa because I knew it was a brilliant way to meet girls, my fascination for learning became my driving force. You see, I had been an academic for many years. All that time with my nose into books had moved my mind out of the body without me noticing. Because I was so disconnected from my body, learning those salsa steps became a massive struggle. And I knew I wasn’t alone.

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 master a new technique or move, it happened because I suddenly could relate it to something I had done before. Not because I finally understood what the instructor was saying. For example, in order to execute a clockwise turn, the movement doesn’t come from where you place the feet, it comes from the middle of your hip, just like when you unscrew a light-bulb in the roof with your right hand. Each such understanding was a relief and made me want more! It fascinated me that something that looks so easy to do could be so hard to explain to regular folks. The fascination eventually made me quit my job and go all in, so I guess it’s safe to say it became (is) an obsession.

In my experience, most adults are analytical learners. They learn in the same manner as making a puzzle. Analytical learner prefers to be given one piece at a time and will be confused if the second piece is not related to the first. They learn quickly as soon as they begin to see a system.

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Children use their intuition to learn. Unlike adults, they don’t try to analyze, they just do it! They mimic things and eventually they just get it.

Children are different because they use their intuition to learn. They don’t try to analyze, they just do it! They mimic movements and shortly after they just get it. Many dance instructors come from this category and naturally they tend to apply the same method: The instructor will demonstrate and say “just do it like this” and you should repeat until you get it.

The reason I started teaching salsa came from seeing the need for analytical teaching. I wanted the learning experience for people like myself to be as easy, fun and effective as it was advertised. Why repeat something to death when a crisp explanation could do the job and have you moving forward in no time? Let me tell you, all movements in salsa dancing can be related to something that you already know, such as walking as if it’s freezing cold, maneuvering a shopping cart, swinging a backpack off your shoulder, etc.

Learning in a systematic way

You don't need to remember many moves, just a few techniques
You don’t need to remember many moves, you only need to master 4 elements.

Salsa dancing may look complicated for the untrained eye. But the whole thing can be broken down into a simple system.

Unlike today I couldn’t use my cellphone and film the moves after dance class, I had to write it all down. My note books quickly filled up. I soon realized it would be impossible to remember all of them. What’s the point of learning something new if it will make you forget what you have learned before? The need for a system was evident. After 3 years of intense studies, the system was in place.

A system consisting of 4 elements is enough to explain 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 contain the 10 techniques behind all the couple dance figures you will ever see. 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.

One simple system that covers everything is a massive shortcut. It’s the reason Consuelo and I could go to the world championship only 5 years after I started, and it became a massive shortcut for our students when we started teaching. If you keep reading you’ll see that it gets even better.

Getting the experience

The goal of most students is to become someone 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.

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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. Simply dancing all that you know for a night out will give you massive improvement. 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.  But don’t worry, at Impulso we don’t just teach the dance. We simulate situations that are equivalent to a real salsa party in each class and eventually we invite all our students to join us in a real salsa party.

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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, as soon as students are ready they will be steered directly towards learning that state. If somebody like myself in the past comes to learn dance, they will thriving on the dance floor in record time. The only thing I cannot promise is that you’ll stop learning because I’m still learning, and classes are still the same fun!

So, is salsa easy to learn?

Is it easy to learn enough to survive on the dance floor? Yes, definitely! But what’s enough? Learning salsa is not something you do only to know it. It’s a skill you acquire  in order to use and once you get to the level where it’s like riding a bicycle, you’ll realize that dancing is all about being in the state of learning. Getting better becomes inevitable. I can not tell you how easy or difficult it will be for you, but I can tell you this: It will be a fun and rewarding experience that will boost your social wealth, health, body intelligence, confidence and creativity.

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