Dancing in a slot in Salsa/Mambo
I <3 slotty girls, don’t we all?
Now wait a minute. Before you lovelies start forming lines to beat me down let me explain. My favorite way to dance Salsa is by far in a slot. I wish I could say that I always knew to dance this way, but I would be lying.
Back when I began to dance, I didn’t exactly know where to go to learn or to take classes. Like many people, I looked for Latin dance clubs where I could ask around for information on where to learn to dance. Several times, I would get lucky when out at the club and be present for a free class that was given by a variety of different instructors depending on the night and the venue. As I reminisce, I realize how much progress our dance community has made in the last decade. It’s crazy how my exposure at the nightclubs has changed for the better and how the level of instruction has improved exponentially.
When you’re new, you tend to see things with virgin eyes. I think it’s true of any situation. As a matter of fact, we have no idea what we’re looking at when we are first exposed. As a closet nerd, I used to draw comics, American Style. When I was first exposed to Japanese Manga, I thought it all looked the same. Big eyes on girls with big boobs.
How wrong I was. As a learned, I realized there were so much variety and style within the genre of Manga. The same can is also true of dancing. When I was new, I thought EVERY person at the club was good. Well, everyone except me. I came to realize that most people were just doing what they new to do. It’s not my place to judge dance as that is totally subjective, but you can comment on technical dancing when viewed from that perspective.
Methods of dancing Salsa/Mambo
Since I discussed constructively criticizing dance from a technical perspective, we can address how people dance Salsa out in the wild. You see, we have people who dance Salsa in a circle. Traditionally, I’ve seen folks who dance a Rueda/Casino style and others who dance a Cumbia/Salsa fusion dance in a circular fashion. The Rueda people do great as their whole system involves a circle that is evenly spaced out to allow for partner switching. The more fusion style is a bit more problematic.
When you mix slot dancers and circular dancers in the same club dancing to the same song, there’s going to be trouble. Trouble because these methods of dance are systems that structure the movements of the particular style in an orderly fashion. For the purposes of dancing Salsa at a nightclub, I am a huge proponent of slot based dancing. If this isn’t clear or doesn’t make sense, allow me to elaborate.
Slot based dancing
So what is a slot based dance and how does it work? While there are no scientific studied on the matter (wink), it’s agreed that the lead and follow navigate down and around an imaginary rectangle. I have whipped up a somewhat rudimentary diagram to help illustrate this idea. As you can see, the follow travels the long way of the slot while the lead is a bit more fluid while he occupies the middle area. Being that the follow usually has the more complicated or athletic movements, they are given a clear path to achieving these steps. The role of the lead is multidimensional. First off, he must clearly lead his partner while making sure to move out of the way and position his body in such a way that he can lead properly.
I’ll define properly as keeping the other person you dance within balance. Think about it for a second and you’ll see why this system is the most effective means of dancing Salsa/Mambo. If you only have a ‘line of dance’ or energy that moves back and forth, it’s easier as a lead to place yourself where the move is going. Conversely, the follow has it easier if she dances with a lead who is clearly dancing in a slot. Why? Just because she knows where all her movements will end. If we extend that rectangle in the diagram and now make it a rectangular box, the lady simply has to finish her basic facing whichever ‘side’ of the box her lead directs.
There is a ton of benefits to having this information already laid out for you. For example, we often tell our students to finish turns at a particular point within the timing in order to cleanly take their basic. If you, as a follow, have a good sense of spatial awareness, you can emphasize the slot to start and finish your movements.
Key points for effective slot dancing
1) Leads: Using the slot as your guide, you can be very clear with your directions and your position within the slot. You know what you’re about to lead so place yourself in the right place ahead of time within the slot.
2) Leads: Clearly end your movements to the slot so that your follow knows the end of one pattern is coming. Leading this way, your partner can prepare herself for settling back into her basic and be ready for your next directive.
3) Follows: With a clear, slot based lead, make sure you don’t over-rotate your body when he finishes one pattern and goes into the next. This habit is especially true when the lead has you in a cuddle position and one or both partners over-rotate the figure.
4) Follows: Since the slot is a rectangle and not a square, you must travel down the slot during your rotations. If the slot is open, progressively move down the slot.
I admit, these directives might sound complicated, but it’s the best way I can convey the idea through words. Naturally, it’s easier to show this in person so if you live in Chicago; I encourage you to stop by and see us!
I could keep talking at length about the benefits of dancing in a slot. While it would be disingenuous for me to say that I’m pleasant to dance with, I do hear it very often that my dancing is clear and straightforward. Not easy in the sense that I lead simple patterns, but comfortable in the sense that it’s obvious what I’m asking for, and ample space is given to honor my dancing requests.
I attribute my success in social Salsa/Mambo dancing mostly because I adhere to the slot. It’s not the only way to dance, and I do play around and break the slot, but I always come back to the freedom of structure when I dance.