Have you ever hoped there was a way to learn something in a very efficient manner? Wouldn’t it be great if someone would lay it out a subject of interest for you from A to Z so you know exactly what to do?
Well, today you’re in luck!
I’ve noticed that a lot of aspiring Salsa / Bachata / Latin dancers start and get bombarded with a variety of suggestions, but I don’t see them getting better at the rate that they should. I think part of the reason is that they aren’t following the natural flow of things in the right order.
When I first started dancing, the Latin dance scene was quite different than it is today. There was only one school and they had a very “interesting” way of teaching to say the least. Suffice to say, it did more harm than good at the time and I had to unlearn everything I learned in order to move on. Nowadays, our Latin dance community is vibrant and full of qualified people who have years upon years of information at their disposal. In my humble opinion, the best way to increase the quality of a scene is to have qualified people to help grow it. Think about it like this, the more farmers are are the more crop we can plant and the more crop can grow the more abundance we create. Since I am a believer in abundance, I feel like we have ample amount of wisdom here in Chicago to create more and more talent.
A great roadmap to follow for your Latin dancing!
Now then, if you’re starting off, how should you approach things? If I were you and I had the benefit of hindsight in my pocket, I think I would start like this. First off, I feel as if the right thing to do would be to go to class to learn the basics of whatever dance I wanted to specialize in. Now then, most of you know me to be a Salsa / Mambo aficionado so I’ll use that as my example. It would be best to start with a class that emphasizes the basic fundamentals of the dance. I’ve previously said that the best way to learn a new language is to understand the basic grammar. In our case, the grammar of Mambo is the basic steps. Once you get a solid understanding of the basic steps along with the general timing you can proceed to the next level. So, the very first thing I would do is get into a class that would help me understand the fundamentals of the dance. That’s part one!
The second thing I would do is continue to explore the higher level classes but do so in a way where I felt I was still learning and being challenged. For example, to use the analogy of language I would learn to write more complicated sentences with more elaborate grammar and spelling. How does this translate to dance? Well, for example, you can break out of the basic movements and start to get into more complicated / syncopated rhythms and movements. Intermediate and advanced class should address these new and varied topics thus aiding in your growth. Things such as posture, poise, footwork, body movement and more should be emphasized and give the student ample things to focus on new and exciting challenges. If, as a student you don’t feel like there’s anything left to do, you’re either in the wrong studio, or you have simply outgrown the teacher.
The next best thing to do once you’ve gotten to an intermediate level is to explore the possibility of performing if that’s something that you’re interested in. As I’ve stated before, I’m not a fan of everyone and their momma performing within 15 minutes of starting the dance. I do think it’s a valid goal for people who have the aspiration to perform, but it’s a long-term commitment. If performing is something that you’re passionate about getting into, an intermediate level of dance would be a perfect time to start. Dancing in front of people is a completely different skill than social dancing. The reason it’s important to get to an intermediate level with the dance it’s because you can’t be thinking about the dance when you’re trying to perform. The movements of the dance have to become unconscious in your body so that you can focus your conscious awareness a new skills that you must develop. The reason why student / amateur groups look like student / amateur groups is because they’re basically social dancing on stage. While I do respect the fact that everyone starts somewhere, I can bet that you’d rather watch a true professional group vs student team and so would I.
Many of the studios in the city offer performance classes which I think are a fantastic way to start getting your feet wet in the idea of performing. They’re generally small commitments with a set goal and an intensive atmosphere which forces you to get out of your comfort zone and start learning quickly. In our case, the sessions last from 8 to 10 weeks which is a good amount of time to sink your teeth into something and have the anticipation of the event in front of you. I understand this to be the case with many other places as well and if not exactly the same, there are variations of this timetable. Regardless, I strongly believe that performance classes are a great way to make the transition from a social dancer to an inspiring performer.
Once you’ve tackled a few performance classes and feel confident, you understand what it takes to become a good member of a group. It won’t serve you to jump in a group too soon if you’re still figuring out the basics and have no idea how to perform. I would highly recommend that you take your time and enjoy the process, because it is a process. If you’ve done your due diligence and if found the right group to serve your needs, a group can be a wonderful thing. The, ambiance and teamwork involved really speak to the nature of many people who enjoy working with others. I’ve been a part of several dance groups/companies myself and I can attest to the fact that I really enjoyed being around a group of like-minded individuals. In this day and age, due to the overwhelming amount of groups that exist in our city, you’re likely to find a student / training team that you can join. The natural process would be to graduate from a student team to a professional team as a principal dancer of the company.
“Enjoy the journey…there is so much to do that there’s no rush to do any of it at all“
At this point, you might wonder where else is there to go. Once you’ve conquered classes and performing what is left to do? Well, how about competing? It’s a completely different beast because you have to really let yourself loose and work on the quality of performance as well as the art of competition. When dancing for sport, you really have to sell what you’re doing versus presenting in a performance. It might seem the same, but I can assure you they’re very different. I confess to still working on the idea of competing at this moment although I’m also honest with myself and know that I made improvements. There are several competitions that exist in our city and I imagine others as well. Most likely a local club will have a salsa contest which can either be social dancing, or set choreography. These are fantastic first things to do when you’re dipping your feet into competition.
If you manage to work your way up to these ranks and excel, how about taking yourself to the local level outside of your city? For example, how about instead of the Chicago champion you become the Midwest champion? How about the United States Champion? How about <gasp> the WORLD champion?
As you can see, there so many things that you can do from where you start to where you can possibly end up. I’ve said before in a previous blog how if you can think something, you can become it. Our mind works that way. So if you think you want to do something like become the best social dancer in the world, I’d love to see you do it! Or, if you think you can be an amazing member of company and love working in groups, you can do that too. Or, perhaps I might run into you at a competition if we might go against each other, may the best man win!
I encourage many of you who are in this for the long haul to enjoy the journey. There is so much to do that there’s no rush to do any of it at all. Take your time and enjoy the group classes, performance classes, dance groups, and even the competitions. You find a lot of satisfaction in doing everything and hell, you might end up even becoming a teacher who writes a blog!
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Until next time, to your dancing…