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Here is an opportunity for Susana to share some recommendations regarding the video and various aspects of Salsa dancing.

Repetition Makes the Master
How Can I Learn Faster
Hearing the Salsa Beat
Dance Floor Amnesia
Lead and Follow
Getting more out of the Salsa Video
Dance Floor Etiquette
The Follower's Gift
The Leader's Gift
"Shines" & Footwork
Performing Tips

~ Repetition Makes the Master ~
Learning how to practice is a key to learning any art. Repetition is the key. When one move has been committed to the body's "muscle memory" then the next move can be learned. This takes repetition. In practice, a student should not move on to the next move until the last one has been done well at least 3-5 times consecutively. I recommend repeating a move until you are no longer challenged by it.
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~ How Can I Learn Faster ~
There is no short cut to learning to dance except, dancing MORE. Although, learning dance concepts should be secondary to the process of learning from/through the movement itself, here are a few suggestions:

  • Practice footwork alone: spending just 3 minutes per day practicing footwork without a partner can make a significant difference in your progress - imagine what you could do with more than 3 minutes. Not only does solitary practice improve the footwork itself, but it helps to strengthen your knowledge of the rhythm. Your ability to execute more difficult steps is absolutely dependent on your ability to keep the rhythm while dancing.
  • Listen at home: If you are having difficulty hearing Salsa's tempos and rhythms, buy Salsa music and listen as often as you can. Students who have this difficulty are often unable to distinguish one instrument from the rest of the group. For help with this see Hearing the Salsa Beat for an excellent exercise called "Single Instrument Focus".
  • Watch accomplished dancers: Having models who you wish to emulate in your dancing is a great help. When out practicing, take some time to watch dancers you enjoy. Watch for good posture, neatness in footwork, good flow and phrasing of steps. It is bound to have a positive effect on your dancing and you may find yourself imitating these positive attributes.
  • Learn another discipline: If you are willing to go the extra mile, learning another discipline that involves body co-ordination such Tai Chi, jazz, ballet, aerobics will help to expose you to different ways of moving the body and enhance body awareness. A martial art may be particularly useful because it involves co-ordinating movements with another person.

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~ Hearing the Salsa Beat ~
Students unable to hear Salsa's tempos or rhythms have usually had no music training of any kind, be it choral or instrumental, private or institutional, in childhood or adulthood. Conclusion: lessons in musical theory will help. I can attest to its positive results. However if such an undertaking is impossible, I suggest a helpful exercise called "Single Instrument Focus". It comes from my classroom observations that students unable to hear tempos or rhythms are often unable to distinguish while listening, one instrument from the rest. Listen to salsa music while lying down with eyes shut and concentrate on hearing one instrument at a time. Pick the most obvious instrument at first and attempt to focus on only it, following it for as long as possible, remaining attentive to the instrument's return during the times when it is not playing. Perhaps listening for the cowbell is a way to start. Cowbell plays in the chorus of many Salsa pieces and often plays straight time on the 1 beat and the 3 beat - making it easy to detect for some listeners. When you succeed with the cowbell, perhaps try vocals or piano - you choose! With minimal thought, you will learn about the basic structure of the music while enhancing your ability to listen while dancing.

Single Instrument Focus is an effective exercise though it requires putting all other activities aside for a few moments. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon this offering from Frederick Perls in his 1982 book called Gestalt Therapy. It provides even more detail as to how to make your experience with music more articulate and active:

"... if you regard yourself as unmusical, notice first how difficult it is for you to keep in contact with the music at all; the sounds soon degenerate into chaos and you into trance. In this case (what is best is to play a record over again and again) abstract first the appearances of a single instrument. Then pay attention to the rhythm only; the timbre only. Detect what seems to be the melody and what the accompaniment. Often you will find that there are other inner melodies that you had not expected. Abstract the harmony as you feel it; that is, notice when the harmony seems unrealistic, seems to call for something more to come after it, and when on the contrary, it seems to resolve and close. Provided you do this seriously, suddenly all music will come alive for you."
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~ Consistency ~
In the beginning stages of learning Salsa, consistency is extremely important. As with other disciplines, a lack of consistency can cause students' skills to regress rather than progress. This means something different to each person, since individual aptitude levels vary. For some, missing outside classroom practice opportunities hinders learning. For others, the same effect is caused by missing the occasional class and then attempting to catch up on the new steps learned. For yet others, advancing to higher level courses too quickly can also cause the student to regress in previously established skills. A steady but not necessarily quick learning pace is preferable.

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~ Dance Floor Amnesia ~
If it's your first time out on the social dance floor as a lead, and you don't experience at least some Dance Floor Amnesia, you are either blessed or fibbing. Few leaders get to skip this experience, including women who lead. What happens is, you begin dancing and soon find yourself dancing continuous basics on "auto- pilot". One begins pressing ones memory for some other variation but nothing comes to mind. You wrack your brain for all those steps you learned in class and keep drawing blanks. It will pass.. so just grin and bear it. Here's a few tips for dealing: 1) if before starting you let your partner know it's your first time out, you'll likely receive their patience and encouragement 2) after that don't think about what your partner is expecting 3) just stick to the basic while relaxing 4) trust that if you do the basic for long enough, another step will come to you without thought - if not by the end of your first song, then perhaps during the second.
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~ Lead and Follow ~
To both partners, I want to stress the importance of being attentive to your partner while dancing. While the fundamental idea that Man leads -- Woman follows is true, there is a lot of communicating that CAN happen through movement and make dancing with a partner even more enjoyable. When a women can follow well, her dancing can affect the character of steps executed and also inspire other steps which the man will lead. To Achieve this, the utmost attention is required of both roles - lead and follow.

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~ Getting the Most from the Classes or Video ~
The consistent manner in which steps are presented acts as a learning aide, helping students understand the logic of steps and build their step vocabulary. During practice time however, I encourage students to vary the number of repetitions, take short cuts and change endings or beginnings by linking steps. Many of the underarm turns are done counter clockwise. One way to learn as much as possible is to go back to all the underarm turns and where possible, turn the woman clockwise instead. This will often involve reversing all aspects of the step including what side to begin, what arm to use for the break-away and turn, and what side the final turn and open break ends on.

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~ Dance Floor Etiquette ~
Here are some etiquette tips for social social dancing:
  • If you are not dancing, it is courteous to stay clear of the dance floor.

  • Unsolicited teaching and/or correcting your partner is very uncool in a social dance situation. I recommend working out stuff at practices or classes, not at social dances.

  • Hygiene is very important if you want others to enjoy dancing with you. Bring breath mints too.

  • Optional: Although sweating is an accepted part of social dancing, some dancers bring a small hand towel or a second shirt/T-shirt if they know the first will soak with sweat.

  • Avoid uncomfortable accessories such as belt buckles that protrude or large key chains; or jewelry that may snag clothing.

  • Treat your partner with concern for their enjoyment and safety. Leaders place themselves between their partner and harm's way.

  • On crowded dance floors, adjust your dancing ie: no lifts, jumps, wide arm movements, or dips that bring the woman's head near the floor. See Floorcraft for more tips.

  • Switching partners is not required in the social setting, especially when one has brought one's own.

  • It is discourteous to shortcut or race someone else to the person you wish to dance with.

  • Ladies, be respectful of other styles. If it is different than what you've learned, please do not assume it is wrong.

  • Avoid apologizing for dance mistakes that did not cause personal injury. Just dance your best.J

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~ Floorcraft ~
The lead is responsible for protecting the follow from collision. One way to do this, is to be careful of the direction he leads her. The other is by dancing himself between his dance partner and unruly couples on the dance floor. It takes time for leads to develop such floorcraft skills and some small collisions are simply unavoidable. Here are a few tips to help:
  • both partners: always keep elbows pointed downward instead of sideways towards the walls.

  • both partners: assuming good posture will help you incorporate an better awareness of those around you.

  • both partners: never let your arms fully extend

  • both partners: in crowded situations keep heels near the floor for all moves

  • both partners: in crowded situations keep feet under the torso throughout - especially during back steps. Think of moving the torso with the foot, not sending the foot out from under you.

  • follows: if you feel your partner is choosing to neglect good floorcraft, causing near collisions, you may want to indicate your discomfort about close calls.

  • follows: If other dancers are approaching from behind your partner and he is about to do a back step which will cause him to collide, you may resist his lead by holding your feet in place, ie. not moving when lead. This is an accepted and appreciated way of letting him know.

  • follows: with more experience you will learn how to follow the lead while shortening steps or re-orienting direction away from harm's way if necessary. I stress, re-orienting direction must be done with the subtlety that only experienced follows possess. Not following or "backleading" can cause confusion and possibly worsen collisions.

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~ The Follower's Gift ~
A genuine smile to indicate your enjoyment can be the nicest thing a dancer can do for her partner. So many of us are sensitive to the notion that something we do may displease another. A smile can alleviate any nervousness your partner may feel about this. Clear your mind of any expectations of your partner that could be perceived as judgements. Perhaps focus on appreciating your partner or focus on working on your own challenges. It may enhance results and make dancing more pleasant.

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~ The Leader's Gift ~
With unfamiliar partners, start with basic moves and gradually introduce more difficult patterns. Consider only steps you feel your partner will probably succeed at. Don't insist on repeating steps she's having trouble with. This will not instill her confidence in your lead or in her own dancing. Be sure of every step she makes so you are sure she is still corresponding with you. Pay attention to your partner and the manner in which she executes steps rather than have your mind be completely preoccupied with what you will execute next.
This is a lovely gift.

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~ "Shines" & Footwork ~
In executing intricate footwork or moves that are now called "Shines", I have always found that connection to my partner was what decided what to do and how long to do it. Continuity in your dance with your partner can be interrupted if the partners dance apart for too long. Keeping in tune with your partner is important. Some shines can be done while holding your partner, the skill level involved in executing them together being much higher. Enjoy the challenge of maintaining the latin hip motion and lead/follow body resistance while attempting this.
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~ Performing Tips ~
Although it is my focus to facilitate students in their social dancing, you may find yourself doing a dance demo for your friends, or in situation where you are asked to perform. Here are some simple tips:
  • Breathing can become very shallow during performances, due to nervousness. This will fatigue you very quickly, increasing nervousness all the more. Be aware of this. Breath through your nose if you can.

  • Nervousness occurs for many dancers regardless of how much performing experience they have. Arriving late & feeling unready only adds to nervousness. Arrive early enough to have time waiting in costume.

  • In the first 30 seconds, don't show all your best moves

  • Whether improvising or choreography, give the audience breaks in the tension, building towards difficult steps and then releasing tension with simple fun steps.

  • Use the entire dance floor available. Using traveling steps is one way to move around the dance floor. This provides another layer of entertainment to the audience.

  • SMILE! Keep your enthusiastic smile alive through the whole dance. A smile will hide your nervousness well and put the audience at ease. Smile and interact with your partner, not just the audience.

  • Accidents can happen. If you slip or even fall, continue dancing as quickly as you can. Most audiences are very encouraging of the idea of "getting back on the horse" right way and usually applaud you for doing so.

  • Avoid loosely sewn hems of dresses or skirts. The woman's heel can get caught inside. On a knit fabric skirt any hem at all can be dangerous for the same reason.

  • Patent leather grips to patent leather, so patent leather shoes need greasing otherwise they will trip you and/or your partner. Use Vaseline to grease them. In an emergency, lip balm, butter or hand lotion.

  • Bring two pairs of shoes to compensate for sticky or slippery floors. One with a leather or suede sole another with a hard rubber sole. Although not ideal, sprinkling baby powder on the floor can help with a very sticky floor.

  • Select your Salsa piece(s) based on questions such as: Has this crowd seen Salsa before? What age group is the audience? Were tickets paid or is the performance a surprise? Will you be competing for their attention with other activities i.e. eating wedding cake?
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