New year, new me… A year of Salsa
Well, the title is not something I fully agree with. ‘New year, new hobby’ would be more in line with how I treat new years resolutions. I prefer to pick-up something fun or learn a new skill, rather than the typical self-restrictive resolutions. And yes, this is an underhand dig at all the people who tell me they are quitting smoking etc. Snore off. I would much rather talk to the person who is taking up paragliding, Dj’ing, Mandarin – or whatever. Rant over.
So around this time last year, I made the commitment to take up Salsa classes. If you are at all curious, then this post may give you some insight into what a year of Salsa involves. Not a how to do it per se just a general flavor.
The only experience I had of Salsa was watching people in various venues dance. Which I thought was pretty cool. Cool enough at least to make me want to have a go.
Now mentioning that I was going to (or now that I dance) to most other people, you get quite a few funny responses.
Instantly, there is an assumption that men go to Salsa classes to pick-up women; and secondly that it is for ‘older’ people. I had one person sum this up in a comment the other day ‘the older ladies must love you’ – I laughed and told them that they should send their mum over to the classes I attend.
But the idea of picking up women is pretty common, so let’s set the scene and play with that.
I’m brand new to Salsa, I’m in the class and we have just paired up with our dance partners. A brief exchange of pleasantries, and we practice some basic steps. 1-2min passes and the instructor shouts ‘CHANGE!’ And the women (or men) rotate to a different partner at this point.
So the first thing you will find is there is barely any chance to build up a rapport. Now even if I was the reincarnation of Casanova himself, I would still have no chance. I’m brand new to dancing and this is not the movies, I’m more concerned about not fucking up and standing on my partner’s feet – nothing says ‘I like you’ more than breaking their toes. So let’s look at it this way, if these women are not ravenous beasts who just want to pick up guys, the likelihood is they kinda like dancing. Now I’m no rocket scientist, but if you really want to impress a girl who likes dancing, I imagine being a good dancer might help? This takes us to long game strategy. I would say stick to tinder.
This is the toughest part by far. The first classes were a little bit of a shock to the system. You will be in close proximity with strangers who most likely feel the same as you. Breaking down physical barriers is a big thing. So I would say enjoy the awkwardness, you’re both there to learn.
The next thing after the physical contact is you don’t really know where to look. You quickly get told off for looking at your feet, and I find staring into each other’s eyes gets way too intense after a couple of seconds. You find a happy medium though, which is just generally in the other persons head direction. When you start dancing socially and not doing a class you end up looking around so as not to bump into people.
Thankfully that is pretty much it for the awkwardness, the rest is down to the dance itself. There is a constant conversation about Salsa being a lead and follow dance. Unfortunately, what I found is this becomes a case of the blind leading the blind. The leaders don’t know how to lead, and the followers don’t know how to follow. It’s painful. The teachers explain, demonstrate, and dance with you, but the right amount of energy takes quite a bit of tweaking. Honestly, I would say this is the most difficult thing.
Add all of that to the fact its not always partner work. More experienced dancers like to break apart at times during a song and dance by themselves. This came as a shock when I first danced with my teacher. She broke apart to enjoy a bit of the song and I stood there like a lemon. Stiff, frozen, and very self-conscious. It’s cool though, as always she thanked me for the dance, but I would have preferred a little for-warning/explanation though. Something like ‘Psst. Khaleel. Stop looking at your feet and look up for a moment. This is the part where I break away and dance by myself for a bit. And whatever you do, don’t stand there looking lost’.
So if classes are where you learn to dance. Socials are where you practice. For the first few months accept that first, you need to master all the basic stuff. The dancing can feel kind of boring as a result. All you do is go backward and forwards (basic step), maybe turn the girl (right turn), and if you are a fast learner change direction (cross body). Your skill set is limited.
What was worse for me was that I couldn’t find the damn beat. Salsa is just a different type of music to what is commonly heard in England. It’s exactly the same as you find when people dance to R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Hip-hop is bass/drum led, whereas Rock ‘n’ Roll is led by the guitar (Rhythm guitar). Personally, I found this blog post really helpful in breaking down Salsa as a music in itself.
So the first social you will be exposed to is the one after the class. This is cool and some people like to practice the routine they learned or just fool around. Me, I spent it trying to find that damn beat.
But socials expand to dancing events, whether it be a night or a congress. Nights I have been to, but not a congress (yet). Now people will say “come, come, come,” most likely because of two reasons. 1) They love dancing and want you to share in their joy. 2) They are trying to sell you tickets. Myself (as a lead), I didn’t go to a Salsa night until I felt I had enough move variety and rhythm to enjoy a song. That took me around 6 months, but each to their own.
This is fucking gold dust. I told my teacher about this and he laughed at me, for being ‘slow’ to get onto it. But his view was if students know this they won’t go to classes. My view is they will still go to classes, but they will get better quicker.
So basically there are world class dancers that go to various socials around the world. And you can watch them tear up the dance floor. All being said this is good for the spectator. The real magic happens when you play it in slow motion. Click that little settings wheel, change the speed from normal to 0.75 and try figure out the actual steps. You can thank me later.
Don’t even sweat about this. This is for fanatics who know the inside and out of songs AND have a good repertoire of moves so they can interpret the music in dance. e.g. a break in the music corresponds to a physical break in the dance. This is some high-level attention to detail, that in my opinion borders on choreography. Which for me is too much effort during my first year of dance.
Lastly, the more you go to these types of classes you find out about other classes and socials. You find the same people tend to go to a lot of these types of gigs. It’s a no-brainer if these people tend to like dancing. I find them super friendly though and they want you to improve. I guess it raises the level and numbers of dancers in an area which equates to more fun for everybody. This is where you make friends.
When I did begin to go to socials outside of my class I was surprised at the diverse nationalities that come to these events. It was only when I was talking to my friends about it that it dawned on me that social dancing is just not a huge part of British culture. So it’s also a no-brainer that these events are going to be a lot more diverse than in your local boozer.
In the new year when I go back to my classes, I’ll get a friend to record some of my social dancing to show this is not a complete load of toss.