So You Think You Can Dance (Salsa)

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This is an article about social salsa dancing as compared to performance salsa. This includes competitive dancing, since the vast majority of competitive dancing is assessed in performance form.  I’ve wanted to write this article for a while now, but I’ve avoided it for various reasons.  This post has the potential to be a controversial one.  So before I begin, I will state that my personal preference when it comes to dancing salsa is as a social dancer.  I am not a performer. I’m not hating on performers, and I’m not trying to be divisive. The latin dancing scene needs performers to inspire us and promote the art form that we love. However, performing is really on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the beautiful dance of salsa.  The fact is that salsa, as we know it, emerged as a social dance from the clubs of New York City.  Salsa was not originally intended to be danced on stage, which makes it quite different from other dance forms, such as ballet, which have schools and formal curriculum, which go back hundreds of years.  Salsa always was, and still is, a social dance, and this article is written purely from a social dancer’s point of view.

During my years as a social dancer, I’ve noticed a tendency some people have to glorify performing at the expense of social dancing. I’m not alone in this. I’ve discussed my observations with other dancers, and they have noticed the same phenomenon. Specifically, there seems to be a widely held belief that the natural progression in the evolution of a dancer is to “graduate” from social dancing to performing.  The implication seems to be that performers are “better” dancers than social dancers.  At congresses, I’m am quite often asked questions like, “are you a performer?” I don’t say this to boast. I see myself as a solid intermediate level (whatever that means) social dancer. However, people are often surprised when I tell them that I am purely a social dancer, and I have no desire to compete or perform, unless it might facilitate my growth as a social dancer.

Social dance salsaI have often wondered to myself why some people award more gravitas to performing rather than social dancing.  Maybe it’s because there is typically a paying audience for performances, which is seldom the case for social dancing. Maybe it’s because of the glitz and glamour of being on a stage, and wearing flashy costumes and make up that take hours to refine and apply.

 

Maybe it’s because of the crazy lifts and tricks that performers so often cram into their routines, which is something you’ll very rarely see on the social dance floor (for good reasons, one of them being safety).  Maybe there are more basic economic reasons behind this  phenomenon.  For dance schools, performance routines are where the money is.  Schools can charge for the initial choreography classes, private classes for dancers who want additional help getting the choreography down, as well as costumes.  In addition to this, some teams are paid to perform, or are paid prize money if they win a competition.  My guess is that it’s some combination of all of the above reasons.

Social dancing salsa 2There is a myth about social dancing that I would like to dispel, and that is the myth that social dancers are not serious about their craft.  I readily acknowledge that there are plenty of social dancers who just want to become proficient enough to dance socially, have a good time, make some new friends, and/or maybe meet a new partner.  However, there is another group of social dancers who take their craft very seriously.

These are the dancers who spend hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars a year on group and private classes in order to hone their technique.  These are the dancers who travel across the world to congresses to dance to the best DJs in the world with the best social dancers in the world, and take workshops with their mentors.  These are the dancers who spend every spare minute of their time listening to music, and working on their body movement and technique.  There are no trophies or monetary rewards for these social dancers.  Their only reward is that ever-elusive perfect dance.

There is another myth about social dancing that I would like to dispel, and that is the myth that performers can social dance.  The truth is that some can, and some can’t.  Performing and social dancing are two different skills.  There is some overlap between the two, but proficiency in one by no means guarantees proficiency in the other.  We can see this taken to the extreme in TV shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing With The Stars”.  If you’ve never watched these types of shows, essentially they involve unknown (or even complete novice) dancers being taken under the wing of professional dancers and trained to perform in styles they are not necessarily used to dancing in.  The result is that these dancers typically produce performances that look quite polished, despite the fact their might have had absolutely no dance experience in that particular style.  Given the proper instruction, time and training, just about anyone can learn a choreography to a reasonability competent level.  However, if you put most of these people on a social dance floor, they’d probably be totally lost.  The creators of “So You Think You Can Dance” show probably saw the title as a challenge to wannabe dancers.  Serious social dancers are more likely to see the title as humourous in an ironic way, and feel that many of the contenders probably “think” they can dance, but whether they actually can or not is entirely debatable.

So You Think You Can Dance

I recently attended a congress in another city where one of the top performers in the world held some workshops, during which he was breaking down some of the fundamentals of salsa for beginner to intermediate level dancers.  I won’t mention this person by name, but, over the years, this dancer has consistently placed in the top three at the salsa world championships in Miami.  He went on to chastise the class for not performing basic fundamentals such as a cross body lead, open break, and copa (in-and-out) “correctly”, and went on to demonstrate the “correct” way to perform these techniques.  I disagreed with quite a few points that he made in that workshop.  During the course of the congress, I got the chance to see this performer social dance with Sharon Pakir, who is, in my opinion, one of the best dancers in Australia, and can hold her own with the best dancers in the world.  Honestly, the dance looked very sloppy and rough for the follow.  A couple of songs later, I saw Sharon dance with Super Mario, who is known for having one of the best leads in the salsa world.  It was a completely different dance, smooth, compact, tight and musical.  From my observation, it was easy to see that Super Mario is by far the superior social dancer.  In fact, there were probably ten other leads around the room who I thought were better social dancers than this performer.

I wish this was an isolated incident, but, unfortunately, it’s not.  My experience dancing with many performers over the years is that it’s a real mixed bag.  Some of them are every bit as good as they look on stage (a few are even better), but some of them are pretty lousy on the social dance floor.  Of the ones that aren’t so good, it’s usually for the same reasons.

1. Lack of frame

2. Lack of frame (sorry, but it bears repeating)

3. Steps are too big

4. Over-styling

5. They dance “at you”, not “with you”.

Social dancing

Social dancing is a completely different animal to performing.  In social dancing the dancers must rely purely on leading and following, and this is all about frame.  The most common mistake I see performers make on the social dance floor is constantly breaking frame, and it’s particularly noticeable on open breaks.  If you break frame, the dance breaks down.  It’s as simple as that.  Frame is the bread and butter of social dancing.  Without it, there is no social dance.  The second most common mistake I see is that these performers take steps that are too big.  Social dancing typically happens on a relatively a small section of dance floor compared to the stage, and this dance space is dynamic, because there are various hazards to contend with throughout the dance, such as other dancers encroaching on your space.  It is a real struggle for leads to contain follows who are used to taking larger steps, as is often the case during performances.  Leads who are used to taking larger steps can be downright dangerous on crowded dance floors, because they force the follow to also take large steps, and this can create big problems on the social dance floor.  Social dancers always have to be aware of their immediate surroundings on the dance floor, and this is not something performers learn dancing on a stage.  One only learns this on the social dance floor.  Lastly, arguably the most important aspect of social dancing is connecting with your partner, and this is a completely different dynamic to dancing in front of an audience.  Social dancing is far more intimate.  It’s like dancing for an audience of one, except there’s a two way relationship.  You are both dancing with and for each other.  Once again, this is not a skill one learns on the stage, it can only be learned on the social dance floor.

There is another aspect of social dancing that is not focused on as part of performing, and that is how the dance feels to your partner. Performing is primarily focused on how the dance is presented to the audience. However, when you are dancing socially, making your partner feel good, in a physical, as well as an emotional sense, is every bit as important as the visual aspect of the dance. These means being a light lead or follow, as well as eliminating habits that can feel “funny” to your partner, such as fidgety fingers. These types of things are not visible to an audience, but can make all the difference to your partner during a social dance.

Salsa Performance

Ultimately, it takes countless hours of dedicated training and listening to music to become a great social dancer, and, I’ve found that I have to keep dancing regularly, otherwise I lose my edge.  In the same way that professional athletes need to keep match fit, social dancers have to keep “dance-fit”.  Personally, I notice a difference in my dancing after only a couple of weeks of time away from the social dance floor.

The minimum number of socials a week I need to attend to maintain and/or improve my level is probably 2-3 nights a week.  In closing, I want to say that, on the social dance floor, it doesn’t matter how many competitions you’ve won, or how times you’ve performed in front of hundreds, or even thousands, of people.  On the social floor, all that matters is, can you “bring it” on any given night.

See you on the dance floor…

31 Comments

  • Catty Teo says:

    Wonderful & well written, thanks for sharing this article, u do sharing same thoughts as me!

  • Jarryd says:

    There are many things I agree with but so many more I don’t agree with like the part where this person leaves out the Cuban dance of Casino. Once again this Cuban dance which is an actual latin dance is left out, out of the dance scene almost like it doesn’t exist but I’ll blame that on the fact that the author lacks knowledge on it. The author probably lacks knowledge on the fact that the social dance also started in elsewhere not in New York, but Cuba. It didn’t just pop out of nowhere! Seems a bit biased to me. From one social dancer to another, I know how this person feels about everything else out there in the dance scene. I share the same sentiment.
    Let’s also dispel the fact that we don’t dance to Salsa but Son music. The term salsa was created to put together all the music genres of Cuba. That includes Son, Son-Montuno, Danzon, Cha-cha cha, Mambo, Pachanga, Rumba guanguanco, Rumba Yambu, and Songo. Now you have to ask yourselves this, is my instructor informing me on these genres? Or better yet do they know about these genres and the dances that go with each?

    • Rainer says:

      Jarryd I believe the author is talking about his opinion and experiences as a social dancer, as you know most dance social aka salsa social they don’t play or dance much casino. I know there are many place in the where casino has strong influence in the scene but in the general area where I think the author is talking we don’t see it. his opinion is right on point! I believe he’s making his point on how he feels about the difference on being a performer or just a social dancer and that by being a performer does not necessary means you are a better dancer or that if you are a social dancer you are better than the one that performs!

  • Brisbane Salsero, good afternoon. I must say that the essence of your article is EXTREMELY vital to know; not just to be well-rounded of the dance, but also ON the dance floor. I cannot begin to state how many times I have encountered a dancer, social in that, that has “stage like” tendencies: either bc they are a performer or simply the manner in which they are taught resemble a “performer” dancer.

    Thru the past yr, as I have been growing more in learning what i teach (Casino), it has come to my attention the amount of “performers” that exist vs your typical “social” dancer.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the statement that I too, am a “social” dancer and yes you are precisely correct; a social dancer must connect with their partner as well as the music that is being played. It is rarely seen in these parts of the country.

    What I can disagree on, specially if your…”mission is to serve as the leading online resource…by providing…educational, and informative articles”…that SALSA is not from NYC and the music we listen to is DEFINITELY not SALSA. Do not misinterpret this statement as if the word did not exist, but I have yet to hear any one band play
    “SALSA”; for THAT word was created to promote 6 genres of Cuban music. None of which indeed use THAT word.

    Nonetheless, I would like to thank you for putting the essence of your blog “out there”…It is a HUGE fact.

  • For some reason some people have taken a single sentence in the article out of context. This article was not intended to be about the history of salsa music. For the purposes of the article I stand by what I said, that “salsa as we know it today comes from NYC”. I’m aware of the history, and if you read some of my other articles, or my personal blog you’ll plainly see that. However, that’s not what this article is about. Also there’s an assumption by some that casino and salsa are mutually exclusive. That’s an interesting opinion, but I don’t necessarily agree.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the wonderful article!

      Perhaps there might be a psychological element with some negative underlying assumptions that could explain some of the reasons why some performers tend to continue performing when dancing socially.

      (The performers underlying assumptions) IF I am not spectacular and get the most attention and admiration by outperforming all the other leads… THEN I am not very good at what I do. IF I am not very good at what I do… THEN I others will think less of me. IF others think less of me… THEN that means that I am worth less.

      Imagine the pressure when setting such high standards for yourself.

      However, I think this is quite frequent among social dancers as well… I mean, you improve and get positive feedback, others start admiring you and you love it and want more! But, soon you start getting less feedback, and thus if you are operating under these above mentioned assumptions, you will also start feeling less worth and increase the amount of training and perfectionistic tendencies until you get the feedback and admiration that you feel you deserve. (It’s like Facebook likes) Do you see the vicious circle here?

      Imagine how much energy and precious moments of feeling truly connected to other human beings are wasted because of such negative thinking patterns.

      My guess is that we have all felt this one or twice (or in some cases always) and that if one becomes aware of this faulty thinking, then one can also do something about it and spread both joy and positive energy on the dance floor and in the overall salsa community.

  • David Sander says:

    I’ve found these myths to generally true, the reason being that performance training and social training exist along two different metrics. In performance training you spend a lot of time perfecting a routine with just one or a few people. This means you get very specialized high level execution and learn to counter the habits or bad habits of your lead or follow closely. This is not helpful when you go to dance with a broader aspect of the social dance scene, the shared specialization is often not repeatable and you can’t identify the habits of your partner from possible lack of experience.

    By contrast the social dancer tries to make their partner enjoy the dance and look good or feel competent. Because they have a broad dance experience with many partners in social dancing, its easy for them to pick up the level of their partner and adjust to that. The social dancer is also more attuned to putting together a series of moves that connect in a way their partner can understand. This is good improvisation. To compare, I recall jazz performances where a noisy plane flew over head and the lead trumpet signaled then seamlessly blended in several bars from the Air Force theme song to the delight of the audience! So the social dancer metric is to be broader in dance experience and excel with many people while connecting the disparate available pieces.

    As for frame, I’ve noticed that this is often built up over two or three years, it depends on both muscle strength and learned nerve conditioning. Much of the coarse foot work and movement we see is due to the partner not having the skills of good timing and fine muscle control to best dance a Salsa. Higher level Salsa moves reward skills in speed, timing, and precision. These moves are impossible to execute to the music unless the timing, small steps, and precision of movement are all present concurrently to make the move humanly possible. So I find that social dance frame improves with time and experience; the some what wobbly new dancers improve over many months to become more graceful.

    In addition to this, the social dancer looks for a move execution that is rewarding with large numbers of dancers, therefore they execute a larger number of moderately complex moves that are thoroughly understood and generally well executed. Highly specialized moves are rather rare, you can’t socially execute them enough times to get competent with all the variety of dancers. Large, small, heavy, thin, young, and older dancers just don’t handle the same and an experienced lead adjusts to happily suit the partner.

    Last, the large movements that might look good in a couples stage performance are not helpful on the social dance floor where they take too much time and space to execute. Its also an interesting question by Magna Gopel that high level dancers should not dance too much with low level dancers. Perhaps part of her idea is to not exhaust yourself with bad partner dancing if you are seriously training for performances. I understand that you might lead a sloppy execution for an inexperienced dancer but then you do learn more about the limits of squeezing out a good execution from trying it with a variety of dancers. This helps one to understand where the center points of ideal execution are.

    So they are two different animals!

  • Iain Francis says:

    I love this post most people know me as catnip now I have no hesitation is saying straight off that I am a social dancer of limited ability …will I ever be able to move like super Mario, leon rose , or moe flex? Err think not could I go on stage and preform as any of them again sadly no and as moe recently came to an event and got down on the dance floor and showed he was every bit as good at social dancing as he is at show dancing I have the utmost respect for those that can do that but as limited as I am I think the less fancy moves you try and the more you try and make the lady look good the more fun and dances you will receive at venues I am not on the same planet when it comes to ability of the three names above ( all of them I have had lessons from at some point ) but I can say without having a big head that at most social functions that I go to I have a good time and get asked to dance a lot and at the end of the day is that not what social dancing is about ?

  • marinko says:

    Hey just a question to you? When you are going to festivals and taking workshops ? Are most of this teachers performers and social dancers ?? As well as teachers ?

  • marinko says:

    What I mean is most of the teachers on this festivals are performers who are teaching us to dance socially ..

  • salsaclinto says:

    To suggest that its debatable whether the contestants on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE are actually dancers is neither insightful nor a useful narrative. Its a divisive, insecure and envious narrative.

    All the contestants on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE are dancers
    who have been training their art to it’s very highest level since they
    were kids. For them to become social dancers, if they would ever
    consider it, would take one or two hours of social dancing. For most of
    them it would take minutes…
    For a social dancer to learn to do what they do would be well nigh
    impossible, unless the social dancer were willing to put in the same
    10,000 hours of serious training, lessons and the like.

    A person can social dance 10,000 hours and never really up their game. That’s why people choose to take lessons, join performance groups and compete. That’s why other people recognize their efforts and accord them the respect and gravitas. They have chosen to elevate their dancing by working on it to improve it.

    Almost all advanced social dancers have taken this step. Have had lessons, worked on their technique, striven to improve. You can’t really do this while you are social dancing with a myriad of partners. To improve you have to learn specifically how to move your body technically, like a dancer and then apply it endlessly to figures or choreography in order to polish those figures until they can be danced beautifully.

    Since we don’t really have the opportunity to do this while social dancing, people who want to improve find a teacher, a dance partner or a group they can work with to do this. So now they are not really social dancers anymore, are they? They become improvers and eventually advanced dancers through this process. And then they go social dancing…

    You can’t really take this step while social dancing. You can only do it
    through specific training. When you social dance invariably you have to dance down, to meet your partners in the middle. Whereas to make your dancing beautiful you need to find a dance partner and both dance up; both strive to make the same figures perfect, together. When people who have gone through this process find each other on the social dance floor, invariably it’s magic.

    Sorry to break it to you, but as much fun as we have doing it; social dancing is just that. Social dancing. Most advanced dancers you might see on the dance floor didn’t get that way social dancing. At some point they made a commitment to improve then took the lessons and made the commitment.

    It’s no secret how to improve your dancing: it takes time and money. Money for lessons and time for practice.

    When two dancers who have both trained in technique, posture and poise dance together socially it can be magic. Granted.. But mostly they are trained dancers who are dancing socially, not necessarily social dancers, eh?

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big believer in social dancing. I started in salsa then trained seriously for years and competed in ballroom. Throughout this process I always used salsa for fun and socially. I was one of the few competitors I knew who danced socially. None of my partners would, their reasoning was simple: they wanted to spend ALL OF THEIR TIME WORKING ON IMPROVING THEIR DANCING. So they saw any time social dancing as a waste of time, in terms of it rarely contributing to them improving their dancing. This is what people who are really serious about their dancing do: if they are truly committed they spend all their time working on their dancing, practicing and improving and none of their time social dancing.

    In a way they were right, but I feel there are many advantages to social dancing. You meet many wonderful people and you all share a love of dance. Musicality is superior often as it forces the dancers to really listen and interpret the music. It teaches floorcraft; being able to react quickly to changing dance environment: there are many pluses. Not the least is that you meet tons of great people. Which you do while improving, though those groups are smaller, families comprised of studio’s and their students…
    Personally I see that we all share a love of dance. Whether you’re a performer or a social dancer. It’s apples and oranges. People who want to improve are going to take privates, work with a partner, join a performance group, or compete – don’t envy or critisize them. It’s just a different path…

    • You seem to have read the article as some sort of attack on performers, rather than drawing attention to the fact that there are amazing social dancers out there that take their craft as seriously as performers, but who have no desire for the spot light. Suffice it to say that the attitude you have displayed in your post is exactly why this article is important to the dancing community. You seem to have responded from a position of deep insecurity, which says more about you than anyone else.

      Peace

  • salsaclinto says:

    Having spent six weeks dancing daily in Cuba last summer and fall I can tell you that the idea of Cuba somehow being the gravitational center of salsa dancing is simply not true; though certainly I’d agree it’s the center of salsa music.

    Although salsa may have it roots in Cuba it has come a long way since then. Casino is alive and well in small pockets around the world, mostly cared for by expatriate Cubans who are using it to make a living. Nothing wrong with that but its mostly cross body lead style danced in the 35 or so countries I’ve danced salsa in over the past 7 years.

    Sadly in Havana there are only a few true hard core salsa places; most cubans in Havana prefer reggaetone. And Cubans elsewhere…

    Salsa as we know it did start in NYC. It doesn’t “belong” to Cuba anymore. Its alive and well and being taken care of by many communities around the world; though sadly diminished in its birthplace.

    As far as Magna Gopals comment: it is common knowledge that if you want to keep your level of dancing up, whether or not you perform – simply to keep your level up; you need to dance with people at the same level or better still, dance with people at a higher level.

    Your level will be somewhere in between the best and the worst dancers you dance with socially; so you better choose your partners carefully

  • Tyran O'Saurus says:

    I truly enjoyed reading this article and agree wholeheartedly. I also enjoyed reading the comments, but am perplexed as to why this has devolved into a debate about the origins of salsa and the authenticity of the music. Clearly, this is a debate for another forum. Personally, I only dance the casino style and listen exclusively to timba music as well as Cuban *raggaeton which has a major influence from timba. Regardless, the points that the author makes applies to any genre of salsa or other dance forms that retain a social aspect.

  • tibuchi1 says:

    Cuban style salsa (or properly known as casino) is a cross body dance style. It is a fundamental part of Cuban style. The cross body lead comes from a Cuban music genre called son. Even Eddie Torres even admitted that the cross body lead existed before NY salsa was invented.

    Sure Reggaeton is more popular than salsa now in Cuba, but there are still many Cubans who dance salsa regularly. I am sure there are actually more people who dance salsa in Havana than in New York, Toronto or Los Angeles. I mean how many people know how to dance salsa in these cities? 2,000 3,000? 5,000 if you are lucky. In Havana, it would be in the hundreds of thousands ! Many people learn from their family and friends, not through dance studios. Why don´t they go out to these clubs you have visited? The average salary for a Cuban is $20 a month. The cheapest ¨salsa club¨ may be $3, then you buy a drink, that´s a week´s salary in one night.

    Now since a lot of people dance salsa in Cuba, you can´t compare a Cuban who dances socially with a professional LA/NY dancer who has taken lessons, gone to Congresses, trained with the best. It´s like asking an average Canadian on the TTC to play hockey at a NHL level. You have to compare a professional to a professional. And it is hard to be a salsa teacher in Cuba like you can in Toronto or Paris, have your own dance studio and travel to Congresses, because there is no market inside the country with people who will pay you for that. In spite of that, there are now professional salsa dancers in Cuba who make a living off teaching tourists.

    If you are going to compare Cuban style to other styles, use Yanek Revilla, Holguin Forever, or Casino (Salsa) All Stars from Santiago de Cuba, all of whom still live in Cuba. You may not like the style, but you have to admit it is not old or diminished. These are new moves and styling that were developed in the past few years.

    As for Cuba is the capital of salsa music, that is not entirely true either. Salsa, the type of music you refer to, the Latin music from New York in the 70´s, is not popular in Cuba. Cubans think of it as old music, an old style. Of course, Cubans don´t sit around dancing to the Buena Vista Social Club or old Cuban music either, which I think you imply. They prefer timba or more aggressive ¨salsa¨ music more influenced by African beats. So, actually in many ways Cuban dance and music are newer than many of their LA/NY counterparts

  • Rose says:

    I’ve only been on the scene for a little under 4 years and I still consider myself to be a beginner because you never stop learning. I’ve been taught different things and in a different order. I’ve learnt how to social dance without as much hand styling but have been able to keep up with most people. Then I’ve performed but not known how to social dance with everybody because my dancing has changed (because I went off the social scene and only went to training)
    I’m at the point now where I would still like to perform, but social dancing is just as important, you’re put on the spot and you have no choice but to improvise. It’s a tough job to do both but I’ve learnt that is just takes practise and you have to be consistent for both parts.
    So glad I haven’t and never will jump on the “I’ve performed once, now that makes me a salsa teacher!” bandwagon. I know where I stand in it all. I’m not great, but I’m not bad at it either.

  • Alex Fleury says:

    I wish I could find a school that teaches Social Dancing. I’m an older guy and sure I learn slower and can’t do some of the complicated moves that a younger dancer can. But I would love to become competent to add a good dancer out on the floor and just give her an enjoyable lead. Sadly most schools I have found concentrate on moves beyond my ability to perform or even remember 20 minutes after class is over. But I love Bachata and maybe someday I’ll dance well enough to enjoy Salsa too.

    • Hello Alex, Thanks for your comment. I’ve heard similar comments before. I don’t know you or your circumstances, but sorry, I disagree with you. You’re not a “slow learner”. You’re not an “older guy”. Pardon my emotional response, but that is bullshit. Maybe some people, at some time in your past, told you some of these things, and then you labelled yourself as these things, but I’m telling you, that I’ve heard it all before, and you can either let arbitrary labels define your life, or you can just go out and do what you love. I’m telling you this as a physically awkward, nerdy guy who had zero dance experience before the age of 28, and learned to dance in spite of this. My dance teacher is 55 and she still cuts a rug, despite cancer, and all sorts of physical injuries and issues over the last 5-10 years. I regularly dance with ladies 60+. I firmly believe that anybody can become a competent social dancer, you just have to practice regularly, at least 3 times per week (preferably every day). I learned on-2 by dancing with my twin brother, because there wasn’t anybody else who would practice with me. The point is, if you love it, and if you want it, you’ll find a way, and you’ll stop making excuses like “too hard”, “too old”… Never let ANYONE tell you that you cannot, especially yourself. You can do it. No excuses. You were born to be a dancer. Dance!

  • David Sander says:

    Alex, you can still do this! I was well over 50 with zero dance experience when I started into Salsa and after ten years of dance I do fantastically well. To match up with your statement, I felt I was a slow learner too, but this is valuable in the long run if you are being fussy about your technique. Recently I met a twice world champion follower and when I asked about my being slow to learn, she said she was a slow learner too!
    Just keep doing a variety of aerobics, stretching, and other exercises and eat a low junk food diet. Drill yourself three times a week for 10 minutes music to improve your form. Remember that it is not how many complex moves you use that the follow enjoys, its how well you execute them, so don’t worry about the move count. Work on connecting your moves better so you can improvise as needed for different dancers.
    All the best!

  • Laura says:

    Most of what you say bears a lot of truth about the different skillsets, however…

    I disagree with calling performers on SYTYCD ‘novices’. On DWTS, certainly, but it is worth noting that SYTYCD artists are AMAZINGLY talented and hard-working as dancers.

    Yes, they may be ‘performance’ dancers and have little experience in a genre, but they are not ‘novices’. The things that they do should not be relegated to ‘Oh, performance is easy. You just do a little bit of choreo and it’s there!’ when it is its own art form.

    I agree that it is a different skillset than social dancing, but I would not undermine just how incredible what they do is. I understand that this was probably not your point there, but I do think it is worth still giving proper deference to top performers and recognizing that they are, in fact, GREAT dancers – just maybe not the best social dancers.

    As for the ‘Top 3 at WLDC’ artist: He may not be your favourite social dancer – or even the best – but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know the dance. Teaching and understanding steps is a completely different skillset than performance or social dancing. It is fine to disagree with something, but understand that just because you disagree does not make what he said ‘wrong’.

    Unless what he said is out of line with what other dancers in the field say about the dance fundamentally, I’d caution against passing judgement on it being ‘wrong’. It is OK for it to not be your style – but it is a dangerous game to insinuate that this teacher simply didn’t know what he was talking about (especially at a fundamental level). I doubt he would have reached Top 3 without understanding the fundamentals of his dance 😉

  • I agree with your first point, and this has been pointed out by some other dancers at the time I wrote the article. I grouped “shows such as SYTYCD and DWTS” more for the sake of brevity than anything else. In retrospect, this doesn’t give some of the SYTYCD dancers due credit, since that particular show features unknown/lesser-known dancers, rather than novices, as is the case with some dancers on DWTS. The fact that some of these dancers aren’t well known has absolutely no correlation with their ability and talent as dancers. I admit that I could have worded this more clearly.

    However, I don’t believe that I was undermining performers. I didn’t write “performance is easy” anywhere in the article. My point was that performing is quite a different skill set to social dancing. Also bear in mind that this article is written in a salsa context. Salsa was born in social dancing clubs, and it still is a social dance. The vast majority of salsa dancers are social dancers. To ignore this as an artist is to ignore the roots of the dance.

    As for the “Top 3 WLDC dancer”, I didn’t say he was “wrong”. Again, you are quoting something I didn’t actually write. I said I disagreed with him on a number of points. He chastised the room (many of whom were social dancers) for doing certain fundamentals a certain way. My point is, if you’re going to charge people to come to your workshops, chastise them, and contradict widely taught, fundamental social dancing techniques, you better be able to back it up on the social dance floor. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

  • Laura says:

    There is very little difference between implication and a literal ‘performance is easy’ line. In this article, the general impression that you give is that performance < social dance.

    As for Salsa context… I have danced Salsa quite heavily in my past. I was not a Salsa performer – I was a social dancer. I still can't do half the stuff they do on stage – and I do think it needs to be emphasized in articles like yours that this is still a skill. Just as there are performance dancers who don't take social dancers seriously, there are social dancers who believe that performance 'doesn't count' as 'real' dancing.

    I've never met a Salsa pro who discounts Salsa as a social dance. Certain performers may be different levels of awesome in a social context – but all Salsa PROFESSIONALS that I have ever met social dance very well. Some may be better than others, but people who can't social dance really aren't taken seriously as artists.

    For the top three dancer, please look at what you just said to me in the comment. True, you have never blatantly called him "wrong", but you have said that he is contradicting fundamental social dance techniques, and indicated he didn't 'back up' what he taught. This is, to put it bluntly, calling him wrong. Or a fraud. Or illegitimate. Or something similar. Not saying it directly does not negate this implication. You have insinuated that what he taught was not legitimate in some way… which circles back to my original points.

  • I disagree Laura. I simply did not write those words that you attributed to me. I did not write that “performing is less than social dancing”. I did not write that “performing is easy”. I did not write that any artist is “wrong”. I did not write those words (explicitly), and I did not intend those words (implicitly). This is an opinion piece, and it is clearly labelled as such. I’m generally interested to consider various opinions about dancing. Thanks for your comment, and I enjoy reading your zouk blog.

  • Laura says:

    I re-read the original piece. I fully trust that it wasn’t your intention to raise the feelings that you did. Sometimes we write things, and it comes across in an entirely different way when the audience receives it. 🙂

    For me, there are three sections in particular that engage the ‘defensive’ side of my performer-ness (I do both social and performance dance quite extensively). I know I have always appreciated when people give me constructive feedback on why things I have written sit the wrong way.If you want to hear my thoughts, let me know your email and I’ll send it over! (I think that the comment section of a blog is the wrong place for that kind of detailed conversation.)

    I’m glad you enjoy my blog!

  • Nestor Manuelian says:

    ‘Social dancing’ – to go out and have a dance with friends. To go and enjoy the music ambience and culture. To go out and have a good time and leave all your troubles behind. To have a drink meet and make new friends.

    Or

    ‘Social dancing’ – a place where you get judged by your status. Status given by what style you dance.Status given by how good you dance. Status given by whether you have great technique or not. A place where the true essence of going to have a good time regardless of ones ability is irrelevant, has truely disappeared.

    Performer, Social dancer or just visiting to watch and enjoy. Do we really need to spend time worrying about how people choose to enjot their dancing? Is it really that important that people cant focus on the area they love and enjoy the rest of their dancing even if they arent as good in one as the other?

    I love performing, social dancing and teaching.

    But the best part of my job for the last 12years as school owner .. is seeing peoples lives transform through dance, regardless of whether its performing or social dancing.

    Is it really that big of a deal if someone who loves performing, isnt the best at social dancing, if they are loving been part of our dance scene? Or .. even if a social dancer who doesnt perform and doesnt have good technique but loves been in our arena, is that wrong?

    Interesting article … but i wonder if we should just start by looking at ourselves and ask … Why is this a problem for me? Am i enjoyong dance for me? Or … are my views and opinions based on my expectations of others?

    Just a thought 🙂

  • Thanks for stopping by Nestor. Your point about social dancing purely for enjoyment having disappeared is something I’ve observed as well, and I actually wrote another article that touches on this. There are people who, the more they dance, the more classes they take, the more their technique improves, the less they enjoy just dancing and connecting with random people on the dance floor. I’ve found myself falling into this “trap”, and it’s taken conscious work to take a step back, and return to why I started dancing in the first place.

    I realise your last question was probably rhetorical, but I’ll answer it anyway. :-p “Why is this a problem for me? Am I enjoying dance for me?” I have no problem with people dancing whatever style they want, or form they want, socially, on stage, at the bar on Friday with their work friends. Everyone is free to live their life how they choose, and I’m still enjoying my dancing. However, I have observed, in my local scene in Brisbane, and some other places I’ve visited as well, that salsa social dancing seems to be dwindling. I’m aware that there are likely multiple reasons why this is the case. In my opinion, one reason is that lot more focus seems to be placed by teachers and promoters on performance and choreos, sometimes, at the expense of social dancing. Honestly, the only reason I care about this, enough to write an article at least, is because I’m left with less social dancing time at events, and less people to social dance with, and that is the main reason why I dance, to share a one-on-one connection with another human being for a few minutes as we express ourselves and the music. I’m not hating on performers, and who knows, one day I might feel it’s time to get up on stage myself, but at this stage of my journey I haven’t felt like it’s something I want/need to do (yet)…

    • Nestor Manuelian says:

      We push Social at LDA by means of dance classes for people to learn to dance and we have 3 Monthly Socials running so people can dance all the time.

      We also push performance teams to give people the opportunity to do something they never thought possible.

      Schools don’t force people to perform, people choose to do it based on what they are told, see and want to experience.

      I’ve never heard of a school to say Perform for us or else you cant be part of classes. At least non that i know of ( I hope i’m not wrong here as it would disappointing)

      The confidence that people sometimes lack to get on the dance floor, is sometimes developed through team effort and putting something on stage. Once they overcome the stage, they hit the dance floor easily. This then allows them to enjoy dancing alot more by social dancing at the events they perform at.

      If schools don’t have teams to participate at major events, then the scene would have no major events. For our social dancers for the most part wont attend workshops or buy full passes which funds events and make them all possible.

      I think performers and social dancers should work hand in hand to help develop each other as opposed to complaining about each other.

      Schools and performance teams also are a big reason as to why our scene is so great.

      These schools and shows promote, encourage and inspire people to joining our dance world. Just social dancing is NOT enough to maintain or even ensure the growth of our scene.

      Its is fair to say that some performers cant social dance, and some social dancers cant perform.

      But its also fair to say that some performers are way better than some social dancers at social dancing. Just like some social dancers ooze in confidence on the dance floor, while some performers don’t.

      I guess it all depends on what side you look at it from.

      I would say that dancers who take this on via Social dancing or performing are after the same thing as you but from their angle.

      I understand your position, and i dont think you are think you are saying anything wrong. I think your perception is based on your experience and therefore its Valid for you and anyone who feels the same.

      So maybe … here’s an idea … Take up a performance team for one event. Experience why people do it. Then write a follow up article with a view from both sides of the fence.

      I would be really keen to read you thoughts again after that experience 🙂

      Ps My response is purely conversational, not confronting you … just interesting topic 😉

  • I agree with much of what you’ve mentioned in your last comment. In fact, I believe I mentioned most of the same points, regarding performing and social dancing, in the original article. I could perform and write about my experiences, but it probably wouldn’t make for as interesting reading, because we are already regularly exposed to the views of performers in various articles, interviews, workshops etc. What seldom gets much broad exposure is the perspective of social dancers, even though they represent a large proportion of the latin dance community, perhaps even the majority. This article simply shares one social dancer’s perceptive and opinions, and based on the feedback received, a number of the observations were shared by other dancers.

  • David Sander says:

    The issue here is not one of comparison, but one of how we measure success in two different pursuits. The first perspective is that when social dancers see a dance competition, we think that having hundreds of people watching while a few people dance is more entertainment than an actual dance experience. This is not participation, we prefer to see everyone up and on the dance floor! So how you measure these two activities is very different. Social dancers are measured by being able to dance with a broad variety of people, to adjust to them quickly and to do moves they are comfortable with.

    Our ability to improvise resembles that of a Jazz musician of communicating clearly and connecting the jumble of elements into a unified whole for the pleasure of the two individuals dancing. This is very different from a performers view where they want to do choreographed, specialized and dramatic moves that look good while many people watch so this is no longer dance for the pleasure of the two individuals! As a result, many performances tend to pick up good visual elements of other classic performance dancing types that are used for entertainment purposes. As a result performers can pick up a number of bad habits from dancing with the same people too much and adapting to their practice partners habits and in having too many extreme and showy moves that are not centered on partner collaboration and satisfaction. If a dancer strictly pursues choreographed performance dancing, they will by definition not have a lot of judgement and improvisation skills for social dances. This shortage also hurts their ability to deal well with new and awkwardly sized partners some of whom may have considerable dancing talent or are not trained in performance themed moves. Maybe more performers should take one of their practice days and spend it on the social dance floor with beginners while telling them they also had their first day on the dance floor when they didn’t know how to dance.

    I do occasional demonstration dances to show people what it can be like to dance Salsa and I appreciate those highly trained dances that remind us all of the endless room for variety and improvement in our dancing. But consider the comedy it would be if everyone came out and did a nice performance dance in mass on a social dance floor and nobody was watching! Would this be an optimal dance experience? Now you understand how social dancing is not that closely related to performance dancing.

  • Noemi says:

    I choose social dancing. I’ve been both, however. In the last 10 years, I was a non-stop performance dancer for 7 years straight, and the last 3 a social dancer. My personality is too passive to continue with the strong personalities, drama and arrogance in the dance scene. There are a lot of beautiful people without doubt, and it is an addictive love I wish I could have pursued. It helped pull me out of my comfort introverted zone as well, but as much as I wish I could have pursued the performing and teaching aspect of it. I did not have the energy, it wasn’t for me. The performing I did met it’s purpose in my life. For others, who wish to go further, I can’t blame the addictiveness of it all. I have a secret healthy envy of all those women who once looked up to me who are now performing and teaching and continue to do so. Still I dance!

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