We all know what it means to be a robotic Salsa dancer i.e. a dancer that has no unique movement, no individuality and looks like they are just going through the motions in a well drilled manner. If you are new to Salsa this is common in your early stages of development but after years of learning and dancing Salsa this should not be the case, but often still is.
In this article, I will go through some of the reasons I believe dancers are still robots and why this is a symptom of today’s Salsa instructors.
Disclaimer: If you like dancing for sport and do not care about improving as a dancer. That is great, Salsa is different things to different people, keep doing what you are doing. If you want to change or improve yourself please read on.
Lack of Depth
Teaching a well rounded and holistic form of Salsa is not an easy task for a teacher or school; to teach many different aspects of Salsa, make it interesting and also engaging to students is a real challenge. As such most schools will focus on a small subset of Salsa today and generally what is more commercially accepted and what will give instant gratification. Therefore students will spend a lot of time learning the same material as opposed to learning great depth in the dance.
Without this depth and a platform for expression individualisation is hard to achieve for dancers and thus encourages a lot students to stick with what they know and spend time refining content as opposed to exploring movement to music.
Tip: Go around to different teachers of different styles of Salsa to find out more. Make sure you educate your mind as well as your body and more importantly explore and be curious about your dance.
Physiologically speaking we are all very different; from our skeletal structure, muscular build to our own ability to control our bodies. In life we express ourselves very differently based on our current emotional context and Salsa should be no different. In my personal quest to offer more as a teacher I have observed many instructors and often cringe when I hear teachers talking about the exact (correct) way to do things and drill their students regardless of physical and emotional differences.
My personal favourite laugh-out-loud moment is the craze for arm movements in ladies styling which is important as a tool to understand how to move your arms but is drilled in regardless of whether it fits your personality or not. Too often I have talked to dancers who find this clunky but still go through the motions (as it is the top marketed class for ladies) and after spending years drilling the material they end up using this stuff regardless.
Tip: There is no such thing as perfect or correct technique. Leading softly and gently might not work in a club where everyone is rough and requires large amounts of energy so we say there are best practices for different situations and the only way you can be prepared for them is to try them all. Try not to dance by numbers as this will limit you in the long run.
No Room for Individuality
One of the worse sins that I have observed from Salsa instructors world wide is the stripping of individuality. For me musicality is about responding to movement and by definition beginners are by far the most musical i.e. raw, reactive and quite beautiful. However, instructors often ask students to stop moving to music but move in a very strict way, to a very strict count and go through very rigid syllabus. This is orchestrated removal of individuality and in some schools can last for years.
The problem with this approach is that most students never get this raw energy back and for the most part fall in love this strict structure.
To combat this shortfall dancers flock to equally regimented musicality workshops where they learn to move in a certain way to instruments. Although this does help it does not tackle the underlying problem of encouraging individuality and creativity. I am an advocate of nurturing creativity of dance as opposed to using a band aid.
Tip: Be yourself and the best possible version of yourself. If something does not feel right for you after months of trying it might not work for your body or the way you want to dance. It is perfectly fine to say that this is not for me and move on. There is plenty of inspiration out there and YouTube is an amazing source for Salsa dancers.
To me Salsa is far more than a dance form but rather a journey of self discovery. Through taking classes and learning Salsa we are often taught vocabulary as a platform for learning. The problems that arise through a lack of depth in teaching, strong emphasis on strict movements and the continuous removal of individuality. This all leads to conformity and in essence means that we are breeding robot Salsa dancers which more closely resembles athletics as opposed to dancing and far from the amazing journey that could be made possible.
Have you heard the term robot dancers being used? Do you think you are a robot dancer? Are your instructors breeding robots? I hope this article has provided food for thought to instructors as well as students.