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failure

I am managing director and senior instructor of TNT Dance, a Salsa school in London that focuses on Crossbody On2 Salsa.

In London we are currently considered as a niche school (as any school outside of NYC that focuses on On2 Salsa) as primarily Crossbody Salsa is taught On1. Last year we started bringing in hundreds of fresh beginners and started them On2 and just six months down the line those students that have continued embody what we stand for i.e. have a blend of fun, technique, friendliness, forgiving and dance On2. We have labelled these students as our GenerationNext.

For almost four years we have also been helping On1 students learn On2. Some students have picked things up fast and some not at all. We have helped hundreds of people to learn On2 and personally have identified the top five things that are common among those who try, give up and fail to learn On2.

NOTE: I love Crossbody Salsa On2 both as a dancer and teacher but this is just my personal preference. I personally do not believe that one style is better or worse than another but one style and its associated music, movements and scene may be better suited to your personality.

Dancing On1

One of the biggest things that cause failure to learn On2 is that most of the dancers are still dancing primarily On1. One of my previous students told me that they wanted to dedicate as much time they needed to finally learn On2, his personal goal was to be able to dance with one of the top internationally known instructors in her preferred style – which was On2 – a very similar goal to mine when I started learning On2. Unfortunately he never quite got there because while he was dancing and learning On2 with us on Tuesdays he also spent 5 other days of the week learning and dancing On1 all night long.

The student in question could not break away from On1 and had a very confused time learning On2. I mentioned that he should really think about what he wanted to learn and when he was ready to dedicate 3-6 months of pure On2 dancing he would be able to break the On1 habit. This did mean avoiding clubs where he would be tempted to take classes or dancing the majority of the night On1. This is not always easy as the Crossbody scene in London (and I suspect in many other cities) is dominated by On1 dancers.

Recently he told me that he has given up On2 because it was too hard for him. I asked him to come on Tuesdays where we now have 60-70 regular students all learning On2 at all levels – yes beginners learning On2 how about that? A lot of people share his rationalisation but the truth is that if you want to dance Salsa On2 then you have to spend time dancing On2.

TIP: Take two months away from your current style and immerse yourself in On2. This will save you a lot of time, energy, money and frustration. If you are unable to do this then stick to your current style until you are ready. You will never learn anything solid by dabbling. A lot of my friends went to NYC for a small stint and came back as On2 dancers as they spent a considerable amount of time immersed in On2.

Focused on Moves, Shines or Styling

Another mistake which leads to failure is when people focus on learning the sexy stuff. It is my personal believe that Partnerwork, Footwork and Ladies’ Styling in On2 Salsa has advanced due to the drivers from NYC (an On2 dominated scene). For partnerwork Yamulee, Santo Rico and Adolpho have travelled the world spreading some very creative routines. Eddie Torres and Frankie Martinez similarly have lead the charge with regards to footwork and a lot of the lady stylists that are well respected are from NYC e.g. Magna Gopal, Melissa Rosado, Griselle Ponce just to name a few and a lot of the other non-NYC based artists are also On2 dancers and instructors such as Masacote and Hache Y Machete.

This provides massive incentive for people to learn On2 to get a hold of this material but that is also where the downfall is. Most people that come to On2 classes are not willing to focus on the things that will help them learn On2 but go straight for the stuff that is new, shiny and sexy. I had a student say to me that they wanted to learn On2, he attended our foundation class once and then saw it fit to attend our intermediate class. The next week he skipped foundations and went straight to my Advanced Partnerwork class, 5 minutes in I told him that I could not accept him in this class because he had a lack of timing, positional awareness, consistency and a whole host of things that would make the moves I was teaching very dangerous; I asked him to please spend some time focusing on timing in the beginners class. He started to argue with me about it and how he had attended other advanced On2 classes and was praised by the instructors. Given that I was teaching a class and there were other students who had paid for my time I asked him to seek a refund and talk to me afterwards about the reasons why.

This is a very common theme among the experienced On1 dancers who want to learn On2 – the attraction for all things shiny. But the surprising thing is that Salsa dancers are generally adults and as such should we not understand that we need to eat our vegetables before going straight to dessert.

TIP: When learning On2 focus on the things that are really important to On2 dancing i.e. the foundations of the dance. If the instructor is just teaching Partnerwork then take a moment to think about what you are after.

Ego and Humility

As you become good in any activity your confidence and ego will inevitably grow. However as your ego grows you must also ensure you remain humble as humility is one of the greatest tools in your personal growth, sadly this is more easily done in theory than in practise. I have often said that it is far easier teaching fresh beginners On2 than converting those that are veteran On1 dancers. One of the reasons is that not many people like the feeling of being a beginner again.

I remember having a conversation with a student who admitted that the beginners would be the most valuable class to attend but he could not bring himself to do it – ‘the beginners are not good, they are rubbish’ etc; a sad attitude to have as a dancer of any level and believe it or not this type of attitude is very common in the Salsa scene and really does shine through.

TIP: The best approach I have seen from a student who is going from On1 to On2 is to treat On2 as a completely separate dance. Be a beginner again and start from scratch. Be humble and enjoy the journey.

Learning from On1 Instructors

One of the things that I find funny is On1 instructors teaching On2. Teaching any style of dance has its own explanations, quirks, metaphors and believe it or not being able to dance (or even being a great dancer) does not mean you can teach it well. I can social dance Cuban Salsa and regularly have fun doing La Rueda (people are always surprised when they see me). I can also dance Bachata and a little Kizomba but I would not dare try to teach any of these. Let me say again teaching and dancing is very different (regardless of levels).

Teaching is a skill that is developed with practise and I have seen plenty of teachers suddenly running On2 courses or classes and plenty of these students end up being quite confused. A favourite example is one such teacher talking about the Ku Ku Pa of On2 and then saying that the instrument was the timbales.

TIP: This is going to sound like a really weird tip but when you are looking for someone to teach you On2 find an On2 teacher.

Focus on Bootcamps/Workshops

A new craze that I have seen people go through is to attend On2 bootcamps in order to learn how to dance On2. Then a few weeks later they ask why they cannot dance On2. I have alluded to this many times but if you want to dance On2 you have to actually practise On2 continuously.

I remember a student that was going to all the On2 workshops and bootcamps and all the conversion classes he could find. He kept on telling me that he was feeling the progress… I had to tell him the truth… it is all in your mind… after almost 9 months of bootcamps he still struggled to dance On2 decided to stick to On1.

TIP: There are no special techniques that only the grand master can give you. Most of the information on how to dance On2 is very freely available. All you have to do is practise.

Summary

Learning one style of Salsa is hard but once you learn one then learning another style should be easy right? Yes it is easier if you approach learning in the right way. There are some things that are transferable when learning a second style i.e. ear for music, ability to move, understanding your own body. But there are also disadvantages as well such as the building of habits that need to be broken and all the things that stop it.

To summarise the 5 things that is responsible for dancers failure to learn Salsa On2 are:

– They still primarily dancing On1
– They are focused on moves, shines or styling
– They let ego get in the way of learning
– They learn from On1 instructors
– They only go to bootcamps

From those that have successfully added the ability to dance On2 they have:

– Immersed themselves in Salsa On2
– They appreciate the fundamental differences
– They understand that they will need to take a few steps back in order to go forward.
– They find instructors that know and teach On2 on a regular basis
– They use bootcamps and workshops to supplement their constant dancing of On2.

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Toan Hoang

Written by Toan Hoang

Toan Hoang has been dancing Salsa for more than 10 years and was the co-founder and managing director of TNT Dance in London; A dedicated and holistic Mambo school, that thrives on innovation, and hopes to develop and inspire the next generation of instructors and performers. www.tntdance.info

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