I have been active in the London Salsa Scene as a dancer and teacher for more than 10 years. To grow as an instructor I have spoken to many aspiring dancers about their growth in Salsa and one reoccurring theme with students has always been how to break through periods of stagnation – a metaphorical glass ceiling.
In this article I will talk about some of the reasons why I believe students stagnate and how these can be easily overcome.
The majority of Salsa classes in the world are focused on partner work. As students, after a few years of participating in partner work classes we slowly run out of inspiration. Although there are lots of possible variations the number of partner work techniques in Salsa is quite limited. As a consequence a lot of students stop going to classes and just social dance. Salsa as a dance is far richer than just partner work and by adding and mixing more ingredients (body movement, footwork and musicality) you can create a whole lot more.
Tip: Expanding your focus will offer a much broader syllabus and palette for learning and more importantly offers something to strive towards and stop the feeling of stagnation.
Quality is a major stumbling block when it comes to growth in Salsa. One of the greatest things about Salsa is that it can be picked up relatively quickly and can be enjoyed immediately. Contrast this to Tango where you spend the first few months learning good and solid foundations and simply walking. Ease of learning is a double edged sword as the lack of quality in your foundations will hold you back and not allow you to hit higher heights.
Tip: All the best dancers in the world will say in unison that working on your basics is the best thing for you. If you focus on quality you will see your dance improve and it will act as a platform for keeping your dancing moving forward.
Instant Gratification Syndrome
As people we feel really good when we get something right and take pride in our abilities. Feeling good about learning is a very important part of the process however it can become addictive. This addiction causes dancers to keep well within their comfort zone and to not push further afield. The only way you can grow is to push yourself and change things about what you do. Moving outside your comfort zone is a sure way to keep yourself moving forward and to avoid stagnation.
Tip: If you are able to walk through a class with a good amount of quality then move on quickly. You are responsible for your own learning and staying in classes that are not stretching you is not going to help your learning. This is probably the number one cause for stagnation.
This relates to the narrow focus. I have the utmost respect for all dancers that decide to contribute to Salsa by teaching but we also have to acknowledge that a single instructor will only be able to effectively teach a subset of Salsa. A lot of students will stick to the same teachers or schools and after a while learn 80% of what there is to offer. Once you hit this threshold you start to feel stagnated as classes and dancing will feel the same.
Tip: Once you feel like you have stayed with an instructor and you feel the rate of learning decrease take that as a sign that you need a new school to further inspire or challenge you.
A Salsa night is defined by three things: The Space, The Music and The Dancers. Different Salsa nights will offer different combinations but all three will have an impact on you as a dancer. If the space is not ideal you may struggle to fully explore or express yourself and thus will feel constrained. If the music is not rich or is the same each week then your adaptability and your ear will not improve. If the level of dancing is not high then you may find that you are not being challenged or inspired to push.
Tip: Trying different clubs is important for your personal learning. Keep changing your environment to ensure that you are never too comfortable.
Stagnation is normal and sometimes can be required in your Salsa journey. However, if you want to avoid stagnation then the power to do so is in your hands. If I was to give a summary then I would say keep things changing and keep yourself challenged with a broad focus and an emphasis on quality.
Nothing in life comes easy but if you want to break through the ceiling and avoid stagnation it will require effort and at times it would prove to be very tough but in the end it is well worth the while.