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statements-listen

After 13 years within the Salsa community I have attended hundreds of classes from a wide range of teachers. Though these classes have been extremely useful in building my vocabulary as a dancer it was often the things that was said to me personally that changed the direction of my dancing and had a larger impact.

In this article I will share with you the statements that heavily influenced or changed my dancing.

Disclaimer: People will react different to different statements and while one statement might inspire me may do nothing for you; at the end of the day it is all good and I hope that reading this will give you thought.

“When are you going to start dancing?” – Laith Sami

I was a member of the Laith Sami Performance Group in my early years of dancing. At the time I felt like I was picking up the routine fast and executing the moves well. While stretching before practice Laith walked up to me, lightly taps my foot, says “When are you going to start dancing?” and then walked away. I was a little shocked but it made me think about why he would say this to me.

At the time I was focused on getting material and learning as many techniques as I can; in a sense I was hording Salsa content. I was dedicated enough that I spent lots of time mastering content but I realised that I was not dancing. This started the thought that dancing was more than moves but a way to express myself.

“Why don’t you follow to see what it actually feels like?” – Lee Wright

I was doing lots of classes in my early days and after a while even the advanced classes started to become easy and even boring. Lee Wright, one of my teachers at the time, pulls me aside and tells me that I am doing everything technically right but if I wanted to really get good I have to think about how my partner would feel. Lee suggested that I started following to really experience both sides of Salsa and if I wanted to teach one day it would be useful as well.

Since that day I started to follow as well as lead and this fundamentally changed the way I see partner work. I hated it when leaders would just put me through endless partner work or when they disconnected. I really enjoyed myself when the leaders played with the music, gave me space and encouraged me to participate. The biggest thing I realised was what it meant to adapt my leading to my partners.

“When you dance you dance with your whole body” – Alexandre Amoroso

I remember being hungry for Salsa and going to as many classes I can and popped into a class by Alexandre Amoroso. Before he started class he told us that dancing is not just with the hands and feet but the whole body, so did a 15 minute body movement warm up. Up until this point I had not seen a class in Salsa for just body movement and I was amazed by how hard it was to move my shoulders or other body parts in a synchronised manner.

This one class opened my eyes and I started to think about Salsa in a completely different way. I started to think about getting subtle body movements into my dancing and how I could do simpler moves with my feet but add body movement to give a sense of flavour. I also realised that some parts of the music can be expressed more effectively with different body parts. This is very individual but for example chest for the Bass, shoulders for Timbales or hands for Clave.

“Some like it hard, some like it soft, it is all good.” – Milton Cobo

At The Great British Salsa Experience (GBSex) I attended a workshop with Milton Cobo and he said that every partner is different; some like it hard, some like is soft and it is all good. It is not just about technique but leading such that your partner can understand and enjoy the dance.

At this point I believed that being the softest lead possible was the way forward. That if a partner could not follow it was because of their inferior technique. Some teachers propagated this and I bought it. After hearing this I started to realise that the beauty of partner dancing is that everyone is different and I shifted my focus to clearer communication and adjusting to my partners’ individual requirements.

“Do not just listen to the song, go deeper into the music” – Irene Miguel

Irene said a great many things to me during my 12 months dedicated to her classes. One of the most influential statements was to go deeper into the music, appreciate the subtleties and learn more about the instruments.

Up until this point I used the music as a metronome and expressed some of the breaks in the music; having played an instrument following the music came naturally to me. But after hearing this I started isolating instruments and gaining more knowledge about their individual rhythms; how I could move to them and more importantly how each instrument made me feel.

Note: Every month I have a free session at my apartment with new TNT students to go through the common instruments in Salsa; what they sound like, what feelings you get hearing them and how they can be expressed.

“There are not millions of moves but a few techniques so make sure you master them” – Claudio Handem

This statement was said during my intermediate moves hording days. Having danced a lot of Cuban before going to Crossbody I was used to every move having a defined name. During Claudio’s classes I kept on asking for a name of the move and I think I annoyed him after a while as he took me to the side and told me that there only a few techniques in Salsa and most of the stuff I was seeing was a combination of multiple basic techniques.

Once Claudio told me this I started to see moves as a combination of different basic techniques and this enabled me to start mixing my own combinations and putting together moves without the need of an instructor. This effectively ended me going to partner work classes to learn but allowed me to steal moves when I watched or followed dancers on the social dance floor.

“Salsa is 90% confidence and 10% material” – Newton Brown

This was during the early days of my Salsa journey and while I was doing classes and not social dancing. I was too nervous about Social dancing even though I was in the intermediate classes at the time. I had a talk with Newton as I was feeling strange about putting in all this effort but not being able to carry myself through a dance. Newton tells me that Salsa is 90% confidence and 10% material and that I had enough moves and just needed to have faith in myself.

After telling me this I decided to throw caution to the wind and just go for it. As soon as I stopped worrying about the amount of moves and I started to enjoy myself a lot more and had loads of fun with what I already had.

Note: Every dancer has a moment of revelation when they suddenly realise that they can dance and after which they do not stop. I have spent the better part of 8 years talking to dancers trying to figure out how to trigger this in my students. It is so varied what causes this but I am still searching.

“Some dancers are obsessed with perfection and some dancers drive towards it” – Kim Torrence

As a teacher I have always known that what holds dancers back is mental more than physical. I love hearing ideas so I invited Kim Torrence to talk to my students and teachers about Salsa, share her experiences and to inspire. She mentioned that some dancers are obsessed with being perfect and some dancers drive towards it; a perfect framing for something that I have been tackling with for a while.

This gave me a framing for what I have known for a while that being obsessed with perfection holds dancers back and causes anxiety, fear and disturb the learning process. Most of my peers tell me that though they work hard to improve their dancing, perfection is not their end goal but to enjoy dancing more.

Note: This framing gave me a lot more thought about Performance Courses and how they have a negative effect on new dancers. In these Performance Courses you are going to be on a stage so aim for perfection, synchronisation and to be error free. The Social dance floor is anything but perfect as mistakes are made all the time and accepting this massively reduces the anxiety that comes with social dancing

“Your body is an instrument and you should imagine yourself as a member of the band”

This statement was said by a famous Salsa instructor at a congress and I have heard this pushed around ever since. I have been playing piano for the better part of 15 years and been reading up on Salsa for piano for 3 years and still no where near being good enough to play in an amateur Salsa band. So while this statement sounds good it is what I refer to as “Bumper Car Statements” and has no realistic value for dancers.

From the moment I heard this statement I started to question everything that I heard in an even more critical level than ever before and I realised a lot of people cannot give more information. In essence, dancers, teachers and students throw around statements because they sound grand but do not understand it at all. From this point no matter who said a statement I would discuss and debate it to see if it makes sense to me.

With regards to the statement in the quote I personally feel that we are consumers of music as opposed to creators and this is a very different skill set. For example, being able to taste and differentiate different types of wines and knowing what your body likes does not require knowledge of wine production.

Note: When I privately train people I actively encourage them to disagree with me, ask questions and to debate topics to really get them to understand.

Summary

In summary listen to your teachers or those that are further along in their Salsa journey; it is not just what they are teaching but what they say. A single statement could really change the direction of your dancing and greatly enhance your experience.

I hope you enjoyed this read and I would love to know if you have been influenced greatly by a statement you heard. Please comment below and share your experiences.

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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

2 Comments

Josh

Nice blog Toan. Do enjoy reading these.
“Salsa is a threesome between yourself, your partner and the music, you never make one feel left out”

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