I spend time analysing the local and global Salsa scene to identify new trends and opportunities. One observation is the increasing gap between inexperienced and experienced Salsa dancers. Watching the US presidential race Bernie Sanders repeatedly talked about the declining middle class, which I think is a great way for framing what I see in Salsa.
This article tries to articulate what I feel is the Declining Middle Class of Salsa, why this is happening and the consequences.
Salsa Students and Salsa Dancers
Before we get started I think that it is appropriate to give some definitions:
Inexperienced Salsa Dancers – are people who are either new or still finding their feet in Salsa. Inexperienced Salsa dancers have yet to indulge in the creative side of Salsa but are in the process of accumulating content. Experience has nothing to do with time spent dancing, rather, how broad and varied the experiences are; I have met many dancers who have danced for years but in a very close community and therefore have not explored the depths of Salsa.
Experienced Salsa Dancers – are people who have reached a level of comfort with the Salsa, have competent execution and more importantly a personal identity. Experienced Salsa dancers are usually well travelled and have seen, or experienced, a variety of ways to express Salsa; these dancers are still learning (do we ever stop?) but pick up (or disregard) content to enrich their personal identity as opposed to learning for the sake of it.
This definition is quite common among my peers.
Note: The beauty of Salsa is that everyone can learn and enjoy Salsa; however doing the same things over and over again will not give you a breadth of experience. For example, a person travelling to the same foreign location every weekend for decades can claim to have travelled and had experience in travelling but I would not call this person an experienced traveller.
The Gap, The Jump
The gap between experienced and inexperienced Salsa dancers has been growing for years to the point that the gap is now a chasm. Given that there are more opportunities for learning Salsa than ever before we still have the following issues which contribute to the widening of this gap.
Lack of Foundations – Very few schools or instructors have a holistic approach to teaching Salsa; elements of Salsa which should be fundamental are not taught, for example, understanding Salsa music, instruments and sounds, understanding your personal movement requirements and limitations, or more importantly what is available in Salsa and who are the key influencers. Experienced dancers normally have good foundations whereas inexperienced dancers do not get opportunities to refine their fundamentals which keep them back.
Wrong Product at Wrong Time – I have seen a lot of school pushing students into the wrong product at the wrong time. For example, I wrote an article about the disastrous concept of Generation Performer which seems to be prevalent in the global Salsa scene. Salsa schools are always looking to create new and exciting products but too often do not think about the readiness of the student they are selling to. Experienced dancers will assess the products and commit if it serves their agenda and growth path whereas inexperienced dancers will be massively influenced (or sometimes coerced) by their instructors or schools.
Wrong Focus – Inexperienced dancers are unfortunately sold a shallow side of Salsa which although fun, will hold them back in the long term. I have had way too many conversations with long time Salsa dancers who ask me for feedback to which I respond work on your basics, step correctly, focus on basic movements as opposed to big flashy show type dancing. My feedback often comes as a surprise as these dancers have spent a vast amount of time and money learning Salsa but still feel uncomfortable on the dance floor.
Lazy Instructors – The social dancing Salsa scene continues to evolve, however, the majority of teachers are still doing the same thing in 2017 as they were in 2000. While experienced dancers will continue to grow inexperienced dancers are not being well prepared for the modern Salsa scene. While learning some “ladies styling” is a good way to get you up and running, too often I hear people who have been dancing for ten years tell me that they are finally starting to listen to music, a statement that I find absolutely crazy. I wrote an article about a different way of thinking about Salsa: The What, Why and When of Salsa
For me, these are some of the reasons why the gulf between inexperienced and experienced dancers is growing.
Note: There are those that claim inexperienced dancers are not improving because experienced dancers are not dancing with them. While it is true that experienced dancers like dancing with experienced dancers I do not believe that this is the reason for the gulf. While you can experience and be inspired on the dance floor your basic technique has to be corrected in a class with a good teacher. No matter how often I social dance with a beginner, they may learn to cope but to refine their technique they need they need instruction.
Impact of Declining Middle Class
Lack of Money in the Scene – A few months back I had an opportunity to host a workshop with one of most famous female instructors in the Salsa world. Unfortunately, I had to decline her offer because I did not think there was enough hungry for knowledge dancers anymore. Experienced dancers do not do local workshops but wait until big congresses to really explore their dancing. Those new to Salsa will not indulge in high-level workshops but are happy attending their local clubs. The middle class of Salsa are the ones who would normally be lining up for such places but in the past 2 years I have seen world class teachers come to London and have their workshops poorly attended; the result of this will mean that London will see less international instructors coming.
Lack of Future Leadership – The new dancers of today will be the future dancers and leaders of tomorrow. As the scene grows we should be seeing new schools, teachers and performers emerging all the time. Unfortunately, while the numbers of dancers in the scene increased, the number of future leaders (Salsa workers) in the scene has not. Time waits for no one and the leaders of the scene will soon retire with no one to hand the torch to which is a huge concern. Working in Salsa is not easy and very few dancers decide to provide a service to others but we need people to be inspired and take up this path.
Negativity – The middle class of Salsa brings the most money to local Salsa scenes and a declining middle class will impact people who work in Salsa for a living. As the scene evolves and new products emerge there is going to be a wave of negativity from promoters who will be financially hit. A few months ago, I was a victim of promoters who used negativity to sway dancers because the promoters will not reap the same financial rewards for their party as previous years. I fully expect that the next five years will give birth to a lot more incidents of negativity as schools fight for survival.
Helping the Middle Class
Teach Inline with Global Scene – The people who work hard to run classes have to look at how the Salsa scene is evolving and try to teach inline with that. If your focus is on Social dancing then have a look at what is going on in the global scene and ensure that your students are prepared for it. This does mean that as a teacher you will have to work hard to change with the times but the benefits will be great. A few weeks ago, a group of my students came with me to the Warsaw Salsa Congress and was prepared to dance the whole weekend.
Mentorship and Coaching – Teaching regular classes or courses is not enough to create an effective middle class of dancers. In the scene where we have more students than ever before, there is a tough challenge of giving enough time and personal attention to each student. My personal thoughts are that we have to get away from being a teacher and start becoming mentors. This way we will collectively give more and get more quality from our students who will traverse the rest of the Salsa scene.
Support Aspiring People – Though the gap between the inexperienced and experienced dancers is huge, the gap between experienced dancers and professional dancers is even bigger. We should try our best to give these dancers support and help them become the leaders of the scene that we need in the future. The same applies to dancers who want to create new clubs for us to enjoy; I personally try to visit most Salsa clubs in London to show my support. I would encourage you all to do the same.
I think that while the scene is growing in numbers there is a divide which will only increase. Being a promoter, teacher and dancer in the London Salsa scene I believe it is not the job of a few people, but everyone who enjoys Salsa and wants a better place.
I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and hope that you will do your part to help support the Salsa scene.