Alexandra Ilie was introduced to Salsa in Bucharest, in 2006, and since then Alex has travelled around Europe as a dancer and instructor. Within my circle of friends, Alex is considered one of the top dancers around and her performances ooze creativity and quality.

When I was Managing Director of TNT we brought Alex and her team, The Melodia Project, to London to give workshops and inspire our students.

I had an opportunity to ask Alexandra Three Salsa Questions.

Question 1: When you are social dancing you seem to find lots of space to inject your own flavour into the dance. How do you do this? How do you find the time and opportunity?

This is a complex question, but I will do my best to be brief.

It is all about paying attention to what I feel and receive from my dance partner; I have spent years focusing on this and I still actively think about this from time to time.

My philosophy is very simple:

  • You have a connection with the partner, as a follower, it means you are being led somewhere via hand, shoulders, hips, back, or a combination of those.
  • When your partner is leading you they expect something from you given that specific connection. This can be to stay still, move at a certain speed or in a certain direction.
  • As long as that body part being led is doing what is expected, the rest of my body can improvise to music. The goal is to make the following automatic so that you can focus on music and playing around.

To go into a little more detail:

  • Try to feel what is asked of you by the partner. To feel the direction of the dance (which can change rapidly) as well as speed (that can fluctuate and include stopping).
  • Try to react quickly to changes.
  • Try to recover from your own mistakes, and realise when the tension in the grip is too big at some point because, for instance, you went too far in some movement.
  • Try to anticipate space and your partner’s next move so that your improvisations do not disturb your partner’s leading.

Of course, having a partner feel the music the same way you do helps a lot. Without a leader who gives you breaks in tension from time to time, and an opportunity to play, you are pretty much stuck with little improvisations, mostly with your feet.

Question 2: What tools do you have to make sure every dance is enjoyable? Do you enjoy every dance?

I do enjoy most of the dances but not all of them. I will give 2 examples of dancers that I do NOT enjoy:

  • Dances with guys that I feel are a threat to my body (not spatially aware, elbowing me, arm twisting, guys that do hand tricks that pull my arms). In this situation, I spend the entire dance on the lookout. I value my body and as a dancer, my health is my number one priority.
  • Dancers that are more energetic than the music is asking for and I, as a follower, do not receive that energy even from the guy (proper momentum/stopping). In this situation, I need to bring the energy myself and not from the music, it’s just an exhausting thing to do.

I like to use playfulness within the music in all my dances. Sometimes it works, but not always, there are leaders that do not take advantage of this and only want to successfully execute their combinations.

Question 3: In social dancing do you think there are rules that need to be followed? or is it all good as long as you are keeping each other safe and making it enjoyable? What are your thoughts?

For me, I can find fun in almost any dance as long as I am kept safe, it is not too tiring and my partner is listening to the music. However, to be honest, I am not travelling to congresses for fun dances. Fun dances are good, but I need challenges, musicality and playing with a partner.

So for me, both leaders and followers should work towards understanding each other’s perspectives and each other’s roles. If a follower understands perfectly what a leader is expecting, then she can be at ease with the dance. If a leader understands what signals work (can work) at different points then the leader can improvise. Followers understanding how to follow and leaders understanding how to improvise is the first step toward being able to play. If you can play to the music then you are pretty awesome.

Advice for Beginners?

Never stop working on something while you are dancing, you can definitely work on stuff while also enjoying the dances. Stay away from practising stuff you are told but cannot find a logical explanation for (well maybe except for the basic step). And lastly, try to keep an open mind.

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.

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