Three Salsa Questions with Natasha Mao

Natasha Mao started her Salsa journey in Chicago and Istanbul in the summer of 2008. Now based in Boston, MA, and Houston, TX, Natasha is still pushing her dancing and recently started her journey as a Salsa instructor.

From a personal perspective, Natasha is one of the finest followers I have ever had the privilege of dancing with. Amazing speed, dynamics, reflexes and all this while smiling and having a good time on the dance floor; Natasha is at the pinnacle of following.

I had a chance to ask Natasha Three Salsa Questions.

Question 1: What do you like to feel when you are social dancing?

When I am social dancing:

  • I like the feeling of stepping each step clearly with my current weight commitment, even during a quick change of direction. I enjoy the feeling of a ball-heel action of executing clean weight transfer and the stability from interacting with gravity and the floor.
  • I like to feel the intellectual thrill of having to react to complex patterns in the split second as a follower.
  • I like to feel the frame of a good leader who allows me to feel grounded.
  • I enjoy various rhythms of salsa to explore the slow-quick-slow, quick- quick-slow and the “and” counts in between the numbers. While it is good to dance to songs I already know, I also like to explore new tracks and try to hit the notes or piano solos of an unknown song.

Question 2: What in your opinion is the difference between a good leader and an exceptional leader in Salsa?

For me a good leader has the following:

  • Connection-wise, a good leader pays attention to the follower, look at her/him occasionally such as a musical hit, and does not look at the floor 80% of the time just to “perform” or to “look cool.”
  • A good leader has a good basic consistent rhythm and timing.
  • A good dancer does not allow his partner to get injured by neighbouring dancers and dances to her/his level (not trying to make her struggle). Technique-wise, a good leader does not have to have fancy moves and is comfortable dancing; he pays attention to his arm position, and his wrist position (not twisting it when turning his partner) and maintains an appropriate distance from his partner, so I don’t need to take huge step to make up for the distance.
  • A good leader connects each pattern well and should practice “forward-thinking,” that is, ready to connect to the next move 4 counts before the current one is over.
  • A good leader has control of energy and timing in preparation for the number of spins he wants to do.

An exceptional leader has all of the above and:

  • While dance floor chemistry between couples really varies on the individual as expected, I believe that an exceptional leader can compensate in that aspect with great technique and musicality with a partner where chemistry is lacking. In this case, the partner at the very least feels comfortable and respected.
  • An exceptional leader is able to predict musical patterns or hits even with a song he does not know, and enjoys exploring the unknown in the music (to me, that creates the fun!) without compensating comfort of the movement.
  • An exceptional leader truly loves the music and is able to visualise movement.
  • An exceptional leader understands the nuances of timing, not just the numerical counts, but also the “and” counts in between.
  • Above all, an exceptional leader has a great frame (above average firmness), which is constant and consistent with no break in the tension; moves flow from one to the next. With an excellent and continuous frame, an exceptional leader can execute complicated patterns with many changes of directions but he makes the moves feel like “it’s over before you know it!”

Question 3: What do you wish leaders did more of when social dancing with you?

Personally, I like to be challenged, so complex patterns at high speed are always welcome. I love spinning, but I wish that the leader only does multiple spins on me (that is, 8 +) when the music calls for it, instead of endlessly spinning me for the sake of spinning me.

Depending on the salsa scene and the continent, I wish some leaders pay more attention to music, not just aimlessly executing the moves, but pay attention to music beyond the obvious hits and stops. I also wish that some leaders smile and have more eye contact or at least look in my direction (even if they are super concentrating on the patterns).

Lastly, I wish some leaders do not ask me to dance by simply coming to grab me by the wrist to the dance floor without asking or even looking at me.

What advice would you give to beginners?

Social dance as much as you can, listen to and love the music.

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