Jan 31, 2014

My love affair with salsa

I had the opportunity to supervise two University of Toronto Dance Classes - Salsa (Advanced) and Salsa (Intermediate II). In addition to administrative duties for the classes I also take the classes too.

A gif of our instructor dancing with a student.

I started latin dance in university

Growing up, my mother always told me how much she wished she could learn to dance at weddings. At these traditional Vietnamese parties, once the karaoke and cake are done - salsa music comes on and she usually sits to the side as she watches other couples dance. My dad is not one to dance. So when the chance came for me to learn salsa, I readily jumped at it!

My good friend from first year was going to start taking salsa dance classes. I began in Beginner, and completed Intermediate at McMaster University each lasting a semester long. Since that time I had been to social salsa dancing 2 to three times and hadn't touched latin dance for a long time.

Since moving downtown, I've taken advantage of a lot of different activities that take place. Through a friend I decided to join Salsa (Advanced) which made a lot of sense at the time since I had already done Beginner and Intermediate at another school. I quickly realized that I didn't know a lot of basic foundational things that I should have learned in beginner and intermediate. We did a performance last year and it went, "Okay"; a bit messy and lots of things needed cleanup, but I learned a lot of things this year.

Things Salsa has taught me

1. Mastery of any skill, whether it be dance, sport, chess, practicing medicine or law, requires time and practice.

2. Most of the learning takes place outside of the 1 hour structured class time. I remember when learning piano, I would practice 1-2 hours per day to master a song by the time the next lesson rolled around. Its a bit tricker with salsa since since learning choreography requires a partner to practice with.

3. To solidify information and new moves, practice it again and again, at slower speeds until it becomes muscle memory.

4. For salsa leads: anticipate and think about your next move before you make it so you can do the appropriate transitions.

5. For follows: You must completely surrender to the lead. Don't overthink it, don't backlead your partner.

Me dancing with one of the instructors in a class demonstration.

In the video above, there were a couple of tips that I received from friends and instructors about improving my dance:

  • My problem: losing balance every time I turn; the solution: plant your feet into the ground, and dance on the balls of your feet
  • My problem: taking steps that are too wide (as seen in the video above, when I step backwards its a HUGE step!): the solution: dance as if I was wearing a tight pencil skirt - this will cause you to keep your steps small. 

I've been doing 3.5 hours of latin dance per week; I'm hoping to continue to improve and get better. A lot of it has required slowing down my steps, practicing and tons of repetition. Maybe one day I'll get to a "performance" level :)

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