Friday, 24 February 2017

Learning Salsa for Ladies UK

As a female dancer/teacher of salsa in the U.K. I had some trouble when I initially set out to learn this dance.  As salsa is looked upon as a street dance, improving quickly was initially difficult; as most classes were geared towards just having fun rather than improvement. I was quite lucky that my first teacher Susana Montero did address some of the techniques required; she is now in Madrid, but she helped to leave behind her several good dancers and teachers, for whom she had a hand in their progression.

These days things have changed drastically as we have you tube and various other social media, which can help, but with so much information around from various different countries it can all become a little confusing, for those starting to learn and looking for classes and teachers.  Many more advanced dancers look for congresses and international workshops, which are very useful; but often they do not take advantage of some of the amazing teachers, right here in the UK.

When looking to learn, the first thing to understand is that there are several styles of salsa dancing.  These are usually danced to different types of salsa music ; Yes! there are different types of salsa music. without going too much into the music right now, I will say that listening to a lot of salsa music will help you , there is also a very useful little app you can buy called salsa rhythm which will show you all the different instruments and demonstrate the various timings of them, its wonderful if you are having trouble in this area, I highly recommend it.

If you do not know which style you prefer look them up online, and see which feels like the best fit for you. or take several classes and see which you like best.  Many salsa dancers do dance more than one style, but in my opinion, whilst learning it is good to treat each style as though it is a separate dance, so that you become efficient in the techniques . in the UK the styles are mainly :-
On1 - A liner style dance where the female steps back on the 1st count on her right foot
Cuban - A circular dance the female is constantly walking around the male whist taking her steps there is an emphasis on body movement and Rueda (the wheel) as well as Afro Cuban are often learnt
On2 mambo a liner salsa style, danced with the woman stepping forward slightly on count &1 or 8& on her right foot and breaking forward with a slightly longer step on her left foot on the accent of count 2 that is played by  the conga beat .
Cali style - fast paced steps often with a cha cha step placed in the middle
In England there are other related dances often taught, the most popular of these are Bachata, kizomba, Semba, cha cha, pachanga , there are many others; and many of these dances also contain various styles with in their genres.

Once you have an idea of your basics, and are improver level plus; it is a good idea to seek out technique classes or workshops for ladies.  As a lady you wont always get most of the attention during partner work classes, however it is a good idea to continue to take partner work classes as part of your learning, but by adding good technique classes you may improve quicker, and correct bad habits .  Technique classes are usually taught by females, whom you can also copy to help create style, they will focus on your steps.  This helps to create good habits and foundations from the start.  Many girls want to skip levels, and their basics are not good, this often creates bad habits and means that at some point they cannot improve without returning to the beginning, every dancer is only as good as their foundations. Often ladies think they are advanced dancers, because they are taking an advanced class; this is not necessarily true, especially as most levels are not monitored well here in the UK . They wonder why they cannot reach the level of those no longer taking the general advanced classes.  It is mostly down to bad foundations and bad habits.

The other important component is social dancing. As a woman you need to practise to be responsive to the lead.  If you are looking for fast progression 3 times a week is ideal. Less than this progression will be slower but will still happen.  Even the very best dancers often lose reaction time, connection with the Music; or their creativity through improvisation when they stop practising through social dancing.

Performance courses- In my opinion generally if you take these in order to improve, and neglect classes and social dancing it can often have an adverse effect. Learning a choreography is a great way to drill moves, have a goal to reach, and to push yourself, but these courses often will not address issues that you may need classes to fix . I run a performance course myself and I love doing so, but I feel most still need to take classes and social dance if they really wish to improve. I still think about some girls who came to take one particular performance course, that I wished were just taking my Monday classes instead.

Where to take classes. I'm quite opinionated about this ............. sorry in advance lol.

If you have been taking the same class for over a year and not tried other classes you are missing out .
I had one lady for example, turn up to my class stating that she was an advanced dancer at the place she was taking classes, in my opinion she needed a complete beginners class. Get out and try other teachers , then assess your level after taking several different classes.
Many teachers teach you a routine , you can do it, perhaps not wonderfully, but you feel as though you have gained something,  don't you wonder why your teacher is much better than you, why you can't do it like she can. Look for classes where the teacher really cares, will answer your questions and give individual feedback. Try a new teachers class every month to see if you gain any knowledge. I tell my students to try everyones classes. Why? Because thats the best way to learn. I'm not scared of them leaving my class, I hope they will not need it for more than a year or 2 . I hope they will improve.  I teach a ladies technique class focusing on various basic techniques and movement for girls, but there are other many other teachers that I tell them they should try.

So many look abroad for teachers when we have so many good ones here ..... seriously ladies why do you disregard what is right under your noses. Not saying its not great to take international workshops but we have so many talented female teachers in the UK. If someone else told you they thought a teacher was rubbish, unless you always agree with their opinion, try the class yourself and see what YOU think, and what others who have been taking that class for a while think.  Look at their success rate. Do they have an advanced performance group that you like, that they have taught through their own classes?  Have they helped to produce other teachers or advanced dancers? We all think differently, one mans meat is another mans poison, as they say.

Do you want afro cuban - we have Damarys  Farres teaching at the place I send my girls to her, and take classes myself when I have time , Iris de Brito is also great but I believe she's doing afro beats now instead.
You want Afro mambo , then Andrea Stewart is a female god of it with an amazing style that I personally love, I have had the pleasure of dancing on stage with her too.  Want a funky elegant cross body style try Miriam Opel she's beautiful and all my girls have loved her classes.  Shelly from Pexava was well know for teaching spinning workshops, she's one of my favourite social dancers too. There are many many others right here in the UK, I have listed here just a few that I know teach often and have been around several years with lot of knowledge. Most of the advanced girls can teach all the female elements, try to take from everyone. I tell my ladies stick with my class until you feel you haven't learnt anything further but go and take as many other classes as you can, ask questions, don't feel silly about them, believe me you will probably have relieved 50% of the rest of the class too scared to ask. Social dance lots, ask better dancers than yourself, but not more than once a night, always ask your male teachers, they should have a vested interested in your improvement.

You may love your male teacher ladies and thats fantastic,  but my advice is to find a female teacher you love just as much, because as a lady, it is usually best to also have a female instructor to aid progression. Truly advanced female dancers know this, and  often watch other females dancing, analysing what they do and do not like; some when they are out, others in private by watching other females online, or by taking other females workshops. We learn mainly by explanation, repetition and copying.  In most cases copying your male teacher won't be the same as having a female, her explanation will be coming from years of dancing the steps she is explaining, and she may offer options of ways to style and step. So I suggest you all take lessons from female teachers, and try to find partnered lessons where  there are two teachers involved male and female. I believe this is beneficial to your learning, especially when both teachers  give equal instruction. The greatest teachers in the world I find, mostly have a female partner they teach with, and have a lot of respect for the females role in the partnership. These days due to payments, most lower level classes in the UK have just one teacher who is usually male. Some give less than basic instruction for the females, and just tell them to follow the lead, many men use dummy dollies , (women not speaking just following the steps), because they are often not paying the women, some believe that the woman does not require just as much instruction to follow well,( even students actually believe this ), however most promoters just cannot afford to pay two teachers. In my opinion having a good dummy dolly is better than not having anyone to copy; but not as good as a class which offers equal teaching. Shines classes again can be taught by either male or female for the steps , again for the style  and movement, it is better to have both male and female. (When I teach mixed shines I try to give the mens styling that I know during the steps, as male teachers will often give whatever female styling they know; the combination of having 2 teachers is much more concentrated). We have lots of women teaching styling, spinning and technique right here in the UK, this helps to fill in the gaps for ladies. So look out for these Classes and workshops girls and try several teachers , when you find one you like stick with her until you stop learning but keep searching for others, and try different classes to see if they help you to improve.

If you decide to take private lessons always have questions of what you want to know prepared in advance, or it may be a  waste of your money, you will spend a lot of money to learn something very basic that you could have learned by paying much less, and taking basic technique classes. As a lady, it is often good to take your private with a lady who can lead if its technique focused, because she dances your steps all the time, she will be able to help lots. if its tension and following you may want your Male teacher, but technically most advanced female teachers can lead the basic techniques and can help with your technique style and movement. Unless you are stuck and feel in a rut, try taking workshops, and asking your teachers questions.  If you take a class regularly most teachers will be more than happy to answer your questions . I rarely teach privates just because I believe most learning is a progression and rarely instant, body movement takes practise, and technique needs repetition; therefore unless you are the type of person who practises alone with a lot of motivation it really is better to take a course,  a regular class, and workshops, to gain knowledge and get enough practise to improve.

My last tip is no matter how advanced you think you are , if you want to keep improving , keep taking classes and workshops, this stands for everyone your teachers included, the best teachers and dancers are always looking to improve themselves . I have had many other teachers take my classes and workshops I have an amazing amount of respect for them, and  I also take workshops whenever possible. We can all always learn something from each other, its not embarrassing, its clever , open minded and respectful for the largely talented dancers we have here in the UK. .

This blog is written to offer help and suggestions , as with everything in Salsa it is neither right nor wrong it is just my opinion.