Showing posts with label salsa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label salsa. Show all posts


Choosing a dance?

A number of times now some friends have asked me for advice about starting "some salsa or dance course", and of course they are surprised when I ask back what kind of salsa. I too had no clue that there were different kinds when I started. So I'll write the answers down so next time I can just point people here.

For history and dry reading I could just point them to Wikipedia, but I know that it didn't help me to understand things better. Now it is more interesting, but when I was absolutely starting, it was pretty much useless. Even the videos don't say a lot; it's a bit like going to a restaurant for some cuisine type you don't know, and having to choose a dish by the ingredient list or by some photo: hardly ideal. So I'll write about what I feel can be more interesting / practical for someone wanting to start and choose.
Will also be interesting to check how my opinions evolve in a future.

My credentials: I am still mostly a beginner. I only started past May; I am in an intermediate level in salsa on 1, but in all the rest I am still a beginner with different levels of hope/lessness.

With that out of the way, let's start. First: types. There are 3 big "types" of salsa dancing (that I know of, anyway); looks like there are some subtypes, but that's not important for now.
  • LA style, in line, on 1: this is the most typical type for beginners, at least here in Warsaw. In fact looks like if some course only says "salsa", then it is "on 1" by default. Named "in line" or "linear" because couples dance keeping a straight line with their displacements. It is the most "mechanical" to begin with, and possibly that is the reason why it is so typical for beginners: it´s easy to start. Given enough time, this type seems to tend towards somewhat acrobatic/spectacular figures. They dance to the phrasing of the melody, not to the percussion. The man always leads, and up to, say, a bit into the typical medium level, the woman only needs basic knowledge of the basic steps and paying attention to the man to survive (important if you want to dance at a party with some random girl, which might not know a lot about dancing salsa). After that point, the woman really needs to know how to understand the signals (and dance to them!); that is, it no longer depends only on the leading of the man.
  • Cuban style, casino, on 3: also found for beginners. The dance is free-er than on 1. Women seem to be able to dance with only basic knowledge of the basic steps; the rest is all up to the man, which is good for dancing with people you don't know. Also, maybe that's why lots of women say that this style is "funnier" and "more spontaneous". If the woman knows how to dance it, can be very energetic, very fun. An important subtype is Rueda de Casino, in which couples dance forming a big circle, and the figures are done by all the dancers simultaneously, switching partners continually; big fun and impressing to see.
  • NY style, mambo, on 2: similar to on 1, but with important differences. They count in another way (to the percussion of the music, not to the melody), make the pauses in another way; so in fact you could think they are always moving, instead of the noticeable pauses in the other styles. You can distinguish them in the dancefloor because they seem to have a lot of time for styling (those expressive/spectacular/theatrical/stupid gestures that are done with whatever part of the body that is not actually needed in some moment); that's because of the difference in counting. That also means that they take more seriously into account the technique! The feeling is more "afro", more to the ground. Almost all the teachers seem to dance and enjoy (and even prefer) this style. And looks like people who dance a long time on 1 tend towards on 2; maybe simply because they tend to try everything else (addiction!), but it's typical to hear that dancing on 2 is  more interesting. The man still leads, but the woman can do lots of styling. It isn't too easy to find partners to dance on 2, and in fact I haven't seen parties oriented towards on 2 (but there are for in line and cubana, even though of course given any music it's just a matter of will to dance whatever style you want).
When I still hardly knew about on 2, I met some women who danced on 2 and didn't know about on 1. Interestingly, we managed to dance without too much of a problem; they complained that I was giving my signals too late, so I "just" had to prepare them much earlier.
However, figures from on 1 and on 2 are not exactly the same. Figures from on 1 seem hurried when dancing on 2. Possibly when you know enough you can adjust them yourself, but... at that moment possibly you don't need those figures anyway.
On 2 seems to be the hardest type to find for beginner courses; there seem to be more for changing from on 1 to on2.

  • Chachacha, chacha, cha cha cha, ... whatever: I'd swear I had always heard "chachacha" in Spain; however there I was never interested in dancing. Here in Poland seems to be typically named "chacha", which seemed wrong until you try to dance it; let's say that a chachacha is quite danceable like a mambo but adding a "chacha" in the middle of the basic step, so ... now I kind of like the short name (another way of saying that is : a chachacha without the "chacha" steps in the middle is just a very slow mambo). Anyway, I digress. I've read somewhere that chachacha is "the king of latin dances"; no idea why (maybe it was marketing?). It's slower, it can be quite elegant / parsimonious. The music is characteristic. Again, it is not easy to find partners; typically when there is a chachacha, people use the time to rest or get a drink. I've tried following a chachacha course while also following a mambo course; the combination was perfect.

An interesting point might be the opinion that dancers have about their non-chosen types. (Interesting because, in Aikido, people tend to have a poor opinion of the barbaric and useless karate and taekwondo and whatnot; of course, people in karate and taekwondo think the same of aikido and of each other and whatever else. Heck, aikido people even tend to dismiss other aikido styles for whatever reason, from "not refined" to "too aggressive", the fuckers. So, imagine my surprise when I found that this kind of animosities exist in dancing too! ). Officially, all the types are just that, types. But when you pay attention to the things that are left unsaid, to the implications, or even sometimes to the openly snide remarks by some teachers, the picture changes. Looks like cubana dancers typically think that in line dancers are an arrogant, strict, mechanic, counting bunch, while in line dancers seem to think that cubana is for those that can't dance in line. (Interestingly, for now cubana is being quite harder for me than in line, maybe because of the kind of courses I have been trying). Meanwhile, mambo dancers joke that in line dancers are always hurried up and miss the point of the music, breaking / ignoring the real flow of the rythm with artificial pauses...

And what about non-salsa dances?

  • Bachata: Characteristic music. Very close dancing, but you can choose how close and/or explicit to be; from sinful to childish. Can be beautiful, but lots of people seem to dance it in a too machanical / spectacular / tasteless way (really, do you need to shake the girl's head 3 times in the same song? does that even feel like, you know, dancing? maybe you are recording some videclip?). I've heard an interesting explanation, by a girl no less: some people want that close proximity but then don't really know what to do with it, so they start just throwing out all the figures they can think of (and she hated it!). And sounds possibly right to me.
After salsa, looks like it'is the easiest style to find in parties.

  • Kizomba: "angolan tango". Even more characteristic music; I was surprised to find that a reggaeton-like rythm could make such beautiful music and dance. Quite close dance (and you can't choose, like in bachata!), but generally more elegant/less explicit than bachata, I would say. After some debate I'd say that bachata is to "sexy" what kizomba is to "sensual". The rythm/counting is not as fixed as in salsa or bachata, and looks like ideally the woman has to be VERY receptive to let the man lead well. But when it works, it feels great, and quite different. (I'm finding a surprising number of people relating kizomba to internal martial arts; or rather, they relate it to dancing in general, but for some reason the relationship appears more explicitly in kizomba)
(hm, I wonder what kind of smirks would that last sentence draw from the people in

Other types about which I don't know anything: I've heard good things about Tango, I am curious about Jazz, and I don't feel attracted to Flamenco (yes, I am spanish, so what? for the record, I also don't feel like bullfighting ;P).

"And what about trying one type of dance and then another, or even mixing? Don't you get confused if you pick up more than a dance at the time?"
Personally I don't, and see lots of other people doing the same. However there is always the possibility of trying more than you can digest; after all looks like it's more important to practice than to go to the classes, so if you are not going to have the time or chance to practice, the class is... well, maybe not useless, but... not as good as could be. (that's the reason why I am leaving mambo, chachacha and possibly bachata, at least for now)

Also, a couple of teachers gave me their opinion on trying different styles. One said he only wanted to dance one type, and do it great, "not like those people who dance lots of things and don't dance well any one type" (He had won some important competition, so possibly he had a point, and I think he didn't know I was at that moment attending, like, 6 different types. I simply tried not to blush ;P).

On the other hand, the other teacher said that if I didn't feel strange by doing so many things, it could be good for me, because I would end up with my own dancing style and more figures and more ways to combine them. Which is true; it's funny being able to throw a little cubana in the middle of a linear dance, or the other way round. I think it's good even from the pure bodymovement angle; cubana and mambo and kizomba feel more afro than linear, for example, so it's refreshing to apply a bit of that afro to linear.



(sounds better than Aikikizomba... ;P)

The Bachaturo festival was not exactly very well organized. In fact if I had came from far away I guess I would be pretty pissed off. I've heard that last year it was much better, and that this edition was problematic because it had to be rescheduled after the Smolensk plane accident...

Anyway, the high point for me has been Kwenda. He was funny and interesting just as a Kizomba teacher. But then it got stranger / more interesting: there was a class called "Kainzen Dance". Looks like that was a typo and the real name is "Kaizen" (shitty organization!).

Sounded like something japanese, and I half assumed some Noh-style dance or similar (read: not interesting ;P ). So when I finally went in because some other class was overcrowded, ... surprise. Incense, and some mix of afro bodymovement and... exercises that reminded me the strangest Tai Chi class I had, so long ago.

I wouldn't say I liked it (it felt a bit rushed, maybe because of how unexpected it was; and possibly because I keep feeling somewhat reluctant to go back into, say, "Aikido-like" subjects), but I guess it made sense, moreso when combined with other things Kwenda explained in other classes. Again, lots of emphasis in what you would probably call energy work in Aikido and Tai Chi. Suffice to say that the keywords were "intention", "feeling" and "breathing".

Which was refreshing, since I had been trying to find and apply/shoehorn those things into my dancing. Not only in Kizomba, but now looks like it is maybe the most appropiate dance for that; maybe after having been so forcefully introduced into it.

In any case, Kaizen is a japanese word (seems to mean "improvement"), and Kwenda himself in an interview says that "he doesn't want to say it is dance therapy because it is more than that". I'd love to know what is the story behind.

Also interesting was that other teachers in other Kizomba classes also dedicated the whole hour to leading exercises that were again basically "energy work". And some of the people complained that they were expecting to learn figures; ironic that one of the girls who complained (and left the class) danced exactly like she could use some of those exercises. Ironic too that Kwenda himself had previously warned in a previous class that it is too common to want to learn figures without knowing what to really do with them; without knowing how to dance. I wonder if she had been there and purposefully ignored it, or ...?

And I wonder how other people reacted to that kind of atypical exercises. I still couldn't put in practice so explicitly those things; I certainly will. Will be interesting to see if there are partners willing to experiment. :P
(Not that I need to make it explicit to them, but... would be nicer)

Apart from all of that: Kwenda also stroke another chord. He told us to randomly walk around the classroom and hug the other people. Imagine the awkwardness. Then, he asked us why we wanted to dance Kizomba, which consist on closely hugging someone for a whole song, since we don't like to hug people.

My answer would have been that I don't want to dance Kizomba with random people, in the same way that I don't feel like hugging random people. In fact, I need to have something previously to try to dance Kizomba.

And again I wonder about what would have the other people answered. I see other people, mostly those who dance well, dancing without a problem with lots of other people. So of course, lots of practice, so they dance well. Which is the reason I am already almost accepting that I won't be able to dance well Kizomba nor Bachata. I simply can't practice a lot.

But Kizomba is less "aggressive"; smoother, I guess. More elegant. And I generally prefer it. Maybe there is more future there.



3 months ago, I started a Salsa course.

 In fact it was an unexpected and (supposedly) quick experiment. I had played percussion for some years in my hometown's music band; that was about 10 years ago. So when I saw a short weekend minicourse in a dance school about how to play latin percussion in salsa music, I went in. At the moment, someone I knew was asking me to play percussion in their oh-so-amateurish group, so I thought it could be a quick way to regain some practice and have a go at playing with them.

The percussion course ended up being not too interesting. Like the group anyway. But, that same day I found that a Salsa (on1/linear) crash course was about to start, just after the percussion course. I was already there in the school, with no other plans for the weekend, and the Salsa course would be in fact almost gratis for me. So... why not?

 That night there was also the periodic saturday latin party in the dance school (Salsa Libre), which started with a dancing class. So at that moment I had already 3 class hours, and could try dancing (with good advantage!) with other starting people. Two more class hours on sunday, another party on monday...

I was really lucky to find myself in that crash course, because I don't think the effect would have been the same if I had had to wait a month to reach that level (the crash course was 4 hours a week, while a standard course is 1 hour a week). But the way it happened, it was just addictive.

Interestingly, I'm not alone at that. It's funny that when I was beginning to feel guilty about spending too much time in this I started recognizing a number of other people which were popping up in the same courses and schools and parties as me. Others have told me that they also started like that and later began to limit it... Which I will do at some moment too, but for now I'm living out the obsession. So, 3 months, a number of other courses and even a salsa festival later... Madness, I tell you!

And the question that worries me is: why do I like it? what for? I mean, I have been practising Aikido for more than 5 years. There was a sense of purpose there: the personal/spiritual angle, and the practical/objective angle (self-defence, although I'm not sure about how much do I still believe in that).

But, dancing? What for?

Of course, I can look for easy, a posteriori reasonings. It is a good way to meet lots of new people (girls, mainly :). It is a good way to do some exercise. But, the fact is, in these months I have barely really made any new acquaintance - so, so much for the social part of the thing: lots of dances with lots of new people, but that doesn't directly translate into something you could call friends. The exercise part, well, it for sure beats sitting all day long, but it's a bad joke compared to any regular Aikido class.

So, again... what for??

No fucking idea. Yet (I hope). I only know I'm loving it. Maybe it's the surprise/ego boost of being told that I'm actually good at it? (Dangerous!) Lots of people seem to suppose that it's the "spanish blood". Yeah, sure; the blood, and not the years of percussion and of Aikido. Nor trying to practice as much as possible. Some even think that spanish people already have a feeling about how to dance salsa and such. "You are spanish? So you already know how to dance bachata, right?". Like when someone told me recently that he had been to Barcelona and the food wasn't as spicy as expected. It took me some effort to realize he was expecting some tabasco-class thing in Spain...

It also took me some effort to make some people understand that in Spain it's more typical to find flamenco than "latin" dancing. Or so I think anyway, I wasn't into that world when I came to Poland. But interestingly, in the salsa festivals I am seeing lately, there are no spanish teachers; although there are from Portugal, France, Italy, UK, India, Turkey... and South / Central America, of course.

(hm, should I try flamenco? I don't think I like the idea...)

The Aikido thing is another interesting point; what is the relationship? Turns out that all the feeling, the connection with Uke in Aikido is really useful in salsa. But at the beginning I also had to make a conscious effort not to convert some movements into atemis and whatnot. In fact, there are still some figures which make me feel uncomfortable; too close to positions that in Aikido would quickly get painful (and you don't (usually) want the pretty lady with wich you are dancing to scream in pain :). Like some transitions from hammerlock.

Another relationship with salsa, in a negative way: in Cuban salsa, when beginning some enchufla, I was told I was taking too big steps, moving in a strange way when changing places with my partner. I realized I was using some uchi kaiten routine! (Would have been funny to explain the origin of the problem to my partner at the moment. Would she appreciate that I could apply like 3 atemis per enchufla? :D )

Anyway, I guess knowing how to move (in sometimes complicated ways) must have been a plus when dancing. Again, better that than just having been just sitting on my ass, I guess. And another reason why I suspect I like it: I was a walkman addict for much of my life. I was always singing to myself. Having studied music helped, I guess - it made me hate piano and sol-fa, but gave me the basics to later get into violin and percussion and knowing how to reason about a number of things related to music. And well, simply being able to add movement, and to directly feel and follow and interpret the music... feels great. 

But there are points here that still get me thinking a lot, and which I hope to be able to explain to myself and write at some moment...

(OMG: Out of unhealthy curiosity, I just tried googling "aikido salsa", and found this. The Horror. The Horror...)