Dance Skill Progression: The Cruel Reality

I was having a conversation recently about this trend of new dancers who catch on to dance really quickly — has anyone experienced the same? The person is learning really fast and suddenly – BAM – they say something arrogant and position them as a better dancer than you when they are still working on their basics. Some I’ve heard over the years include “Are you ready for ME to show YOU how it’s done?” and “I don’t really want to dance bachata. I just feel like I have no where else to go with it.”

Personally, I NEVER want to discourage someone from learning — EVER — but I also want to find a way to show them that, though they have learned a lot in a relatively short period of time, that there is a wide world of dance skills out there that they don’t even know exist yet. I, too, was guilty at one point in time of thinking I was hot stuff because I could handle the lead of most people in my scene after just 8 months of dancing. Thankfully I had a teacher (shoutout to Sonny Moyer) who encouraged me to travel to see that yep, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. There’s much more to social dancing than I ever realized at that time.

While discussing this situation with a friend, my brain borrowed something I know about language proficiency learning (I’m a state-certified Spanish language teacher) and I created this upside-down pyramid representing the stages of dance skill progression in the (albeit, rough) likeness of language proficiency development. While most people probably think learning to dance is like a normal pyramid with the most learning taking place in the largest, beginner layer and the advanced portion representing a relatively small set of skills, it is actually quite the reverse. If you are working really hard when you begin dancing, of course you’re going to move into the 2nd layer (notice, the first layer is actually the “newbie” AKA “I’m just learning what the essential elements of this dance are” layer) relatively quickly. Should you still be proud? DEFINITELY! Any progress should be celebrated! You SHOULD feel like a million bucks for accomplishing this feat! However, at the same time, it’s important to create new goals for growth at this point and identify the skills that will help you progress through the next layer instead of becoming complacent at your accomplishment. Sometimes this is hard, and I can’t even claim to know all layers of this pyramid. On my best day, maybe I’m half-way through the pyramid. Maybe.

So what can you do now that you know about the pyramid? (1) Find a progressive dance series from a (2) qualified instructor. You want a progressive series instead of a bunch of random, disconnected lessons because you want someone to bear witness to your growth and guide you in the direction of the skills that you need to work on most at this point in your education. (There’s a place for taking lots of different, disconnected lessons — I’m just saying be aware that you will need a progressive series if you want to advance your skills systematically and efficiently.) Also, you want to make sure you get a qualified instructor that knows a lot more than you do. As a certified public school teacher, I feel truly that a teacher cannot bestow 100% of their skill to their students. There is always a percentage of our own skills that we just do — we don’t know why we do it. That portion of our own skill cannot be transferred until we, the teachers, learn even more and begin to understand those more recent layers of skill acquisition. (By the way, make sure you are also investing in a teacher who invests in themselves. A complacent teacher that has not taken lessons themselves in awhile is probably not the best investment of your time and money.) (3) After awhile with the same teacher, it’s okay to switch and find someone new to take you through another progression of skills. In fact, a good teacher will TELL YOU to take lessons with other people to ensure that you become a well-rounded dancer. (4) Finally, I recommend that you begin traveling to other cities for dancing and especially to big dance events so that you can see all that’s out there in the big, wide world of dance. In my personal dance growth, I feel that these experiences are what have made me the dancer I am today. Not only did I become aware of new skills, new genres, and new passions, I also had the opportunity to dance with people way more skilled and/or different in style than what I was exposed to in my home scene. Through that social dance practice, I learned to follow a variety of leads and become a more versatile dancer.

 

Do you agree or disagree with the chart I’ve created? Leave your comments below.

The Benefits of Small and Large Festivals

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately, both as an event organizer and an attendee. I never used to put a lot of thought into it, but after hearing two big-time performers start a sentence with “I love small events because….” I got to thinking — what do I like about them? To be simple and concise, I am going to make a browsable list below…

Have something to add? Comment below!

Big Events

  • Variety of dance genres and music
  • Variety of genre, skill, and skill-level workshops to choose from to suit your personal needs
  • More DJs to listen to
  • Often there are live concerts to enjoy
  • More people to dance with (often you have thousands of people to choose from)
  • People come from all over the country or world for the event
  • More professional dancers to learn from, watch, and TRY to catch for a dance
  • Impersonal — you can blend in with the crowd and do as much or as little as you want easily

 

Small Events

  • More focused theme for workshops, performances, and general skill learning
  • More of a community feel, as the range of where people travel from is generally smaller
  • More 1 on 1 time with the professionals, meaning asking questions after the workshops and dancing with them at the socials.
  • The professionals are there to get to know the people, so they hang out more and are willing to chill and have real conversations with the participants at the events.
  • The professionals use the time they have to dance with the people to guide their instruction in workshops and give tips tailored to the dance needs they see present.
  • More personal experience — people notice you, check in on you, ask your opinion (and good event coordinators use your feedback to improve the event for next time).
  • You get to know more dancers easier at small festivals, as you can catch them for a few dances instead of just one or (if you’re lucky) two.

 

Either type of event you go to, you are very likely to have a good time! There are just benefits to each. Personally, I’m a big fan of variety because it keeps my skills and experiences very well-rounded. I enjoy filling my dance schedule with events both big and small.

Regardless of which you attend, keep in mind that buying a pass to the event will support the event coordinator’s cause. If you like what someone is doing, remember to support them with your wallet and not just verbal praise, as these things are expensive regardless of the size! Buying your pass early also puts money in the pocket of the event organizer earlier, which allows them to pay for things ahead of time and decide if they will have enough money to add on more things for you.

Talking on the Dance Floor

I’m writing this post out of pure love and affection for up and coming dancers in any dance scene, truly. I’m giving you advice that maybe no one will ever tell you to your face, but will affect your social and dance life for as long as you stick around.  Consider this a piece of insider advice that is going to help you assimilate yourself into the dance scene faster and smoother. Are you ready for it? Here it is: STOP TALKING ON THE DANCE FLOOR. Just stop it. (For a laugh see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw)

Many new people commit this social faux-pas as a way to feel less awkward about their dances. But if you you start talking over the music, THAT’s the thing that will annoy us — not your small repertoire of moves.  Yes, we know you are having a difficult time hearing and interpreting the music. Yes, you only can do the basic step and a basic turn. That’s OKAY. No really, it is! Get comfortable listening to the music for 4 minutes while looking at the person at the end of your fingertips and smiling on occasion. Be patient with yourself. The space that you believe is awkward silence is not silence to those of us who hear the music. We are enjoying this dance with you because the music speaks to us. You know how it feels to have music blasting in your car with the windows down when you’re on the highway? That’s how it feels when we’re dancing. Let the music take over.

But how will I make friends otherwise? If you want to make friends, chatting off the dance floor is the place to do it. Just don’t be in a rush to find new friends (especially a romantic interest if that’s why you picked up dancing in the first place). Seeming too eager to get to know us is a social deterrent and a sure-fired way to get yourself noticed in a negative way. Personally, I don’t want to give you my life story.  I let people get to know me slowly and naturally. I don’t come to salsa to be interviewed on my life. I come to salsa to escape. I don’t need you to ask how work has been, how my dog is, or anything else that you’ve learned about me through these probing questions. Just chill. Be around. Get comfortable. Your friendships will develop naturally, and you’ll find that people will eventually take interest in YOU and ask YOU the questions.

 

Have something to contribute? Comment below…

To Reach for the Stars or Not to Reach?

To answer the question posed by the title of this blog post I will say simply this: It doesn’t matter. As long as you know there are stars, you’ll make the right decision for yourself.

I see too many people around (not just in the dance scene) trying to hold others back because, by forcing them to remain below them, it keeps their self-esteem high. This is a form of oppression via ignorance.

Anyone who tells you that you don’t need to explore or learn more, that you shouldn’t try to improve yourself, that you don’t need to know what else is out there – is trying to hold you back. Question these people.

You can only make an educated decision about what you want when you know the possibilities. If you know what’s out there and then decide you are happy where you are, then that’s wonderful and perfect for you! By no means should anyone put any expectations on you in either direction. But if you don’t know what’s possible, how can you be sure that staying put is what you really want? In other words, if you’ve never been permitted to see the stars, how can you be sure you don’t like them?

Educate yourself. Explore. See. Hear. Feel. Learn. THEN decide what you want. Don’t live in a cave of darkness and ignorance. Allow yourself to live to your fullest and happiest capacity every day.

Fresh to Death or Just Death?: The Power of Smell on the Dance Floor

The way you smell will either make or break you on the dance floor.  Smell good and you will get pulled in closer, your dance will feel more magical, and you will have more dances throughout the night.  Smell of B.O. or foul breath and you will be kept at a distance, your partner will have his/her face turned away to avoid the smell of your breath, and you will not be asked for another dance.  Yes, your smell, and your smell alone can decide the fate of your dancing night.  But it won’t only affect your night — it will affect the way people perceive you for a very long time.  One research article indicates that people who experience disgust make harsh moral judgments of the offender (Citation: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2562923/).  You don’t want to be the instant creeper or shady person just because you skipped the deodorant one night! As the blog Psych Your Mind points out, smell is also an important player in the game of attraction.   Whether you call it pheromones or just good hygiene, there is an undeniable link between smell and attraction, and that is a powerful tool in finding either a dance partner or a romantic partner!

This issue is so important to people that it was, in fact, REQUESTED that I write this blog to everyone about their hygiene — and it was hinted that women should worry about this topic just as much as the men. So to help us all out, I have compiled this list of tips to stay fresh to death (and not just like death) for everyone:

1. Deodorant:  Deodorant is the first line of defense. Use it, or lose out on dances. If you sweat a lot or have body parts that are particularly tight in clothes and/or rub up against each other, consider using your deodorant in those areas. I don’t sweat much personally, but I will throw deodorant underneath the band of my bra to prevent sweating there sometimes. Better safe than sorry, I always say!

2. Breath:  Brush your teeth before going out. If this is not possible, carry gum, mints, a travel tooth brush, and/or tooth-paste coated floss. All of these things will help reduce mouth odor so you are delectable enough to hold close in a bachata. Staying hydrated (hint: water!) will also help your mouth stay as fresh as possible.

3. Fragrance Before Going Out: Spray your clothes with body spray or cologne, as well as your hair. The fragrance is more likely to stay in fabric and hair rather than on your skin. Putting cologne or perfume on your pressure points will also help release the odor as your body heats up. (But please refrain from using Sex Panther. That **** stings the nostrils and gets WORSE as your body heats up!)

4. Fragrance On-The-Go: Carry your fragrance with you to the club. Reapply every now and then to stay aromatic. It’s pretty easy to find a travel size of your favorite fragrance and to pack it in your shoe bag.

5. Extra Clothes: If you are particularly sweaty (most men), carry a 2nd shirt with you to change into when you get too soaked OR  dress in layers. I know that sounds like torture in a hot club, but think about it this way: Even if your under layers get soaked, you will be dry on top. Reapplying the fragrance, as in step 4, will prevent your top layer from getting stinky. Hear Juan Calderon from Jersey talk to this same point here. Fast forward to 0:55 to hear his spiel.