Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Categorizing Salsa Shines

So the crazy notion of teaching a shines class has crossed my mind and I find myself thinking about what moves I might teach if I decided to do it. Now I am a very structured type of person, so my first instinct is to categorize all of the shines first. I think I have a pretty thorough categorization.

These are all of the possible shine movements (that I can think of - or find from Internet resources for. )

  1. Step
  2. Rock Step
  3. Ball Change
  4. Tap/Dig
  5. Kick
  6. Swing
  7. Flick (That tango Move - it has a real name I just forget it)
  8. Slide/Drag
  9. Twist (Heel/Toe Pivot)
  10. Rondé/Fan/Brush
  11. Stomp
  12. Hop
  13. Chug (With weight on both feet, bend the knees and then straighten sharply, causing the feet to slide back.)
  14. Jeté (Lightly spring off one foot and land on the other.)
  15. Skip (Step then Lightly spring off and land on the same foot.)
  16. Spot Turn
  17. Pivot/Châiné Turn (Traveling Turn)
  18. Spin
  19. Spiral (Spin/Turn opposite to the weighted foot - left on right foot, right on left foot)
  20. Hook Turn?
  21. Lock (Cross the free foot in front of or behind the supporting foot.)
  22. Freeze
  23. Lunge

Of course you realize that these are just categories, not moves. They also only (mostly) pertain to the feet and not the arms or the body. Each one of these has countless variations and when you combine these movements together or with their variations you end up with endless variety. Throw in body styling, arm styling, hand styling, leg styling, foot styling, head styling, etc. and you end up with a nearly infinite variety of moves. But they all have as their base these 20 something movements.

If you are creating a choreography and get stuck, perhaps reviewing this list can inspire something new.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What does it mean to be light on your feet?

You might think that being light on your feet means your feet are off the ground a lot. But that's not true. In fact, being light on your feet goes hand in hand with being grounded. You need to actually spend MORE time with your feet on the ground to be light on your feet.

Huh? How is that possible? Doesn't being grounded mean you are stable on the ground like a strong foundation? Yes, but you aren't immovable. Being grounded actually gives you the ability to switch your weight from one foot to the next with very little effort and time. And that is what being light on your feet really means. Being able to change your weight in an instant.

Well, there is more to it than that. You also have to be able to check your momentum in an instant. You are in control of your balance, your weight and your momentum. That is what makes you light on your feet.

How do you get light on your feet? Well, first off, you have to forget your feet. LOL. Seriously. Too many beginning dancers think everything about dance centers on the feet. While we do use our feet to dance, the feet can't do anything if our bodies aren't moving. Beginning dancers have difficulty turning because their bodies turn so slowly.

So the first thing you have to do to become light on your feet is to conquer this inevitable difficulty: make your body lead your feet. You learned how to do that when you learned to walk at 2 years old. Everyone on the planet moves not by moving their feet but by moving their body. Don't believe me? Watch yourself walk in a mirror.

Still not convinced? Record yourself and play the video in slow motion. You will notice that you actually move your body first, not your feet. One foot pushes your body forward and the other foot keeps you from falling down. That foot catches up to your body, then the momentum/inertia of your body moving allows the first foot (the one that originally pushed the body forward) to catch up to the next step. Meanwhile the second foot pushes your body forward. Well, it can't very well push you forward if it's moving, can it? See? Your feet move last! In fact the foot that starts the pushing motion is the foot that moves at the very end!

So, when you dance don't forget how to walk. Move your body. When you turn or spin, get your body around first. Your feet will follow. Consequently, you'll be lighter on your feet.

Now when I say get your body around, I don't mean push yourself off. I don't mean wind up like a spring and explode yourself into a spin. Forget that. That is BAAAD technique. Turns and spins don't happen that way. I'll cover spinning later but certainly turns are done slowly, changing your weight fully with each step, as your body TURNS, not spins.

(Read the article on the difference between turning and spinning.)

So, turn properly. Change your weight with every step. Now you can't be in control if you are doing this while taking large steps. So the simple answer is to take small steps. Well, teachers have been trying to drill that mantra into students noggins forever, but it doesn't change things but only slowly. The students still take big steps. So how do you make yourself take smaller steps? Clearly there is something causing you to take big steps. What could it be? Your momentum. You aren't in control. So you have to put less energy into your movement. Make each step deliberate, the same as when you walk. So, don't just take smaller steps. Move slower. Yep, moving slower can actually help you to get around your turns FASTER!!!! HAHAHAH!!!

It seems so illogical doesn't it! But not if you think about it this way. If you push yourself off, you're more likely to be off balance more often. You are more likely to step wrong. You are more likely to get off time. And you are more likely to tire. But if you make your movements more relaxed, then you will be in more control. And THAT is where speed comes from. Speed doesn't come from energy. It comes from control. You need to be in control of your body and your feet. YOU. Not the other way around.

So, how do you know how big of a step to take? Well, if you move your body instead of your feet, the answer becomes very simple. Keep your feet under your body. Just move your feet to where your body is. Easy. Keep the time. In LA Style salsa the guy's steps are Left, Right, Left; Right, Left, Right. And the girls steps are opposite. Maintain that rhythm. You might need to count. Keep your feet under your body, and move your body first. It's that simple. Do that and you'll be grounded and light on your feet too.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's the difference between a spin and a turn?

We get so confused. And it's our (teacher's) fault. We'll tell beginning students that they are going to learn how to spin. We teach students to do a "cross body spin." We teach more advanced students how to execute a "free spin." But those aren't spins. They are in fact turns. And it's not just a question of using a different word. Sometimes teachers do teach a spin when they should be teaching a turn, and vice versa. So let's examine this just a moment.

So what IS the difference between a spin and a turn? Think of your car. If you turn your car, the car is in control. It's moving forward. But if your car is spinning, it's out of control. The wheels aren't locked onto the pavement. Which one can you stop your momentum easier? The turn.

So is turning the more stable? Not necessarily. One of the most stable instruments known to science is an object that spins: a gyroscope. The Segway uses gyroscopes to stay balanced. NASA uses gyroscopes to keep orientation. And remember toy gyroscopes? Once they get spinning you can't knock them over! And they are spinning on a point! And what happens when they start turning? THAT is when they fall over. They are designed to spin!

See? When you are supposed to be spinning, turning knocks you over. When you are supposed to be turning, spinning knocks you over. So it's important to understand the difference between turning and spinning and it's important to understand when you should be executing the one instead of the other.

The big difference between a spin and a turn is the pivot point, the center of that arc you are rotating around. A spin's pivot point is contained within the mass of the object. A turn's pivot point is outside the mass of the object. This is true for a car and it's true for a dancer.

Ok? Now you know the difference between a turn and a spin. So recognize which one you are trying to do in a movement and execute that movement properly. If you are turning, turn. Don't spin. If you are spinning, spin. Don't turn. Kay?

Here are a few rough rules of thumb. If you are doing a 180 or more, you are probably spinning. But if your movement is 180 or less, you are probably turning.

Also, if you are traveling, you are turning. None of your steps should be greater than 180 degrees. And finally, if you are staying in place, then you are spinning.

Is this just a question of semantics? Absolutely not. You can see how utterly important it is because people execute spins when they should be turning and vice versa. Let's examine the cross body spin... er... turn. How do you know that you are supposed to be turning and not spinning? Well, are you traveling? Yup. Then you should be turning. Remember the rule of thumb? 180° and less is a turn. A cross body turn does include a 180° movement, but you are traveling so it is in fact a turn. When you execute your cross body spin turn, move your feet down the slot. Change your weight with each step and make sure you keep moving down the slot. If at any point one of your feet starts to move back up the slot, you just executed a spin. Correct that and you'll find your cross body turns improving dramatically.

How about the other way: people doing turns when they should be spinning? How do you know if you should be spinning? Are you staying in the same place? Yes? It's a spin. So don't change your weight until the spin is complete. You may peddle to check your balance or even provide a smidge of momentum, but do not change your weight from the leg you are spinning on, and DEFINITELY keep both feet completely under your body.

Now, how about the special case of a single right or left turn. Aren't they spins? You're in place, right? These appear to be executed in place, but if you pay attention they are not. You return to your point of departure but make no mistake, you do depart from the home position. That means it is not a spin. A spin is when you remain in place and spin like a top. Stop executing your turns like a spin!

Ok? Got that? Once you recognize how important this question is, and make the adjustments to your dancing (and teaching) technique you will see yourself improve dramatically. DRAMATICALLY!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Strong Lead is not a Good Lead

Guys guys guys. I see it all too often: guys pushing girls into their moves. Overleading. Please understand the difference between a strong lead and a good lead guys. If you use your muscular strength to overpower your partner and force her to execute your moves, she'll follow. Some girls even like being manhandled, but make no mistake, that doesn't make it a good lead. The girl you are dancing with is your partner. Your equal. She's not your subordinate. You aren't her boss. She isn't your plaything. Please stop throwing her around like a Rottweiler throwing around a ragdoll. I don't ever TELL my partner what to do. I ASK her to do something but I always allow her enough wiggle room to say no. Your partner knows how to do the moves you are asking her to do. All you need to do is to communicate to her what move you want her to do, provide assistance when she needs it, support her so she won't go off balance, give her energy when she needs it, then back off and let her complete the move you asked her to do. Don't micromanage her. She knows how to do the move. Let her do it her way. Your job is to decide what to do. Her job is to decide how to do it.

The key to a good lead is timing and clarity, not strength. Understand the precise moment you need to begin your lead. Pay attention to her weight transfer. Her momentum and direction in combination with the foot she has her weight on will help you to pick out that precise instant in which to ask her to move. As a general rule, she turns to her right on her right foot and left on her left foot. There are certainly exceptions, like when you check her momentum to get her to turn opposite, but if you are just starting out, pay attention to this rule. It's great for the four cross body lead with turn moves. And it's generally those moves that the problem of overleading manifests itself. Practice your lead on those moves. Try to ask her to do moves and try to resist forcing her to do them.

Remember, a good lead is a well timed SOFT lead. I'll go into lead (and follow) a bit more later but for now I suggest you read my earlier article The Mechanics of a Good Lead.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Salsa Syllabus

I added to and organized my list of essential salsa moves. The idea was to structure them from easier move to harder move and to add prerequisites. I added some patterns too. This list could easily be turned into a salsa syllabus and in fact I structured the level 1 and 2 as a syllabus. Levels 3 and 4 allow for an extreme amount of variety so if you were to create a syllabus you would need to create your own patterns. I ordered the levels 3 and 4 by my personal perception of difficulty. But of course what is hard for me might be easy for you and your students. So this is just a guideline.

As with my list of essential salsa moves, this list is by no means comprehensive. Salsa is an creative endeavor. New moves are created, reborn, and reimagined all the time. But if you master these moves you will be able to conceptualize and execute virtually every partner salsa move under the sun.

  Level / Type Wk Move Abbrev. Prerequisites Reason it's this Level
 1 Level 1 Fundamental 1h1 Basic Step BSC    
 2 Level 1 Fundamental 1h1 Side Step (Cucaracha) SS Basic Step
 3 Level 1 Fundamental 1h1 Forward Step FWS Basic Step
 4 Level 1 Fundamental 1h1 Back Step BKS Basic Step
 5 Level 1 Concept 1h1 Open Break OB Back Step
 6 Level 1 Variation 1h1 Guapea   Back Step
 7 Level 1 Fundamental 1h1 Backward Diagonal Crosses (Cumbia Step)   Back Step
 8 Level 1 Fundamental 1h1 Forward Diagonal Crosses FWC Forward Step
 9 Level 1 Basic 1h2 Right Turn, Man's RT, Woman's RT RT, MRT, WRT Basic Step
 10   1h2 Left Turn, Man's LT, Woman's LT LT, MLT, WLT Basic Step, Right Turn
  Level 1 Pattern 1h2 Crossover Pattern (WRT, MLT, then WLT, MRT)   Right Turn, Left Turn
  Level 1 Basic 2 Back Pass BKP Right Turn
 12 Level 1 Pattern 2 Triple Turn Pattern (He goes, She goes)   Right Turn, Back Pass
  Level 1 Variation 3 Frisbee FR Left Turn
  Level 1 Pattern 3 Left Turn Pattern   Left Turn, Frisbee
  Level 1 Essential 4 Cross Body Lead (Dile Que No) CBL Basic Step, Back Step, Left Turn
 17 Level 1 Pattern 4 Cross Body Lead in a Pattern   CBL, Various
 18 Level 2 Variation 1h1 Hammerlock HL Right Turn It's too easy for Lvl2, but it's only useful for Lvl2 moves.
 19 Level 2 Essential 1h1 Enchufle Ench Cumbia Step
 20 Level 2 Pattern 1h1 Enchufle Pattern (HL to Enchufle)
 21 Level 2 Varation 1h2 Reverse CBL RCBL Back Step, CBL Might be too hard? Not really a prereq for RCBLIT
 22 Level 2 Essential 1h2 Rev CBL Inside Turn RCBLIT Cumbia, Enchufle, Left Turn
 23 Level 2 Pattern 1h2 Cumbia Pattern   Enchufle, Rev CBL Inside Turn
 25 Level 2 Essential 2 CBL Inside Turn CBLIT CBL, Left Turn
 27 Level 2 Concept 2 3 Small Steps 3SS Right Turn
  Level 2 Concept 2 Drop Hand Catch   3 Small Steps
  Level 2 Variation 2 Free Spin FRS CBLIT, Frisbee
 25 Level 2 Variation 3 Skater's Wrap SKTW Right Turn, CBL Inside Turn
 26 Level 2 Variation 3 Overwrap/Cuddle CDL, OW CBL Inside Turn
 26 Level 2 Variation 4 Come With Me CWM CBL, Left Turn
  Level 2 Concept 4 Sweetheart   CBL Inside Turn  
  Level 2 Concept 4 Cross Body Check   CBL Inside Turn It is a simpler variation of the titanic, so it should be taught first.
 28 Level 2 Variation 4 Titanic   CBL Check
  Level 1 Pattern 3 Cumbia Pattern Across Slot   Cumbia
 13 Level 1 Concept 1h1 Head Loop/Hairbrush/Haircomb Basic Step
 15 Level 1 Concept 1h1 Double Head Loop / Sombrero   Right Turn, Head Loop
 16 Level 1 Pattern 1h1 Sombrero Pattern   Right Turn, Head Loop
Level 2 Essential 1h2 Cross Body Lead Outside Turn  
Level 2 Variation 2 Walkthrough/New York Walk  
Level 2 Essential 3 Reverse CBL Outside Turn  
Level 2 Variation 3 Wrist Catch (Reverse Windmill)  
Level 2 Variation 3 Wrist Check  
Level 2 Variation 4 Texas Tommy  
Level 2 Essential 4 Basket Basic
  Level 3 Variation   Windmill    
  Level 3 Concept   London Bridge    
  Level 3 Concept   Arm Toss    
  Level 3 Concept   Gancho (Elbow over her arm)    
  Level 3 Concept   Flat Back   Right Turn
  Level 3 Concept   Hook Turn Right Turn
  Level 3 Move   Swivel (CBL w/ Hook Turn) Hook Turn
  Level 3 Move   Barrel Roll Windmill, Come With Me
  Level 3 Move   U-turn Cumbia, Walkthrough
  Level 3 Move   Copa Cumbia, CBL Inside Turn
  Level 3 Move   SSQQ Around the World
  Level 3 Move   Classic Around the World (waist wrap pull)
  Level 3 Move   Back Spot Turn / Adios Open Break
  Level 3 Move   360 (Coca Cola)
  Level 3 Concept   Peddle Turn (Multiple Spins)  
  Level 3 Variation   Illusion Hands  
  Level 3 Variation   CBL turns with Illusion Hands  
  Level 4 Concept   Turning on other beats Right Turn, Left Turn, Check, Prep
  Level 4 Concept   Arm Block AB Spin
  Level 4 Concept   Arm Play  
  Level 4 Move   Duck Under Tuck In Tuckunder/Hicabobhead whip  
  Level 4 Move   Pretzel Right Turn, CBL Inside Turn
  Level 4 Move   Rainbow  
  Level 4 Move   Butterfly CBL Inside Turn, Rainbow
  Level 4 Move   Tunnel
  Level 4 Concept   Zipper
  Level 4 Pattern   Abaníco (Large Fan) - Rueda Sombrero, Hook Turn, WRTon2
     WRT to Skater's Wrap; Enchufle w/ MHook under Rarm; Come With Me; WLT; Guy Steps Under into CBL

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How to learn salsa

If you want to learn how to become a great salsa dancer as efficiently as possible, consider this roadmap.


Control your own balance and momentum
Basic steps

Connect with your partner
Beginning footwork
Beginning essential salsa moves
Begin to listen for beat

Intermediate footwork
Intermediate essential salsa moves
Listen for the beat

Advanced footwork
Advanced essential salsa moves
Dance to the beat / beginning musicality

Connect with the music (musicality)

Naturally, there is a lot more to dancing than just these simple things.  And following this roadmap will probably take years.  More likely a lifetime.  But the journey sure is fun.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The essential salsa moves

Most salsa moves, even the hard ones, are based on simple moves. Master the easy ones, learn some variations and combinations, and you'll easily pick up just about any hard move.

So I compiled a list of what I call the essential salsa moves. They are basic salsa moves that I have found to be the foundation for every advanced move that I've learned, at least from what I remember. Really I think that this (plus maybe a couple more forgotten ones) are all there are.

There's only like 30 or 40.

Basic Step
Side Basic
Forward Steps
Back Steps

Head Loop/hair-Comb (style)

Right Turn
Left Turn
Right spin
Left Spin

Cross-Body Lead
CBL with inside turn
CBL with outside turn

Reverse Cross-Body-Lead
(This is actually a variation)
Reverse CBL with inside turn
Reverse CBL with outside turn

Skater's Wrap

Walk-through/New York Walk
Enchufle (cumbia)
Copa/In & Out
Mambo Turn

Back Spot Turn


Of course there's a lot more to becoming a salsa dancer than learning moves, but maybe now the mountain of salsa moves has shrunk a bit for you and you can spend some of your energy on the other more important aspects of becoming a salsa dancer.