Monday, 1 September 2008

Intial thoughts on salsa lead

A link to the Unlikely Salsero's blog, done by Don Baarns. He has some great articles, and well worth digging through the archive. A recent post, about cross training other dances sparked off some thoughts:

I'm curious!

Usually I write articles, provide my perspective and get a couple comments. This time I'll provide a little of my perspective, but I really want your input on cross-training (or not).

When I started dancing at age 44, I had never danced once in a club. Today I cross-training in other dances and I find it extremely helpful. My balance, body control, spins and other foundational moves continue to grow over time. I feel I'm just getting started, and see the biggest pay-offs ahead of me.

I originally started taking salsa aerobics classes around 5 years ago to lose some weight and improve my fitness. I never dreamed of taking dance classes. I didn't even think about partnering until a few months into it the instructor invited me to a partnering class outside the gym. That was the start of my unlikely journey into the dance world.

Today, taking other styles give me a set of intended benefits, and I've discovered a world of unintended positive benefits. I regularly find insights that make my salsa dancing better. For example, I see the stronger salsa spinners employing techniques that are standard fare for jazz and ballet dancers (with minor modifications).

I'm learning footwork and body control that others learned dancing at high school parties, club dancing or in what I call “foundational dances” (jazz, ballet, ballroom). By the time I hit high school, I was already playing the music and watching dancers, but never dancing myself.

In my case, these cross-training dance classes provide a structured method for building up my weaknesses and providing sound foundations for growth.

I'm wondering how many others regularly take dance classes outside of partner salsa or dancing at the clubs?

For the record (since I'm asking you to answer some of the questions), here are my responses to get the ball rolling:

I'm currently taking three jazz and two hip-hop classes each week. The jazz classes are all with the same instructor, and the hip-hop is with another instructor. Two days a week the classes are back-to-back, first the jazz, then the hip-hop class (an intense workout but most of the time it's a blast!) I have dramatically improved my strength, flexibility, balance and basic body control, and I’ve lost some weight.

Most of my improvement does NOT show up today in my salsa, but I see it as a longer term foundation. I started these other dances because when I analysis the leads favored by the world class follows in know, the vast majority of their favorite leads have a jazz, hip-hop and/or traditional Cuban street salsa experience in addition to strong New York or LA style components.

On a parallel track, my favorite musicians tend to be highly cross-trained, although in any one setting they sound like they specialize in one style. Their cross-training gives them insights that are rare among single style players. I originally took it on faith that the same would apply from a dancing perspective, and I see that playing out over time.

I call this concept "back-filling," where I'm filling holes in my dance education that others filled when they were younger. Many world class follows have experience with other dances, including jazz, ballet, hip-hop, gymnastics and/or cheer leading in addition to dancing salsa. Most cross-train other dances as they grow, stealing great techniques from other dances and applying them to salsa.

Now I’m my curiosity about your other dance training. Click on the "comments" link below and add your thoughts on cross-training, including your pros and cons.

Some other questions I have (please answer one or more, as you see fit):

* What types of classes are you taking?
* What benefits do you see or hope to see?
* How often do you attend classes?
* Why did you start the other style/dance?
* How long did it take before it made a difference for you?
* Are you planning on other dances in the future and what are they?

In other words, what do you do to grow and why? Feel free to go outside my questions above, those are to prime the pump but are not intended to restrict you to a specific type of answer.

Short or longer answers welcomed!

I look forward to your comments.


- The book Sam in the comments recommended: "Conditioning for Dance" from Eric Franklin. There's a decent section of it on Google Books, if you want to have a preview.
- Use of Google Docs for polls with feedback
- What lead is preferred or most enjoyed by follows, at all levels?
- How a lead can get decent feedback on their lead.
- How leads trying following can be useful - the problem otherwise of a lead not having the chance to actually feel the lead of any of our teaches, much less our peers, and our idols, and thus not have anything to even subjectively compare with comments on ours - e.g. yours is as smooth as Johns, but as light as Calvins
- What is the lead like that the top 10 follows out there in social dancing enjoy? What are your idols like?
- Making improvements of lead an explicit aim for leads - getting feedback, reviews, breaking it down for a move.
- What Don's analysis of the leads favored by the world class follows in know. was, and what were the results.
- Is there any difference between the "best" leads' leads, and the leads of the leads most preferredn by the best followers?
- Is there an increase in fun rating as the lead gets better at leading?

- Do the most preferred leads just do straight up salsa? Or do they more often blend in jazz, hip-hop, traditional cuban street salsa , NY versus LA style versus cuban...

- Do women prefer a fun novice/intermediate to a more advanced non-fun or non-spiritful lead?

I think that some classes don't actually emphasise all this, and that the style is seen as extra, rather than vital. But that zing, that personality breathing through you via your style is a big salsa turn-on for follows presumably.

I think "styling" really misses a trick here, for both men and women. As a beginner, some of this feels alien - in a way, starting from within actually helps it, and then styling help is more to channel it into something more than enthusiastic wiggling and flailing*.

- List of dance styles, for reference or another post. I think it might be informative to actually see how many there are out there. Basically to answer what types of classes/dance styles are actually out there (problems with pigeonholing aside).

- What is the actual split between preference of style? Is it geographically dynamic (does NY like boogaloo grooving, but TX prefer hiphop and SF prefer slick?)

**I have nothing against either. Much a fan :D

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