Thursday, 4 September 2008

Salsa connection

Having a think about the 11 part series about salsa connection at

Part I: Introduction to the Salsa Connection Blog Series LINK

The feeling of a good connection in salsa with your partner:
"the joyous fun smooth effortless salsa dancing simply cannot be done without having the skill to create with your partner the salsa connection. This is as true for girls as for guys, for follows as well as leads. I see it also as fundamental to social dancing and, I’ll be bold here, it is also a metaphor for all relationships."
This can have an effect on how you are taught and teach. The other 10 articles touch upon:
* What is the salsa connection and why don’t we get it?
* Touch and the salsa connection
* Negotiating the salsa connection
* Eye contact and the salsa connection
* Music and the salsa connection
* Teaching equally to follows and leads via the salsa connection
* Salsa connection from a relationship perspective—for men
* Salsa connection from a relationship perspective—for women
* Flow and the salsa connection
* Existential Phenomenology and the salsa connection (Yikes!)

Part II: What is the Salsa Connection and why don't we get it?

"Salsa connection is the foundational relationship between dance partners that allows them to communicate amazing amounts of information almost instantly so that they dance together smoothly and seemingly effortlessly."

Why don't we get it?
- Teachers and dancers don't understand, acknowledge, teach how foundational the salsa connection is. Through this, there is lack of emphasis and comprehension of salsa conneciton. By learning, noting the problems along the way, getting feedback from students, getting outside appraisals of student's performance, a teacher can better understand the potential pitfalls along the salsa journey. It may be that "for many teachers, as great dancers, it may come rather naturally to them and they don’t realize how foreign the salsa connection is to many who are learning to dance."

- By not integrating the salsa connection into lessons, the salsa learning doesn't work outwards from the connection. There is a difference between learning a move, and learning the lead and follow to it:
"Followers learn the patterning of the move and rely on an initiating signal that a move is called for. Then the follows simply, and often skillfully, take themselves through the move without actually being led. They are just holding the leads’ hands. What results is the appearance that women are following and men are leading, but the truth comes out on the dance floor."
For the budding salsero, the age old advice, including relax & listen to the music, try simpler moves, focus on the gentle leading and following - all are about connection in a way. Learning a move arsenal doesn't help with symptoms you could ascribe to a bad salsa connection:

Total rather than partial move failure, feeling for the lead of being dragged through a move, jerkiness & separateness between partners whist dancing, back-leading, "going through the motions" dancing.

Is there much knowledge of what moves followers enjoy also? For a leader, what use are moves learnt in class that many followers don't or can't enjoy in freestyle, as they are unleadable, or plain not fun? To be taught pretzels, when partners enjoy spins for example.
It seems that there isn't any actual defined metrics in this area - A kind of salsa survey of followers and leads. However, there is some easy enough to find anecdotal evidence.

** (Add in the threads previously seen)

Connection as a concept can incorporate "feeling out" what the follow wants from the dance (not going into the topic that what she'd most enjoy might not be what she thinks she'd enjoy...). An example would be a improver or higher dancing with a earlyish improver, who could dance just enough for the lead to do a lot of moves through speed, and the follower gets frightened by lack of control in the dance, not knowing what to do, being overwhelmed etc: as the article says,

"sometimes the follow feels like the lead has taken control and is superior to the follow and "hangs on for a dear life".
"sometimes when you let go, the moves just come to mind by themselves."

When you've got it, you've got it! When you haven't, build it!

Maybe it feels differently to others. For me, when initially learning, there were a few follows that were alive in their movement. Through the connection of the right hand on the back of the lead, you could feel all the motion of the follower, feel the level of contrabody flow, cuban motion, hip and foot action. Through the left hand, you could feel tension. And through the eyes, comprehension and usually a smile. You could feel the level of connection, even if you had your eyes and ears closed.

I think in a way there is a fear to actually open up whilst dancing, or even be proximal to someone - the close contact hold being too close for some. And it's not in the interest of salsa teachers to really put paying customers in a situation they aren't comfortable in. The comfortable minimum distance between bodies is a variable though, and depends on who you're dancing with. For women, there seems to be a tradeoff between minimising potential for sleaziness and affecting the quality of salsa connection in the dance.

Part 3: Touch and the Salsa Connection

"Remarkably the word “touch” is the longest single entry in the unabridged dictionaries of many languages. In the Oxford English Dictionary the entry runs 14 full columns. Constance Classen wrote “touch is a fundamental human medium for the expression, experience and contestation of social values and hierarchies.”"
In a society which can not condone touch, it's sad. Touch can be inappropriately abused, but withdrawing the permission of society of touch can be abusive also. Whilst sleaziness can cause inappropriate touch (the roaming right lead hand, being a bit too low on the back, touching of no-go areas of the follower within the dance), touch is essential to social dancing. The convention of no-go areas and high levels of connection with any given dancer helps this out.

Touch & salsa connection: Usually it's light. Relying in part on tactile sensation, not just sensing pressure and force direction of a lead's hand. As pointed out in the article, there are different ways - "hanging on to one another" touch isn't the same as giving tension for the purposes of a good connection. An extreme of hanging on for dear life is death grips. Again, to use a sporting analogy - a beginner who uses a racket, or holds onto a boom in windsurfing, handle in kitesurfing and waterskiing/wakeboarding, the sailor's main rope, the tennis player's racket handle etc - they can all get blisters through lack of calluses/thick skin from use, and also from death grips.

Touching can be "sensitive and interactive". Give yourself a minute. Have a think about a few examples from your life of sensitive and interactive touching, both in dancing you've had, and also outside of dancing. Smiling, blushing, or feeling fuzzy yet? Jolly good :) Point made.

Sensitive interactive touch in dance occurs "when both dancers are constantly attending to one another, connecting with one another, constantly adjusting to be fully sensitive and connected to one another through this light, but clear and active, act of touching."

And through this, a salsa connection is established. This sort of touching also requires the re-evaluation of our concepts of lead and follow. I think most believe that the lead pushes, drags, and otherwise forces the follow around to do what he wants her to do. We have grown accustomed to presenting this idea in feminist and gender-sensitive terms by saying that the lead is showing off the follow or presenting her as beautiful. A recent metaphor I heard was the man is the frame, the woman is the picture. But I think it is time to take the equality of the roles completely seriously and to show how both roles are equal, although a bit different, in importance, presence, and action.

Touch is an essential aspect of the salsa connection - the right touch requires a lot of practice and attentiveness.

Part IV: Negotiating the Salsa Connection

I disagree with the start of the article saying that "The salsa connection begins when the follow senses that a “lead” is about to occur."

The connection can be there throughout the dance., though I agree there are key points where the lead has to be listened to intently. The word lead is used in multiple meanings, which I think muddies the issue -
There is a certain overall lead for a given move, many of many "sub-leads" - the lead for each component of the lead's body. the lead for the feet, left arm, right arm etc.

"A well executed lead will very clearly make this prelude to the initiating action. Often it involves slightly raising one’s hand or hands, stopping the flow of one’s hands or body, shifting one’s weight, tensing the arm or hand muscles.

Follows are amazingly able to detect this prelude to the actual lead. This attentiveness/awareness is an essential follow skill. At this moment both lead and follow recognize (automatically in their bodies when the skill is developed) that communication regarding a change is about to occur. At this moment the dancers have the opportunity to do what I call “negotiate a connection.” In a mere nanosecond, the partners match muscle tension in preparation for the action to follow. This requires equal attention, action, and initiative by both partners. Each is equally giving to and taking from one another. Each is assessing and matching the presence of the other. They become actively and energetically connected, equal, together, one in that moment and ready for the movement that is to follow. When this occurs they have established the salsa connection. All of this takes place in a fraction of a second, yet almost every dancer I have worked with quickly recognizes when the salsa connection has been established and when it is missing. Once aware, dancers immediately recognize how essential the salsa connection is to partnering and to enjoyable smooth connected social dancing. Many dancers are now shifting their priorities from learning yet another move (likely poorly executed) to developing their skills of creating the salsa connection realizing that the results are so satisfying.

How to get and develop the skill to have the salsa connection

Drills, tennis balls in armpits, trust building exercises - there's a whole lot of things to beef up connection skills. Interestingly, the drills explained in the article "prevent follows from anticipating a move or action. Conscious focus on the establishment of the salsa connection for both lead and follow is needed. The reward is great and as the process goes on, the dancers can feel the improvements more (see the stages of learning).

Practise practise practise. Part 4 concludes: "I am convinced that most failed moves, most awkward looking dancing, stems from the dancers’ failure to understand the importance of and to develop the skills to create a salsa connection."

Part 5: Eye Contact and the Salsa Connection

Eye decorum. A social skill, a dancer skill.

"So often we observe salsa dance eye decorum where the partnering dancers never look at one another, especially eye to eye. When we dance with someone that never makes eye contact with us, we often feel that likely they didn’t even care who they are dancing with. We likely feel ignored. This isn’t always intended; indeed, likely rarely. However, many of us have developed this type of eye decorum because we are concentrating on the dance, or perhaps because we are shy or even embarrassed. We may be embarrassed that we are so close to and even touching someone we don’t know and feel a little uncomfortable."
Staring can be bad. And men can accidentally stare either directly. Then in trying to look away, the school boy error is to look down. A face full of cleavage, and a 1 way ticket to being labelled a sleaze.

It's good to have some eye contact: "As physical touch is light and not grasping, so too should be eye contact. Don’t stare or focus on one part of your partner’s body no matter what that is. Keep your head up and your eyes up so that as you move your body your eyes will come into contact with your partner’s eyes. Let your eyes smile and enjoy the connection with your partner."

By knowing the steps, a lead has less need to look down, and ever accidentally be sidetracked/sideswiped by the follower's buxom.

An exercise given - follower is asked to follow the basic salsa patterns without the lead holding their hands, watching his head, shoulders for intention for example.

Part 6 of 12: Music and the Salsa Connection

Something that takes time. From an novice - trying to pick out any beat, to someone picking out the clave, drums, solo section and flow of the song. A 4-4 beat is pretty easy in comparison, and my view is that it's a decent place to start, but a beginner should definitely be shown early on the different ways of accenting timing, and dance to a song.

From the beat to the pace to the musicality and the shifts and moods, the verses and choruses, solos and intros and outros. Dance on1, on2, syncopated. Cuban, NY, jazz, hiphop, freestyle, big shapes- however you both want to.

You've got the conventional salsa basic rhythm step pattern of 1, 2, 3, pause, 5, 6, 7, pause. There's other layers, but they're beyond me! movement in relation to the breaks and shifts in the music, interpretation f the mood and feeling of the music, using the character, feel, and rhythmic distinctness of each piece of music.

It's a joint interpretation after all - the lead has some say, the follower has both the chance to have their say so, and say no.

Part VII: "Women Get Equal Attention ... Finally!"

As the salsa connection is foundational to salsa dancing, both follower and lead have legwork to do. So the leads of the lead need to be taught to both sides - for the followers to understand what one would feel like, and the given familiar response to that lead.

It's heartwarming to hear that at SalsAmigos ( and Salseritas (, all dancers learn equally to both lead and follow.

The roles are different, but intertwined, and knowledge of both is very useful! (See Milton Cobo and Frankie dancing and interchanging role youtube video for example).

My view is that styling comes from training, from within, and isn't just a tack on extra - you have to work at it and get comfortable with what you want. It ain't all moves moves moves (though it's very easy to fall into that thinking - and it can be a real demotivator and anixety builder for leads at many stages).

"In teaching moves most follows quickly, yet largely unconsciously, learn subtle clues that tell them what move the lead is hoping to do. Then follows simply do this move pretty much on their own when they pick up the clue. In moves classes, new moves are practiced over and over again."
But that can easily lead to autopilot, where the follow actually self-leads through a whole move, bar, or even turn pattern. And so women will benefit from attention in the lead, and how to process it.

Part VIII: Listen Up Men: Relationship via the Salsa Connection

Ah, the dance trap. Dancing in close proximity to salseras can stir many things.
Among them, thoughts of attempting to dance to meet other singles, with the possibility or aim to have a successful outcome.

Be selfish, put yourself first. Work on yourself, and your dancing, rather than trying to overeach.
There is a singles scene in dance. As the article comments, "there are positive and negative aspects to salsa dancing being the means towards relationship ends"

Have fun, connect with your dance partner, and try and delineate between feelings on the dance floor with feelings off it. e a gentleman on the dancefloor - Attention, affection, fun, humour, smoothness, (moves)...

- Be courteous to the women you ask to dance.
- Do your darnest to create a salsa connection with your partner!
- Dance to their skill level (and your own)
- Save showing off the moves you have yet to master for your closet door mirror or a class setting.
- Don’t lead a move you aren’t pretty sure you can lead successfully with the lady you are dancing with.
- Never ever criticize your partner.
- Big :)
- Never ever instruct your partner on the dance floor.
- Never ever give your partner that knowing look that she just screwed up royally and yet you are kindly not going to call her on it.
- Never ever prepare a lead with that look that tells her that you are about to do something really cool and she better be ready to make it happen so you’ll look as cool as surely she thinks you are.
- Confidence in every move you do. Once you've got those basics down, just mix up your moves with those. That confidence really affects how well the dance goes, moreso than the moves.
It's difficult for a salsero and salsera - stick at it :)

An interesting potential point is that if you dance with as much attentiveness as possible to your partner, they will have the greatest opportunity to connect with you.

"You are at the level you are and just do the best you can and you’ll be fine."

Part IX: For Women: Relationship Clues in the Salsa Connection

"Dancing often edges people outside their comfort zones. Guys often feel loads of pressure just attempting to dance. " "They have to initiate lots of the action including asking women to dance ... they have to lead, they have to feel responsible for their partner’s experience, and to do so while often feeling like they can’t remember a thing they have learned or how to do the few things they happily remember. Feeling the pressure, guys may overreact by clutching your hand too tightly, by failing to ever make eye contact, by apologizing constantly, and by crunching their bodies into a little humped-over balls. None of these things is necessarily pleasant, but it doesn’t mean they are bad guys. Talk politely to them and complement them when you can. Don’t instruct them or belittle them because we have all been there at one time or another. If you really don’t enjoy dancing with them and don’t care to when they ask, refuse politely. You may say simply, “No thank you.”"

The article comments that "dancing may give you great clues about a guy." "A social dance relationship reveals loads about a person and how they will approach other social and personal relationships. This is why I think dancing is actually a pretty great place to meet and get to know people."

Read the article to find them out :)

"Flow and the Salsa Connection," Part 10 of 11

Being in the moment, enjoying the dance, it's a rather scrumptious feeling.

"Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called this experience “flow” and, while this word is still used, many today may more likely call this experience “zone” or “being in the zone.” Csikszentmihalyi studied the phenomenon as experienced by rock climbers and surgeons among others. What he was interested in was to identify how flow happens and what its significance is to our lives. Csikszentmihalyi believes that the experience of “flow” corresponds with the experience of happiness."
Flow is associated with awareness whilst in action. We're in the moment, totally absorbed by it.
Important things factors for creating flow: matching of activity and our ability/skill - Goldilocks style, something that demands our concentration, but is not overwhelming, within our skill level.

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