Arran Graham is a photographer in Cape Town who is ridiculously talented at making people look AMAZING on the dance floor! He does this, not by dancing with them, but with his INCREDIBLE PHOTOGRAPHIC SKILLS! These are some photos by Arran Graham. Click Here to go to his website! Click Here to contact him!
Following- some seem to think it is a rather mindless activity. They are wrong. Following involves intricacies unthought-of by many a dancer.
In my experience there are two main goals to following. The first is listening to your partner. This is not listening with your ears, but with everything else in your body. It is your posture. It is where your weight is placed. It is what you are looking at. It is a state of utter readiness.
Your posture needs to be correct in order to follow correctly. Ever notice that your ability to dance decreases in direct proportion to how tired you are? That is partly because your tiredness means that you are moving and dancing halfheartedly- the first thing you let go is your posture. What exactly does your posture need to be? Let’s start at the bottom: your toes.
You need to be on them. If you are standing with your feet together, your heels need to be able to shift from side to side without you having to adjust anything in your weight. Therefore you need to be leaning forward. I have always found the higher my heels are off the ground the better my salsa technique becomes; as the saying goes- Nose over Toes. If you draw a line from your nose perpendicular to the ground, that line should be well past your toes. This leads to two results. Your technique improves incredibly and you get beautifully shaped calf muscles!
Added to you posture needs to be your core muscles (stomach muscles). These need to be engaged (somewhat clenched). This helps with balance and keeps you centralised. It is rather difficult to be aware of your core muscles in a dance, therefore this needs to become muscle memory. It needs to be practiced. Keep them engaged all day- when you walk, talk, sit and work.
Moving further up, your chest and shoulders need to be upright and rolled back. When you are standing with your nose over toes, lift your chest as if you are proud of them then role your shoulders back and keep them there. It feels strange at first but later you’ll feel like you’re a dancer!
Why is this posture so important? Without it, you will be unbalanced and your weight will be all over the place and thus you will not be able to follow the steps your partner has in mind.
Another part of listening to your partner is what you are looking at. If you are looking at the people watching you, it is very likely that you are thinking only of yourself. Self-consciousness; be it from pride or from embarrassment will kill the dance. If you are looking at nothing in particular, it is very likely that your mind is elsewhere, go there or let it go and focus on the dance. Your eyes need to meet your partner’s eyes. This is true for leads and followers. They must meet the eyes of the other as much as is physically possible. Eye contact opens up the lines of communication. It makes you aware of his movements and more aware of his lead, and thus your following improves. It also leads to smiles, laughs and sometimes even giggles which always perks up a dance!
If you find yourself dancing with such a rude creature, you’ll have to make do with focusing on his nose or the center of his chest (depending on his height and yours) as much as possible. This at least will keep you aware of his movements, even though the human connection has been utterly lost!
The second goal to following is listening to the music. At the most basic level, you need to be on the beat- that is (in LA Style Salsa) your right foot hits 1, your left foot hits 5 and you have your quicks and slows in all the right places. Hopefully your partner is also on this beat. If you are having an unfortunate dance and he is not, it is your unhappy task of finding the beat that he is on. This may mean NOT listening to the music.
Moving away from such sad thoughts let’s focus now on the music. Salsa music is intricate, there is a lot happening in each song. Some people, who heard salsa for the first time, commented that it sounds like noise. If you listen to salsa often enough and become much more intimately acquainted with it, you’ll learn to pick out the different instruments and hear the tunes and beats that each instrument is adding to the song. Part of this is also learning to distinguish the different highlights. These are the “special moments” in the song. They can be one particular beat or note or they can be a pattern repeated once or twice in the song or every so often. Part of following is being able to “hit” these highlights without it affecting your partners lead in any way. Thus you “hit” them by moving you arms (if they are free) or your hips, legs or feet, shoulders and sometimes even your chest or bum to the rhythm of the highlight. Therefore you use any part of your body which your partner is not using at that time. We call this styling. Styling often happens without the highlights of the music. But it is best and at its most beautiful when the styling and highlights become one and the same. This takes time and practice to perfect. It takes lots of time and lots of practice, especially because it may not affect your partner’s dance.
Listening to your partner can only be practiced when you are dancing with someone- in a class or on the social dance floor. This is also best practiced by dancing with many different leads of many different levels. Listening to the music needs first to be practiced off the dance floor. You need to get to know the genre intimately. Listen to it all the time. In the car, in the shower, when cooking, when cleaning (it makes cleaning so much more fun!) when chilling, and if you are able to, when working as well. While you are listening during your daily routine, hit the highlights whenever you can. While soaping up in the shower, hit the highlight with your free hand. While driving, use your shoulders or a chest pop. When you reach the level of highlighting while queuing in the shops, you know you are getting somewhere. Once you get used to what the highlights are and you start hitting them on your own then start adding them to your dance while following your partner. Soon you will be doing what I love to call PLAY.
Till next time,
Play! Feel! Express!
Here are some reasons why I am grateful to be a Salsera:
Pain– After a great evening of salsa dancing you should be in pain. Normally people experience pain as bad, however this kind of pain is very good. It is the sore body of someone who has had a wonderful work-out. It is a blissful pain! It is the happy knowledge that you did not need to go to gym and be bored out of you skull while your body received its painful conditioning. No, all you did was dance you sweet little heart out and now you are in pain! …Glee!
Boldness– It may be old news but it is true. Dancing teaches you to be self-confident. Once you can shake your boody and do all kinds of other movements with your boody in public with no skaam (no shame, for my international readers) there is very little else for you to be shy about. This lesson from dancing is very real to me. I was an incredibly shy little mouse before I started to dance. Now, a few dancing years later, I am a very bold little mouse!
Trust– Salsa not only teaches you to trust yourself it teaches the ancient and almost forgotten trust in strangers. When you dance with a person for the first time, it is very exciting, you have no idea what is coming next! It is also very scary, you have NO IDEA what is coming next! Therefore you need to take a step of good old fashioned blind faith. You are trusting that this person, woman or man, will treat you well on the dance floor. You are trusting that for those three or four minutes (or, oh horror, is this track longer than four minutes!?!) that your new strange partner will move to the music, fulfill their role in the dance, will move in and out of your personal space without hurting or breaking any part of your body and will not take advantage of you in any way. Where else do you find such trust in stranger except on the dance floor?
And with these in mind I say to you,
Happy growing, and happy dancing!
You can learn so much in dancing and salsa by watching! When you are not dancing yourself, watch the people around you dance. In this way you share their joy and you learn from them.
But it is also important to watch the people who are not around you dance- thanks to YouTube! I have always found that on the days when I have spent a few hours watching my favourite dancers dance, I dance so much better!! I sometimes even catch myself pulling off moves and shines never tried before but that I saw a few times in the day!
So, to inspire you, here are two of my latest inspirations! Devour these clips; they are gorgeous!
I absolutely LOVE the musicality and playfulness of this dance:
This next one doesn’t have the best quality but it is still well worth watching these ladies have a ball with Shaka Brown!
Happy watching and Happy Dancing!!
Here are some tips to remember when social dancing:
Ladies when a man asks you to dance, do not say no! This poor guy has used a huge amount of his courage to ask you.. he has put himself out there..his ego is on the line.. there are people watching.. don’t leave him hanging! If you say no and he happens to have a healthy salsero ego (usually these are rather large), it is quite likely that he will never ask you again…if you do this with enough men, you may run out of partners to dance with… your choice ladies!
Gentlemen, when a lady asks you to dance, she has gone against convention, gotten tired of waiting for you to ask her, gotten tired of waiting around for the men to man up in general, just wants to hit the dance floor, thinks you may help her to enjoy her few minutes on the dance floor, and no she probably doesn’t want to date you… Be a man and dance with her!
2. Be protective!
When you are on the dance floor, gentlemen, it is your job to protect the lady you are dancing with from all the other wild dancing people around you. Protect her from being bumped and jostled or knocked off balance. Most of all protect her from being tread on by another salsero or worse another salsera’s heal! This hurts, and if it happens she will be VERY tempted to walk away and leave you on your own in the middle of the floor, even if it is purely out of pain! Don’t tempt her, protect her!
Ladies, likewise, you need to be aware of where you put down your feet. When you are dancing in a crowded area keep your weight off your heals. This way when (I say when because it will happen some time or other) you accidentally step on someone the pain will be considerably less. You can also take much smaller steps which will minimise the pain you and those around you may otherwise be forced to feel.
Shower and put on antiperspirant and something nice smelling and VERY clean clothes, and brush your teeth, before you go dancing. Just do it! No dance can be enjoyed when you are trying to hold your breath!
Buy at least one drink from the bar. If every salsero and salsera always only drinks the provided tap water, the venue owners will very quickly get very sick of having you all there, unless they are themselves addicted to salsa. This is not usually the case. So buy a drink (mineral water counts, if you buy two… 🙂 ) and in this way say thank you for having a place to come to and dance with your friends.
It is totally legit to say no to dancing with a drunk man or a drunk woman. They will forget what you said by morning! Only dance drunk, if you have proof on YouTube that you are just as spectacular, and in control and aware, when you are drunk as when you are sober. Also when you are drunk it is very likely that your breath stinks, so I’ll point you back to rule #3.
This is the most important rule of salsa. Enjoy yourself! Have fun, be playful! Be nice and help others enjoy themselves, this will very likely mean that you enjoy yourself more.
Till the new year then…
Happy Dancing Everyone!
I don’t mean in life, for that you’ll need more than just our help! I mean in Salsa. What is the correct timing for L.A Style Salsa or Salsa-on-1? How do you find the first beat? Do the rest of the beats matter?
The first beat is important. It is where it all starts, and it is where you need to start! There are tricks to finding the first beat, sometimes it is an emphasised beat, sometimes it is the beat that the singer or the background singers start on. Mostly, you’ll just have to practice and keep practicing until you get it, eventually! If you want to look at the technicalities of finding the first beat have a read of what the Dancing Irishman has to say in How to find that goddam 1 beat in salsa.
Once you have found the 1, you need to move on to the 2 beat, really quickly. The 1 & 2 beats in LA style salsa are quick beats and follow in quick succession of one another. This is the first “quick-quick”. It is important because without the quick-quick there is no slow. Beat 3 and 4 are the slow. This is where you transfer your weight from one foot to the other more slowly. They are the chill-out phase where you can gather your thoughts and often your breath for a fraction before moving on to the next quick-quick. The second quick-quick is 5 and 6. These need to be at the same speed as 1 and 2 and is the quick-quick which precedes the last slow, 7 and 8, the second chill-out phase and slow transfer of weight. Thus you get:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
quick-quick slow quick-quick slow
If all your steps are quick and there is no slow, it means you are not giving time to the 4 and 8 and therefore you will find yourself out of time with the music. If all your steps are slow in your salsa basic, it generally means that you are completely out of time with the music! There are of course those steps that you will learn at a more advanced level where this basic rhythm changes, but the more you practice this the better you will become! And here is another tip, the faster the song you are dancing to, the more important this rhythm is!
So listen, listen, listen! The music is not there to create a nice party vibe while you dance; it creates your dance- keep listening!
Happy Dancing peeps!