Quick Tip: Make friends with the mirror

This week’s Quick Tip will help you improve your form, your technique, your self-confidence, and make you look your best on the dance floor. Sounds good? Then go find a full-length mirror, say hi, and make friends. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Dance studios, gyms, fitness studios and the like all invest in and value mirrors for a good reason: seeing yourself is the best way to assess and improve your form, whether you’re lifting dumbbells, practicing your spins, or putting on your best pouty face.

Practicing in front of a mirror may seem silly at first, but it’s one of the best ways to become familiar with how you look when you’re dancing (video is another good way, but let’s start with mirrors). Unfortunately, many of us aren’t brought up with the body awareness of athletes or dancers who start training at an early age; however that awareness of our own form and movement is what makes great technique and beautiful styling possible. Every dancer that you admire has spent many hours practicing their moves in the mirror and getting to know how to make their body look its best.

A few uses for your mirror:

Practice your basic steps. Look at the way you transfer your weight (are you bobbing up and down?), your posture (no slouching!), your arms (no hanging vines!), and get a general feel for how you look when you’re dancing. If you can become comfortable dancing with yourself in the mirror, you will be comfortable dancing in front of others as well.

Practice your spins. We preach (and practice) spotting in our classes as a technique to enhance your spins and make them sharper and safer. But spotting does not come naturally to most of us – we’ve practiced it in the mirror, watched our own awkward landings, collided with innocent household objects, and eventually got better.

Practice your shines and styling. We encourage everyone to learn styling from a variety of teachers. We each have different body shapes and a different way of moving, which makes some style elements look better than others. You need to find what moves look best on you, and that only comes through practice and by seeing yourself go through those motions.

So put on some slow salsa practice music, and work on your relationship with your new friend every day. Odds are, you’ll see a better dancer look back at you in no time!


Teacher Profile – Jeff

You didn`t spot your turn. Jeff is disappointed in you.

Jeff is one of the founders of Azùcar! Latin Dance Company as well as one of its most active teachers. Jeff is currently teaching Intro to Salsa and Salsa: Novice classes 4 days a week and working to promote the school and think up new classes the rest of the time. He also occasionally sleeps but tries not to make it a habit. He also thinks he is Batman.

How long have you been involved in Latin dance?
I started dancing in Vancouver as a university student in 2004. I chose to dance salsa because when I was in elementary school, I saw a group of salsa dancers at an outdoor social event, and I was completely awestruck by how much fun they were having. This image stuck with me as I got older, and when opportunity came along, I jumped in.
8 years later, I have not been disappointed.

Why do you teach and how did you decide to become a teacher?
I am sure everyone teaches for similar reasons – a sense of gratification to see their students grow and develop, and to see that special “aha” moment when they transform from novices into hot stuff on the dance floor.
Personally, I am more focused on bringing variety into the Ottawa salsa scene. Ottawa has so many talented dancers and artists of every genre; it would be awesome to integrate their style and energy into the salsa community. Thinking about it makes me smile.
I’ve always wanted to teach, but I had lots of difficulty finding opportunities to do so in Ottawa. I’ve had a few opportunities teaching one-time workshops and private classes here and there, but never anything consistent. That is until Roy, the founder of Salsafanatics, offered me a teaching position; I was finally allowed to try my hand on teaching a full class (which, by the way, I am eternally grateful for) and haven’t looked back since.

What are you a stickler for, in your classes?
For those who have been in my classes, they would know that I have two pet peeves: timing and communication.
I have a background in music (as do most Asian kids; it’s required by conventional stereotype): 22 years in piano, 10 years in violin, and 9 years in percussion. So when I see someone not dancing on beat, it causes me physical pain. One thing I always tell my students: If you are not listening to the beat, you are not dancing!
Another thing that I am particular about is for guys to make their lead comfortable. I could go on forever on that topic, but I’ll just leave it at this: if you are not comfortable to dance with, who would dance with you?

What advice would you give to your students?
Personally, I had a relatively slow start as a social dancer because I was quite shy. When I finally worked up the courage to ask someone to dance only to be rejected, it pushed me further back from trying again. Luckily, I had a lady friend at the time who was patient enough to go dancing with me constantly, and encouraged me to continue dancing. Without her support, I am sure that I would not be where I am today.
Since then, I have met some wonderful people in the dance world, and have become a much better person and dancer because of it.
What I am trying to say is, salsa is a social dance, so it is important for all dancers, both guys and girls, to be social with one another. We Ottawa dancers are very fortunate to have such a friendly salsa scene supported by great schools and event organizers, so let’s keep that tradition going, and make sure that we all have a great time!
Oh, and guys, don’t put on too much cologne.

What do you do when you’re not dancing?
Off the dance floor, I am a bit of a gamer (much to the chagrin and loving support of my partner). I also enjoy cooking, photography, and using laser pointers around cats.
I also spend ridiculous amount of time planning teaching materials, and working on collaboration projects and special workshops, so I can bring the latest and coolest things to Ottawa dancers!

One other thing students should know about you?
As you can see, I am a very serious and no-nonsense individual.
Also, I am Batman.

Merengue – A brief introduction

For those taking our introduction to salsa classes, you probably noticed that for the first twenty minutes of your first day, we’ve been teaching you an entirely different dance – merengue (pronounced ‘mer-rang-gay’).

So what is merengue? How is it different from a meringue and why do word processors get them confused? Why is it so important that we’d have to take time out of salsa to learn this? Why do my calves hurt after doing it? Finally, what’s with all the hip movements?!

What is merengue

Merengue is dance on two beats, counted as: “one, two, one, two, one, two…” It is an incredibly easy dance to learn and explore, with heavy bass beats telling you when to step.

Due to its simple beat structure, you’ll find many similarities between merengue and much of today’s club music; in fact, some of them are almost interchangeable. You might be familiar with Rihanna’s Please Don’t Stop the Music? Now meet its merengue mix:

Merengue originated in the Dominican Republic, and was made the country’s national dance and style of music, as well as a source of national pride. The origin of merengue is lost in history, but one of the more popular myths involves an unnamed general/hero of the Dominican Republic who loved to dance. The hero was wounded in the leg during a revolution, and upon returning to his village, the villagers, sympathizing with him, danced by dragging one of their legs, mimicking the hero’s wounded leg.

A more probable origin involves slaves working in sugar beet fields. These slaves were connected to one another by a chain strapped to their ankles, so they marched to the beat of music by dragging one leg as they worked.

From its humble roots, merengue has been transformed in style and instrumentation by musicians all over the world (with predominance in the United States, due to its large Latino population). Like salsa, merengue is considered a dance of the people, and is changed accordingly by those who play it; Dominican Republic immigrants in New York, Cubans and Puerto Rican musicians, hip hop and R&B artists, the list goes on.

Here are a few examples of different styles of merengue:

Pintame by Elvis Crespo

Azul by Raul Reyes

El Tiburon by Proyecto Uno

Why is merengue important in an introduction to salsa class?

Merengue, due to its simple beat count, is a great vehicle to introduce important dance concepts to beginners; concepts such as posture, hand positioning, hip movement, foot placement, and staying on the beat. These mechanisms are transferable across many of the popular Latin dances, and they definitely apply to salsa. What makes merengue such a great teaching tool is that its simple beat allows first time dancers to focus on the techniques mentioned above, without having to worry about additional details such as footwork and complex timing. Once you master these basic elements, it will make all future learning much, much easier.

Furthermore, many of the patterns and combinations used in salsa can be used in merengue, and thanks to its beat structure, dancers can use merengue to practice leading difficult salsa moves without being restricted by the “1,2,3, 5,6,7” salsa count. Hurray for merengue!

Merengue in the salsa scene

Merengue is a fan favorite for beginners and advanced dancers alike when they want to relax for a song and have some fun. It is usually played every 4-5 salsa songs, with a cha-cha or bachata thrown in before or after.

However, due to its simplicity, merengue has also been looked down on by some dancers as being unchallenging, leading to the saying “I dance salsa, and rest during merengue songs.” There are even places where merengue music is replaced entirely by cha-cha and bachata.

Dancers at Summer Salsa on Sparks Street

Merengue’s simplicity is also one of its greatest benefits to a salsa social: it is a great way to get the crowd going, with its catchy tunes and upbeat melody; it is an opportunity to throw the rules out the window, goof off, and just enjoy the music.

All in all, merengue in an integral part of the salsa scene, and we at Azúcar! can’t be thankful enough! You say merengue, we say yes please!

10 tips to get the most out of your salsa classes

Whether it’s to get fit, to learn new skills, or to meet new friends, we believe it’s every student’s intention to take away as much as they can from their classes. In this week’s post, the teachers at Azúcar! came up with a few ways you can effectively use your class time, and fast-track yourself to dance superstardom!

  1. Come to class early
    Getting to class ahead of time gives you time to get into your dance shoes and ensures class can start on time. But at Azúcar!, it’s more than that. Our teachers are often in class 20-30 minutes before start time, so coming early gives you a chance to warm up, review, practice and ask questions!
  2. Come to class regularly
    It should go without saying that coming to class is essential to learning the class material. Our classes and rates are designed to fit into your schedule and allow maximum flexibility to come to the classes you are interested in, so you don’t need to worry about “skipping” class when life happens. That being said, missing classes on an ongoing basis can have you miss out on important instruction, and slows your progress overall.
  3. Ask questions
    To get the most out of every class, don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure you understand and properly apply what is being taught. Everyone learns differently, and knowing what you’re having trouble with or wondering about helps us tailor our classes to your learning style.
  4. Practice, practice, practice
    Whether you’re dancing, skating, painting or playing an instrument, improvement only comes with practice. Dancing relies on muscle memory, and muscle memory is built through repetition. It’s easy for your muscles to “forget” a move if you only practice it in class once a week, but even a few minutes of practice per day helps you retain what you learned in class. We’ve been known to practice at home, at work, in slow elevators, in line at the bank, and even on the bus (not recommended). We also offer free studio socials on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, to help you retain what you learn in class.
  5. Listen to salsa music
    Dancing is movement to rhythm; being familiar with the rhythm of salsa music will greatly help you dance to it, so stock up your music library with salsa music and rock those tunes! If you’re stuck for where to find salsa music, you can start by checking out some of the following artists on YouTube: Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe, La 33, Marc Anthony. Also, be sure to check out the Music feature on this blog to discover new artists.
  6. Keep in touch with your teachers
    All our teachers are happy to keep in touch with you outside of class. Your teachers’ contact information is available on our web site, and they would love to hear from you, whether you have questions, suggestions, want a private class or need a wingman for your next salsa outing.
  7. Make friends with your classmates
    In our classes, we switch partners every few minutes, so you’ll have a chance to get to know your classmates and make new friends. Not only is this good for your dance development (getting used to different leaders/followers), it also makes going out less intimidating when you have a group of friends to fall back on.
  8. Go to salsa parties as often as you can
    Salsa is a social dance, and our goal is to get you dancing socially as soon as possible. Classes are great for learning new moves (we should know!), but to really test and hone the moves you learn, nothing can replace true social dancing. And don’t be shy – if you see us out, ask us for a dance!
  9. Dance with as many people as you can
    Just as switching partners in class makes us better leaders and followers, dancing with people from different schools and different levels of skill helps us grow as social dancers. We know first hand that dancing with someone more advanced can be intimidating, but we also know that all of us started out thinking we had 2 left feet. Most advanced dancers in Ottawa will gladly dance with beginners, so give it a try!
  10. Fill this spot!
    As we’ve already said, everyone learns differently and everyone finds different resources useful in helping them progress. We want to hear from you – what’s been the most helpful dance resource for you? What has helped you make the most out of your classes and take your moves to the next level? Let us know in the comments!

Azúcar! News – Week of September 24, 2012

Monday is news day on the Azúcar! Blog. Here are your latest school updates and news from around the Ottawa salsa scene.

Our Teachers
This Saturday, three of our crew – Ali, Darnell and Marta – performed at Salsaria, as part of the Salsafanatics choreography troupes. They will also be representing Ottawa at the upcoming Quebec Salsa Festival, so if you’re going, be sure to cheer them on!

Note: many of our teachers are also part of other schools, either as students, teachers or dancers in choreo troupes. At Azúcar!, we believe in creating well-rounded dancers by exploring a variety of styles, so we encourage both our students and our teachers to check out all that the Ottawa salsa scene has to offer. Don’t be surprised if you see us promote other schools and dance troupes that our team is associated with!

The Studio
A few of us spent our Sunday building acoustic baffles – under Darnell’s expert guidance – to reduce the echo in our studio, and we’re happy to report that the acoustic quality of the room is now infinitely better. We look forward to hosting you this week in our now even more welcoming surroundings!

Our second week of classes starts today, so check out our class schedule at www.azucarottawa.com/schedule.

For those in the Old Ottawa South area, our Intro to Salsa class at the Old Firehall starts today at 7pm! It’s not too late to register online.

Studio Socials
Our FREE studio socials are on every Tuesday and Wednesday, 9pm to 10:15pm, so bring your friends and let’s make it a great party!

For this and other salsa socials around Ottawa and Gatineau, check out the Salsa à la carte blog.

Quick Tip: Foot care for dancers

QuickTips are short articles filled with advice to give your dancing an edge in time for the weekend. They are posted every Friday.

As a dancer, your feet are kind of a big deal, and taking good care of them is essential. This week’s Quick Tip deals with how to keep your feet happy and fit:

  1. Wear the right shoes. Wearing shoes that are wrong for your feet can lead to injuries, from blisters and calluses to painful bunions and worse. Picking the right dance shoes is only half the battle; proper footwear for your other activities (walking, cycling, sports…) is just as important to keep your feet healthy.
  2. Protect your feet from blisters and rubbing shoes by having bandages, moleskin or toe tape with you at all times. As soon as you feel that your shoes are less than kind to your skin, apply a bandage to prevent blisters.
  3. Give yourself a foot massage (or get someone to do it for you). A quick way to relieve foot muscles after a night of dancing is to carry a tennis ball in your shoe bag. At the end of the night, take off your shoes and roll your soles over the tennis ball, putting enough of your weight on the ball to feel your muscles relax. Concentrate on your arch, the ball of your foot, and your toes.
  4. Give your feet a soak. Warm or cool compresses or foot baths help relieve foot fatigue. For a great guide on giving your feet some spa time, check out Nancy Welker’s post on “Feetness” over at DanceAdvantage.com.
  5. Put your feet up. Elevating your feet after a long day helps them recover, eliminate toxins, and get you ready for a new day. Whether you’re reading, watching TV or knitting to unwind in the evening, put your feet up!
  6. Have foot problems treated promptly. If you have foot pain or your feet feel tired often despite proper care, seeing a podiatrist is highly recommended. Foot exercises, injections or orthotics can relieve foot ache and prevent foot ailments that could end up requiring surgery.

 Do you have a footcare tip to share? Leave it in a reply!

Our little blog is growing up – our new Azucar! Blog schedule

This has been a week of news and announcements: our school opened and our regular classes started this week. Also this week, we’ve introduced a few new categories to this blog, to help you on your dance journey:

Mondays will generally be reserved for school announcements, news from around the Ottawa dance community, and upcoming events. Have an event to promote? Let us know, and we’ll post it in our school – then head over to Couch Assassin and let the wider world know as well!

Dance Tips & Resources will give you pointers on how to enhance your dancing, every Tuesday. Got a burning question about dance technique, etiquette, wardrobe, shoes, or handling strange dance-related experiences? Drop us a line and we’ll try our best to answer it!

On Wednesdays, you’ll find new Music, Culture & History articles to give you a glimpse into where Latin dances came from and what you’re dancing to in class and at salsa parties.

On Thursdays you’ll get to know your teachers a bit better – starting next week, we’ll post teacher profiles of everyone who teaches with us, which will alternate with teacher polls – where we get our teachers to tell us everything from their favourite dance shoes to their proudest and least proud moments as a dancer. For now, you can find out a bit about our teachers by checking out our About Us page on the Azúcar! web site.

Finally, on Fridays we’ll celebrate the weekend by giving you Quick Tips to amp up your dancing over the next few days, and share other tidbits of interest.

We need your help!

We’re doing our best to make this blog into an informative resource for all dancers, new and veteran salseros alike. But we need your feedback to know how we’re doing and to keep improving. So comment on our posts, start a conversation, and add your own tips to what we write here. Your contributions will only make us better!

Let’s start with: what do you think of our new blog structure? What section do you look forward to the most, and what could we do without?