Quick Tip: Winter social dancing advice

Whether you’re excited that winter’s come to Ottawa, or you’re already counting down the days until spring, we all have to adapt to the cold weather, and that includes planning for social dance outings. Here are a few tips to keep you dancing safe and sound through the winter months:

  1. Bring dance shoes!
    Bringing dance shoes (or a spare pair of indoor shoes) to change into is even more important in winter. Ice, snow, slush and salt all damage dance floors and ruin the soles of dance shoes, so please be considerate.  Most dance venues have a coat check where you can leave your coats and boots safely; please don’t bring them into the dance hall.
  2. Dress appropriately
    Layering clothing, and peeling off a few layers to dance, is a good idea. Dance clubs and socials get very warm, and you don’t want to stew in your sweater and long johns! Plan your outfit carefully, and make sure you bring a bag for your spare layers.
  3. Be germ-aware
    Crowded dance floors make great germ incubators, so it’s a good idea to be extra-aware of hygiene during the flu season. Wash your hands often, or keep hand sanitizer in your dance bag and use it throughout the night.
    If you feel a cold coming on, please stay home and take care of yourself. Not only will you be putting yourself at risk of worsening a cold or flu, but you’ll also be spreading it into a crowded, enclosed room.

Do you have other cold weather dancing tips? Share them in the comments!


Teacher poll – What salsa dancer or dance troupe do you admire?

This week, we asked our teachers to share their dance inspiration – either a favourite dancer or a troupe that has us in awe and gives us new dance energy. Here are their answers.

Ali – For pure salsa love it has to be Eddie Torres, the mambo king. The energy and pure joy he gives when dancing and teaching is unbelievable! There is a reason he is considered to be one of, if not THE greatest salsa dance icon.

For ladies styling it’s a toss-up between Karel Flores of Yamulee or Dotty Ujszaszi. Karel manages to find the perfect balance of graceful and smoking hot. Her arm styling is also insane! Dotty uses her jazz/contemporary training which speaks to my personal background as a dancer. (And her workshops are SO much FUN!!!!!).

Finally for pure enjoyment of a performance you can’t beat Italy’s Grupo Alafia!!! Ladies watch the James Brown routine below, you’ll know see what I’m talking about!!!! (And Gentlemen, they are the reason you need to learn how to style.)

Darnell – There are a lot of amazing international artists to choose from, but there’s one dancer closer to home who I admire – Carlos of Dance Alejandro.  His workshops and performances are always a lot of fun – both in atmosphere as well as styling.  I find myself drawn to his on-stage presence, as I think you can see the pure joy of dance in his execution of his routines.

Janusz – The two dancers that I’ve been following on YouTube recently are Oliver Pineda and the other is “Super Mario”. I like Oliver’s elegant and smooth style and Super Mario’s effortless leading technique.

Oliver Pineda & Alien Ramirez

Super Mario

Ana – The tough part about being the last one to contribute is that so many great dancers have already been named, and I’d look pretty silly just writing “I agree with everything Ali said.” So I would add Tarek Benouara and Debbie Inskip of African Jet (another Italian group!). I love their energy, and their New Generation routine has been stuck in my head for the past year or so. I’d love to see more from them (guys, update your web site!), but it looks like they stick mainly within Europe.

Do you have a question for our teachers? Leave it below!

Salsa “ingredients” – Part I: Cumbia

This series explores the many dances that have influenced and helped create salsa.

The literal meaning of “salsa” is a sauce composed by mixing together a number of spicy ingredients. This is a very apt name for the dance – not just because it’s spicy and sexy, but also because salsa evolved by mixing elements of various other dances, including guaguanco, Cuban són, mambo, danzon, cumbia and a strong African influence.

While you were learning your salsa steps in beginner classes, you may have heard us calling out for “guaguanco” or “cumbia” while doing shines or warming up. Aside from being salsa staples, these words also refer to dances in their own right. Today, we are exploring cumbia!


Cumbia originated in Colombia’s costal region, and began as a courtship dance among the African slave population. During the dance, the women would wave their long skirts while holding a candle, and men would dance behind the women with one hand behind their back, and the other hand playing with their hats. (Fun fact: due to its origins as a slave dance, before the mid-20th century, dancing Cumbia was considered inappropriate for the middle and higher social classes.)

Cumbia has evolved over time into many different styles and genres, and flourished during the mid-20th century, which is considered the “Golden Age of Cumbia”. In most Andean states (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia), Cumbia is still more popular than salsa!

Here is a sample of Cumbia dancing. This style of cumbia music, called cumbia sonidera, is specific to Mexico.

The cumbia basic step consists of two back breaks. On each back break, the partners are stepping away from each other, creating tension that then brings them back together (think of stretching an elastic band, then easing it back). This momentum is also used to create circular turn patterns.

Cumbia influence in salsa

Salsa borrows many elements from cumbia, including its basic step. The “cumbia step” in salsa (also known as “back step”, or “Cuban break”), where the dancer takes two breaks while rotating their body to the opposite side, is in fact the basic step of cumbia.

Another common cumbia element found in salsa is the “open break”, which happens whenever both partners step back at the same time, creating a tension in their arms that gives them momentum to go into a turn pattern. This is a key cumbia element.

So next time you learn a move involving an open break, you’ll be learning a cumbia move!

Private Classes – How to make the most of your private lessons

Last week, we talked about when we recommend private classes. We know one-on-one instruction is a big commitment, so below are a few tips to help you get the most out of your private class time.

  1. Set a goal for your private lessons
    The beauty of a private class is that it is custom-made just for you. In group classes, teachers structure the class to give the most benefit to the group, but private lessons are your chance to set the curriculum. So before each private class, make sure you know what you want to get out of it: is it to review a shine or pattern taught in class? To improve your styling? To learn a new shine? To work on your spin technique?
  2. Make your class time count
    A typical private class can cost between $60 and $120/hour, so you want to make the most of this time. You can do this by coming to the studio early, being fully prepared at the start of class (in dance shoes, warm-up done), and avoiding distractions during class (turn off your cell phone). Make sure to also give yourself time to change after class, so you don’t have to cut the class short to run to your next appointment.
  3. Communicate with your teacher
    Trained dance instructors are very perceptive people – it’s what makes us good at pinpointing where our students are struggling or why a certain pattern just doesn’t seem to work. But mind readers, we are not, so we need to hear from you!

    1. Before class: when you contact a teacher about arranging a private class, tell him/her what your goal is for that class, and what you’d like to work on. Knowing this in advance helps your teacher prepare for the class and lets them put more thought and research into the topic than if they only find out what they’re doing at the start of class.
    2. During class: private lessons are as interactive as dance classes can get, and rely on good communication to run smoothly. Don’t be shy to ask questions, practice as much as you need to, and give your teacher as much feedback as you can on what works and what doesn’t. Different people have different learning styles, and this feedback helps your teacher understand yours.
    3. After class: don’t hesitate to keep in touch. Follow-up questions, feedback on how you found the class, or just a note to say thanks, are always appreciated.
  4. Practice, practice, practice
    Private classes often pack a lot of information into just one hour. The key to retaining that information is to practice it often. Written notes or a video of what you’ve learned can be excellent reference material, but nothing takes the place of repetition and practice to commit a move to muscle memory.

Azúcar! News – Week of November 26

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

Our Salsaria outing this past Saturday was a blast! A big thank-you to all of you who came out; we hope you enjoyed the night as much as we did. MJ’s body isolation workshop was very popular, and we’ve had a lot of interest in inviting her to teach a similar one in our Azúcar! Studio in the new year. If this is something you might be interested in, drop us a line and we’ll make it happen!

Cha cha class
Our 2-week cha cha intro was a great success, so we are continuing the class for 4 more weeks, until the end of our session. If you are interested, come join us every Saturday from noon until 1pm! Drop-ins are $17/class, or you can get one of our class cards for some great discounts.

Azúcar! Holiday Latin Party on December 15
So far, our student outings have introduced you to two of the salsa events around town. This month, we’re holding our first Azúcar!-organized party! It will be a very special salsa social held at Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar, with an added twist: we have invited musicians to hold a series of LIVE Latin jam sessions!

Tickets are already on sale for $7 in advance, up to the day of the event. Any remaining tickets will be sold for $10 at the door, but spaces are limited, so get yours early! For more information, check out our facebook event!

Class Schedule
Our current class line-up will take us to the week of December 17th, with the last classes on Saturday, December 22. We’ll then take a 3-week break for the holidays, and our new class session starts the week of January 14th.

Stay tuned for updates on the new schedule, including much-requested bachata classes, new special workshops by Emilie Phaneuf, and more! We should have the schedule up by next week, and a few special offers lined up as well!

Studio socials and other events
Our FREE studio socials are continuing through November and December, every Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 until 10:30pm! Come out, practice your moves, and meet some new friends!

For a list of other socials happening this week, check out Salsa à la carte.

Teacher poll – What’s your favourite song of the moment?

This week, we asked our teachers to share their favourite Latin song of the moment, and got an overwhelming response! Without further ado, here’s a dozen songs that have been stuck in our teacher’s heads:

Darnell’s pick was “Love” by Isaac Delgado. Fantastic version of a well-known song!

Emilie has a favourite song for every genre, so here’s a short playlist to get you started:

Salsa: Lady by Orquesta la Palabra

Bachata: Bachata en Fukuoka by Juan Luis Guerra

Merengue: Kulikitaka by Toño Rosario

Reggaeton: Ponme To Eso Palante by El Chuape

Jeff’s picks for this week are a classic salsa song (taking a break from his beloved salsa romantica) and a much more modern hip hop merengue.

Salsa: Bueno y pico by Wuelfo

Merengue: El Tiburon by Proyecto Uno

Conversation between Ana and Jeff after Ana went through half her music collection while Ana was trying to pick a favourite salsa song:
Ana: I don’t know what to pick for my favourite salsa song.
Jeff: Oh my friggin’ god, just pick a song.
Ana: But I kind of want to show how salsa can be adapted to different genres, and…
Jeff: Just pick something you like listening to!
Ana: I like listening to all of them, that is the point.
Jeff: You suck at this game.
Ana: … this is going on the blog.

After much debate, Ana’s pick for this week is La verdad by Bio Ritmo. Loving their unique style. Also: Jeff said I couldn’t have more than one, or something by La 33 would definitely be on here.

La verdad by Bio Ritmo

Janusz has two favorite salsa songs at the moment: La Llave by Grupo Latin Vibe and La La La by the Direct Latin Influence. They are jazzy, have just the right tempo and contain lots of funky breaks so they’re fun to dance to! As for bachata, he picked Vocales de Amor by Joan Soriano – especially Dominican style bachata, Vocales de Amor has a very nice feel to it.

Salsa: La Llave by Grupo Latin Vibe

Salsa: La La La by Direct Latin Influence

Bachata: Vocales de Amor by Joan Soriano

Ania’s pick was a merengue love song, guaranteed to put a smile on your face!

Merengue: El Idiota by Eddy Herrera

Like what you see? Let us know, and this might just become a regular blog feature!

Introduction to Cha-Cha

Cha-cha, or cha-cha-cha is often a welcome presence whenever it is played at salsa socials; it signals a change of pace, and a chance to emphasize sensuality over speed for the next 3-4 minutes.

Michael Buble – Sway – A pop cha-cha that’s quite popular nowadays

The origin of cha-cha music
Cha-cha music was introduced to the world by Cuban composer and violinist Enrique Jorrin in 1953. Said to have been derived from other popular dances at the time including mambo and rumba, cha-cha got its name by imitating the shuffling of the dancer’s feet as the music plays syncopations during the 4th and 8th beat.

Enrique Jorrin – La Enganadora – Old, old, OLD school cha-cha music

The origin of cha-cha dance
The cha-cha dance is said to have been formalized by a French ballroom/Latin dancer by the name of Pierre Jean Phillipe Zurcher-Margolle (he goes by the name of Monsieur Pierre; I can see why). Monsieur Pierre visited Cuba in the 1950s to see what Cubans were dancing at the time, and noticed the this new trend, and brought the idea to England, eventually creating what is now known as the ballroom cha-cha-cha.

Bryan Watson and Carmen Vincelj doing international ballroom cha-cha

Back to the streets
While ballroom cha-cha is still celebrated in ballroom classes everywhere, this form of cha-cha is not what we dance out on the social scene. Ballroom cha-cha is characterized for traveling sideways in an “L” pattern, while “street” cha-cha is remarkably similar to salsa, and is danced in a linear pattern. While I do not have an exact explanation to how street salsa evolved to what it is today, I have a few theories on why it happened:

  1. When comparing the two styles, ballroom cha-cha definitely has more complex footwork, since it requires the dancers to switch multiple directions while doing their basic (for example, the guys need to move back, then forward, right, forward, back, then left again). Street cha-cha, on the other hand, only moves in two directions – front and back. This simplicity makes street cha-cha faster to adapt, and easier to dance.
  2. Again, due to the “L” pattern, ballroom cha-cha requires a lot of maneuvering space. This is a big disadvantage when considering how limited the spaces are in most social dancing situations, making the wide swings and dramatic styling characteristic of ballroom cha-chas impractical.

Leon Rose dancing cha-cha at the Amsterdam International Salsa Congress.

Advanced reading: The “on 2” debate
This is an issue very close to my heart *deep breath*, so ok, here we go. Cha-cha, due to its mambo heritage, is supposed to be danced “on 2”, which means that we start our basic on the second beat, rather than the first beat. This is designed so that the “shuffling” syncopated steps synchronize well with the syncopations in cha-cha music.

Dancing cha-cha on 1 makes kittens very unhappy. Think of the kittens!

However, due to the higher difficulty of learning to dance on 2, there are many people who chooses to dance “on 1”, which counts like this: “1 and 2 and cha-cha-cha and 5 and 6 and cha-cha-cha and…” The result is that people end up shuffling when the music did not ask you to shuffle, and as anyone musically inclined would tell you… it physically hurts them to see people dancing cha-cha on 1. This is even worse for the musically inclined ladies, since they have to follow the lead’s (wrong) count.

With that in mind, here in Azúcar!, we will be teaching our students how to dance the “on 2” cha-cha. There is a cha-cha workshop held every Saturday from 1 to 2pm, so come check us out!

Michael Buble – Save the Last Dance for Me (fun fact: the guy busting out all the salsa moves about two thirds through the song is Jeff’s old salsa teacher!)