Happy Holidays from Azucar!

Azúcar! Latin Dance Company wishes a very Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it, and a Happy Day-Off-Work to everyone else!

Happy Holidays!

Thank you to all our students who have been with us for the first 3 months of classes – we hope you enjoyed dancing with us, and we’re excited to see you again in the New Year – classes start up again the week of January 14th!

Our studio will be closed until then, but if you have a question, or want to arrange a private class between now and January 14, we are reachable by email at info@azucarottawa.com and we’d love to hear from you!

We also hope to see you at Rahim’s Latin Fridays this Friday (December 29th), and at the New Year’s Eve Salsa Bash on December 31st.

Happy Holidays!

Teacher poll: Salsa versions of Christmas songs – yay or nay?

This week, we asked our resident DJs to share their thoughts on the salsa/cha cha/bachata versions of popular Christmas songs. Here’s what they had to say:

Jeff – While I have found some good salsa adaptations for other holiday songs (Auld Lang Syne by Salsa Celtica for example; a wonderful mix of a traditional Scottish folk song with extremely upbeat salsa dura, to celebrate the New Year), I’ve yet to find a good salsa cover for the Christmas season…
There are quite a few Christmas albums by salsa clasica bands; unfortunately, most of them make my skin crawl, for the wrong reasons.

Darnell – The bachata version of Feliz Navidad is a big nay – it ruins the intended mood of a bachata!
On the other hand, I was recently pleasantly surprised hearing this Latin rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Florence K.  (Adding to my collection!)

Artist of the Month – Salsa Celtica

Taking a break from introducing some of the classic salsa legends, I would like to dedicate this month to one of my more unusual favorites – Salsa Celtica. You read this correctly, a Scottish salsa band.

The band had its start in 1995, in the Scottish jazz and folk scenes; after becoming entranced by the allure of Latin music, they traveled to Cuba to be immersed in Latin music and culture. When they returned, they started creating some of the most amazing salsa fusions that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. Check out one of my favorite songs from their repertoire, Pa’l Rumberos:

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought, “hey, you know what’d make this salsa song even better? Let’s add a fiddle!”, but it really, really works! Who’da thunk it!?

Here are a few other examples of their music. Ana is a huge fan of their cha cha’s:

Salsa Celtica – Espernanza

Here is their take on Cumbia (if you don’t know what Cumbia is, check out this post!)

Salsa Celtica – Cumbia Celtica

Finally, in an early celebration of the New Year, here is a Scottish New Year’s favorite.

Salsa Celtica – Auld Lang Syne

Ladies – control your moves!

Last week, I wrote about the importance of leads protecting their partners and managing their dance space to avoid using their partners as weapons and minimize accidental injuries. Ladies, we’re not exempt from this lesson; we are responsible for controlling where our feet go – especially if they land on someone else’s toes.

True, you can’t help it if the guy you’re dancing with insists on dancing big and takes huge steps – but you can control the size of your own strides, and your own styling. Here are a few things that you can do to be a courteous dancer on a crowded floor:

  1. Take small steps
    Far too many beginner ladies think they just need to go where they are led, and don’t learn to control the size of their steps. This can lead to you traveling away from your partner, losing connection, running into another couple, and can even make some moves painful and/or dangerous.
    Controlling the size of your steps helps avoid all these perils. For most moves, you never need to have more than one foot’s width worth of distance between your feet. If your steps are bigger than that, make ‘em smaller.
  2. Keep your styling vertical
    As a beginner, you probably learned arm styling that involves extending your arm horizontally at shoulder level. This looks great on an empty floor, and helps build coordination, but is likely to clothesline the couple dancing next to you on a crowded floor, or take an eye out. Same thing with kicks or leg sweeps – you might look stylish, but you might also have 3 people trip over your leg.
    When the floor gets crowded, your best bet is to style vertically – vertical arm extensions are ok, as are hip movements, body waves, shoulder shimmies etc.
  3. Never put your heels down
    The most common and painful dance floor injury comes from getting a pointy heel planted in your foot, with the weight of a fully-grown adult on it. Please be safe, and never put your full weight on your heels. It’s good dance practice, it will improve your form, and it will help immensely if you do accidentally step on someone.

I once took a workshop with a very wise dancer who said “control is the best thing a dancer can develop”. It’s what makes you stable on your feet, what makes your styling stand out, and what keeps you and others safe on the dance floor. Learn to control your moves, from the size of your steps to the swing of your arms, and you’ll be fair ahead of the game – not to mention much, much easier to dance with.

Azúcar! News – Week of December 17

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

Big thanks once again to everyone who came out to our first Azúcar party! Our Holiday Latin Night at Pressed was a great success – great crowd, fantastic live music, 3 DJs each with their own spin on salsa, merengue, cha cha and bachata tunes, a couple of giveaways, and of course the delicious Pressed menu!

You can see a few photos and videos from the event on our Facebook page.

School news
This will be our last week of classes for 2012. We hope our students enjoyed being in our studio as much as we did introducing a new generation of dancers to the world of salsa!

Our next class session starts the week of January 14, with some of the same classes and some new ones, plus fresh workshops and more special events! Please check out our upcoming class schedule for more information (scroll to the week of January 14).

Keep checking this blog throughout the next 3 weeks for specials, trial classes, and other announcements!

Upcoming events
If you want to bring some salsa into your New Year’s Eve plans, check out the New Year’s Eve Salsa Bash on December 31st.

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

Quick Tip: No unsolicited advice on the dance floor!

As we become better dancers, we start to pick up on little mistakes that our partners might make on the dance floor – an odd lead, awkward footwork, or dancing off-beat.

If you feel inclined to help dancers develop, go to your favourite salsa school and offer to help out in beginner classes (some schools have volunteer programs and rewards!), offer to teach a class or workshop, or offer to write an article for their blog addressing the issue. But there’s also one way not to do it:

Please refrain from coaching or giving unsolicited feedback on the dance floor!

There is an important distinction between being in class, and being out dancing. Class time is all about learning and getting constructive feedback so we can improve. Social dancing is a time to unwind, be social, and dance for fun. Unless you are very good friends with your social dance partner, or he/she is doing a move that could hurt someone, please don’t give feedback unless you are asked.

Even worse than unsolicited feedback is trying to teach a stranger a new move in the middle of a dance. Gentlemen: if a lady is not following a move and looks confused, do something else. Ladies, no back-leading. Teaching new moves on the dance floor is rude and dangerous.

Teachers, this applies to you too!
We love dancing with our students when we see them at salsa socials, and we also observe the “no unsolicited advice” rule. We do sometimes get pulled aside and asked to review or practice a move, and that’s fine. When this happens, we go off the dance floor (we have “designated practice spots” at most regular venues) – it gives us more room, privacy, and lets us talk without shouting.

Teacher poll: What is the most common beginner mistake you see as a teacher?

This week, we asked our teachers to share the mistakes they most often have to correct in class. If you’re starting out, this is a good guide of things to look out for (and also an “it’s ok, everyone does it at the start!”). If you’ve been dancing for a while, which of these were you struggling through at the beginning?

Jeff – What I perceive as the biggest mistake a beginner can make is not practicing what you’ve learned after class. As a beginner, I spent many a hours in front of many bathroom mirrors (I moved a lot back then) checking to see if I am spotting and if my form is correct, and memorizing for the 50th time that stupid combination that just doesn’t seem to make any sense (for about two weeks, I was convinced that my teacher’s right hand had to phase through the lady’s left wrist in order for a combination to work. The answer, of course, was much simpler). A student typically gets about an hour or two a week in class, and if they don’t practice, it is very likely that they’ll forget what they’ve learned in the 166 hours in between classes. So find yourself a mirror, and work it!

Darnell – One of the most common beginner mistakes I see for leaders is that they stop moving their feet during a turn pattern.  The focus goes towards the hands and the lead, and consequently the feet stop following the beat.  This often makes the resolution of the turn pattern awkward, since in these situations the lead’s weight is often not on the correct foot.
On a somewhat related note, following the beat in general seems to be a sticky point when starting out.  Be sure to listen to the music when dancing!  Being able to distinguish between the 1 and 5 beats is a challenge to even some more experienced dancers, so the sooner this can be accomplished the better.

Ana – The most common mistake I see followers make at the beginner is back-leading. Ladies, we might not mean to, but we’ve all done it. Women tend to progress faster in beginner classes, and sometimes get frustrated with their partners who are trying to figure out the lead, so we tend to do the moves whether we feel the lead or not. This might seem like a natural reaction when you know what move you’re meant to do, but it doesn’t help you or your partner in the long run. Whether you’re in class or on the dance floor, make sure you feel a clear lead before executing a move. It might make for an awkward dance, but it gives the guys much-needed feedback that their leading needs practice.

Janusz – Based on personal experience (to this day actually!) and what I see beginners do when they first start dancing is take big steps and travel way too much. When the music gets moderately fast and you’re trying to keep up, this bad habit is not going to help you. Keeping your travel under control is easier said than done, but you have to start by being aware of what your feet are doing while you’re dancing. As you advance and attempt more intricate moves, keeping your steps tight is going to make things much easier and smoother!