Teacher poll: As a teacher, what have your students taught you?

As teachers, we learn as much from our students as you do from us. We’re always in awe of the lessons we learn from being in class, be it about different learning styles or even about ourselves. This week we asked our teachers to share the biggest lesson they learned, from teaching dance:

My biggest lesson is that everyone learns differently, so it is important for me to know how to approach a subject (for example, inside traveling turn) from many different perspectives; to be able to break things down, and to pass on knowledge in ways that can be received properly. Not only will this help the students learn faster, it makes me a better teacher, and definitely a dancer as well!

During the short time I’ve been teaching, I’ve learned that I really have to pay attention to the little details in my dancing.  Since I’m the example my students are following, I want to make sure that I weed out as many bad habits as I can in my own dancing.  This higher level of awareness also adds to what I can offer students during classes in terms of technique.


Salsa Hell

I would like to talk about a concept that is fairly well-known within the salsa community called “salsa hell”. This term is used to describe the period at the beginning of most men’s salsa lessons, and is a way to explain why men seem to have a harder time starting out than the ladies.

Simply put, salsa hell describes the painfully frustrating period during which guys are trying to understand important fundamental concepts of dancing such as leading, timing, and musicality. Compared to the ladies, guys have a more difficult learning curve at the start, due to having to learn to lead on top of the already daunting footwork, leading to a noticeable gap between their progression and the ladies’ progression.

This gap is so universal, there are even graphs to describe it. Here’s one:

Learning curve chart by addicted2salsa.com.

Learning curve chart by addicted2salsa.com.

As you can see from this graph, the ladies’ learning curve is fairly smooth; ladies have footwork to memorize and styling to perfect, and once these are committed to memory, it is relatively easy to test them out on the dance floor. Guys on the other hand may take longer to perfect the art of leading and communicating with their partner, which can mean fewer people to dance with, and can kneecap their confidence. However, once they reach that “light bulb moment”, the guys’ skill level will increase exponentially in a relatively short period, rewarding them for all their earlier frustrations.

So how long does it take to get out of salsa hell? It is different from person to person, and depends on a number of factors; how often do you practice what you’ve learned? Do you go out social dancing? Are you inherently athletic? Do you have any music training?

So what can we learn from all this? I can think of a couple of things:

  1. Guys, we have to put in that extra effort in the front, so be diligent about practicing! The more you put in, the faster you will get out of “hell”.
  2. Ladies, be understanding of the guys in your class if you see them struggling. Who knows, maybe the guy next to you will be one of your favorite dancers in a couple of years. Be nice, they will thank you for it later!

Azúcar! News – Week of February 25

Monday is the usual news day on the Azúcar! Blog. This issue is coming late, because sometimes life happens. We are sorry to have delayed your salsa news fix though! Here are your latest school updates and news from around the Ottawa salsa scene.

New Intro to Salsa A session starts next week!
As most of you know, our Intro to Salsa A classes run on a 7-week schedule, and the next session will start the week of March 4th. Class times will be as follows:

  • Wednesdays, 6-7pm
  • Saturdays, 11am-noon

If you’re interested in taking your first steps into salsa, or know someone who might, please email us at info@azucarottawa.com!

New Intro to Salsa B session starts next week as well!
If you’re in our Intro to Salsa A class right now, then as of next week, you’ll be starting the next 7-week session – make sure to register to secure your spot!

If you haven’t taken classes with us before, but know some salsa basics (basic steps, right and left turns, cross-body leads and inside travelling turns at a minimum), then our Intro to Salsa B is for you as well! Class times will be:

  • Wednesdays, 7-8pm
  • Saturdays, noon-1pm

For more details, check out our web site or email us at info@azucarottawa.com!

Azúcar! at Rahim’s this Friday
We’ll be teaching a salsa workshop at Rahim’s this Friday, from 8 to 9pm. Come out for some fun beginner-friendly moves!

Open House this Saturday!
We are hosting another open studio night this Saturday, March 2nd, starting at 7pm!

From 7 to 8pm, you can choose between an absolute beginner salsa and merengue workshop (free!), or an intermediate cha cha class ($8) by Emilie and Patrick. Afterwards, we’ll keep our studio open for social dancing for a bit, before hopefully heading to Salsaria!

For the full details, as well as all the latest updates, check out the Facebook event page.

Burlesque is Back!
After the success of our last Burlesque workshop, we’re doing it again, next Saturday, March 9th. This time, we have two sexy workshops by Emilie Phaneuf to bring out your inner bombshell!

More details on the Facebook event page. To register, email us at info@azucarottawa.com.

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

Quick Tip: seating at salsa socials

This week’s quick tip comes to you courtesy of Ana’s list of dance pet peeves. Let’s talk about the purpose of chairs in a dance venue.

If you’ve gone out dancing, you’ve probably noticed that most social dance venues are big wooden-floored rooms with chairs lining the walls. The purpose of those chairs is to give dancers somewhere to sit while they’re taking a break from dancing. Their purpose is not to serve as a home base for you during the entire night.

Most people understand this and treat dance floor seating as the public resource it is: like a park bench, for instance – you’re welcome to use it when it’s free, but once you stand up, it’s fair game. However, there are often a few newer dancers who aren’t yet familiar with this bit of dance etiquette and assume that, once they occupy a seat, it’s theirs for the night, and will actually shoo others from “their” seats when they come off the dance floor (happened to me!).

So, in the interest of keeping the peace, here’s how salsa social seating works:

  1. Seating =/= coat check
    Most venues have a coat room, and this is where your coat, scarf, boots and other personal effects belong. Please don’t bring them into the dance area or drape them over your chair.
  2. Chairs =/= purse pedestals
    Most of us ladies bring our purses into the dance hall. They go under a chair, not on top of a chair. If you leave a bag (or anything else, for that matter) on a chair, you’re saying it’s ok for me to sit on it.
  3. There’s no reserved seating in salsa venues
    Unless you’re in a club with tables, and you’re having food and/or drinks served to you, there’s no such thing as “your” chair. You sit where you find a free seat; if you get up for a dance and come back to find that same seat is occupied, look elsewhere.

Finally, I’d like to say: if you spend enough time sitting to need a reserved chair, you need to be dancing more! Get up and ask someone!

Teacher poll: If you could instantly learn another dance style right now, what would it be?

Once you start dancing, it’s hard to stick to one style or dance, and the more you experience different dances, the more you’re tempted to broaden your range – and teachers are no different. This week, we asked our teachers what dance they’d love to be able to dance right now. Here are the answers:

Argentine tango. I did two courses in Toronto and loved it. So sexy and powerful. Anyone who has seen me dance will probably notice how much I use tango styling.

For me it would be contemporary dance.  I’ve always wanted to learn this style, and the grace and athleticism required to master this form of dance is just amazing.

West Coast Swing is my current fixation. I love how smooth, cool and effortless it can look, the wide variety of music it can be danced to, and that it emphasizes personal expression quite a lot, for a partner dance. In fact, I’m not sure I’d want to learn it instantly, because the process of exploring and discovering it gradually seems like a lot of fun to me!

I’ve always wanted to learn hip hop, being so varied and stylish, and as an outside observer, it feels so free. The improvisations seem to be limitless, and it all comes down to the attitude you bring to the moves, rather than something that is defined by a rule book. I can dig it.

Artist profile: La India

In this month’s artist feature, I would like to talk about one of my favorite female singers  – she impressed Celia Cruz so much that she was bestowed the title “La Princesa de la Salsa” (“the princess of salsa”) by the Queen of salsa herself. I am talking about La India.

India – Ese Hombre – salsa version (note: Fabio warning! :D)

La India was born Linda Viera Caballero in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico in 1969. Linda’s family moved to New York soon after her birth, and settled in the Bronx (I am noticing a trend with great musicians and the Bronx…). Linda started a Latin freestyle group at the young age of 14, which she quickly left; soon afterwards, she signed a record contract with Warner Bros.

India got her big break after meeting Eddiversion of Madonna”. However, after the release of her first album, she decided that she did not want to pursue that path for her career (thankfully for us salsa lovers!). She also took on the stage name “India”, a nickname given by her grandmother because of Linda’s dark features and straight black hair.

India got her big break after meeting Eddie Plamieri (a legend in the salsa world), who happened to visit a recording studio while she was in a recording session. Eddie was so impressed with India that he helped produce her first Spanish salsa album, Llego la India via Eddie Palmieri (“La India has arrived via Eddie Palmieri”), which became one of the best-selling salsa albums of 1992, and cemented her status as a salsa singer.

She went on to work with a number of well-established Latin performers, including Louie Vega, Marc Anthony, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. India’s trademark is her powerful vocals, in ways that I would compare to Celine Dion and Adele. For a perfect example of this, check out one of her biggest hits, “Estupida”:

India – Estupida

India’s range doesn’t end with salsa, she has also experimented with multiple genres including house, Latin jazz, reggaeton and pop. Here is one of my favorite salsaton (fusion of salsa and reggaeton) songs of hers:

India – Soy Diferente

With her tenth album being recorded this year, La India is one artist I will continue to follow; an amazing talent that brings variety to a genre that needs more great female talents.

Tempted by salsa instructional videos? Read this first!

Tell me if this sounds familiar: after a few months of taking dance classes, you got bitten by the salsa bug and suddenly, taking classes and going out social dancing isn’t enough. You start looking for new moves and turn to YouTube or, if you’re a little more old-fashioned, the DVD selection at your local library.

How to videos have boomed in popularity in all areas, and dance is no exception. From instructional DVDs by world-renowned dancers, to fun YouTube videos by eager salseros, there’s always something new to look at. But the quality of the instruction varies and, especially with more advanced moves, a lot of knowledge of proper technique is assumed, so learning from videos alone can be a hit-and-miss process.

If you would like to use instructional videos to expand your move set, here are a few tips to make sure you make the most out of them, as well as keep yourself and your partner injury-free:

  1. Pick your videos carefully
    With the wealth of information out there, you can afford to be picky when it comes to dance videos! Make sure you pick videos that give good instruction (repeat the move from different angles, count the beats, break down the moves, give technique and styling tips for both leads and follows), and which are suited to your level and style. A few of the ones we like (we are not affiliated with any of these):
    Online: Addicted2salsa
    DVDs: Salsamania, Super Mario, The Million Moves Man, Bravo Style with Alfonso Caldera
  2. Learn with a good partner
    It takes an experienced dancer to figure out how a lead should work and feel, without a partner. If you’re at the beginner or intermediate level and looking to learn more partnerwork patterns, we strongly recommend you have a good and patient partner to practice with you. Make sure to pick moves you’re both comfortable with, and give each other feedback about what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Get a teacher to troubleshoot anything that doesn’t seem to work
    We often have our intermediate students come to us with YouTube videos of moves they’re having trouble with, and ask us for help. We LOVE it because we love seeing our students explore different avenues for improvement, and because we appreciate the trust you put in us to guide your dancing (also, sometimes you help us discover new moves or combinations, which is an awesome bonus. We love learning from our students!). So if a move doesn’t seem to work properly, find a teacher and book a private class, or ask if the move can be incorporated in your regular group classes!

What do YOU think of instructional videos? Have you tried learning from them? Do you have any favourites that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!