Author Archives: Erik@impulso
252 people attended our Open House – Free Salsa Lessons Week in January! It was a blast to see so many people break the ice and have fun together! Our thanks to everybody who made this week for us!
“Salsa dancing is a game. The game is not played by steps and figures, it is played by being a player”
Dance is an easy way to bring more enthusiasm into life. The funny thing is that you can read it and believe it or try it and know it. Believing is a good start. Today I’ll try to explain some of the magic of salsa dancing.
The term salsa has since the early 1970’s been used to label all types of latin music such as merengue, cumbia, chachacha, son montuno, bachata, just to mention a few. However, salsa is so much more.
Dancing to salsa music is something that unites people regardless of age, color, nationality, socioeconomic and cultural background. Where we are from, whatever we normally do, whatever we have done in the past, whatever personality we pretend to have does not matter.
Why? Because dancing salsa brings more enthusiasm into our life. Something fun to do, more friends and it feels great to do something you always get better at.
We go salsa dancing to meet others, to drop our guards, have fun and share that amazing feeling of being in the moment.
What does it mean to be in the moment? I can’t describe it without not being in the moment, but imagine this: Salsa dancing is a game. The game is not played by steps and figures, it is played by being a player. The game is about a journey that is taken by two. The settings are decided by the music (no need to know Spanish). Is it comedy? Is it cool action? Is it about being funky? Is it about being elegant? I like songs where I can feel like Bruce Lee or James Bond. You can even express how you really feel in this life. When the song is over – the game start again with a new song and a new partner. A night out dancing can be an amazing experience where you feel like a movie star.
Salsa dancing is an activity that increase our social wealth because it’s about having fun and being friendly to other humans. When you go out to dance salsa, it is completely normal that a complete stranger comes over to shake your hand, ask about your name and introduce you to his or her friends.
When you enter a salsa nightclub anywhere in the world, strangers smile and are happy to see you. I have experienced the same in Norway, Turkey, Canada, USA,
China, Russia and ten other countries.
Salsa dancing is not about doing a good performance, it’s just about being a playful.
I started learning salsa dancing at the age of 30. My intention was to use it as a way to meet girls, and it really worked, but I got addicted for other reasons.
After just a few months of dancing I had more friends than I had ever had in my life. It made me more adventurous and open-minded. I became less worried about being nice to strangers in case they would not be nice back. I learned to stop keeping a certain mask and trust that most people are just as good inside as
Although I knew only 3-4 moves in the beginning, the best dancers in the biggest club in Los Angeles would come to say hi to me, I became friends with the DJ’s, the musicians and everybody I met. After a few months I felt as if I had discovered a huge secret.
Our biggest fear is what other people think about us, but you don’t have to fear anybody that dances salsa. Salsa dancers don’t care about who you are supposed to be, you don’t have to be a Latin. What matters is that you are a human being with a smile on your face.
Ok, let’s get back to the reason I started writing now (I could write a book about what salsa means to me before I even get to the point haha!):
I wanted to share my opinion of what actual salsa dancing is about!
Salsa is a couple dance where the couple create beautiful movements that matches the sound and feeling from the music. These movements become beautiful
because of the cooperation, not because of the figures we try to execute.
“Real salsa dancing” is different from salsa dancing in the salsa dance class. In the dance class, the man (lead) may be trying to memorize as many turn patterns
as possible, the lady (follower) may be trying to remember when and how to turn, how to use the hips and arms, etc.
However, on the dance floor, the dance becomes most successful when the lead is trying to give the follower a fun and nice experience instead of showing how many
different moves he is able to do. My point is: Don’t try to impress those who may be looking at you dancing. Instead, try to give your dance partner a great experience.
As a lead I like to think of myself as a thrill ride in a amusement park. I want to make the follower feel safe, that there is nothing to stress about, we are only having fun, so she can go ahead and use her whole body and enjoy the moment without worries.
This way of dancing has nothing to do with the level of your abilities, it’s just the concept of the dance – to be nice, enjoy the music and share the a piece of
If you are a learning to lead in a dance class you should not just try to remember a turn pattern and then move on to the next. Instead, try to understand what kind of experience your lead is giving the follower. Each leading technique gives the follower a unique experience of being in that body which is being lead by you.
If you are learning to follow in a dance class: Try to feel the movement that is initiated from the lead, allow it to happen to you and figure out how you can
amplify the expression to match your mood and the music while you still remain in control of your balance, the rhythm and position of your steps while being aware
where your dance partner is.
If you learn only steps and figures and nothing about playing, acting and pretending, you are missing out on all the fun! A game is not something you do – it’s something you play. A good reason to come to learn salsa from Impulso when I think about it!
(I learned about the game called salsa dancing from masters like Luis Vasquez, Tomas Guerrero, Mek from Poland, Oliver Pineda, Griselle Ponce and others).
It’s not about what each dancer can do. Regardless of level, salsa dancing is about what the dancers can do together and for each other to make the moment enjoyable – and it reaches way beyond the dance itself.
“Life is a musical, we are supposed to sing and dance in it, it’s not about getting to the end of it.” – A.W.
I am grateful to have discovered salsa dancing.
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How Fast Can You Learn Salsa Dancing?
For most of our students it takes 3-6 months of classes before they begin going out to the clubs to dance. However, it is totally possible to be having a blast on the dance floor after just a week or two. In this post i discuss some factors that affect how quick you can learn and how quick you get confident enough to go out dancing.
What does knowing how to dance mean?
I define it as knowing enough to get you started going out to dance and have fun on the dance floor in the clubs on a weekly basis. It may be subjective, yet certainly measurable. If your goal is to be able to go out dancing, you have reached your goal when you start to go out dancing. Here in Austin Texas you can go out salsa dancing every night of the week, and many days to live music!
Several factors affect the speed of the learning process:
The fastest I saw a somebody learn was my little brother. This was hugely annoying and rewarding for me.
1) It depends on your vision.
Do you see yourself just going to dance class and have fun learning with others or do you see yourself as someone on the dance floor that people love to watch and dance with? Obviously, the last option will get you there quick, while the first option may not get you on the dance floor at all.
2) It depends on how you learn.
If you only learn through group classes it is going to take much more time than if you add a few private lessons. Group lessons are fun because it’s like trying to solve puzzles with others. Nothing beats private lessons.
A master teacher can understand your vision and get your there fast. Physical movements will give you AHA-moments much more effectively than words. Private lessons makes the complex and vague become easy and clear. Secondly, don’t forget that dancing is about being playful. It’s much easier to play in a private lesson, while in classes you just try to figure out the mechanics of the moves.
3) It depends on how used you are to moving the body.
If you frequently move the body, you have an arsenal of knowledge about movement and you will easily be able to copy movement.
4) It depends on your perspective of the dance (and life)
Do you see dancing as an activity which requires certain skills that you need to learn to execute, or do you see dancing as a game that you play where you can be yourself like you are when you play other games?
The first option requires self confidence, the second gives you self confidence. Why? Because when you try to become good, you will already start thinking about what is bad, not good enough, etc. You will begin to judge others but mostly you will judge yourself.
Dancing is known as a great way to increase self confidence. It’s true – if you have the right perspective. Many think dancing is something you want to be good at. It’s a mental trap. This perspective may enable you to see yourself better than others, but you will never stop judging yourself until you stop trying to be good.
Don’t try to be good – beacuse your Real wish is to be playful!
Think about it, everybody who we see as extremely good at something are not really trying to be good. Playful is something you can be already, good is something you try to be. Trying to be good will take a lot of the joy out of dancing.
Being playful and seeing mistakes as a source of fun and a resource for learning makes learning much faster. It’s a truth about life that you will enjoy and it will boost your confidence on and off the dance floor.
As a learner and teacher over many years, I have seen a few people learn very quickly.
The fastest I saw somebody learn was my little brother. This was hugely annoying and rewarding for me. Annoying because after 2 hours he could dance better than I could after one year of dance classes and going out to dance every week. Rewarding because I was teaching the way I wished my teachers would have done to me – and it worked.
My younger brother Carl had all it took. He had trained martial arts and he was excited to learn. As a musician he had learned how to not allow being shy and afraid of doing mistakes become an obstacle. He had great self confidence that only grew stronger as he was equipped with some cool moves. I did not have to teach him much before he felt that he had enough. He went out to dance for the first time the same evening. His confidence enabled him to learn new moves by looking at others and simply try to copy them and he succeeded.
Maybe you start to see that it is not only steps and figures that make you a dancer. Regardless of how long it takes, it is fun and it’s something that increase your confidence and your ability to connect with others.
Dancing make you feel great, happy and playful. When you feel great, happy and playful you want to dance! YouTube and Facebook are full of examples of complicated dance moves. But that’s really not what dancing is about. Real dancing is really easy! Don’t judge yourself because you can’t do all the complicated moves yet. When you see somebody do complicated dance moves, remember that salsa dancing is not about doing something difficult. It is about enjoying the music and the moment with another person.
Advice: Combine going out and taking lessons as soon as you know 3-4 moves. When you are learning, don’t try to remember more than 3 of the last new moves you were taught.
Want to learn from somebody who is trying to make you become good at something or do you want to learn from somebody who is trying to make you become playful and free? How about both?
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The role of the lead and follower in partner dancing – she learned how to dance in 5 minutes.
Many students that come to us are people that have difficulties dancing even after several months of salsa dance classes. Not because they don’t know any steps and figures, but because they simply don’t know what partner dancing is all about. Maybe their instructors forgot to mention it. Partner dancing is like a game. Do you know what the game is a about?
I was teaching a private lesson to a lady the other day. She wanted to improve her following skills and abilities to turn with balance while dancing. After explaining how to create Latin body motion and explaining the concept of connection in partner dancing, I asked her to dance for one song. She seemed nervous and the dance did not flow very well.
When the song was over, she told me she was uncomfortable going out salsa dancing because she has low self esteem and feel very insecure on the dance floor. She said that whenever she is out dancing, she is worried about not remembering or knowing any of the moves she has learned. She continued: “It does not help when the guy who is leading does not do a good job”.
I said – “well sure, if the lead is terrible, it is hard to feel sure about what to do.”
She continued to tell me that last time she was out dancing, she noticed that the man she was dancing with seemed unhappy with the way she was following. The man did not even follow her off the floor, she felt he was rude. He then went on to dance with another girl. “But this other girl must have known his moves, because she had no problems following” she said.
“I understand” I said, “but I don’t think that the other girl knew his moves. In fact, I don’t think she even cared what moves he was going to do at all! You see, the worst thing you can do as a follower is to think that you are supposed to do something.”
Your problem does not come from how you move, it comes from how you understand the dance. The reason you don’t follow so well right now is that you are not trying to be following, you are trying to be doing. And you are not alone. Many men don’t know what leading means. They think they are the leader of the lady but in reality they are supposed to serve her.
Partner dancing is not about two people trying to create beautiful movements for those who are watching. Partner dancing is about the man (the lead) giving the lady (follow) an experience, much like when you take a ride in a amusement park.
It is fun to dance alone, but a gentleman can give a lady a dance experience that is impossible to achieve while dancing solo.
I see it like this: As a man it is my honor that the lady allow me to dance with her. It allows me to have a conversation with her, getting to know her without having to speak a single word. If she can just keep the rhythm of the music, I can lead her body while she enjoys the music AND the movement of her body that was created by me. My gift to the lady is that I make her body flow across the floor, towards me, away from me, and maybe even with some turns. In return, the lady will receive my gift, allow the movement to happen and maybe even add her own touch as a decoration.
I took her hand and asked her to dance again and said “This time – don’t expect to do anything, just expect to receive an experience that hopefully feels much more fun than dancing alone. Instead of actively moving, observe how it feels when I make your body fly across the floor. Replace your desire to do with just observing. Following is about happening not doing.
She was dancing amazing and we both had great fun!
Men: Dancing is not about you using the lady to look cool. Don’t try to be her master. Think of her as a princess or a queen that deserves to be in the company of somebody who respect her – you! You should give her a nice experience that put a smile on her face.
Ladies: When following, don’t act like a servant who is trying to make the man or those watching happy. Act like a spoiled princess who demands a smooth, clear lead before you move anywhere! You deserve the best!
When both are clear about their roles, the dancing can become a magic experience.
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Most people who hesitate to try learning salsa dancing think that they have two left feet. No matter how hopeless you think you may be, you can learn salsa dancing. I see salsa dancing as a science, not in the sense that it is complicated, but in the sense that it is something that can be learned in a very systematic and structured manner.
When it comes to natural ability, I started out as a hopeless case myself. I grew up in northern Norway, far away from that energetic music and cool dance moves. I had never even heard about salsa until I was 30. My friends and even my parents had made me believe that dancing was just not something for me. I had spent more than a decade behind a desk, was extremely uncoordinated and had zero talent for music. When I tried to copy the steps of the instructors in my first salsa class I looked and felt like a fish out of water.
Although I had a extremely slow start, my experience as a beginner gave me a lot of insight about what could have been done different to make me learn faster.
As a complete outsider to this dance over several years I realized that all teachers can demonstrate the dance, but only a few can make their students understand the mechanics of it. I had to figure out all the “why”s myself and when that happened I thought to myself: What a difference it would have made if my instructors had told me that in the beginning! So that’s why I decided to stop teaching business economics and start teaching salsa dancing instead.
Mastering the mechanics of dance
Although I initially wanted to learn salsa because I knew it was a brilliant way to meet girls, it was my fascination for the learning process that made me want to become a dance teacher.
Teaching is: helping somebody connect what they don’t know to something they know
What made it interesting was that each time I managed to learn a new step or move, it did not happen because I finally understood what the instructor was saying, but because I managed to translate the movement into something that I had experienced before that had nothing to do with dance.
For example, to execute a right turn, the movement does not come from where or how you place the feet, it comes from the upper body, just like when somebody behind you taps your shoulder and you turn to see who it is. It’s a natural movement. Each such understanding was a aha-moment and I wanted more! I found it amazing that something that looked so easy could be so difficult to teach me and I knew I would become a dance teacher one day.
Most children use their intuition to learn. They don’t try to analyze, they just do it! They mimic what they see and shortly after they just get it. Many dance instructors come from this category and they tend to use this method: The instructor demonstrating and you repeat until you get it.
The regular adults that we see in our classes are more analytical and thus need analytical teaching. They learn in the same manner as making a puzzle.
The analytical learner prefers to be given one piece at a time and will be confused if the second piece is not related to the first. The learning slows down when there is confusion but accelerate as soon as the learner begin to see a system.
Why repeat something to death when a clean when a crisp explanation could do the job and have you moving forward?
All movements in salsa dancing can be related to something that is not salsa such as running bare foot in ice cold water, carrying a pizza tray, maneuvering a shopping cart, wearing a jacket that is too small, etc.
Words can never replace dancing because dancing does not consist of words. This is what I like about dancing – words are unnecessary and useless once you know how to do it.
This is why dance is so easy to do but not so easy to teach.
It may take a while before you understand the salsa dance figure called cross body lead. Once you understand the movement, you understand it’s label (name).
My job as a teacher is to help you and your dance partner get to that movement effectively and to make sure you enjoy the process.
Learning salsa dancing in a systematic way
Salsa dancing may look complicated for the untrained eye because it is possible to do so many different figures. In the beginning I was amazed by how many cool dance figures exist in salsa and I tried to learn and remember as many as possible.
Then I found out that there were so many moves because there were so many variations of each technique.
So in 2003 Consuelo and I started to analyze all we knew about salsa to make it more easy to understand what salsa is all about. Over the years we came up with a system consisting of 4 elements that covers all partner dancing: Understanding the music, basic steps, solo technique and partner technique.
Salsa dancing consist of 10 techniques. You only need to master 2-3 of these techniques to be able to dance comfortably, but once you know them all, you will be able to do anything you may see on the dance floor.
To be able to see the dance as one simple system became a massive shortcut for us and our students. It is why we were asked to create the instructor training program for the dance federation of Norway.
Getting the experience
A salsa dancer is somebody who can dance at parties and in the night clubs. It is not enough to learn the mechanics of the dance, you must also learn the social aspect of the game. At some point you must take the step from dance class to the clubs. That is where you will meet ton’s of people from all walks of life – and you can do it in most cities all over the world.
Going to the clubs will give you the opportunity to practice your moves a lot while having fun, it will help you become adaptive and confident in your skills. You will become a lot better just by dancing all that you know for one night out.
At Impulso we don’t just teach dance, we create salsa dancers. In class we simulate situations that are equivalent to a real salsa party and we invite all our students to join us in real salsa parties.
The end result is that it all becomes intuitive. Once you have learned and understood, dance becomes natural and you don’t need to remember a million details. So now, if somebody like myself from the past comes to learn dance, they will be in safe hands and will be thriving on the dance floor in record time.
So, is salsa dancing easy to learn?
I did not fall in love with it because it was easy. It is challenging, but I can assure that you will have fun, feel progress and you will increase your social wealth as well as knowledge and interest about your body. If you are like me, I think that you will become more confident, you will learn fast and once you start going out, you will never want to stop. I don’t know of any better way to meet and get to know other people.
Is it easy to learn enough to survive on the dance floor? Yes, if you have access to good teachers, it’s definitely easy! But regardless, it’s about the journey!
Many beginner salsa students think that the core of salsa dancing is about knowing certain steps and figures. This may work in a dance class where everybody knows the steps and figures, but rules are different when you go out to dance in the clubs. The good news: To be able to dance with anybody, you just need to be aware of one simple principle.
The information in this post is part of our salsa dance teacher education program, but it can be useful for anybody. Learning core principles instead of focusing on remembering steps and dance figures can be a massive shortcut to your progression.
The principle that makes you able to dance salsa with a partner
To be able to dance salsa with anybody, you need to be aware of 3 simple types of connections:
1) Connection between your body and the partner – without it, the lead cannot make the follower move.
2) Connection between your body and the ground – without it, you cannot move as a human. Fish can move in water, birds can move in the the sky. We humans need the ground to move.
3) Connection between your body and the music – without it, you cannot dance to music.
It is very easy to teach students steps and figures, but if you forget to develop their connection skills, they will leave your studio with a false sense of knowing how to dance. It happened to myself in the beginning. I went to the clubs trying to do what I learned in class, but it simply did not work.
It is essential to make it a habit to establish the connections BEFORE starting to dance, and to keep them until the song is over. If for example one of the dancers start to look down and focus on their feet, he/she have probably lost connection to the partner. Make your students see that by focusing on the partner connection, they will automatically feel the rhythm and steps of the partner. To help our students remember, we tell them that once they have connected to their partner, this connection is what we call “us”, and the goal of the dance is to keep “us” active throughout the entire song. Once “us” is lost, the partner dancing becomes solo dancing.
The longer you wait before you teach your students about these connections, the longer it will take before you see them dancing in the clubs.
As a salsa dance teacher you must realize that your students have various abilities and challenges when it comes to these types of connection.
We have seen too many teachers lose their students because they make students believe that you must have rhythm to be able to learn. This is wrong.
Do not think that just because one person cannot connect to the music, he/she cannot become a great dancer! We know countless of examples of people who could not hear/feel the music in the beginning, but were amazing when it came to connecting to a partner. Some of our own teachers at our school came from this category and became great teachers.
To keep your students happy, you should as quickly as possible identify and give them positive feedback on their strength. It is not necessary to let a student become discouraged if he/she is struggling with one type of connection when he can keep developing in another area. Remember: people love progress and don’t like to be stuck in the mud for too long.
We recommend that you as a teacher incorporates the development of all 3 connections in each and every class – in addition to body awareness.
When a certain connection needs to be developed – this is where private dance lessons or special workshops become very valuable.
After your students have learned steps and figures, it takes time for the knowledge to mature. This process of maturing is about synchronizing all connections. Remember that every time you dance with a new person, you must adapt to a unique type of connection. Regardless of body size, one person may feel very light and reactive, while another may feel heavy and slow to react.
The connection between two dancers is unique because each dancer have unique ability to connect to the floor, to their body, to the music and to their partner. This is why social dancing is so much fun. Salsa dancing is so much fun because the music has amazing variability.
In the video on this page we demonstrate connections while we dance different styles of salsa: cuban style, LA style (On1) and New York style (On2).
No activity requires as many skills at once as dance. It is easy to make a long list of things that you can learn and develop as a dancer but to achieve effective learning/teaching we need to simplify and draw the big picture.
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