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How Humility Makes You a Better Salsa or Bachata Dancer Long-Term

Updated: May 11

This audio was recorded by Danny Kalman, the Director of Movers and Shakers Salsa and Bachata Dance Academy. The following text is an unedited transcript of his audio and headers have been added for clarity.


Transcript of Audio:


I'm going to talk about how humility will make you a better salsa or bachata dancer. There's a saying in dance that I love. It goes, beginner dancers want intermediate classes, intermediate dancers want advanced classes, and advanced dancers want beginner classes. I love this because it's often true. I see this a lot in the dance academy here in Los Angeles.


sensual bachata couple dancing

How Personality Impacts Your Salsa/Bachata Journey


As humans, a lot of it comes down to personality, but a lot of us are eager to move up to a higher level because there's a feeling of gratification, of satisfaction, and accomplishment - Oh, I feel good if I move up to the intermediate classes and people want to feel challenged as well.

 

Maybe they feel like - Oh, in the beginner class, I'm not learning or they think that they're not learning as much, or things that are as exciting, so they want to move up.


Why Proper Fundamentals Make You More Fun as a Salsa or Bachata Dancer


Then, over time, you move up, and then when you truly become an advanced dancer, you realize that the beginner stuff is the stuff that is the most important and that will help you the most.


There are a lot of dancers out there who are stumbling through really sophisticated advanced stuff, but the reality is that it's much more fun, much more of a pleasure to dance with somebody who maybe is doing less advanced things, but is doing it really well, or does it with a lot of flavor, and a lot of feeling, and a really nice connection. That's usually actually a better experience.


Humility in Action


I had an experience when I was taking ballet. I did level one, and then I did level one ballet again, and then I went to level two, and I sucked, and then I went back to level one, because I understood that I could stumble through level two, but if I would focus on level one, that would serve me the most.


When I go to dance festivals and congresses, as we call them, I'm looking for classes that focus on the fundamentals. At a dance festival, it often attracts international talent, right? So if we have these amazing artists, these dancers coming in from all over the world, and I have an opportunity to learn something from them, I don't really care about a sophisticated pattern they're going to teach me.


It's About HOW You Dance


I want to know, well, what are the 85 movements underneath that pattern that make them great? Because doing a complicated pattern doesn't make them great. It's how they do it, and if it were easy, then everybody would dance like them, but it's not easy. That's why they stand out, and they're the ones at the front of the room teaching a room of maybe a hundred or more people, because they understand something about the movement underneath that makes it beautiful.


You can look at dancers who inspire you online and when you watch them dance, they might do a movement that's pretty simple. Maybe you know the same pattern, but the way that they do it makes it so nice, and that's why you're intrigued by their dancing and why so many people want to look at their dancing.


Focusing On The Movements Under the Patterns


So for yourself, if you apply that same humility and recognize that, hmm, maybe I don't know the 85 movements underneath a pattern that make it look really nice, so maybe if I just focus on those things underneath and recognize that I don't understand that now, that will help me, and I'll tell you, it will help you. That's the thing that is the most important thing.


The Most Important Part of Your Salsa or Bachata Journey


In Level 1, the 101 Beginner Bachata Program and Salsa Program at the Academy in Los Angeles, I tell the students at the beginning, in the first couple of weeks, that this is the most important stuff that you're going to learn in your entire dance journey, and I really mean that. then eventually, when they go through that, and then the Intermediate Program, and then eventually they'll go out and take classes at random places, could be anywhere in the world, they're going to understand the 45 things underneath the patterns that actually make it work, and they're going to walk away from those drop-in classes actually doing it well.  


Whereas most of the students in these classes typically, yeah, they'll learn and they'll get through it, but they won't really understand how to do it well, because they didn't have the humility, or they didn't take the time, or maybe didn't have access. For whatever reason, they didn't get the fundamentals training underneath.


bachata and salsa classes in Los Angeles

Case Study: Sensual Bachata Classes


Recently I took a trip to Spain to study Sensual Bachata, because that's where the style of dance comes from, and some of the best instructors in the world for that style are over there. I did a lot of hours, about 40 hours of private and group classes.


Every single instructor I worked with in the private classes, I started with, let's look at the basic step. I dance professionally; I've been dancing for 20 years, I've studied many styles of dance, and I'm going to these people and saying, I want to understand your basic steps. How do you do it? Why do you do it this way? Who did you learn from? Then I would compare what the different instructors would say because that's the thing at the end of the day that's going to change the feeling of everything, every complicated pattern that's layered on top.


So I'd really encourage you to always focus on the fundamentals as much as you can as well, and have that humility, and recognize that there's a lot of stuff that we don't know, and if we focus on the basic stuff, it's going to help the most.


Growing Up Dancing Salsa or Bachata Vs. Learning in Class


Sometimes students call the dance academy, and they say they want to learn to dance salsa or dance bachata, and they say, "I've been dancing my whole life, what level should I be in?" I say, great, "How many classes of bachata or how many classes of salsa have you taken in your life?" and they'll say, "Oh, none, but I grew up dancing" then I have to gently help them understand when they walk into a class, there's going to be a hundred things that they had no idea even exist to create feeling and timing and connection and everything in their dancing. Because how could that? You're not born with it. You're born with a coordination, and it's easier to pick things up, but there's no way to know the details about dancing until somebody shares them with you and you practice them.


Starting in The Lower Level Classes


So having that humility to recognize that will really take you farther. Sometimes students call and they say, I've taken about 10 classes, what level should I be in? And I tell them, you know, anytime a person is on the fence, I always encourage them to go to the lower level class because that will serve you the most in the long term.

 

You've got your whole life in front of you to dance and if you just take the time, especially at the beginning or wherever you are in your journey, but if you take your time to learn the fundamentals, you'll just do much better in the long term.


The Trap For Salsa and Bachata Follows To Avoid


For follows specifically, it's easy to kind of gloss over the fundamentals because they can go out dancing and start having a good time pretty quickly because they can dance with a leader who's been dancing for a long time, an advanced dancer. They can feel really empowered by that because the leader knows how to manage them, even though they're out of control. They have no idea all the details that they're missing; the leader can manage them so they feel good, and they forget to go back to the fundamentals. But if they have the humility to go back, that's what really helps.


The Epiphany When Repeating Levels


I understand that personality is a big part of this. So I do tell people it's personality-driven. If you're on the fence and you really want to go to a higher level at this point in your life, you can. But when the students have listened to me and gone to the lower levels, they typically come back and they say, okay, you're right. Thank you for strongly suggesting that I start at the beginning level because, yes, that was needed, and that will help me.


Focusing On The Details in Salsa Class or Bachata Class


Some students feel that a lower level class is boring, and I understand that, you know, you may have a little more experience than the other dancers. Maybe they're not leading that well or not following that well. I get that. But there are ways to focus on different things that actually make it exciting. So whenever I, when I was taking a lot of classes, I would be hyper-focused, very engaged, and looking every second, well, what exactly is the instructor doing with their hand, with their elbow, with their shoulder, with their torso, with their hips, everything. There are always more details that you can pick up.

 

If you focus on those details, then suddenly, the class that you thought was boring becomes very interesting, and that can create more motivation to be in that class if you feel that it's more challenging by focusing on the details.


Humility for The Win!


Like many things in life, dancing looks easy until you try to do it right and again, if it were easy to look amazing, then everybody would look amazing, but it's not and it's the same as learning any skill. So my recommendation is to recognize ahead of time that we don't know what we don't know, right? and to open your mind to focusing on the fundamentals. Be very humble in that way, that will take you very far and as always, fall in love with the process of learning and everything else should fall in place.


Bachata and Salsa Dance Classes in Los Angeles


In summary, learning with proper structure, focusing on foundations, and mastering material before stacking too much more on top, are part of your keys to success.

At Movers and Shakers, we’ve designed curriculums embracing these approaches to give you everything you need to succeed.

If you’re in Los Angeles and wanting to learn to dance salsa or bachata, come join us at Movers and Shakers.



 

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