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Secret Strategy to Learn Any Salsa or Bachata Dance Pattern Quickly

Updated: 20 hours ago

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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.

Transcript of Audio:

I'm going to share a technique that I have used for years and years to learn salsa and bachata patterns as quickly as possible. I noticed that in classes, I oftentimes was able to pick up the patterns very quickly in the class, maybe more quickly than a lot of the other students.

I actually attribute that to understanding learning techniques. So we're learning how to learn, okay? This means that this is a skill that anybody can pick up, and that's why I'm recording this for you, because if you pick up this kind of skill, then you can also learn the patterns more quickly. 

The technique is visualization, and I'll talk about exactly how to do this and to get the most out of it. Basically, the premise is that when we visualize ourselves doing some action or building a skill, it's actually proven to be as effective as physically doing it.

There was an interesting research study, that tested this with basketball free throws. I don't know the exact numbers, but basically, the gist of the study is that one of the groups did free throws every day, another group never touched the basketball, but they visualized themselves doing free throws. At the end of the study, after 30 days, the group that visualized it had essentially equal improvement to the ones who actually did the free throws physically.

Now I'm sure there's a lot of nuance and details around that study that are important, but the point of it is, that visualizing works. If you're into self-development at all, you'll know that these days a lot of the gurus talk about visualizing what you want for yourself as well. So this is kind of like a hack for the brain and the nervous system.

All right, so when do I visualize and how do I visualize? The first place is in class. So when I used to take a lot of classes, I was hyper-engaged at every moment in that class. You'll notice that depending on the class, there's oftentimes a lot of downtime in class where you're not doing much, you're not learning, or maybe a question is being answered and all of this downtime is an opportunity to lock in the patterns better into your muscle memory.

So honestly, in a 60-minute class, you know, if the average student gets 20 repetitions in, I would routinely get double that because I'd be practicing the patterns in the little downtime during class. Maybe I'd do it physically with a partner in front of me, obviously avoiding being disruptive to the class, or maybe I would just be visualizing it in my head. So I would come away from that class, really getting the details into my muscle memory pretty darn well, just about every time.  

So my first recommendation to you is that when you're in class, be hyper-engaged. When you're not dancing, visualize what the pattern needs. Whatever place you're getting stuck on, visualize that, right? There's always going to be one or two or three places that you trip up at the exact same time. Well, don't just do the whole pattern again, focus on that and drill that five times in your head until it's clean.

As an instructor, you know, I'm focused on drilling those trouble spots with the students. We drill again and again very quickly, and we're very efficient, but not every class is going to be like that. So you can take it upon yourself to do it yourself. Remember, at the end of the day, you are in charge of your learning and the pace at which you learn. The other time to visualize is at home and for most of us, it's not practical to always have a dance partner there practicing with us.

I have practiced alone hundreds, maybe thousands of hours in my life. I did that because, well, it's not practical to always have a partner and it works, right? So when you're at home, you can put some music on and you can move your body as if you have a partner with you to go through the patterns and just visualize yourself doing those patterns.


This works for follows also, right? For follows, it's not about learning patterns, it's about learning technique. So visualize what it's going to feel like to do that piece of technique. So if you need to spot with your turns, visualize that, or maybe you need to finish your turns with a balance or keep your steps smaller or have a little more tension in your arm for better connection, whatever it is, just visualize yourself doing it again and again. That is going to translate to real life on the dance floor and this works amazing with choreography.

I'll tell you a little story. A few years ago at the Las Vegas Salsa Bachata Festival, I did one of those workshop challenges where we spent 10 hours with the instructors. They flew in from Europe and they taught us a choreography. So that was, maybe it was just eight hours, it was Thursday and Friday morning and then we performed it on Sunday and it was a full-length, two-minute choreography. 

When we put that on stage on Sunday, I was very proud of the result of that and that happened with just those eight or 10 hours with the instructor and three to four, I'd say about four hours practicing alone and this is the context of being totally sleep deprived and up all night dancing every night at a big festival. 

So how is that possible? Well, I went to my room and I walked through the choreography with music a few times, visualizing it, moving my body, and then here's the trick that can really let you know when you've got it. And this part's really cool. When you visualize it without music, once you can walk through the entire choreography or the pattern for social dancing, whatever it is, once you can walk through it in your head twice as fast as it happens in real-time, then you know you've got it.

So for example, if a piece of choreography is 30 seconds or a pattern is 20 seconds, when you can walk through every step of that in your head in half the time, so 15 seconds instead of 30 or 10 seconds instead of the 20 that it takes in real-time, when you can do it twice as fast in your head, you've got it. Because then when it comes time to dance, your mind, your body is operating twice as fast as real-time, and so you're a few steps ahead all the time and you've got it. 

You're going to find when you do this that you always trip up in the same place. It's like hitting a speed bump in your car, you go, oh! And whatever that spot is where you trip up, that's where you need to focus. So focus on yourself doing that again and again and again, that transition, whatever it is, and then you'll smoothly go through that and then repeat for any other speed bumps. Once you've got it in double time, you've got it, you're going to nail it on the dance floor. 

The last place that I visualize is just during my other activities during the day. So maybe when I'm driving or waiting for an Uber or a taxi or cleaning, I might be running it in my head one or two times. And I love this because it doesn't add any extra time to the schedule. 

I call it net time, I actually got that term from Tony Robbins, no extra time, time. So we're already doing some activity, we go over this in our head, and we're learning, we're getting it in our body efficiently while we're doing other things. All right, so visualization can make a huge difference in your speed of learning. I'd encourage you to start using this right away, it's very simple, you don't need to wait, and enjoy the process. 

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