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The 3 Things You MUST do to Become a Great Salsa or Bachata Dancer

Updated: 20 hours ago

salsa and bachata dancing in los angeles

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:

There are three things that you must do to become great at dancing salsa or bachata. Those are class, practice, and social dancing. Within each of those categories, there are ways to do them and ways not to do them.

So I'm going to get into some details about specifically what that means, and I might say some things that might ruffle some feathers. People might not like a couple of the things I say, but I'm just sharing from 20 years of experience exactly what will get you there the fastest, to make you the best dancer that you can be, and enjoy the process.  

So the first is class. You must take a class to become a great dancer. Some people are under the illusion that if they were born into a certain culture or they grew up dancing with their family, they are a great dancer.

Maybe you are a coordinated human, and maybe you got that benefit of that culture that helps you to move well or have the potential of learning things, but there's no way to actually do any skill well unless you've been shown the technique for how to do it. So what happens? I get this phone call pretty much every week.  

People say, “Hey, I'd like to take some dance classes. I've been dancing my whole life. What level should I start in?” I say, great. How many classes have you taken so far in your life? They say, “Oh, none, but I just grew up dancing with my family.” Okay, so we're going to start at the beginning from level one.

Then, they step into class, and on day one, it is often very humbling because they realize, “Oh, wow, I had no idea about all these details.” To have great technique, and of course you didn't. It's not your fault. It's just that the person never had the opportunity to be told those things or to learn those things. Then if they go out to a social dancing club where you have people who really dance salsa or bachata, then that could be very humbling as well. So the first thing is, you must take a class and be humble. Humility.

The dancers who are humble go the farthest, 100%. There is an expression that beginning dancers want intermediate classes, intermediate dancers want advanced classes, and advanced dancers want beginner classes. 

There is some truth in that. Even after dancing for all these years, when I go take private lessons somewhere or to group classes, I'm really less interested in the advanced classes with complicated patterns and more interested in looking at the fundamentals. I ask, well, why does this great world-class dancer do the fundamentals in this way? Because the fundamentals are everything and once you understand that everything else, all the advanced stuff, falls in place easily, so be humble along the way and make sure that you take a class in terms of what type of class today, you must find a properly structured program.

Do not try to piece it together from the beginning with drop-in classes. It just doesn't make sense. Like, imagine if all of your schooling were raised that way, like elementary school, middle school, and high school. Like, hey, yeah, just come to whatever class whenever you want.  

The order is irrelevant. We'll just figure it out. I mean, that's ridiculous. It would be a big mess, like, to learn math that way. Could you imagine? So if you can find a structured program in your area, that's definitely going to serve you the best. Once you have more experience at an intermediate or especially an advanced level, drop-in classes can be fantastic. When the instructor teaches something new, you'll be the one in class who understands the 25 skills underneath it to make it work well. Then learn three or five new things in that class, and you'll be able to pick up advanced stuff really quickly.

So just make sure you get proper fundamentals and also look for the most qualified instructor that you can in your area.  This really makes a big difference.

One caveat is, again, people are not going to like to hear this, but I recommend not going to a ballroom studio if you're looking for salsa or bachata social dancing classes. They will tell you, yeah, we do those styles, and yes, they do, but they do them in the context of just being for stage or competition, and the way that ballroom dancers are trained ballroom dancing is absolutely incredible.  

They can contort and move their bodies in the most amazing ways that I cannot do because I have not trained in that style extensively as they have, but that style is very rigid and it's very hard. When you try to take that style into a social dancing club where we have to be totally relaxed, it just doesn't translate very well.  

I have worked with ballroom dancers, professionals, multiple times in the past for teaching with this club style, salsa and bachata, and every time it's the same story. They come in with a very stiff, rigid style, which is great for stage and competition, but not for what we do. So we work together, and then they tone it back a little bit and get softer. 

So avoid ballroom studios if you want to go social dancing, and look for studios that are specifically geared towards techniques for social dancing. We still dance with technique 100%. There's a ton of technique, but it's just in a little bit different context. and find the most qualified instructor you can. Those are most of the details for classes.

a young couple dancing salsa in los angeles

For practice. All right, so we have classes, practice, and social dancing to become a great dancer. For practice, after every single class, you need to practice what you learned and get it into your muscle memory. If you don't do this, you're wasting your time.

Let's say you go to an hour-long class and you learn something new, and then you forget it. Then you go back next week, learn something new, and forget it. Or let's say you're taking class multiple days per week and you're taking so much class that you don't have any time to go practice what you learn to get into your muscle memory.  

Maybe you're enjoying class. That's fantastic. I want you to have a great time, but from an educational standpoint, you're actually mostly just wasting your time, right? So it's much better to go to one class per week and then practice it at home and get it in your body and internalize it than three classes per week, for example, and forget everything. If you can do three classes a week and also practice at home, great. When you practice, if you have a partner to practice with, fantastic.  But you also don't need that, right? You can do so much alone, and sometimes you should be practicing alone without a partner. It's not practical for most of us to always have a partner available so practicing alone can be a great thing to do as well. 

For the leaders, a big part of that practice will be just remembering the patterns and how to go through them. I won't get into too much detail about how to do this, but in another audio, another posting, I do talk in detail about this, but basically you got to remember the patterns and then the technique underneath.   

It's hard if a pattern requires ten pieces of technique and let's say you just get one into your body, but you really, really, truly get it in your body so that you're always doing it with all of your patterns. That's a big win because it takes time to get these things into the body.  

Then for the follows, you're not necessarily going to be practicing whole patterns at home, although you might on occasion, but work on your skills, work on your balance and spinning, spinning in place and traveling turns and spotting. If you're ready for it, eventually styling and things like that. 

The best thing that follows can do for their dancing, for salsa is learning to spin the best thing that you can do for your bachata, especially if it's sensual bachata is learning relaxation, body isolations, liquid movement, and learning how to be extremely responsive to every micro movement that your partner is asking for. 

salsa and bachata social dancing

So there's class, there's practice, and then the third thing is social dancing. Social dancing? Yeah, I mean, we got to go out dancing to become better dancers, right? And you should have fun with this. Theoretically, this is maybe for a lot of us, the most fun part of it.  

Class and practice can be really fun, too, but when you go out social dancing, I recommend doing it with intention. So for the leaders, if you're learning a new pattern, then go out and drill, do that pattern every single dance. 

I used to bring my phone with me. I would say, tonight I'm going to do these two patterns, right? Maximum two, maybe just one, but two new patterns, and I'm going to do them in every single dance until they get into my muscle memory and they're automatic.  

If you've been dancing for a while, you may already know that you start to get a repertoire of maybe 20, 30, or 40 patterns in your body. You repeat those every single time in your dances on autopilot, without thinking, and you can just do them with your eyes closed.  

Those are the ones you've created the neural pathways for those patterns, and they just become automatic for you after some time, which is great, but what that means is that if you want to add a new pattern into that repertoire that just happens automatically, it's going to take conscious effort. So you got to go drill that into your body in every single dance in the club, and you're dancing with a different person every time. So they don't know, that's fine. You just keep doing the same patterns.

You do it two, three times in a dance. Okay, fine. So I used to bring my phone, and then between dances, I would look at it to remind myself of the pattern and try to figure out, okay, what did I mess up that time? What can I improve? Oh, I see this detail. All right. This next dance, I'm going to do that and I would just kind of discreetly take it out in the corner, take a look, then go do more dances.

So for the leaders, go out social dancing with the intention of learning your patterns and the details for them, it is way more pleasurable to dance with a leader who knows, maybe just some intermediate patterns, but does them really well and can dance with feeling and lead you really well. 

That is a much better experience than dancing with somebody who tries 100 different really difficult patterns but just leads them all terribly so make sure you're focusing on the details to get it all properly into your muscle memory.  

Then for the follows, when you go out dancing, you should dance with intention. Also, focus on a specific skill. For example, when I'm teaching, a thing that a lot of follows have trouble with is spotting when you're spinning.

You might say, all right, tonight on every single turn, I'm going to spot, right? Or on every single turn, I'm going to. On a traveling turn, I'm going to cut my momentum so I finish with balance and I don't go flying across the room and knock over the next three couples, which is also a really common issue that takes a lot of focused effort for people to adjust. Hopefully, you have an instructor who can show you how to adjust this, right? It starts there, and then you go home and drill that to adjust it, and then you go test it.

When you're social dancing, right? Am I traveling turns, my cross-body lead turns, am I actually able to cut my momentum and finish with balance and control instead of flying across the room? So those are the steps, right? Proper class, proper practice at home, and then intention when you're out social dancing, or if you're dancing bachata or sensual bachata, for example, you might say to yourself, what's a follow? Okay, tonight I am going to focus on following exactly what my partner is asking for. 

Nothing more and nothing less. Right? I call them renegade follows renegade girls when they just kind of do whatever they want. When you're dancing with them and they add all this stuff and it's fun for a few seconds, and then it's just kind of annoying. So you don't want to be that, right?  You want to be the person who can exactly follow what's being asked for. Nothing more, nothing less. That is the pinnacle of following. That is the blueprint. That's what you want to strive for.  

So maybe if you hold a lot of tension in your body, you'll say, okay, I'm going to focus on being really relaxed tonight. Or maybe you go into dances too relaxed and you need to be more aware, then maybe you focus on that. So whatever the skill is for you, the point is just that when you go out social dancing, do it with intention and focus on specific skills.  

If you do these three things, class practice, and social dancing, and do it with the proper intentions and the details that I talked about here, you're going to become a great salsa or bachata dancer in the fastest way possible. 

Remember, always have a great time. It's all about having fun. I tell people, that if you fall in love with the process of learning, then everything else will fall into place naturally. So enjoy. 

Salsa and Bachata Classes in Los Angeles


If you happen to be in Los Angeles, we’ve got you covered for the first of the three things: classes.

We specialize specifically in salsa & bachata skills for social dancing and the programs are progressive, structured, and comprehensive. The programs take you from beginner to advanced.

We also facilitate practice sessions for the students and even take you out for social dancing.

You’re covered from A to Z!


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