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bachata

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Practice Time: The Key to the Next Level

You know those dancers when you see them.

Every movement is flawless. Graceful. Smooth. Confident. 

They seem to glide across the floor, like butter melting in a hot pan.

Guess what? They're no different from you. They weren't born that way. They didn't wake up one day, magically able to dance.

They put in the time. The work. The sweat. The effort.

They practiced.

And...they continue to practice. 

Practice is the ONLY way to take your dancing to the next level... from where you are, to where you want to be. Practicing will maximize your enjoyment of dancing, because steps you once struggled with will become second nature. You'll be able to play with the music more. Experiment with expressing your personality and stop focusing merely on staying on beat. 

Common excuses people make about practicing:

I don't have anyone to practice with.

Use your connections! Put it out there on Facebook that you're looking for a practice partner. Ask your dance instructor to put you in touch with someone. Holy City Salsa dancers, use the Dance Fam group on Facebook to find a partner. If you're out dancing and you are dancing with someone you connect with, ask them if they'd like to get together and practice. You might feel awkward, like your'e asking someone on a date, but try this simple script.

"Hey, I really like dancing with you, and I want to take my dancing to the next level. Would you like to get together sometime and practice? Let's exchange info and pick out a time and date to practice."

I don't have time to practice.

Ever heard that quote that Einstein, Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Beyoncé, Lin-Manuel Miranda, [Insert your favorite accomplished person here] all had the same number of hours in a day as you? Does that excuse really hold up? If you want to do something, you'll make time for it. No questions asked. Block out your practice time the way you block out time for anything else, whether it's going to the gym, working, socializing, or catching up on Narcos. 

When you have a practice partner holding you accountable, you're more likely to practice as well, so find someone to work with you, and help you schedule your practices.

I don't have anywhere to practice.

Kitchens and living rooms usually have ample space for practicing, but if you are looking for a larger spot, consider seeing if your gym has a group fitness room you can use when classes aren't being held. Try renting out a dance studio, or asking a community space (a church, university, recreation center, park, etc), if you can rent or borrow space. I've practiced in gyms, on basketball courts, in living rooms, empty classrooms, hotel hallways, parking lots...use your imagination. An open floor usually equals a dance floor, IMO. 

If you're here in Charleston with us, come to an Open Practice Time at Holy City Salsa. Think of it as shared studio rental. You can use the floor, the mirrors, the sound system, and ask an instructor-on-duty questions. Be polite though!  Don't hog the instructor (s). If you want a private lesson, hire an instructor for a private lesson. Connect with your friends and fellow students through the Dance Fam Group on Facebook, and make a "practice date." Try it out for a month and see how much you improve through regular practice!

No matter who you are or what your level, you have to practice to maintain and improve. Challenge yourself to practicing today, even if it's just five minutes of walking through your moves while you're cooking dinner or practicing counting the music while your'e driving. Every little bit helps!

 

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Dancing for Two: Dance Instructor Teaches and Performs While Expecting

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If you’ve taken class or seen a performance from Holy City Salsa Dance Studio recently, you’ve probably seen or danced with instructor Kristen Jett. And her soon-to-be-born tiny dancer, London Grace.

            Kristen, 27 weeks at the time of writing, has been teaching, dancing, and even performing all the way through her pregnancy. 

            “It is a bit more challenging because I have to take more frequent breaks and my stamina doesn’t last as long,” says Kristen. “I have taken a step back from social dancing because heels have become a challenge and my balance is very different when it comes to my multiple salsa spins, where teaching provides a more low key environment.”

But even though she has taken a step back from social dancing, she hasn’t slowed down much.

            “Dancing has been an outlet for me to stay healthy and active. I don’t have time for the gym with my busy work schedule, so dancing and teaching has provided a healthy outlet that keeps me from just napping and vegging on the couch.”

            Even if she’s not going out to the local Latin nights as often, she still teaches and practices at least two days a week at Holy City Salsa, continuing to keep students engaged during her popular Sensual Bachata class and during the Studio-to-Stage sessions.

            “I think it's great dancing with Kristen while she's pregnant! She's an excellent dancer and knows so much, and that didn't change when she became pregnant,” says Krystal McManigal, a Studio-to-Stage veteran and dancing mom. “If anything, I love working with her more now, because it brings back great, warm memories of when I danced with life inside of me too. Sometimes, I feel uneasy to practice with her -- only because she is so tiny compared to when I was pregnant, and I'm afraid one wrong move will hurt her and I don't want to cause her or the baby any harm.”

Holy City Salsa Dance Studio performing "Thriller" by Tony Succar the Spirits and Salsa, Oct 13, 2016. Choreography by Georgia Grace Dancers: Luz Alvarado, Jon Gomez, Georgia Grace, Cristina Holtz, Kristen Jett, Kala Kanisto, Krystal McManigal, and Jason Torres.

            Kristen, a nurse practitioner by day, makes sure that she’s staying safe, but says that there have been other challenges teaching besides safety.

             “The most challenging part of teaching has been keeping my Bachata moves such as dips, body rolls, and other isolated body movements. It it's harder to demonstrate in class for the students to get the full understanding,” says Kristen. “I really didn't think I would be teaching this far into my pregnancy and I love to see that students still enjoy my class and get a lot out of the information taught.”

            She’s taking a hiatus from performing, for now, but performed multiple times in October, at five months pregnant.

            “Performing has been fun and exciting, but it did pose some challenges when it came to costuming. The more "jumpy" routines were harder because I get winded easier with less lung capacity and often my baby is kicking during the routine to let me know she's there. I think she loves the music.”

            Kristen is hoping that the exposure to music and dance in utero will instill in baby London a lifelong love of dance, and Kristen anticipates being back in the studio soon after London arrives.

http://picasion.com/

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Dancing to the Beat of Your Own Clave: Loving YOUR Dance Style

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hale, check him out at  halemd.smugmug.com

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hale, check him out at halemd.smugmug.com

         I was recently added to a group of people who consider themselves the “underdogs” of Salsa congresses…the people who work hard, leave it all on stage, but don’t get the recognition that the big name national and international artists receive. We are the people who aren’t Youtube sensations, who aren’t getting paid top dollar to travel the world, teaching our special brand of Pachanga Footwork or Sensual Bachata dips.

            I used to think that’s what I was supposed to want if I went pro in the Salsa world…a pair of Burju shoes named after me, a million views on my Youtube videos, adoration at every congress for my gymnastics/Salsa routines.

            But then I realized that was someone else’s dream, not mine. I can’t stand wearing lycra, full body sequins, and false eyelashes. I have no interest in my routines looking like everyone else’s, following the formula of spin, spin, spin, spin, flip, dip, crazy shine, crazy turn combo, repeat, lift, aaaaand finish. I don’t even really like wearing high heel dance shoes anymore.

            One of the taglines of my first dance company, Baila ConmiGA, was “I Like My Own Style.” It’s taken me a while to embrace this idea…I have always been self-conscious about the way I dance, because my lifelong ballet training makes me look more like a ballerina than a salsera on the floor. I can turn well, but I don’t have Afro-Cuban body isolations or hip movements for days.  I have short hair and can’t do all the sexy hair-whipping that so many salsa dancers pull off so well.  

            If I really wanted to, I could probably learn and practice enough to look more like a “Salsa dancer.” But I don’t.  I love my choreography, movement style, costume and music choices precisely because they are so different. I take all of my dance and life experiences and put them together to truly express myself, whether I’m social dancing or performing.

            Whenever I’m teaching, I stress the importance of developing your own style. We all have different body architectures, and therefore, every step is going to look different on every person. No two people are going to turn exactly the same or have arm styling that looks exactly the same. And that’s the beauty of dance.

            Every time you step on the dance floor, you have a chance to express and assert your personality. You have a chance to show the world who you really are—where you’ve been, who you’ve loved, who you’ve lost, what you stand for in life.  I love the quote from Mikhail Baryshnikov “When a body moves, it is the most revealing thing. Dance for a minute, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

            When you’re trying to copy someone else or look exactly like this star or that one, it shows. It looks inauthentic, disingenuous. Be yourself on the dance floor, and that’s when you’ll really shine. When people will take notice. When you’ll feel happier and more confident. It may take time to develop your style, you may have to try out several and find the one that works best for you. You may take a piece here and there, a move from this workshop, a step from that video.

            But at the end of the day, you’ll know that you’re dancing as yourself. You’ll have made your own formula, a special blend that only you can dance.

            So perhaps I am an underdog in the sense that there’s not a line of people waiting to dance with me or I don’t get thunderous applause for a performance, but I dance MY way and am able to express myself and get other people to do the same, so somehow, I feel like I’m coming out on top.   

One of my favorite pieces I've choreographed/performed. Borrowing elements of Salsa, Ballet, Contemporary, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban to tell a story. 

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Salsa Costumes: Distraction or Addition?

Baila ConmiGA performing at the Sottile Theater...we erred on the side of VERY simple. 

Baila ConmiGA performing at the Sottile Theater...we erred on the side of VERY simple. 

      I recently performed at and attended a weekend dance event and was impressed with the performances— the teams and performers had selected wonderful music, were performing interesting and well-executed choreography, and had all obviously put in a lot of energy and effort into their performances. What was less impressive— or perhaps too impressive— was the costume selection.

    One team’s outfits looked like Willy Wonka and Kermit the Frog had decided to collaborate on a fashion line, and I saw many male performers rocking what looked like bedazzled Star Trek uniforms. I couldn’t appreciate the performances as much because I was wondering a) how much their costumes cost and b) what purpose the costumes served. 

    When the costume becomes the main focus of a performance, the dancers, and the artistry, are lost. When a costume doesn’t match the performance, it leaves the audience wondering what they just saw. The effect of the performance is lessened because all of the pieces— the music, the movement style, the choreography, and the costuming— aren’t working together as a whole. 

    One of my favorite Latin dance pieces of all time, Ataca and Alemana’s “Te Extrano,” is so perfect because their costumes are so simple and so appropriate for the theme and style of the piece. Jeans and white tops— the outfits complement the dancers, the music, and the routine. You can focus on the choreography and the connection between the dancers— you’re not distracted by wondering if her lady bits are going to fall out or if it’s hard for him to pee in a neon unitard. You also don’t feel any confusion— you completely understand why they chose those outfits. I’m certain that the simplicity and congruency of the costumes are a big part of why that video has 88 million views. 

    I saw a great quote— “Clothes make a statement. Costumes tell a story.”

    What story are lycra, feathers, rhinestones, and sequins telling? I’m all for it if it makes sense to the piece, but many of these costumes seem stuck in the 80s. It’s time to forge a new aesthetic for 2016— other dance styles have evolved with the times.  Ballerinas no longer wear just tutus and tiaras— they wear Under Armour and blue jeans. Latin dance and music are rapidly evolving— the costumes just need to catch up.

    What do you think? Are you a performer? Do you select your own costumes? What is your thought process when selecting costumes? Do you enjoy seeing men in rhinestone v-neck unitards and don’t want that to go away? Comment below!

        

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