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How can I feel less intimidated on the social dance floor?

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Last night, a student asked "What is the best thing to do to overcome intimidation when social dancing?"

If you've asked yourself that before, you are not alone.

When you're first getting started, social dancing is scary as h***. 

Dozens of people spin around looking totally effortless, on a dark, crowded, loud dance floor. 

You can barely hear yourself talk, let alone think. 

You may or may not know other people there and it seems too hectic to try to introduce yourself to strangers, let alone dance with them. 

Does this sound familiar? 

Let me tell you a story.

When I first started dancing, I was a freshman at College of Charleston and would beg my friends to go to Southend Brewery or Toucan Reef with me for the Latin nights.

I did not have any friends in the Latin dance scene, and I would hug the edges of the dance floor, silently hoping someone would ask me to dance but too nervous to ask someone myself. I knew the basic step and that was about it. I thought my ballet background would get me through, but besides keeping my balance during turns, it hindered more than helped me because I carried myself stiffly and was NOT used to having to follow. 

But I was hooked, and went as often as I could and occasionally someone would take pity on me and I would stumble through a merengue or Salsa, totally lost and totally thrilled and totally frustrated at myself but determined to "get it." 

Eventually, I made a friend in the Salsa scene. And then she introduced me to the ever fabulous and welcoming Yaenette Dixon, who took me under her wing and introduced me to more and more dancers. 

I started taking classes and training with a performance team, Estilo Seis, and practicing with other dancers. Then I went to my first Salsa congress.

I spent the weekend taking classes and social dancing and, like magic (or it seemed like it), things started to make more sense. Like the counting. The pause on 4 and 8. That you always went back to the basic. The nuances of footwork during turns and different steps. Body motion. How to step. 

A whole new world opened up to me.

The Salsa congress, plus learning, practicing and making Salsa friends transformed my dancing.

Social dancing stopped being so scary and frustrating. I knew people in the scene who I could dance with and, more importantly, I understood more about the dance itself. 

There were people I still felt too intimidated to dance with, but my confidence grew the more I learned and the more I practiced. 

There's a point with social dancing where you have to just Nike it and DO IT. Like jumping into cold water, you have to just brace yourself and dive in and eventually you'll get used to it and warm up. 

But the amount of time it takes to "get used to it," decreases the more you prepare, practice and learn outside of social dancing. The more you can take classes, work on your moves, and meet other dancers, the easier the transition will be onto the dance floor. 

So , based on my experience, I advise this:

-Learn and practice outside of social dancing.
-Introduce yourself to other dancers. It may feel like an awkward networking event at first, but don't be afraid to take the first step. [Bonus from taking classes: you'll meet other people in the same boat.] 
-Push yourself to just do it-- go out social dancing, ask someone to dance, and be ok with your dance not being perfect.


It's not necessarily easy, but the pay off is worth it. You will grow as a dancer and as a person.

I still get intimidated when I go to big events and feel too shy and nervous to dance with certain people.

But the more I learn, the more I practice, the more I do it, the easier it becomes.

It feels awkward to whip out your phone and ask to add someone on Facebook, but it helps to know you'll see a familiar face next time you go out. 

Dance, like life, is a work in progress, and always will be.

 I hope this helps you get out on the dance floor. If you're not a member of the Holy City Salsa Dance Fam on Facebook yet, join our group and use it to connect with other dancers and stay informed about what's going on in the community.

As always, happy dancing!

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Closed position...how close is too close?

One of the questions that always comes up during classes is "How close should I be in closed position?"

To me, there's not a hard and fast rule. It's not like you're supposed to be exactly 11.25" away from your partner at all times. There are a few factors to consider for "ideal" placement: your body, your comfort level, and what the dance calls for. 

Check out this video and read on for more thoughts on closed position.

 

Some of your space will depend on individual anatomy...people with longer arms might be able to stand further away from someone and still be in the correct alignment (shoulder blades down the back, not "popping" out of socket). Partners who are significantly different heights will have to be closer together to accommodate the height differences. Everybody is different, and that's what makes dancing so beautiful!

Space also depends on personal preference. Some people need to maintain their "bubble" of personal space, especially with strangers. Also, if you're super sweaty, whoever you're dancing with *might* not want to be quite as close to you. True story: I was dancing with a guy who looked like he had gone swimming with his clothes on. Naturally, I was trying to stay as far away from him as a I could, even floating my left arm off of his body in closed position to try to stay dry. 

Other people, especially those who dance Sensual Bachata and Kizomba, like to go in and be super close. If you are going for a close hold, whoever initiates it (lead or follow), have good frame and be sensitive to your partners' needs and the needs of the dance. Some dances and some moves require a close hold because they rely on connection across the body, not just in hand placement and one shoulder. 

As always,one of the  goals of social dancing is to build trust between two people and make sure both partners feel confident. Happy dancing!

What do you think? What are your feelings on closed position? How close is too close? How do you lead or follow closed position in a way that's comfortable to you? 

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Mastering the Elusive Body Roll

Ahhhh body rolls... if you've seen any Sensual Bachata or Kizomba videos lately, you know that body rolls are kind of a big deal. Whether you're trying to become the next big Bachetero or just feel a little less weird and awkward doing body rolls, check out this video for some step-by-step tips and tricks.

Important things to remember:

-Core, core, core. And more core. Any body isolations come from core strength and control, so make sure that you're really squeezing that stomach when you're working on these. 

-These take time to master. You will not get body rolls in one day. And that is ok. Be patient with yourself and take a few minutes every day to practice. It really pays off!

-Have fun! You'll feel kind of silly doing this, especially if your'e practicing by yourself. But crank up some of your favorite songs (I love this Lounge-Soft House Mix on Spotify for isolation practice) and go for it!

Did this help? How do you practice your body rolls? What other steps and moves are you struggling with? Let me know!

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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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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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