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latin dance

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Salsa Dance Performances: This S*** is Scary!

This year marks the one year anniversary of my Studio-to-Stage performance groups, and it’s pretty amazing to see how far they’ve come. From five girls in a rented fitness studio on Johns Island late at night to three different levels in my OWN Latin dance studio in Charleston, this program has come a long way. Twenty-something people have gone through the program  and it’s been incredible to see individual’s growth with every session. But what I really want to do is commend these ladies and gentlemen for having the guts to participate in a Salsa dance performance.

            It is utterly terrifying to get in front of your friends, family, peers, and strangers. When you dance, you kind of bare a part of your soul. It’s a little easier tobare your soul when you’re in a room with a bunch of people who are doing the same thing, i.e. on the social dance floor. It’s a lot harder when you’re in front of people you know or don’t know, and you know they are just watching you.

            From a non-performer’s standpoint, it’s easy to watch a performance and to criticize it or pick it apart. Oh, that person was late. Oh, the music selection was weird. Oh, I don’t like their costumes. Oh, it was too long. But what audience members have to remember is that performers are taking a huge risk by putting themselves on stage.

            They could fall. They could mess up. Any number of things can go wrong in a live performance—I’ve seen people puke, have nosebleeds, and break bones on stage.

            Besides physical risks, when someone is onstage, they are making themselves emotionally vulnerable. They are opening themselves up to criticism. They are creating a piece of moving art. They are tapping into some aspect of their emotional self and sharing it with the world.

            And that is scary!

            But the payoff is huge. There’s so much satisfaction that comes with performing. Seeing the progression of a piece rehearsal after rehearsal. Bonding with the your partners in crime in your dance group. Feeling accomplished from learning a piece of choreography and committing it to your muscle memory. Playing dress up in your costumes and make-up.

            And then there is the actual rush of performing itself. It’s like a high…your adrenaline is spiked before the moment you actually step on stage and that spike usually lasts through the performance and beyond. There’s the feeling of stage lights and eyes on your skin—nothing compares to it. And then when you’re done, hearing the applause. Realizing you did it. You performed.

            As soon as the last performance is over, you’re already looking for the next one.

            So despite Salsa dance performances (or any type of performance) being scary, making your heart pound, giving you anxiety and stress dreams before the show, they’re so worth it. You feel alive. You feel powerful. You feel accomplished. You feel wonderful. If performing is on your bucket list, then DO it. Find a place, find a way. You’ll thank yourself.

Thank you to all of my amazing Studio-to-Stagers past and present. This post is for you. I love you guys and I can’t wait for more rounds in the future.

What do you think? Do you perform? Have you experienced this? Or nah? Prefer to stay in the audience? Comment below!

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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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When Does It Stop Hurting?

After a Salsa class one night, one of my students who was wearing high-heeled dance shoes for the first time came up to me and asked “When does it stop hurting? The balls of my feet are killing me!”

    I answered quite truthfully with the first answer that came to my head.

    “Never.”

    Dance is physically demanding. Whether you are doing it recreationally or professionally, it’s a sport. And like all sports, it’s going to take some kind of toll on your body, no matter the level at which you perform. 

    I am reminded of a line from The Princess Bride: “Life is pain [Highness] and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

    That sounds harsh, but it’s the reality. When you’re dancing, you’re using almost all of the muscles in your body. You’re twisting, turning, moving your arms, moving your legs, and engaging muscles that stay stagnant during your normal routines. So yeah, it’s going to hurt.

    But, let’s examine the flip side of that pain.

    You’re having the time of your life.

    Some of the moments I’ve felt most alive, most elated, most joyful, are on the dance floor. It’s 3 AM, my feet are killing me, my back is feeling it, I’m sweaty, I’m tired, I’m hungry, but the music and the dancers and the energy are all swirling around me and I cannot stop. People who run long distances talk about a Runner’s High…people who dance for long periods of time experience a similar Dancer’s High. The adrenaline and endorphins and sense of vitality far, far outweigh the aches and pains. 

    You’re getting in shape.

    Barre fitness classes tout getting a “dancer’s body,” but let’s not forget the *original* way to get that body: by actually dancing. I wore a pedometer out dancing for a full weekend and danced about 10 miles over the course of 3 or 4 days. I always joke after dancing a particularly long and energetic song that I just danced a mile…but there is some truth to that! One of my students told me she lost weight without even trying just by coming to class once or twice a week for about two months. Besides building stamina and endurance, dancing develops muscles that you may not necessarily spend time developing elsewhere. Where else do you get such killer calves? 

    Your pain threshold goes up.

    No, the pain never really goes away. But you learn how to deal with it. Where dancing in heels for one hour was painful, as you get used to it, you can go for two or three and not notice the pain. Where one night of social dancing left your back tight and sore, as you get used to it, you can dance multiple nights in a row and are still able to walk the next day. Where you had one terrible blister that made you ever despair of wearing shoes again, you develop callouses and never, ever scrape them off. 

    Since dance is usually seen as a happy, feel-good activity, people are surprised when it hurts. But the key is to not run from the pain. You have to embrace it, work through, and recognize that it’s temporary. Keep dancing and the things that used to hurt won’t bother you anymore. You’ll develop strategies to deal with the pain— stretching out after a long night of dancing, soaking your feet in epsom salts, adding anti-inflammatories into your diet— and then you’ll enjoy dancing even more

    What do you think? Am I crazy masochist, or have you experienced the same things? What’s the most painful part of dancing for you? Comment below! 

 

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