Viewing entries tagged
salsa dance


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


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!



Finding the "1" in Salsa

When learning to dance Salsa, most people have the hardest time with the music.

The steps themselves are not that complicated...step forward, step back, do some turns. BUT what makes Salsa dancing (and music) so complicated, and so invigorating, is the complexity of the music. 

Salsa music incorporates a variety of rhythms and instruments to create a unique sound...that's why it's so hard to dance Salsa to music that is not Salsa music. 

So when you're practicing and you don't have an instructor shouting off "1,2,3..5,6,7," how do you find that "one" to get you started? 

What helps most for me is to train my ear and body at the same time. 

So, count while you're dancing. When you're in a class, count along with the instructor. Or practice with pre-recorded counts, really listening to the count while feeling what's happening in your body. Music and movement synched together is dancing. It can be hard to feel as a brand new beginner, but you may surprise yourself. Muscle memory is a powerful thing. 

Here's a track pre-recorded with the 1,2,3,5,6,7. It's a little obnoxious, but if you practice with it, you'll hear and feel where and how you're supposed to me moving. Here's one with just the you get more comfortable, try just practicing with the 1 and filling in the rest of the counts on your own. 

Listen to the different instruments and follow one with a strong down beat.

The easiest instrument to pick out is usually the piano playing it's riff, called a montuno or tumbao. The down beat/one is very heavy in the montuno, and it repeats. Often. It's part of the rhythm backbone of a Salsa song. 

This video does a great job showing you the montuno and explaining how to hear it.  This video also teaches you to listen out for the congas and the clave. 

The congas have a heavy emphasis on the "2" and the "6" during the song, so you can use those strong beats to mark where you are in the eight count. 

The video above also discusses the clave. 

Clave means "key" in's that distinctive sound of two little sticks being hit together that you may or may not have picked out in Salsa songs. Itcan be in a 2/3 pattern (with the hits going 1-2..1-2-3) or 3/2 (with the hits going 1-2-3...1-2).  Personally, I think trying to find the one based on the clave is very difficult for a beginner because you have to be able to differentiate between the 2/3 or the 3/2 clave to find your one, so if you're new, try listening to another piece of the puzzle first. 

We all need more cowbell, right? 

When songs have a strong cowbell in them, that's one of the easiest ways to find the one. The cowbell usually hits on 1, 3, 5, and 7, and feels like the "heartbeat" of the song. 

Salsa music and Salsa dancing are endlessly complex and fascinating. This is just the tip of the ice burg discussing the different instruments and rhythms that make up Salsa. 

Listen to Salsa music. Lots of it. Practice as much as you can and find which method works for you to find the one.

What works best for you? How do you find the one beat? Is musicality the hardest part of Salsa dancing for you? 

BIG THANKS TO JASON TORRES FOR HIS INPUT FOR THIS ARTICLE...he shared some great videos and articles that I used as resources to put together this post. 



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!




Dancing for Two: Dance Instructor Teaches and Performs While Expecting


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.