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salsa dancing

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If the Shoe Fits: Dance Shoe Tips and Tricks

Photo from CreativeCommons.Org

Photo from CreativeCommons.Org

Dancing is a wonderful sport/hobby because it doesn’t require much in the way of equipment or materials. People + Music + Floor usually make for pretty good dancing. However, a good pair of shoes can greatly enhance your dance experience.

         People new to social dancing usually ask two questions: What kind of shoes should I wear? and Where should I get them?

         If you’re taking a dance class for the very first time, wear shoes that are comfortable and smooth-soled. ABSOLUTELY NO FLIP-FLOPS. You need something that isn’t going to fall off of your heel and something that you can turn in. Tennis shoes are not recommended, because they tend to have treads that stick to the floor. Sandals, flats, and dress shoes (for men) are great for your first lesson or first month or two of dancing. There’s no sense in investing in a pair of dance shoes if you aren’t even sure if dancing is your “thing” yet. Ladies, if you’re a beginner, don’t worry about dancing in heels. Dancing in heels requires control and balance that you will develop as you continue dancing. If you really want to wear heels, start with something low and sturdy, and then work your way up to higher, narrower heels.

         Ok, I hear you. I’m sold on this dancing thing and I want to get a pair of shoes…where should I go?

         If it’s your first pair of dance shoes, get fitted in person for them. Even if you don’t buy the pair that you try on, you’ll have an idea of your shoe size and you can order shoes online based on that size. Locally (writing here from Charleston, SC), you can get fitted/buy shoes at The Turning Pointe, located at 1650 Sam Rittenberg Blvd. They mostly sell shoes for ballet/jazz/tap, etc., but carry some character shoes and can give you an idea of your shoe size. They're also a great place to get dance sneakers and jazz flats, which are great for practicing. 

         How should they fit?

             Your shoes will probably be uncomfortable when you first buy them. It’s ok! You’ll break them in soon enough. Opt for the shoes that fit snugly— they will stretch with time, especially satin shoes, and you want your shoes to be smaller and tighter for better support. Ladies in heels, this is especially true for you. Some people say that for open-toe shoes, your toe should actually hang a little bit over the edge.

            I wear a size 6 ½ or 7 in street shoes and buy dance shoes in 5 ½. The last thing you want is to feel wobbly and out of control in your shoes. The tighter your shoes fit, the easier it will be to “feel” the floor, and your shoes will actually rub less, leading to less blisters. Like other types of clothes and shoes, size and fit will vary a LOT so you want to try on as many as you can and find what works best for you.

Where are some other places for me to shop?

            Online, there are a wealth of dance shoe options. My new favorite right now is Yami Shoes for heels-- they have extra padding in the ball of the foot and heel and are way more comfortable than other heels. You can customize the heel option if you don't want their pre-stocked ones, which are usually 3" or 4".  I have bought shoes from ExoticSalsaShoes.com (it sounds more exciting than it is--sign up for their email newsletter, they always have good sales) or DiscountDanceSupply.com. I have friends who swear by LightInTheBox.com for cheap, stylish shoes, and others who only buy dance shoes on eBay.

            When you’re trying to decide what shoes to buy and from where, it all depends on if you’re going for comfort, durability, or fashion, and on what kind of dance floor you’re spending most of your time. I don’t recommend buying a really expensive, high-end pair of shoes if the only place you go out dancing is a bar. They’ll quickly get a build-up of God knows what—spilled drinks, dirt, hair, grease from food, sweat, etc. You can always scrape that build-up off with a shoe brush (which is a great investment to go with your shoes), but I’ve found it wears my shoes out a lot faster.

            I typically opt for boots/flats/sandals for going out to bars and save my dance shoes for studios, performances, and special event venues.  

But they hurt!

            It might seem obvious, but give yourself time to break your shoes in. It’s really easy to get a super fly new pair of shoes and want to wear them all night at an event.

That is a recipe for a world of pain. Take it slow with new shoes. Wear them around your house to break them in. Wear them during one hour long class or for just the first part of a night of social dancing, and then switch. All shoes are going to rub your feet in different ways. In my experience, blisters are an inevitable part of dancing. But the more I break in a pair of shoes and build up callouses on my feet, the less they hurt.

             Be open to having some ballet or jazz flats or a pair of street shoes that you can dance in that are super comfortable that you can always switch to when you’re tired and your feet start hurting during social dancing or classes. They might not be as snazzy or as sexy, but you’ll feel better the next day.

 

            Like everything in dance, it’s about finding what works for you. What style? What fit? What price point? What durability? Some people are dance shoe fanatics and have dozens of pairs for every occasion. Other people find one pair they love and wear them to the ground. Be open to experiment, give yourself time to break in a pair of shoes, and have fun dancing while you do it!

 

            What do you think? What kind of shoes do you like to dance in? How do you like your dance shoes to fit? Where’s your favorite spot for dance shoes?

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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 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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