How To Become A Better Dancer

So first of all I’ll start off with an apology… it’s been a while since I last blogged… I know I’m sorry, I know how hard it must be not to have had your latest fix of SDL blogging in your life but hey I’m back and all is well! With New Year’s well and truly behind us it’s coming to that stage where a lot of you have developed a heck of a lot in a short space of time and you are now asking me for advice on how you can become better dancers. So I thought ‘A-Ha! This calls for a blog!’

Yes that was the loosest reference to a YouTube gag ever but ah well… If you smiled, you’re welcome! If you didn’t, never mind hopefully I will win you back later on in the blog! Just be happy we didn’t Rick Roll you or put up another Harlem Shake video… So please put the pen down and save your letters of complaint 🙂 It’s better for the environment!

OK, so enough with the fun and games let’s get down to business, the reason why we’re all here. To find out my top tips on how to become a better dancer. Before we go any further a quick disclaimer. These are my own views and opinions. Many other teachers and dancers will have their own. Including those at SDL. Just because I have put mine on the internet doesn’t make them gospel, nor does it mean that I am forcing you to do these things! Anyway let’s get on with the show.

Practice Makes Permanent

This is my number one tip and it sounds obvious but when I started dancing all that time ago people used to ask me how I got so good so quick. At the time I was young and as you do you say ‘Well I dunno, just have…’ But what I didn’t let on was that I went home after sessions and just shadow salsad the moves I liked that the teacher had taught me that night over and over again. Then once I had got used to them, just like a boxer I shadow danced my moves. This helped me work out mini combos/routines in my head and started putting together moves I could link, so when it came round to the lessons again I could ask my partner if I could practice these things I had prepared. If you hit a brick wall keep going! The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

Nowadays we have wonderful things like YouTube which I didn’t have in the old days, so why not ask your teachers for some good tutorials or dancers they recommend you watch and learn from those videos. Even better hit up some of the great salsa classes Leeds has to offer (If you don’t live in Leeds I’m feel sorry for you, but I’m sure there are some great classes near you!). There’s a whole list, Nicolai and Julien at Baracoa and Theo at Maluko to name a few and they all bring different things to the table. By experiencing different classes it will help you to develop your own style, meet other dancers, get different takes on the moves and also getting more tips! But don’t worry there isn’t any gang rivalry in salsa! You won’t be shot if seen elsewhere! We all actively encourage you to go to other classes, it’s good for you and it’s even better for the scene.

Immerse yourself in the music

One of the best things I ever did was that I nagged the hell out of my teachers and local DJ’s for CD’s of the music they played in their classes/nights. (Remember this was a time before YouTube… I know, I don’t know how I coped either! Practice without music is a bit sad to be honest. Also please no nagging simple requests will do! If not DJ Lubi has plenty of awesome CD’s you can buy. Well worth the investment.) From this I got to become familiar with the music, how it was structured and also I started to work out what I liked in a song and how I could adapt my dancing to the music. Through getting these songs I could start to practice properly to the detriment of my relationship with my family! I’m sorry I embarrassed you by dancing on my own to salsa in front of your friends Ellie. haha.

But anyway this isn’t Jeremy Kyle… Where was I… OK, so by getting the music I had started to learn the songs inside-out and had started to recognise the differences in styles of salsa and also differences between bachata, merengue and salsa… Something vital for when you hit the dance floor! It’s also where I started to fall in love with salsa, I became obsessed with the music and through this love of the music it helped me express myself on the dance floor. With the familiarity also came an opportunity for me to work on little bits of musicality which is always nice to show off when you’re starting off, have a play around its fun. Plus if in years and years to come you become a teacher it’s always good to stick to your roots and pass on your salsa songs! Here’s one the my first salsa songs I owned…

(We have a selection of songs and tutorials on our YouTube Channel just click here!)

Social Dance!

This point is the big one and really brings together the first two points. Social dancing for me is what salsa is all about. Salsa is a street dance and is meant to be danced socially! This is the best way to learn. It’s a bit like learning to drive a car. It’s not until you drive on your own do you truly start to learn and the same is with salsa. Have fun, learn, socialise and make mistakes! Make lots of mistakes! No seriously go out there and make mistakes its cool, don’t worry about it, we all do it. Just some of us have got used to masking it pretty well! Mistakes are how you learn, how you develop and also how you find out awesome moves and combos that you didn’t mean to do! Just remember ‘a person who fails often knows how to avoid future failures. The person who knows only success can be more oblivious to all the pitfalls.’ Little quote from the third biggest inspiration in my life Mr Randy Pausch… If you haven’t heard of him, Google him and he’ll send you on the right path.

When you aren’t on the dance floor watch others, look for the differences, spot someone you like whose moves you’d like to emulate, watch them, work out what they’re doing and try it out! If not ask them, they won’t mind… Always start with “That move was awesome! Could you show me how you did it…” They’ll be feeling pretty good at that point and hey who doesn’t like their ego being stroked?! If you are that person being asked, do it! Help the others, go out and do for others what somebody did for you. We all started somewhere; you could be that person that inspires someone else, even without knowing you could have inspired hundreds already! But be nice and don’t take advantage, no one likes a sleaze or a snob. The best way to learn is to teach, so help out your salsa friends, it’s an all win situation and as always if you’re unsure ask a teacher, it’s what they’re there for!

Try different styles of dance

So I know what you’re thinking, James why should I try another form of dance?!?! You crazy boy?! I’m just getting my head round salsa and now you’re telling me to try other classes! I know it sounds insane but try it. If needs be start small, try different styles of salsa, try some Cuban or cross body… Feeling a bit more daring?! Why not venture out to Kizomba or Bachata classes. Even more hardcore?! Why not try swing or street. It’s a great way to learn new things especially if you’ve been dancing salsa for a while. It will help you bring things into your salsa and will help you develop your own unique style, plus it’s always fun to know a few random moves. Jake and I have adapted many lindy moves to salsa and I know Bobak has adapted loads of house etc. to salsa too. It’s cool. You can do it, as long as it fits the guidelines, try it out… we already have quite a few salsa styles, always room for one more!

From going to hip-hop, house, swing and loads of other dance classes it really helped me learn about learning again (Sounds weird but you’ll understand when you do it!). Different dances have different ways about teaching moves and combinations and also bring different ideas to dance and this is great. It’s just like learning a new language, generally once you have mastered another language the others come quite quickly and the same with dance. It’ll help you out no end. If you are interested I will point you in the direction of some great classes, just post a comment below!

Here’s my favourite swing dance duo Max Pitruzzella and Annie Trudeau, oh so awesome! I mean how could you not be inspired by this?! So much you can take out of it!

Dance with as many people as possible!

OK, so I realise I have waffled on for quite a while now so I will finish up (I guess this is what happens when I don’t post regularly!). My final point really sums it all up. Dance as much as you can with as many people as you can. Dance with the beginners, dance with the people who are your level and dance with the people who have been doing it longer than you. By doing this it will help you learn how to adapt your dancing and also how to enjoy dancing. By dancing with beginners it will help you and most importantly help them and give them confidence. At the end of the day if you enjoy dancing it shouldn’t matter who you dance with as long as you are dancing. (Well unless they punch you in the face but then I’m sure it was by accident and hey you’ve got a great little story to tell.) Don’t worry about what you think others are thinking! They’re probably in awe or are eyeing up your partner! But most likely they’re thinking about their own dancing! Remember we all started out somewhere, inspire someone, go out there and help people, it’s a community.

Anyway, thank you. I hope you enjoyed reading my latest blog and hopefully it has inspired you and given you a few pointers in the right direction! As always please comment below with your views and opinions (you dont have to sign up to anything to do this. Anyone can post! If you want an image like me go to gravitar and link a picture up to your email) and even better share the blog using the social media buttons at the bottom and top!



About James

James is one of the co-founders and teachers at Salsa Dance Leeds. He regularly writes for the SDL blog, across a selection of salsa topics. Find James on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

7 comments on “How To Become A Better Dancer

  1. Another one – give feedback, especially if you’re dancing with someone at a different level to you! I had a dance in London last weekend with someone who had only been dancing 8 months or so, and was able to truthfully say that all but one of his leads were really good and I was able to follow them easily. I was also able to identify the issue with the one lead that was a problem (he was leading it a little too late) and I think he appreciated the confidence boost and the tip.

    It’s also nice just to give positive feedback – “I really like the way you spin when I do this move” or “I really like your footwork” etc. It just helps 🙂

  2. Thanks for the insightful article. You hit some great points about dancing with a variety of partners. Yeah, when I started learning Salsa, it was a number of weeks before I could hear the difference between salsa, merenge, bachata, etc. You are on point about the value of listening to the music. Here’s a related post about the do’s and dont’s of what to wear when dancing:

  3. If you want to dance, you’ve got to love it. If your heart is not into dancing, you will most likely give up when you cannot do certain moves, and this will decrease your sense of control and confidence.

Speak Your Mind