Teaching a Salsa Lesson
Last week we had a group social at the church’s 18-30s home group.
My dance partner and I taught a basic salsa routine for an hour and then let the group free style what they’d learned.
We even dressed up for the part!
I have to admit that when my friends asked me to co-ordinate and teach a dance lesson for them I was a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t taught a lesson in years and Julian,(my dance/life partner) hadn’t taught a class since his back surgery last year. Needless to say we were both a little rusty.
I was also concerned about teaching friends. Would they take it seriously enough to process the information?, take instruction well?, and listen enough to not do themselves an injury? Well. Yes! I guess because it was something they’d asked to do, (okay-some were coerced) they took to it like… well, salsa beginners?!
History of Salsa
Salsa: A sauce?, a recipe? a type of dance?
a type of Latin American dance music incorporating elements of jazz and rock.
Salsa originated in Cuba. Many people believe it originated in New York. Not so. New York created the term “Salsa”, but it did not create the dance. The term became popular as nickname to refer to a variety of different music, from several countries of Hispanic influence: Rhumba, Són Montuno, Guaracha, Mambo, Cha cha cha, Danzón, Són, Guguanco, Cubop, Guajira, Charanga, Cumbia, Plena, Bomba, Festejo, Merengue, among others. Many of these have maintained their individuality and many were mixed creating “Salsa”.-(Central Home)
Think of Salsa like a tree. It has many roots and many branches, but ultimately the trunk connects it all together. A dancer will only be as good at the style of Salsa he/she perfects. No one is any better than anyone else, only individualised to the style they have perfected.
Top 10 Tips for Teaching a Salsa Lesson
- Make sure EVERYONE warms up – It is important for you and the students to do some basic warm up exercises.
- History aids understanding– Give them a brief overview of the history of the dance they are about to learn. It can help them to visualise the dances setting and aid the mood to dance.
- Make a connection-Work on connection exercises. My dance partner and I like to give the pull and push connection exercises for the couples to do together. A firm favourite is the lean test. It builds trust and helps later on in the dance, when they need to know the physical clues, (especially for the lady) to follow and give a lead.
- Give clear and precise instructions – When introducing new steps break it down and show it more than once.
- Visual aids are key– You can’t just tell the class the steps, you need to show them again and again and if need be AGAIN!!! Make sure they fully comprehend the steps and if need be go round a dance the steps with them one on one until they compute.
- Don’t be afraid to correct them– It’s supposed to be fun yes. But the class will soon stop having fun if they feel they are not progressing or they are doing it wrong and have no guidance.
- Work 1 on 1 and rotate partners-If someone is struggling it okay to take charge and give them a bit of 1-to-1 time, whilst everyone else is freestyling. Remember they key is not to call them out on the mistakes and make them feel embarrassed, but to give them extra encouragement that they are doing it, but can do it better in xyz steps. Equally it is important that your rota partners throughout the lesson. It is easy to get comfortable with one person, you begin to anticipate the moves (as a lady) and you later on stop improving. If you rotate partners frequently, everyone gets used to learning a following different partners. Learning a good and bad lead and how to lead different people with height and weights to yourself. All great for when your in a salsa club, as everybody “feels” different.
- Tell them when they do good-Praise, praise, PRAISE. It is vital. They need to hear when they are doing good. It is a bit of a “kids at school” moment. It’s all new and they want to teacher to be proud of them. So, tell them when they are doing well and give the praise and compliments when they do so.
- Give them time to practice-We love to give the students half and hour practice time at the end of the lesson. This allows them time to think about the moves themselves, without instruction (as they would in a Salsa club) and to put together there own routines. Also in a Salsa club you won’t find the DJ or band counting them in to the music, or shouting out what steps to do next. This little bit of ‘FREESTYLE’ time, allows the leaders to think about how they will lead the lady into their next steps and give the lady time to work on styling and embellishment as well as styling.
- HAVE FUN– It’s easy to go into competition/exam mode when teaching beginners (or anyone for that matter), because as a dancer yourself that’s where your mind often goes. But try to avoid teaching them like a competition student. They won’t thank you for it if your shouting and huffing when they do a step wrong. They’ll also feel belittled and like they’re not reaching your high standards. Keep the bar low, Have a laugh and loosen up. Let the students feel like they are achieving something and they’ll soon be hip wigging back to you for more lessons.
Would I do it again?
In short-Definitely! I learned a lot about myself from assisting Julian and helping the class with their dance steps and timing. All the feedback was positive and they mentioned learning more steps or even another dance such as Rock ‘N’ Roll or Waltz. Also, I learned that I can be a good teacher. My confidence soared and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the class progress throughout the lesson. Maybe I’ll consider doing my Salsa Teachers exam after all!
Tell me about your dancing and teaching experiences, in the comments below. What did you do? What would you do differently next time? What did you learn about yourself?