Awareness

Copyright by YASalsa.com

Many times people say that they need more room to dance and how much better things would be if there were more room to dance. But really what is needed is more awareness and more control. Dancing in a crowded space is one of the most difficult dance skills to develop. It takes serious time in the club setting to get used to the dynamics of the floor. But when you are around good dancers in a packed club and everyone is doing their thing (without colliding) – there’s nothing like it.

That said, the most fundamental obligation in a dance is not to give your partner the dance of his or her life; it’s to not injure your partner or other people on the dance floor. From the moment you take your partner’s hand and start heading to a good spot until the time the song is done, you need to be aware of the surroundings — which change by the second.

Suprising or not one of the most hazardous parts of the dance is moving through the dance floor looking for a spot to dance. Other dancers don’t necessarily see you when you are walking through. In fact, its very hard to anticipate people who are not dancing — they just pop up out of nowhere. And you of course are busy looking around for an open spot not necessarily at the movement around you. Very often leaders, are dragging their partner to a spot and are unaware of the location of their partner and what is going on around them. Look back. Make sure you don’t drag your partner into a couple. If you are leading a woman on to the dance floor and she stops, you stop too. Wait until she is clear before proceeding. There is no time limit to getting on the dance floor so don’t rush – just find your way through the crowd and make sure the dancers see you — don’t run by. Good dancers will actually let you through if they see you. OK now you are dancing. You’re going to do that cross-body lead…

Everyone remembers how to cross the street. In dancing its more or less the same thing — look both ways (left and right) and look where you are going. Judge how far you can go. Then only go that far. For followers that means going only as far as you are lead and only if there is room to actually go there. If you are following and your leader is about to run you into someone — don’t go. That takes confidence to stop the flow of the dance on the follower’s part. Leaders have to instill that confidence in their partner that they are aware and in control. Very often when mistakes happen it’s one of two things:

The leader has not looked where they are leading
The follower travels beyond what is lead

Awareness is a tandem operation. You need to look out for yourself and your partner and communicate with each other. Followers can always give their partner a heads-up on something they might not see coming up — no one can see everything. Awareness that you have run into someone (whether it’s your fault or not) is also important. Appologies go a long way to keeping a civilized floor and making sure others are OK after an incident is at least a little consolation.

Copyright by YASalsa.com

As said before, your fundamental responsiblity when dancing is to protect your partner.

  • Protect your partner from you and other dancers
  • Protect the other dancers from you and your partner

That means protection from footsteps, collissions, elbows and falls. While most of the responsiblity for this falls squarely on the shoulder’s of the leader, dancing is a partnership and it takes both parties to make it work.

The first part of protecting your partner is selecting a spot on the dance floor. What makes a good location? Amount of room available? Surrounding dancers and their level of control? Quality of surface? You and your partner’s ability and style of dance? Obviously, its all of these and more. Anywhere can be a good location if you are aware of the situation and take these factors into consideration when dancing.

Finding Room

The amount of room available is usually the primary driver — you want to find a spot where you will have room to move. However, if that comes at the price of dancing near a couple who is all over the place, it might not be a good bargain. You have to make a determination as to how much monitoring and avoidance the spot is worth. It can be better to dance next to the most in control dancers with only a little bit of space than to dance in a big space next to a wild couple.

Edge or Center?

In some locations, you have a big open floor of a completely uniform nature and everywhere is more or less an equally good choice. Club settings or big events like socials or congresses present a lot of challenges as the floor can be packed. Advanced dancers often choose the edge of the floor for the simple reason that they only have to monitor people on one side instead of all around them.

Quality of Surface

The quality of surface can also make a big difference. Wood is generally the easiest surface to dance on, but conditions may vary on different sections of the floor. Maybe some spots are sticky and hard to turn on and others are slick and easy to slip on. Dancing on tile, cement, parquet and other surfaces always should factor into where and how you dance. Take into consideration the ability of your partner, what kind of shoes she is wearing.

When the floor is slick:

  • Leaders, make sure your partner is stable enough – not slipping and sliding.
  • Followers, don’t push or pull or lean on your partner and keep your momentum in check.

Often you will hear people talk about dancing with one’s „core“ – this is a way of developing not only better styling, but better stability.

When the floor is uneven:

  • Leaders, LOOK DOWN. Don’t turn your partner where there are divots, holes or transitions between surfaces — especially of your partner has on heels.
  • Followers, if the floor is difficult for you to move on, tell your partner.

Defense

You need to play „good D“ on the dance floor. Especially for leaders, this means watching everyone around you and making sure they do not collide, step on, trip, elbow or poke your partner. All those things happen and when they do, it is at least 50% your fault.

If someone invades your space

  • Get their attention. If it looks like they are about to run into you or your partner, put your hand very lightly in between the whoever is about to collide and most of the time people will check their momentum as soon as they feel something.
  • Get out of the way. If you can, move you and your partner out of the way or simply stop where you are. For example, if you were about to do a cross body lead, but another couple enters your space, try changing to another step or staying in place and doing a shine. You can still play it cool while things get crazy.
  • Catch those arms and elbows. If you are really following what is going on around you, sometimes you can literally see the elbows coming or going. Put a hand right there to catch them.
  • If you and your partner invade someone else’s space. It happens to everyone at some point and the solution is to stop right then and there. If you have too much momentum going — that is going to be very hard.

Partnership

It literally takes parnership to be in control. Leaders can not lead someone who does not partner with them when dancing and followers can not follow someone that does not guide them. Sometimes that partnership can be very fluid and easy going and sometimes it has to be more rigid – that is a matter of advancement and compatiblity. If conditions are crowded and there is little room for error, you stay close and keep lots of connection with both your frame and control of the hands. If both of you are comfortable with those conditions and very flexible, you can take advantage of areas of the dance floor as the traffic ebs and flows.

Just as the leaders need to have their eyes open the followers need too do the same. There is only so much one person can see at a time.

Shine On

Not a lot of people do this, but if you are creative and have a good arsenal of shines and body rolls that you can knock off in close quarters, its a great way to get out of having to do lots of cross body leads. Not to mention, you can always bump up the sexy dance level by focusing on dancing close and connected instead of turn patterns — we forget sometimes because we have so much emphasis on the technical but this is the heart Salsa.

Copyright by YASalsa.com

What is “your space”? For want of a better definition, your space is the area that is more or less reasonable for you and your partner to use on the dance floor. Generally speaking in club dancing, that space is a rectangle with a line running down the center where you and your partner stick. In formal terms, this is called “slot-dancing” and it is generally the best way to make a predictable and comfortable dance space. The key for dancing in the slot is drawing these imaginary lines — North, South, East & West — and following them without fail.

The Slot

Probably everyone has heard of „the slot“, but not many of us dance with a real awareness of it. Most styles of salsa dictate that you move in straight lines. Every cross body lead, enchufla, and turn must start and finish on the lines. For leaders, that means getting out of your partner’s way (being exactly perpendicular) and establishing a clear path that can only be followed one way. For followers it means following that line and staying within the boundaries your partner is trying to set. Dancing with this awareness and control will not only make you safer, it will improve your turns and make everything you do even better.

Adjusting to the Dance Floor

As other couples on the dance floor change positions, and the floor becomes more or less crowded, you may also have to re-orienting your slot. As the length of the slot you are in changes, you need to change your movement. When space is limited one can not expect to go very far so your movement must be smaller too. Leaders can initiate turns earlier and followers can reduce the length of their steps. This is of course common sense, but few us are truly aware of how far we are traveling and what exact direction we are going.

Copyright by YASalsa.com

Good social dancers are said to be “light on their feet”. What should also be understood there is “light on everyone else’s feet too!” It’s not just a matter of bad luck when someone steps on another’s feet or spins into them – it is a lack of control. Everyone at some point does a spin too far or step on someone else – so the question is „how often and how hard?“

Secret Revealed: if you are regularly the one getting stepped on, you are also very likely to share some of the blame with the mis-stepper and of course you get all of the pain.

However it is not hard to change your luck and be a dancer who is light on their feet, rarely gets stepped on and who has control over themselves dancing and spinning – the key lies in mastering some fundamentals. In the case of light on the feet, mastering the basic step and in the case of the spinning, developing the correct body alignment starting with the foot.

The way in which you do your basic salsa step is the best indicator of your control of your weight and momentum when dancing. We will focus on two keys to dancing lightly and tightly – balance and the back step. Balance because it is what enables one to control their transfer of weight and thus the momentum they carry while dancing and the back step because it is by far the most likely way to injure another dancer.

Balance
Balance starts with your connection to the floor and the proper alignment of the foot up to the body. You will often hear to put your weight on the ball of the foot, however out of habit; many of us leave our weight on the outside of the foot or the heel. This is incorrect.

Exercise – Centering Weight on the Balls of Your Feet

Stand with your heels touching and the front of your feet about 2-3 inches apart. Now raise your heels an inch or so off the ground. The area where your weight is is the balls of your feet and where you should focus your weight when dancing.

The Back Step
The first thing to note is that this article is written for social dancers who dance in clubs or other crowded settings. There are ballroom and choreography styles of dancing that have longer more prominent back steps, but social dancers must adapt to their environment and floor conditions.

As mentioned above the back step is the biggest culprit for injuries to other dancers on a dance floor. The simplest explanation is that „behind you“, is the one area that a dancer can not see. But the other issue is that it is also very common for dancers to step very far back and place their weight on their heels, turning a bad situation into an even worse situation.

How far to backstep?

Back-steps should be very short. What is short? In Cuban style casino dancing, the back in the back step is almost nonexistent – it is right in place. In mambo or LA style it should be no more than a few inches. The weight on the forward and back-step should never be one’s full weight – yes transfer weight but not all of one’s weight especially to the back foot. When stepping back, the weight of the foot should never end up on the heel. Instead it should be focused on the ball of the foot with the heel off the ground. For ladies in heels, the heel may touch the ground, but the weight should never be completely transferred to it.

Step Height
Social dancers should keep their feet low to the ground – really just barely skimming the ground. Focusing on smooth steps where one does not have hard weight transfers makes for a lot of control and a lot less pounding on one’s feet or those of others.

Check Point
If when doing your backstep you lose connection with your partner, or are affecting their forward step by pulling them, you are stepping too far back.

Turning Tightly
Going back to balance, distributing one’s weight and having proper alignment is key when spinning. We won’t try to explain how to spin or the dangers of elbows in this article but instead provide some simple guidelines and tips to help you improve your control while spinning. In social dancing for salsa, one should be light to lead and carry a controlled momentum. If a highly skilled social dancer spins and their spin is interrupted they should not carry so much momentum that they severely impact another party, whether it be their partner or an inadvertent dancer. When one spins they should in general also end up in the exactly same location on the floor as when they started – no traveling left, right, forward or back. Having a tight spin enables one to dance full out in even the most crowded conditions and makes for a much more fun situation where you don’t have to spend the whole dance in collision avoidance mode.

The key to the tight and controlled spin is balance and alignment. Having one’s weight on the ball of foot instead of the outside of the foot or the heel makes it possible to do multiple rotations without drifting. If one’s weight is on the outside of the foot or heal, it will create a circular pattern which will move you to another location and in the case of club dancing, possibly into another couple’s space.

Exercise
Stand in front of an object such as a floor lamp. Do a complete spin. Where did you end up? Closer to the lamp, further away? Left? Right? Did you knock over the lamp? (This writer has broken a glass in the kitchen with an errant spin before…) Carefully examine your alignment and distribution of weight on to the ball of your foot. Try again increasing the number of rotations to 2 or three. If you do touch the lamp, are you able to stop immediately?

Put it into Practice!
The benefits of dancing on the balls of one’s feet and shrinking the back-step are great. You become a more efficient and agile dancer able to keep up with the fastest songs the DJ has in his case. For ladies in high heels especially, you no longer are in danger of putting 100-200+ pounds per square inch through the middle of someone else’s foot.

If you can turn on a dime through multiple rotations, the most crowded club will still allow you to dance your dance and maybe more importantly allow other dancers to dance theirs too.

Cuidate!

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