Salsa Technicals : Lessons do not trump learning at the club…

Salsa DancingSo I am going to the studio more often (almost on a daily basis).. and I've been noticing that a lot of the students that take either group lessons (and primarily) take private lessons – I never see them at the club. I found this very disturbing, so I asked one of the fellow students why I never saw him at the club and he stated that "well, I don't think I'm quite ready..".

Now other than the fact that it drove me nuts knowing that he intentionally decided not to go to the club because 'he was not ready', I started wondering how many other individuals (especially leads) do the same thing.

Going to the club is the MOST important thing. First of all going to the club should be main reason you are trying to learn salsa – to dance AT the actual club. There is no point in learning salsa if you are not really using it – keyword 'using' instead of 'will use' (future tense). It is like learning a language in class, but not using it in a daily basis – in the long run, you won't get good in the language or worse, you'll forget it.

Nothing beats being in the trenches taking grenades. TWhile taking private lessons will help you, it should not be a substitue of learning by yourself at the club. An analogy would be on how to drive a car by learning how to read a book. Now, don't get me wrong, it is useful to read a book, maybe a traffic manual, the car manual – but it does not SUBSTITUTE the fact that you will do most of your learning while you are behind the wheel. Now, some of you might say that "well, private lessons is like driving the car too",  – well that might be true, but its like driving a car on a closed course. What about traffic?  What about traffic lights? What about different types of terrain? What about drunk drivers? What if you have a baby in the car? Different types of cars, with different handling? .. I can go on and on.  Nothing beats real-world scenarios. So, you might be practicing with your instructor – but what do you personally do when the dancefloor is really crowded? What if your partner can't turn correctly or keep balance? What if the floor is sticky, or too slippery? What if you have uncomfortable shoes? What if the lights are dimmed or too bright in your face? What if you can't find the beat in the music? Or like David Stein likes to say: What if you've had a couple of drinks? What if your partner has had a couple of drinks … or what if all the people around have had too many drinks!

Mistakes are an essential part of learning. I will not sugarcoat anything, I am like to be blunt and truthful. When you go to the club, with a specific move in mind – you will make mistakes. Maybe during the first night – you don't get to perform that move correctly at all. But, you should not give up. The next time you go to the club and try that same move, maybe you'll only make 3 mistakes. Maybe the next time you go after that only make 1 mistake.. and so on. That is how you get better. Even for me, when I learn a new complicated move, it doesn't magically come out right the first time – I know that the on the 10th time I do something, it will be much better than the first time I did it – its a simple law of economics. 

The 3-1 rule. Very simple and specifically for PRIVATE lessons: for every 1 hour of private lessons you take, there should be at least 3 hours dedicated to social dancing and practicing what you've learned in that hour. Now, this might sound insane, but its not. If you take the fact that you go to a club at 9pm and possibly leave at 12am – thats already 3 hours! If you go out dancing twice a week, then you're more than done! It is the same idea from taken from college teaching – for every 1 credit class, spend 3 hours outside of class doing homework. (Thanks to Beverly for the analogy). This is very important. Because I see that some students take weekly private lessons – but here is the main problem. In a private lesson, if the instructor is very good, you'll learn a whole lot of things that you need to work on. Quick note: don't trust instructors who's private lessons last less than 1 hour! You need a full hour to get the most and really work your brain/body. Why do you think classes last 60 minutes in college?… I regress.. When you learn all the things you need in that private lesson, you need a good break inbetween private lessons so you can actually PUT INTO PRACTICE what you learned in that lesson. If not, you'll be either learning the same issues you had in the previous private lesson, or working on new ones – without previously fixing the old ones which (if fixed, or worked on) could help reduce the remaining ones. Thats why some people never see an improvement in their dancing – they take and take lessons, but never put into practice what they are learning. It is like going to a class in college, sitting and listening to the instructor – but never doing homework. Homework is the key in becoming great at the material (and how you pass tests in college). There is not a more fun homework that going to a salsa club and dancing!

If you do take private lessons, if he's a good instructor, the instructor will know that he/she should space them out for you – because again, you need time to soak the knowledge in, practice it on your own, and try it at the club. Because when you try it at the club, you'll potentially make mistakes and you will come back to him/her with questions. But, you will show progress! And thats the important part, because each time you come back, the questions become less and less.

Intimidation is a sin. Now, I'm not saying I'm a holy man, I still feel intimidated. But to be intimidated to the point that you don't even go to a salsa club – thats a Capital Sin with a capital S. So what do I do when I feel intimidated? Well, I'll ask to dance with person I'm comfortable with – maybe a dancer I know I have good chemistry with, a friend or a person on my dance team that is on a similar skill level as I. I do this because I know its harder for me to screw up my dancing and I know that whatever moves I do or how I screw up – they'll be entertained and we'll have fun. And thats the key fact – you are still dancing, still moving and more quickly becoming a better dancer just because you are out there.


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