Damn you to hell “So You Think You Can Dance”, “Dancing With The Stars” and “America’s Got Talent”. It’s all your fault!
Everything was fine with my life until you came along and made me realize just how much I was wasting myself, sitting at home, watching other people dance on TV when I could, in fact, be dancing myself…in the real world!
But no… you had to come along with your dazzling productions, B-List celebrities and incredibly talented unknowns just to show me how much I suck. You know how much I hate it when people can do things I can’t.
Now I want to learn to dance! Dammit!
But no one dances where I live!!!
Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, Swing and a whole host of other partner dances may be slowly spreading around the world like a virus (the Best Virus EVER :D ) but dance scenes are still mostly confined to larger urban areas. What this boils down to is that learning to dance in rural areas or smaller towns is not quite as easy as saying “Quick, Quick, Slow”!
When I moved back to my family home in the Irish countryside earlier this year I wanted to find a local salsa class to help feed my craving for dance after living 2 years in Colombia and spending plenty of time dancing in Cuba and New York on my way back home (I think I may have built up a dependence). My internet search for salsa, however, left me disappointed (to say the least).
It reminded me of a similarly bleak situation when I first started dancing, many moons ago, when I lived in a small city in a mostly rural prefecture in Japan. But I still managed to learn!!!
Making an Oasis in the Dance Desert
Let’s face it, there exist places where it is just not possible to get to regular dance classes.
But you want to learn to dance and you’re not going to let little things like “convenience” and “logistics” get in your way. I salute you!
My own dance experience proves it can, with some determination, be done and I’m going to show you how.
1. Get yourself a dance partner
There is absolutely no way around this. If you’re planning on learning a partner dance you’re going to need dance partner… duh! You simply can not learn the basic principals of leading and following without having someone to lead or follow.
When I started dancing, I did it with my girlfriend at the time which meant I had someone I could practice with and I also felt comfortable looking pretty stupid in front of her. If I hadn’t had someone to practice with I can’t imagine I’d ever have learned even the most basic of steps.
Look for someone who lives nearby and wants to learn to dance as much as you do. A significant other would be ideal but failing that someone who you feel comfortable with is what you’re looking for. You can help motivate each other to practice more and point out problems that each other may need to work on.
If you’re feeling particularly ambitious you might be able to get a whole group of people interested in learning. If you can, go for it. That’s how dance scenes are born!
2. Find a private teacher
“Well if I had a teacher I wouldn’t need to learn on my own. Would I?” …Not quite!
You may not be able to make it to regular classes but you are still going to need someone to initially teach you the basics. Dance is a physical discipline and having someone “physically” instruct you makes a huge difference to your understanding of the subtle movements typical of dance.
What I suggest is that you (with your partner) book a long, private, introductory class with a teacher that you can visit, maybe in a city nearby, on a day trip or weekend away. The teacher can introduce you to the basics and tell you what you need to work on at home. You can even record the classes in case you’re worried about forgetting everything as soon as you walk out the door (which, let’s face it, is a distinct possibility).
I did something like this when I was an improver in Japan. I booked a 10 day holiday to Manila and Hong Kong and also booked private salsa classes with teachers there. I learned loads, got lots of constructive feedback and also got to social dance to practice while there. That 10 day holiday was responsible for the single most significant jump in my salsa level ever.
3. Sit on your backside…
…and watch some Youtube.
There are a huge amount of instructional videos on Youtube that allow you to teach yourself virtually anything (homemade cottage cheese anyone?!) and dance is no different. Hop online and search for some videos THAT ARE APPROPRIATE FOR YOUR LEVEL and start practicing.
I really can’t stress how important it is that you choose videos that suit your current level. It’s all well and good wanting to be able to pull off the mind-melting combination that you saw Oliver Pineda execute perfectly in one of his choreos… but if you still have trouble maintaining your basic step, you might just be over-reaching a tad. Don’t be that guy. Start with the basics and build from there.
4. Consider online classes
Just as you can use the power of the almighty interweb to learn anything for yourself, so too can you be given personal instruction in a chosen discipline (for a fee).
Most people are aware that you can take online language classes that allow you to learn Japanese from a native teacher in the comfort of your own home (and in your underwear, because that’s the whole point of doing it at home right… to sit around in your underpants!!?). Well, you can also take classes with professional dance instructors from anywhere in the world. The huge advantage that these classes have over plain old instructional videos is the opportunity to get feedback and tailored advice from the instructors who can watch your movements.
Provided you have a fast internet connection, a decent web camera and a flexible schedule you can often book online classes with amazing teachers on the other side of the planet. You can also check out services like that offered by SalsaBachataOnline which boasts a selection of big names in latin dance, all ready, willing and able to bestow you with their experience as teachers.
It may sound obvious but it’s a tip that a lot of beginners forget to put into practice.
You may learn the moves in class but you learn to dance on the dance-floor! At the end of your practice, don’t forget to throw on a few salsa songs (maybe even some random ones) and just dance. Enjoy the music and dance it with your partner. That’s what dance is.
Maybe, if you get the chance, try and make a trip to a town or city with a decent dance scene where you can practice with different people and learn how to react to new moves and styles. Even if it’s just once every couple of months, it will make you a much better dancer.
Get out there and irrigate that Dance Desert
Even if it looks like you have no way of learning to dance in your part of the world, don’t lose heart.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way and I’ve found that the desire to dance really takes care of the “will” part. It won’t be easy and progress may be pretty slow going but as someone who had to walk through the dance dessert myself, I promise you, it’s well worth it in the end.
Keep Dancing Folks.