I’ve said it time and time again and it continues to be one of the greatest truths I’ve discovered while dance salsa:
“You learn the moves in the classroom but you learn to DANCE on the dance floor”.
No amount of time spent taking salsa classes will actually make you a good dancer. That transformation happens doing the real thing, with real people on a real dance floor. That’s where the refinement and neuro-muscular programming happens. Where you tweak a turn pattern so it actually works for you and the people you dance with (or at least with most of them).
I’m not bad-mouthing classes
That said, I still consider classes an essential part of a salseros training. Personally, I’m a slow learner, initially. It takes me a while to pick up a new combination and even when I do, unless I regularly practice it socially I’ll forget it pretty quick. Good classes allow people the time to pick up a new pattern and hopefully provide the instruction required by everyone (at one point or another) to overcome any difficulties with certain movements.
Basically, it’s great to have a move or pattern broken down for you and methodically explained by people who know what they’re doing. That’s why people are willing to pay for salsa classes and why they are often a central component of any dance community (there are a lot more reasons to do classes but that’s for another article).
Get your money’s worth
However, if you’re going to take classes, you need to play your part to actively learn as much as possible while there and I recently noticed an equal but opposite pair of mistakes made by men and women when taking classes.
I finally restarted taking classes again after an extended break while doing my masters and last week I was made very aware of a huge problem that is probably rife in dance classes around the world.
Ladies, I’m calling you out
Don’t worry, I’m gonna have a word with the guys in a minute but I’m going to start at the source of the problem.
Ladies, you need to stop back-leading in class!!!
Back-leading (when a follow leads herself into an expected turn) does not do dancing any favors, neither in the classroom nor socially. That said, it’s perfectly understandable why it happens so regularly. When a women is evolving as a dancer, she naturally develops a certain ability to predict certain movements on the floor when social dancing. To a point, this can make social dance more fluid but, let’s be honest, no one is right all the time so back-leading can often lead to mistakes or accidents of the social floor.
Back-leading becomes even more prominent in classes because people are specifically learning one, limited turn-pattern and by the end are expected to have it memorized. So naturally, during a class, women (the follows) may unconsciously end up back-leading the move the couple is trying to learn.
The problem with this is two fold:
- Firstly the man never truly learns how to lead the pattern. He simply learns to move his arms in accordance with his follow who is leading for him
- Secondly, the woman doesn’t truly learn how to react to a real lead. She comes to rely too much on her ability to “predict” what is coming next… and that’s just not salsa, baby.
I’ll give you my own example from the class that was the inspiration for this article. I was in a new class that was practicing a pattern that they had started the week before (I didn’t make that class last week) so I had never seen it before. The teachers kindly got me up to speed and we started working on the rest of the pattern. Near the end of the class we were all practicing the finished pattern and there was one girl in the class who I was dreading my turn with. She was a good dancer and had clearly memorized the entire move. So much so that when it came to dancing with her, I didn’t have to do much… she pretty much just lead herself through the pattern. At this point I got frustrated (as I have been known to do on occasion ;) ) and I stopped mid move, looked her in the eyes and asked (very politely) in spanish “Could you let me lead the move, please”. She opened her mouth and looked like she was about to chew me out but suddenly, she backed down, softened her expression, looked me in the eye and said “OK, sorry”.
She realized right away that I was right in what I was asking. She was back-leading and it wasn’t helping. Long story short, I learned the move but will probably have lots of awkward moments with that girl in the future. I can live with that.
As for you men!
Man the F up! Don’t allow yourself to be lead by your follow. That does not mean that you become all controlling in the dance; it does not mean that you can be rough with your partner; it does not mean that you can be a jerk and verbally attack your partner if she back-leads.
What it means is that you need to lead with confidence and skill, both on the dance floor and in class. Remember, if a woman gets a clear, confident lead from a man she won’t feel the need to back-lead. It’s up to you to make sure she doesn’t feel the need to lead herself.
Ladies, the next time you’re in class, if you catch yourself back-leading, stop yourself right there and leave it up to the lead to do his job.
Equally, gentlemen, if you feel that a woman is back-leading in class, ask her, politely, to allow you to lead. She should understand immediately and if she doesn’t, tell her to talk to me… (nervous laugh)! Then do your damn job and lead her well, like you’re supposed to.
Together, we can ban the back-lead!
Keep dancing folks!