Salsa > Musicality?

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by MacMoto, Jul 7, 2004.

  1. huey

    huey New Member


    Excellent article and thread. I dance Lindy Hop rather than Salsa, but I found this thread at the top of the page, and like the article, which I find highly relevant to the Lindy dancing that I do.

    I liked the section of Edie's article about cars -

    Well, sometimes I have described dancing with a light, experienced Lindy Hop follower as 'like driving a car with power steering'. I suppose I mean that I can really tell the difference in the way that you can with cars.

    But reading this article made me think about this. If I do get a follower with advanced 'power steering' then I could take advantage of this connection to lead us both in a dance, rather than 'power dance' the follower.
  2. MapleLeaf Salsero

    MapleLeaf Salsero New Member

    It never ceases to amaze me why salsa wasn´t taught in my high school homeroom class. :shock: I mean if they want to prepare you for life, what better way then thru salsa. Helllooooooo.... :wink:
  3. borikensalsero

    borikensalsero Moderator

    you have spoken like a true salsero!!! I just don't know what up with society, we need more salsa. :D
  4. capricorndancer

    capricorndancer New Member

    Salsa Components

    Thanks SO much for that, Lita. :)

    I was in Paris for the congress. Too bad I read your posting too late to arrange a meet - could have been fun; you sound like a hard core addict. But, maybe we met anyway.

  5. capricorndancer

    capricorndancer New Member

    Power steering FX

    I know that temptation. One other thing I have found, though, is when one moves between Salsa scenes, finds someone with said power responses, it can be downright scarey to find that the lead strengths one is accustomed to using are far too strong, and the lady is almost a blur in front of your eyes . . . It took me some time to learn to lead with one finger, so to speak (now, don't y'all be lookin' at me that way! ;-))

    While I was in Melbourne recently, I tried to repay in some measure the wonderful people of that city by giving a 'Leaders and Followers' class, trying to distill my 13-odd years of dance experience into an hour, to help them improve their respective roles. One thing I have realised is that there is no 'right' strength of lead; when I dance with different people, I use different amounts of force, depending on the responsiveness of follower to my leads. Similarly, I try to do different moves, depending on the ability of the follower to turn, spin, promenade, stretch, etc.

    All that being said, I think it will be long, long time yet before I am game to dance with Edie . . . and only when I can go and lie down afterwards. She and Al are awe-inspiring :)

  6. MapleLeaf Salsero

    MapleLeaf Salsero New Member

    Yes, the follow can transmit musicality to the lead. Most girls don´t realise that though. :roll:

    In my opinion musicality is a concept to difficult and abstract to teach in class. It has to be felt and in order to feel it you have to be physically connected to someone who understands it. The best way is to wait for a slow song and explain as you go along. A couple songs later it should sink in, unless of course you´re a lost case... :wink:
  7. borikensalsero

    borikensalsero Moderator

    Wow Mr. MapleLeaf, that is just one sweet way of explaining it. I never thought of doing that! Sweet!!! I
  8. Pacion

    Pacion New Member

    What can I do if I am at home, twirling around with my mop :| :lol:
  9. Genesius Redux

    Genesius Redux New Member

    A couple of songs????

    Believe me, when you're working with non-musicians--by which I mean people who have had no experience whatsoever making music in their lives--you need a bit more than a couple of songs. I think if you expect musicality to emerge naturally after just a couple of songs, it's no wonder you don't believe it can be taught.

    Not only can it be taught, it must be taught. Believe it or not, there is nothing inevitable about Western music--it's not ingrained in a priori fashion inside our heads. If you don't believe me, listen to some Tibetan or Arabic music sometime, and see how natural it sounds. All music and rhythm is learned--for some people it's been part of their lives for so long that it appears natural and spontaneous.

    I've been a musician for well over 30 years, so I don't have any problem finding the 1, the 2, or the upbeat of the 3 if I need to (you play a lot of big band jazz or bebop, you need to). But finding the beat is more like pre-school musicality--shaping your body to the music is another thing and much more advanced. For adults who don't have musical background lucky there are folks like salseralaura's uncle out there to help teach the supposedly unteachable!
  10. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    I didn't get a chance to read all the responses, nor the article, but would like to attempt to answer the question. Forgive me if I repeat . . .

    What you want to do is to make your body motions/movements while dancing, respond to and naturally fit the music . . . in other words, listening to the music, getting a feel for the music and then put your body in motion to make the movements look natural.

    There are pulses and nuances in every part of the music that you could move parts of your body to . . . head, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, butt, knees - not just your feet! Listen to a song . . . really listen to it . . . initially count out the measures . . . learn where the breaks are . . . learn where a cymbal consistently 'hits' on . . . where the downbeat is . . . where the upbeat is . . . where the singer says "Kiss me Baby" - what could you do here?

    Stop going through the motions of dancing and start acting out the song. Try doing some of your favorite dances w/o doing any patterns . . . just send the follower out and back and do something with yourself while doing this . . . the follower should see you doing this and return the movement or do something of their own. DO your basics with your whole body!
  11. Pacion

    Pacion New Member

    :roll: :roll: Let's see now :roll: :roll: let me think :roll: :roll: it is on the tip of my tongue :roll: :roll: nope, that wouldn't work :roll: :roll: I am thinking :roll: :roll: I am thinking :roll: :roll: It is coming to me :roll: :roll: I know :idea: :banana:

    This? :ladiesma:


    Seriously, I agree re the listening thing especially if it is a new song. Okay, you miss the first pause but, you listen out for it second time around and if you miss it there, because you hopefully remember a particular rhythm or instrument just before the pause, you are listening out for it and the BHAM! It all comes together :D
  12. MacMoto

    MacMoto Active Member

    I so wanted to hear this, MLS. Thank you! :D
  13. MapleLeaf Salsero

    MapleLeaf Salsero New Member

    Hi GR, long time no see.

    GR, I have absolutely no music or dance background. I had never danced before in my life before enrolling in a salsa studio a couple of years ago (unless you consider dancing with your aunts at weddings dance background). In high school, I only listened to heavy metal and hard rock (and occasionally some POP). To me that doesn’t constitute musical background.

    When I started having salsa classes, I didn’t understand the rhythm. It took me an entire 6 months to find the beat :oops: :oops: (please don’t tell anyone this). I was the last guy in my class to do this. To some, the rhythm felt natural, while others picked it up a month or two later. The girls I danced with were always complaining about that. Anyway, after finding the beat I progressed really fast. I then concentrated on the patterns and leading them well. After accomplishing this, I felt I was a good dancer. Girls stopped complaining, I received some smiles and rarely got turned down.

    One fine day, I found myself dancing a slow salsa with this girl I had never seen before in my life. I was completely blown away! She was dancing as if the music was coming from inside her. It was as if she was in another world. Even though I was leading, it felt like the music was leading her and she was leading me. I could feel her musicality flowing into me. After a while, I instinctively switched to “passive mode” and tried to absorb as much of this sensation as possible. She then smiled and turned away. I was in a state of shock! I didn’t realize you could dance that way to music. I finally realized why some people enjoyed dancing so much! It wasn’t just a set of moves and keeping to the beat, which was what I had been doing. It was much more. After that I knew I just had to dance that way.

    I could endlessly explain to you how a roller coaster ride feels like, but only if I take you with me and show you, will you completely understand. One thing is theory; another is being there, feeling it… This is what that girl did, she showed me. I was connected to her and felt it through her. I never saw her again but I feel privileged for that one dance we had. It changed me and the way I look at dancing.

    Now I agree with you, one or several songs cannot give you musicality, but it can introduce you to it. It enables you to grasp the concept and from then on, it’s up to you.
  14. DWise1

    DWise1 Well-Known Member

    And with that response to "a couple of songs", you just touched on what had been my biggest problem for literally decades that had kept me from learning to dance and had branded me totally incapable of ever learning to dance.

    Oh sure, lots of dancers tried to teach me (starting when I was 19 and giving me up for hopeless by the time I was 25), including my wife (before we were married), and all of them failed miserably. Each and every one of them automatically assumed that musically is something that comes naturally; after all, it came naturally for them. They kept telling me to "just feel the music", "just do what the music tells you". Well, I sure couldn't feel anything and the music refused to speak to me at all -- in fact I think it was getting a restraining order against me. Despite all their good intentions, all they ever succeeded in doing was to convince me more and more that learning to dance was an absolute impossibility for me so why even try. And my wife is still convinced of it.

    I am now convinced that, while some people may be neurally wired for it to come to them more easily -- or less easily -- than to others, musicality and the ability to "hear and feel the music" is something that must be learned and developed. I think that for most people to whom it came "naturally", that came from growing up in an environment where they got plenty of exposure to music and given the opportunity/encouragement to interact with it and to play with it. In my case, we had very little music at home; we got our first record player (an old electric turntable with a hollow arm and a resonating cavity for an amplifier plus a stack of old 78's) when I was about 12 and our first and only stereo a couple years later.

    The only thing that finally got me started again was that at age 48 (c. 2000) I strongly felt the need for something that my wife and I could do together -- plus I had just spent a truly horrible evening at a Christmas party where everybody else was dancing, leaving me to sit all alone at our table. I overheard her telling a friend that she had "always" wanted to learn Salsa, so I mentioned some Salsa classes being held after work and suggested we try it. Because of her work (teacher) she had to wait another month for summer vacation, so I started immediately knowing that while it would come to her naturally I would need to really work at it. Yes, I was lost, but I used the teacher's counting to stay in step. Of course, part of my being lost was due to the fact that these were intemediate-level lessons, but I didn't know it at the time. What really helped me through that was my Aikido training from two decades prior, which gave me some sense of body and a really strong lead that all the girls complimented me on from the very first day (I just figured they were buttering me up to keep the attendence figures up).

    A few months later those classes ended, so we did a few months of beginning Salsa and beginning ECS through the city, but that fizzled as we couldn't find anywhere local for intermediate classes. Within the year, we finally found a place and, after trying out a few different ballroom and C&W dances, settled on West Coast Swing (my wife had always wanted to learn swing) for about 8 months. Then my wife dropped out and I followed suit a couple months later, foolishly thinking that I would have nobody to dance with (ironically, even though my purpose in all this was to be able to dance with my wife, she has never again allowed me to dance with her, so I must get all my dances with other women). Then a few months later I found a Lindy class (motivated by my wife having said she had always wanted to learn Jitterbug) and a few months thereafter I started going to it alone (because my wife refused to), which is where I've been for a bit more than 1.5 years. And I'm back in WCS and Nightclub 2 Step and Country 2 Step since the start of the year and back in Salsa since a couple months.

    The point I'm getting to is that it wasn't until the end of the beginning ECS classes that I was starting -- just starting -- to sense the presence of the beat; that's six months of dance lessons -- I never was able to figure out the Salsa music (more irony to come on that one). And it wasn't until about 4 or 5 months into WCS that I had finally developed enough musicality to be able to reliably hear and follow the beat in the music -- that's one and a half years since my first dance lesson. And it wasn't until more than one year into Lindy -- nearly three years since that first lesson -- that I started to sense strongly enough the start of the phrase and where the 1 is.

    Now that I have returned to dances that I had tried in the beginning but couldn't quite get (OK, WCS I could kind of get), it was like I had never been gone and just picked them right up again. 1.5 years away from WCS and right off I was doing whips with no problem at all (and swingouts still give me a problem). Three years away from NC2S and C2S and I just stepped in and it just all fell right into place. Even Salsa, after a four-year absense, came right back to me such that the teacher, who insists on at least one month of beginning classes before you step up to intermediate, made a point of inviting me to step up on the very first night.

    Now for the irony: From that first night back in Salsa, I'm following the music. And I have no idea what it is that I am following. I just feel it and I follow what I'm feeling. Yeah, it's freaking me out too. And it only took four years of dance lessons to get to that point.

    At present in my WCS and NC2S classes, a number of the women have told me that I'm a natural dancer. But they don't realize how much work and effort and training it has taken to become "a natural". And FWIW, I certainly don't view myself as a "natural", but rather as a somewhat low intermediate.

    And the final irony: Despite my present partners' expressed opinions of my dancing abilities, my wife is still convinced that I cannot dance.


    But I actually wanted to comment on Edie's article on musicality -- that's OK, because what I just related has a direct bearing on it.

    I disagree with her major points, but agree with a number of her minor points. First, I think that her musicality has "come to her naturally" (see discussion above) so she doesn't understand that it's something that most of the guys need time, training, and experience to learn, so her judgement is too rash and harsh. I do agree that once the lead has advanced to the point where he should have developed musicality that he should apply that musicality to dance to the song and so to make the dance more enjoyable for his partner.

    I also agree with her that dancing is about spending that time in a three-minute relationship with a member of the complementary gender for the mutual enjoyment of the dance by both parties and not for you to show off and boost your ego -- personally, my enjoyment of any activity with a woman -- [mode=Pythonesque]nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?[/mode] -- depends almost directly on whether she's getting any enjoyment out of that activity herself; ie, if she's not enjoying it, I can't enjoy it. If the guy just wants to do his own dance thing all by himself without any thought of his partner, then he could more easily just do it all by his lonesome at home. The object of a partner dance is to dance with her, so don't go forgetting your partner.

    So, while Edie raises some good points in her article, I think that in her main thesis she forgets that most of us are not up to the point where we can apply what little musicality we've developed so far. We're simply not there yet, but we are working on it. So, ladies, please be patient with us; we are trying.

    But it's going to take a lot more than just a couple of songs for us to get there.

    If I can learn to dance, then anybody should be able to learn.
  15. capricorndancer

    capricorndancer New Member

    Hey DWise,
    Great post, and well done on your efforts: sticking with dance in spite of a lack of support from your N&D. It probably helps her to think that you really can't dance; all those ladies wanting you. (nudge nudge; Eric is a friend of mine, too).
    I'm lucky in that I developed my musicality well before I started dance, just from listening to music a lot. I've often wondered what the basis of it is, but I remember seeing brain MRI scans years ago, comparing a musician's cortex with that of a non-musician, and difference in the amount of activity was phenomenal. This is probably both genetic and learned, so I'm glad that you have been able ot learn it.

    Regarding Edie's article:

    If you want to pursue it, she has (or had) a description of her start with Salsa, where she protrays herself as a clumsy, over-weight young girl, who was blown away by seeing Jonny Vasquez (I think), dance at a quiet club one time. From memory, she made no comment on her developing a sense of musicality: she placed more emphasis on the physical changes it wrought, so perhaps you are right. Maybe she should be allowed to comment, though . . .

    I guess many people start with some hurdle to overcome, but often have some other advantage - you have a strong lead, which is good at first, but something I have learned to tone down as my partners improved - and the thing they found hardest to manage is the thing on which they focus. Hence Edie's lack of patience with a lack of musicality in people. Ironic, in the wider sense; many people who are 'naturals' at something can't teach it to save their lives to a 'non-natural', as they never had to break it down into its components.

    I feel an attack of deep philosophy coming on, so I'll go lie down now. ;-)

  16. MapleLeaf Salsero

    MapleLeaf Salsero New Member

    Hello Dwise,

    I´m glad to know I wasn´t the only one having major problems in the beginning. :wink:

    My biggest obstacle was finding the beat. After that it was smooth sailing (well not really but the hurdles were much smaller).

    After, when I was fairly proficient with the basics and technique, I had the good fortune of dancing with someone who had an enormous sense of musicality. It just irradiated from her body and I fed off her energy. 8) This was an awakening for me... I passed onto a new frontier. I learnt what dancing was really about.

    I can´t understand how this can be taught through theory. I have developed a sense of musicality (at least for slow songs), but I still can´t decompose a salsa into its basic instruments. I´m not sure I really care or want to. To me I hear the "whole package" and just flow... I just dance what I feel.

    Thanks for sharing your story DWise!
  17. borikensalsero

    borikensalsero Moderator

    mapleleaf, dwise, capricon, those were fantastic posts... They got me teary eye, smiling, and glad that you took your time to share it!!! Thank you.
  18. Genesius Redux

    Genesius Redux New Member

    Thanks for your stories, Maple Leaf and DWise!

    As regards my feelings about musicality taking a really long time, the person I have in mind--and I would never even hint at this if I didn't know for a fact he's not reading DF--is a really good friend, who has been dancing for three years, and God help him, he just can't count.

    I mean, can't count. Can't hear a basic beat. If he doesn't have a private teacher crawling all over his sorry behind, he cannot count. And he loves to dance, and he's generally a very strong lead.

    Even people who haven't been in band or chorus may have experience singing along with various artists in the car or the radio. Just every now and then you come upon a non-musical person, someone who hasn't had any music in his/her life, or who hasn't listened to it.

    One thing that nobody has mentioned so far, however, is that there is a great deal of difference between hearing the beat and moving to it. Musicians are notoriously bad dancers--and especially those of us who play brass instruments and who work against playing music with our whole bodies (for reasons of embouchure, breath, range, technique). If you watch most brass players, and quite a few reed players, improvising on a very tricky tune, you will see that they are absolutely still. So you just try to take that sort of rhythmic consciousness and give it expression on the floor--often it ain't happening!
  19. SalseraLaura

    SalseraLaura New Member

    woah tell me about it :lol: my dad is a musician and the only time he has danced in his life, no word of a lie, is when he stumbled through his first dance at his wedding reception, it was literally his first and last dance. my dad is a jazz musician and his teaching specialises in highly complex rhythmic ideas, he has no problem playing salsa or brazillian music, but dance to way!!!! in my uncles salsa big band the only people who can dance are the singers from cuba and himself, although he can only dance salsa alone not with a partner.

    i never had a problem feeling the music or the beat (i played name that instrument and name that time signature since i was about 3 or 4 with my dad) but i could never dance. im from ireland so irish dancing was compulsary in school, but i used to be put in the corner to do whatever the hell i was trying to do i was so bad. i remember when i was about 8 or 9 my grandma said to me "laura its such a pity, you can sing, act and play piano but you really cant dance at all and you never will be able to" i believed her until i went to my first salsa class at the age of 16. i was so bad the first class, but i had been listening to salsa my whole life and playing it for 3 years so it made it easy for me. once i learned to dance salsa it was like a gateway into other dance for me, i went back to irish dancing for a salsa show for st patricks weekend and found i could do it no i do a few different types of dance. :D
  20. ThatHaitianSwede

    ThatHaitianSwede New Member

    now that I think about it the musicians I know are pretty bad at dancing.

    8) everything can be learned...

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