Salsa > Why is learning to dance takes so long?

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by ticolora, Apr 24, 2017.

  1. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    Obviously this is a huge topic and I don't expect to get a straight answer to that (would be good though, if you can). Instead I want to focus on underlying principles.

    Learning a new skill involves two types of processes:
    1. Learning information, and building a mental model, or just memorizing it.
    2. Developing necessary brain circuits to execute certain functions.

    E.g. To learn a multiplication table, you just keep repeating solving multiplication problems until you have enough brain connection to get you answer instantly (activity #2). There are also mental tricks that you can learn to solve some of those (activity #1), e.g. 11 x XY = {1} {X+Y} {1}.

    Understanding particle physics is mostly #1.

    Playing drum is mostly #2.

    I think that any single atomic operation can be mastered in 8 hours. As long as any mistakes are identified and corrected quickly.

    I mean to say, that if you practice and practice is kept challenging, i.e. you are always working on the edge of your abilities, and you correct mistakes quickly - you should be able to learn very quickly.

    I think the problem with most learning is that practice is either not sufficiently focused, or not challenging enough, or you practicing operation incorrectly.

    Suppose you want to improve your handwriting of a letter "Q", and instead of writing Q in different combinations (with different letters), you start copying paragraphs from newspaper (which has very little Qs in it).

    So, what it is about learning to dance that takes 10 years? I just don't think that makes sense, I think humans are better than that.

    Although I do question this commonly held believe, I would like to figure out if there is a set of skills that are particularly hard to master, and then figure out why it is so.

    inb4: I know that it takes "long time to master technique", but that's too vague. If we are talking about technique, we need to talk about very narrow aspects of the technique.

    I know this is a poorly worded question, as most of my questions are, but I am very ignorant about the subject, despite my double-digit IQ.
  2. JudeMorrigan

    JudeMorrigan Well-Known Member

    How do you define learning to dance? Analogies always have their flaws, but I would liken learning to dance to learning a musical instrument. One can (speaking from personal experience), learn how to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on the violin in a handful of hours. I was able to move on to things like a beginner's version of "O Holy Night" in a matter of a few months. I was, unquestionably, "playing the violin". But I could easily spend decades learning to master the instrument if I wished to.

    Similarly, one can learn to dance very nicely in vastly less time than 10 years, but why would one expect true mastery to *not* take many, many hours of practice? I don't think there's any one aspect of dance that makes it so. I think it's just that there are skills to be learning, and there's not a lot of cross-over between those skills and things the average shmoe does in the course of their normal life.
    RiseNFall likes this.
  3. Zhena

    Zhena Well-Known Member

    Most people start with the assumption that dancing means moving the feet. But it is really moving all body parts, and the feet are not even the most important. You need to learn to control your feet (including all "four corners" of each foot, using the heel, inside edge, outside edge, ball, and toes as required for each step), ankles, knees, hips, core, torso, shoulders, arms, hands, and head. Control means knowing what body part to move, where each part should be in relation to the other body parts, and how fast to move it. You must be balanced but mobile. Then you must learn how your body parts interact with those of your partner, which requires an understanding of how different partners react to you.

    If you are a leader, you have to make sure the information you give your follower is clear and consistent. Are your shoulders and head reinforcing the information provided by your hand, or does the follower have to guess which body part to "listen" to?

    Your teachers won't necessarily address all of these issues explicitly; you may have to develop the skills without conscious thought. But if you expect to become a good dancer, you can't avoid doing the work. It will be faster if you can find a teacher who is conscious of the details (and is able to communicate with you).

    So the short answer to "why does it take so long" is that each "step" is actually composed of many sub-steps that need to be conquered both separately and in parallel. Perhaps this is why many people who start don't continue to develop and end up dropping out. It's not as easy as it looks.

    But to many of us, it's worth the effort!
    RiseNFall and raindance like this.
  4. ralf

    ralf Active Member

    The motion of your feet is often just to support the motion of your core. Dancing ECS with first-timers, they'll frequently be focused on watching my feet, and I'll sometimes give them a demonstration why that's not where to focus by planting my feet and continuing to lead solely by moving my core around while my feet are completely stationary.
  5. Jag75

    Jag75 Active Member

    I'm surprised anyone expects dance to be easy and quick to learn, to be honest. It's one of the most demanding activities when it comes to skill and co-ordination, more so than most sports.

    You mention one atomic skill taking 8 hours. I would suggest that just one aspect of dancing consists of thousands of atomic skills.

    Q - are you put off by the amount of work it would take to be a high-level dancer? If so, why?
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2017
  6. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    I am not. Not anymore. However, I think it is completely reasonable for a person completely ignorant about an activity to underestimate efforts required to master it. Especially when you are observing a master, who makes it look easy. I agree that it is naive to expect to master any sufficiently complex skill quickly, but it is not unreasonable to have such an expectation when coming from a position of unconscious ignorance (stage where you don't know how much you don't know).

    I agree, simply because of number of dimensions that this skill permeates. I can't think of a skill that would be more complex (talking about number of facets) than social dance.

    My recent experience taught me not to trust your "numerical skills" ;)
    I think thousands is an overstatement, but I guess it depends on how granular you want to go in your definition of atomic. I have attempted (and failed) to come up with comprehensive but high-level map of required skills, but I can't imagine any of the aspects comprising thousands of skills. However I would not be surprised if I am wrong on this.

    I am not. In fact, the size and the richness (number of aspects that are involved) is what attracts me (that's a lie, that's the second thing that attracts me). If it'd be easy - everyone would be good at it, and "if everybody's special - then no one is special". So I fully expect it to take time and money and efforts, and to be frustrated before being rewarded. What does put me off however, is the apparent lack of structure to the activity. The social dance is a confluence of several disciplines, some are not very well understood (psychology, art) but some are very well understood (mechanics), and yet I can't find a dry and technical treatise on the subject.

    I want a nomenclature that can be used to describe any pattern of arbitrary complexity.
    A table that lists groups of patterns along with different characteristics for each group, and ANSI numbers.
    A map, or at least a TOC that enumerates every aspect that is involved in mastering the skill.

    I don't expect to find such a treatise, because people who are good at it - would rather do it than write about it. It is understandable, but discouraging.

    However, my new instructor has a set of tables she uses that visually and very structurally covers some very important aspects of the dance, so things begin to brighten up.
    Jag75 likes this.
  7. raindance

    raindance Well-Known Member

    If you like this sort of technical detail, and want more structure and want it spelled out in manuals, you might consider looking into studying the competitive international latin dances or international standard (ballroom) dances rather than salsa. Standard and Latin have exactly that sort of organization and source material available, in print and in videos, and in lessons. But they are completely different sorts of dances. And depending on where you live, they are not danced socially much. (There are exceptions, including in Europe I believe.) Whereas salsa is predominantly a social dance.

    So it depends on what you are looking for (goals) and what suits you. But you might consider taking a look at international latin for comparison.

    Where do you live (country or region)? That will give us a good idea of what styles of dancing have highly qualified instructors in your area.
    Bailamosdance likes this.
  8. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    Denver, Colorado, USA. You know good Salsa teachers here?
  9. raindance

    raindance Well-Known Member

    I am not from that area. But someone else may have recommendations for you.
  10. FancyFeet

    FancyFeet Well-Known Member

    That's probably because dance - particularly social dance - attracts the artistic rather than analytical personalities.

    For more codified structure, you're looking at things like ballet, and to a lesser extent, ballroom and latin... and even those don't go as far as the engineering-type mind would like.

    There are some selected academic papers on various dance elements, but your best bet to get to what you are looking for: connect with a post-grad dance major who'll agree to make it the focus of their master's or PhD thesis. There are different types of dance programs, but some of them would focus on things like this.
  11. vit

    vit Active Member

    Actually, a number of people (men at least) in salsa scene came from technical disciplines and IT (as stated in article posted in other thread and definitively true in my venue). It's however true that IT people of today are not as analytical as one may think ...
  12. ralf

    ralf Active Member

    Sommer Gentry did her 2005 Ph.D. thesis on lead-follow:

    She also had a few related conference papers leading up to the thesis, though I haven't actually seen those:

    S. Gentry and E. Feron. Musicality experiments in lead and follow dance.
    IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Conference, October 2004, 4: 984-8.

    S. Gentry and E. Feron. Modeling musically meaningful choreography. IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Conference, October 2004, 4: 3880-5.

    S. Gentry and R. Murray-Smith. Haptic dancing: human performance at haptic decoding with a vocabulary. IEEE Systems, Man, Cybernetics Conference, 2003, 4: 3432-7. Student Best Paper award.

    S. Gentry, S. Wall, I. Oakley and and R. Murray-Smith. Got Rhythm? Haptic-only lead and follow dancing. Proceedings of Eurohaptics, Dublin, Ireland, p. 481-488, July 2003.

    And here she is, flying high in an aerial after her husband Dorry catapulted her over his head. (The photo before that one shows the prep.)
    ticolora likes this.
  13. Mr 4 styles

    Mr 4 styles Well-Known Member

    Harmony Munroe in Littleton Colorado. She dances everything and has a lot of sabor!
  14. vdcvancouver

    vdcvancouver New Member

    I think it's important to remember that sometimes what feels like the slowest way to learn something is actually the fastest. Start with the fundamentals, do some quality practicing (not sloppy or rushed) and only move onto the next thing when the previous thing is solid. Kind of like building a tower---don't start building the next level without the first level being solid. Rushing and sloppiness is going to slow down progress and make that tower come tumbling down.
  15. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Dancing is by no means a logical thing. Some parts of the brain (cerebellum) are wired anew. That takes time as nerves grow very slow.
    I had to stop dancing for two years, although I hadn't been on the dance floor, my brain did a wonderful job in the background during that time. When I started again I had learned the figures I could not do before the accident.
    RiseNFall likes this.
  16. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    Dance stuff in an IEEE journal? I've got to go find that. :eek:
  17. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    There's a whole lot of analytical people here that dance. Then again, it is a town full of engineers.
  18. ralf

    ralf Active Member

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