Salsa > Why is Musicality So Hard/Rare to Find in Salsa?

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by Big10, Jul 15, 2007.

  1. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "Do WCS dancers do shines?"
    I had been dancing country western (including WCS) for maybe six years before I even heard this term used at one of the few Lindy Hop lessons I went to.
    I'd say, no, West Coast Swing people don't do shines. Especially at CW places. We have line dances for that sort of thing, I'd argue.

    On the other hand, when you watch West Coast Swing "peformances", the partners will separate and do things by themselves. I guess you could call that "shining".
    When I dance WCS, I am looking for the partnership. Dancing apart doesn't make much sense in that context. Same thing for Argentine Tango, where you never dance apart.
    Maybe the hard core Westies, or the competition people will tell you something different.
    My peception of salsa is that it is a lot more "look at me" based than West Coast. That is, geared towards the external, rather than internal. (That is a generalization, and there are many exceptions, as with any generalization.)

    The term "Shine" is related to the concept of "it's your moment to shine", isn't it?

    It's kind of like the term "hijack", I think, which you don't hear used very often, or at all, with some dances. This term seems to be used primarily by salsa and Lindy dancers, and I think it reflects the character of these dancers.
  2. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    This is a follow-up to our previous discussion on hijacking and Edie the Salsa Freak.

    I asked her how she go started with the hijacking concepts and if it was related to someone she knew from WCS. Here is her response:
    As we have stated many times, little is new in the dance world, but most things are variations or extensions of existing concepts and moves.
  3. tj

    tj New Member

    Thanks Don! :)
  4. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    “Stealing the Moment”, eh?
    Kind of warm and fuzzy, ain't it? Much more so than "hijacking".

    Of course it happens, and some of us are glad that this makes the dance more of a partnership rather than simply lead/follow, as we are when a woman is good enough to change what we thought we were leading in Argentine Tango.
    As a man, and as a leader, you have to be willing to let go of that Me Man You Woman thing for a while and think more like me man you woman let's play.

    It's the macho and confidence of, "I'm a man, and sharing this with you doesn't make me anything less."

    I will disagree with you, Don, in that I think the increasing popularity of the idea that dancing should be more of a partnership, and less of simply lead / follow, is related to how our society has changed regarding gender roles.

    Yes, to some extent this has gone on all along. Most notably, I'd say, with skilled women making guys look good without owning up to it. "Who me? I was just following." But to make the woman's voice an essential part of how you teach the dance, dropping any pretense that the man is responsible for everything, as GSDTA has done, is new.
  5. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    Yikes: You disagree so nicely I can't remember what I said. I'm not clear I know why it's changed over time and I'll except your theory above. Let me know what I'm missing.

    My concept of musically still has the man as the lead, but the woman makes great contributions and they play off each other. If a guy doesn't set a musical tone, then it's much more difficult for the lady to do things that make sense to the music.

    IF the ladies hijack, it is only for short periods of time, and not all music is right for that. If the guy is already following the music, most women will have plenty of room to express the music without hijacking and the dance will be a partnership.

    I still believe totally in lead/follow, otherwise you just get a mess. But I'm saying "lead/follow" AND partnership, just like a great conversation. I may guide the conversation, keep it on topic AND allow you to express your point of view.

    BTW - I can tell you strong follows like Edie LOVE a very clear, strong masculine lead. Nothing in this conversation should imply the lead isn't the one who sets the overall tone and direction of the dance.

    Again, please let me know what I'm missing! (I'm a constant student of dance and life... )
  6. Josh

    Josh Active Member

    Tell me if your image of the partnership changes after watching this (it's not social waltz, but even in social american waltz, the couples open up quite a bit):

    In standard closed waltz, the couple will not separate, true. But in open, or any type of american waltz, open work is common, and many routines feature as much if not more open choreography than closed figures.
  7. Terpsichorean Clod

    Terpsichorean Clod Well-Known Member

    Dancers can be apart but still connected. I think salsamale is referring to more of a nonphysical type of separation where the two waltzers move completely independently of each other - "each doing their own thing".
  8. salsamale

    salsamale New Member

    Nice clip, and yes I would say the lead and follow in this clip are musical, both, individually, and as a pair. At 00:25 of this clip one can see a curved line from the lead's left fingertip to the follow's right fingertip. This is the kind of shape that I think is more common in ballroom than salsa.

    Yes, the lead-up to 00:25 of the clip shows both dancers moving in unison, and while physically separated, they are obviously connected. Salsa performance choreography has shines in unison, but rarely do the dancers seem connected.
  9. Big10

    Big10 Member

    I think there is a lot to be said for Sabor's observation -- and I would go even further and say the "problem" particularly applies to the lack of experience dancing by oneself. In other words, experience in another partner dance without musicality isn't going to make musicality magically appear when that person picks up Salsa.

    My view is that before two people can dance musically as a couple, each person needs to be able to dance musically on his or her own. It doesn't have to be ballet or jazz training -- even freestyle club dancing is a helpful. Indeed, I don't think it's a pure coincidence that many of the best Salsa dancers I've seen are very good at hip-hop dancing. I think such freedom of movement and getting comfortable with independent musical interpretation is very valuable and necessary for eventual musicality by a couple. For example, if a woman is too self-conscious about coming up with moves when she is given 2 or 3 eight-counts for shines (and we've had a number of threads addressing that fear), then there's no way that she'll be able to be "musical" for an entire song.

    Musicality requires a certain vulnerability, since feeling the music it can be quite personal and the resulting movement may seem "weird" to some observers. That's just the way it is in any art form -- you just have to put yourself "out there." If we go back to the comparison with West Coast Swing as an example, I get the impression that unique, creative individual movements are valued in WCS, but not so much in Salsa. If it hasn't been done by [insert your own Salsa god here], then it can't be "good." :?

    I agree that the macho culture underlying Salsa dancing is a big part of the musicality "problem." I think that musicality in a partner dance does require significant input from both partners. Even if it's not 50/50, then at least 70/30 (i.e., 30% follower's input) will give the dance an appearance that gives a sense of the individual dancers' musical interpretation. However, just based on my personal observations, I would guess that the typical Salsa dance is rarely more than 90/10 -- and often 100/0. Some of that may have to do with many followers' discomfort in dancing as an individual (as I addressed above), so the leader senses an extra obligation to "make" her look good -- but I think a big part of it simply stems from the general expectation that the leader in Salsa decides the choreography for the entire dance, irrespective of whether the follower has some freestyle talent or not.

    Another couple of good comments by tj and Don Silver! I agree that most Salsa dancers tend to focus on the percussive beats (such as the clave, timbales, etc.). Yet, that leaves out other huge aspects of the music, including sounds that stretch through multiple beats or an entire eight-count, such as vocals and horns, which are essential to the melody. I can't tell you how many weird looks I've gotten (especially from beginners and intermediates) when, for example, I've held a move that would typically end on the 7th beat, and stretched it to the 1st beat of the next eight-count, waiting for a big musical accent or allowing a sound to finish. To me it seems obvious what I did, but to some of those followers it's just odd. I get great feedback on moves like that from women who are enjoying the music and understand what I've done -- but confusion from women who seem to be moving beat-by-beat and focused on executing the move exactly like they were taught it in class.

    So, along those lines, I'll confess to being a bit confused when dancers talk on and on about the clave, since that leaves out entire extra dimensions of what's happening in Salsa music.
  10. tj

    tj New Member

    I'm mostly just dabbling with my musicality at this point, and have a long way to go to actually get good at it... that being said, when I do get a quizzical look from a salsera, I usually mention that I'm just playing with the music. The vast majority get why I'm doing so, and seem to appreciate that I'm paying attention to the song in addition to all the other things that we could/should be doing.
  11. tj

    tj New Member

    IMHO, the vast majority of us salser@s tend to be a bit insecure (again, the majority being relatively new to dance) about breaking from the norm, and thus we need a bit of 'legitimacy' in order to do something different. If, however, we see a salsa god/dess (lol!) do something, then it's gotta be cool then.
  12. salsamale

    salsamale New Member

    I sometimes think that salseros are like dancefloor amusement rides, on whom salseras get to ride :).

    I think I have been striving for a musicality, where taken individually, our musicality may not be much, or may not need to be much, but taken together, our movements feel like they match the music. In reflection, I have been focusing on improving spontaneous choreography, to keep the amusement ride amusing, and to make salseras feel good, especially novice salseras.

    However, advanced salseras, this thread, and dancing in front of a mirror, are making me think about how I can further develop. What feels musical to me, may not feel musical to an advanced salsera, and may not look musical at all. Yes, the ride no longer sucks so much that salseras are jumping-off mid-song, but it is still a merry-go-round :).
  13. tj

    tj New Member

    I've been working on this, too. My immediate reaction is how it's really hard for me to do this when I'm dancing to a mediocre song. A second observation: I find that it initially intimidates a novice salsera, but if you just apologize and mention that you're playing with the music, they tend to 'get it' and will often try playing along as well. The key seems to be approaching the subject in a playful manner.

    It really depends on the salsera, I think. :) In general, it does seem to elicit positive responses, at least.
  14. enFlujo

    enFlujo New Member

    I personally like a little hijacking at this stage (4 months dancing) as it helps me to realize new possibilities and to correct mistakes like slow or unclear leads. Perhaps at a later stage though, say 1 or 2 years down the road, it might not be appreciated so much. The exception at that stage would be when a lady is really feeling the music and just 'has' to express it...I'd be all for that.
  15. Catarina

    Catarina New Member

    Welcome to the DF :)
  16. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    Firstly, welcome to df.

    SEcondly, I've had quite a few years of dancing and don't mind the interplay of follow and lead..even a little hijacking as long as the whole dance isn't about that. ;-)
  17. AndrewS

    AndrewS New Member

    Come to London! Where I go on Monday nights you can guarantee you will hear a couple of Marc Anthony songs, some Van Van, DLG, Tito Puente, Grupo Niche (I've not heard Gloria Estefan in three years though) in the same club on the same night. I think we get the full variety, although sadly not enough cha cha :(.

    with reference to the actual topic of the thread, you might not see a huge amount of musicality in most dancers in spite of the variety of music we get. WCS isn't big here so I couldn't say who is more musical. I loved that first clip but are they really more musical than, say, Fernando Sosa?

    I agree with the earlier poster who said that maybe not growing up with salsa would make it harder to be comfortable with the complex musical patterns. I watch these WCS clips and I think I would be very comfortable in the dance, having grown up with the kind of music played there and being totally familiar with a large number of the songs. As for salsa, I've had only three years of listening to it so I am familiar with a tiny fraction of songs compared to what would be played for WCS (e.g I have maybe 10,000 tracks in my music collection, 200-300 are salsa/latin music and x thousand would go with WCS).
  18. Don Silver

    Don Silver Member

    That is a great point! (I added the bold red above.) If you are more familiar with the music, that is one of the important steps toward musicality. If you haven't hear the tunes or don't know much about the music and it's conventions and structure, being musical is unlikely.

    I wrote an article in June outlining my belief that dancers should listen to a set of tunes at least 100 times each. (

    There is some magic in listening to the same material over and over. If you've ever seen a great movie multiple times, you know you catch different things on different viewings.

    Many salsa dancers only hear the music in the clubs, and that's often not enough unless they have a musical background.
  19. dancin/dj

    dancin/dj Member

    andrews here in philly and new york they normally play the same style salsa all the time, i find it boring after a while becuase there are many styles &musicans in salsa at large, i remember going to a dance in new jersey and they had a cuban band playing cuban style salsa, u should have seen the dancers,out of say 80 dancers im not sure if more than 4 were dancing to the music(funny there were many latinos there) but they were not cubans.i was laughing and tortured all in one.even the so called advanced dancers looked silly, doing the SAME moves the always do, the people sooooooooooo missed what the cuban style was about.and i dont mean just cuban style salsa..
  20. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    ... but the WCS dancers in most of the videos are the hot pros. So one would assume that the pro/advanced salsa dancers would be very familiar with salsa music?

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