More on Developing Flava

borikensalsero said:
By flava I mean, teach someone how to get in touch with his or her inner dancer. Teach them how to move the body not as you would, but as they themselves would. We teach patterns, we teach steps, we teach style, yet many move the same. The good ole' "guess the school" game. Why? Because they were never taught to let loose and move that body as their innerself would. Not me, not Fernando, but Brujo. We can spend the rest of our lives dancing and if we can never get in touch with our inner dancers, we'll always be flavaless. The dancer will always dance from the head, and the head is all about limits, correctness, and rationale.
I have been thinking a lot on this issue.

This wouldn’t work for me. :shock:

I needed some basic patterns to work with. To play with. The music was at the very best ok, but at least better than the mainstream pop played other places. I didn’t understand the lyric. I didn’t understand the complexity of the music. Just hearing/hitting the one or the five could be a challenge. Talk about flava and connecting with my inner dancer and the music and you would have seen me sneaking out the backdoor and never return.

But now I’m hooked. I enjoy the music. Got enough mambo patterns working, so I don’t bore the experienced followers. Got Cuban patters, so I can dance with a girl who’s into the circular style. Been trying a little on2 to be prepared for this, and to know what it is. I got enough moves on the spine, to start playing with them.

I got my own style by taking the best from the different teachers, and blend it to my own. But I never mix the different dance styles. But there’s definitely a lot to work with, and a lot to add on.

Sometimes I feel very old. Very stiff in the junction and the spine. Very white. But on the other hand, I don’t like everything regarding salsa that have Cuba or New York as origin.

Anyway, like many other dancers in my environment, I now have some energy and interest in the roots, the flava, the connection to the music. The history.

Hope I will be able to go to Cuba, to NY and to SD to feel the dance floors and the party’s.

But for me it was patterns/leading/rhythm first, then connection/flava/playing. And note the most important word for me was and still is FUN. :D :D :D
I am totally with you. I never danced before i started with salsa and i had to learn all the basics before i slowly started to play with them. It is true that you have to have something inside you that resonates with the music, with your dancing. But first you have to know what you are doing. I think it is the same thing when you play an instrument. You have to practice and know what you are doing. The really great musicians are those who know their craft PLUS are able to play with their knowledge and do unconventional things and truly feel the music. It is the same with dancing like in any other art form.


Active Member
I come from the opposite school. I've been dancing since I was 5. My mom used to teach me all the dances she did growing up (we're talking 60's RnB dances). So I've always felt that strong connection to the music...ANY music that I love. So when I was introduced to salsa almost two years ago, and came to fall in love with its afro-cuban rhythms, my problem was forcing myself (someone who danced from the heart) to learn patterns. But I put in the time because I needed the solid foundation, and once that happened I was able to lose the mental cuffs I had put on and dance from the heart again. To feel that connection with the music and play within the confines of its structure. I LOVE SALSA!!! :D


Well-Known Member
Please pardon the music analogy, but I can't help myself. For me, as you say, youngsta, developing flava comes after learning the basics.

In music, there are a few truly exceptional people who can play and improvise seemingly magically. For everybody else, it takes months and years of practicing the boriong stuff -- scales and arpeggios, chords, music theory, blah, blah, blah. Then one day, they can let loose and improvise. Same thing with dancing, at least to me. You've gotta know what you're doing, at least to some extent. Then you're free to soar!

Like you, youngsta, I grew up in the house with much music and dancing. So I have some body control and other things seemingly naturally (actually learned from a very young age, probably.) But now that I'm actually studying and practicing serious dance, my dancing is much better. I'm incorporating stuff I already knew, but at a higher level.
I tend to agree with Danish Guy, as well.

When I started dancing, I needed to have something I could do while I was out there on the floor. One thing that is sometimes forgotten is that when you are improvising in a partner dance, it's a lot different from improvising by yourself. You can make your partner pretty uncomfortable if you lead something that doesn't work. In extreme cases, you could even cause injury. I've been dancing for five or six years now (to varying degrees of intensity), have had two years of private lessons, but I still often find that when I improvise, it just doesn't work out. I get my partner and myself into spots that are hard to get out of. Even when I improvise in merengue, I sometimes end up in something I'm not sure how to get out of (with any style or grace).

I have seen some people who haven't been dancing salsa all that long, and don't have a formal background in dance, but who can improvise pretty well when they have just barely gotten started with salsa dancing. Some people have more of a knack for that. Unfortunately, I don't have that knack.

I also think it would be really difficult for a teacher to teach a student to dance with his/her own sabor. The main thing, I would think, is for the teacher to not crush whatever individual flavor emerges. (There was a quirky little styling thing I did with my footwork that wasn't conventional, but my teacher just accepted it as part of my individual way of dancing.) In my case, I know very well that salsa, the music and the dance, doesn't mean as much to my teacher as it does to me. I didn't need her to teach me to feel the music. If anything, I probably felt it more intensely than she did. But she had a lot to teach me technically, and out personalities meshed very well for a teacher-student relationship (at least for a while).


Active Member
I had a private with one of my salsa instructors early on and for the entire 45 minutes he did a little excercise. He put on these 2 minute selections of music and said "Just dance whatever you're feeling, no matter how silly or stupid you think it is." The first 10 minutes were rough because I was thinking about what I wanted to do with each selection. He then put something on and danced himself for the 2 minutes. It was funny as hell, but in those two minutes a few gems of moves were found. I learned that day to really just let things loose. Be totally free-spirited out there and amazing things will happen.
knowledge of the beat aside, this is what I’ve noticed a lot of, "Thinking" "patterns" "nothing to do". That says one thing, while the mind is busy thinking the body can't feel. The mind is blocking the body from feeling. There isn't such a thing as a multi-tasking brain, hence the need for patterns and the such, and the forgotten thought, that physical connection to a partner isn’t needed to feel/become connected to the partner.

The reason we don't know what to do is because we use the brain to tell our body what to do, hence, we need patterns and all technical stuff to salsa, therefore, truly believe we need it first in order to first dance with flava. If that was the case the salsa world would be filled with flava-full dancers, which we can all say, it isn’t. The idea of patterns is generated through the belief of instant gratification, I’ll omit the real achievement and gratification of a long and seldom travel road to be doing what everyone is doing right now, instead of what I will only be doing in time to come.

Keeping the knowledge of the beat in mind, there shouldn’t be a thing we can't groove to which won't fall within the music. If you follow the music you'll find something to do all song long. Listen to your soul not what step the brain thinks you should do. However, do it all within the music and not looking like a chicken with the head cut off. It is about self-disipline.

In my current afro-cuban/salsa class, the teacher first teaches us how to relax the body, how to follow the music, and how it causes us to move, hence the body’s proper movement as per each individual’s body moves. She has very little care on what patterns she'll teach us. We'll go a month and not touch a partner. Then she'll face us, and all of us move with our own flava to the entire song, we move as one, and never get off beat. Why? Because we are following a beat and being asked to do what it makes us feel.

A friend of mine always says that he can teach choreography his grandma and have it look good. Why? Well, he says that following a predetermined pattern is only moving to the music not dancing it. Dancing comes from the soul, not the mind, but to a thinking society such a belief doesn’t come easy to stress.

In my opinion, Mainland salsa (United States) has fallen into the couple dance trap. They really think that dancing salsa is about patterns and holding each other. While it is just that to a point, dancing and spinning aren't the same. Salsa was never a dance trap until the 80s, when salsa took on a more hustle style and individuality stopped being stressed. To a lesser degree in NY city because of the richness salsa has developed since the 70s. I use individuality to mean, dance solo but with a mental/emotional connection to your partner.

Is it a wonder than when dancers get comfortable with themselves they start searching for flava? It isn’t because they are technically advanced and know their stuff. It is because their soul is telling them to look for their inner dancer. So, while we are taught the do this and do that, our soul has been waiting to be let loose. Our mind (ego) needs something to feel good about, that something happens to be patterns and the thought of achievement through more and more complicated patterns. While the ego rules there isn’t telling someone that true fulfillment comes from the soul. However, when we have been taught over and over that there is a chronological way of dancing salsa we undoubtedly follow it. Yet, when we eventually learn the steps we go back to the beginning and say, hey, my body just wants to play with the music but I don’t know how.

Ultimately why great musicians (lavoe, barretto, marc Anthony) are all categorized under passionate and the top dancers are all lifted to “dance Gods” because of their passion. The same tools they use to dance (brain/body) takes second precedence to what their soul tells them to do. Mastery of Technique only comes from experience, where as true greatness from that something inside of you. Pick someone who is the best at something, they’ll all share passion about that given something. We can all be technically great, but who is willing to surpass technique? What is going to separate your technique from the guy next to you? What is going to separate you from the rest? Not that you know more but how you do what you know? While we have been busy following patterns, the great ones have all been busy with feeling their souls, then use that technique to make our moves look a 100 times better.

[DISCLAIMER: Because there is one way, it doesn't mean is the way for everyone]
The key to flava: On the dance floor. Think less. Feel more.

Trying to dissect Boriken's idea. From my salsa experience, you need both patterns, technique and soul to be a complete dancer.

It's a left brain / right brain issue. The left brain is responsible for logic, details and words. The right brain deals with visuals, imagination and symbols. The problem with learning to dance is that you are essencially breaking down experiences that are right brain related into terms that the left brain can understand.

For most of us, learning to dance has started with patterns and techniques. A pattern is like a color in a painter's palette. While you might not use all the colors while painting your dance, it is useful to know it because the more patterns you have, the more mixing and matching you can get away with.

A pattern is also the experience of a million trial and errors condensed into easy to follow instructions. Somewhere along the line, a person did a move that worked well, and it was broken down into something that could be explained to our left brain.

Do we use our brains to learn salsa? Yes. We need to use the left brain to train our bodies and distill other's people's experiences so that they become part of our own muscle memory. We need to understand how the music is structured so we can know how to interpret it and what to expect. We need the patterns and techniques to be smoother, to know what part of our body can be used to lead, or how the body can move. When we practice at home, we analyze different ways of doing things and variations on the different patterns. We need a way to program our bodies to act in certain ways to certain beats.

I think the problem with a lot of dancers, myself included, is that we learn the patterns and follow them blindly on the dance floor, thinking that this is the proper way of doing things, and we get lazy. Because we can fill the space with the entire song, we stop trying hard and switch into salsa cruise control. We get to a certain level, and we stop, glad that we can dance without looking like idiots.

On the dance floor, however, we need to aim for dance nirvana, to be able to turn off the left side of the brain, of overanalyzing everything, and just use our right brain to create, to see the whole picture, to be drowned in the music and the steps and watch all our efforts practicing with our left brain come to fruition. Only then will our dancing be dynamic, amazing and flavaful.
Excellent points Brujo.

I agree that you need everyting in the mix to excel.

Eventually, you, as the dancer, have to move away
from the standard vanilla patterns you learn and make
them your own.

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