Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Look for Guidance

As a thirteen year Salsa veteran, I consider myself a decent lead; however, when I started, I stumbled and flailed, couldn’t keep a beat, and generally made a fool of myself. And all the while, I couldn’t figure out why I was surrounded by better dancers that have been dancing the same amount of time as me.

If I knew back then what I know now, surely I would have done things differently. In order to save you from the same hassles that I experienced, I will share the ten commandments of Becoming a Better Salsa Dancer. This week, I’ll discuss the most important commandment:

Thou shalt Look for Guidance

In other words, “Find an instructor you click with and take some private lessons.”

No, this is not a sales pitch. It is the quickest way to improve your dancing. Studies have shown that a one-hour private is equivalent to ten hours of group lessons.  Yes, it’s a proven fact.

As an instructor teaches to the masses, a student may get one or two crucial minutes of individual attention per group lesson. It’s a fleeting moment when an experienced dancer gives individual feedback on what you are doing wrong, how you can do things better, and what you should be concentrating on as you execute a lead or follow. Why wouldn’t you want a full hour’s worth? Yes, you can learn from the few general statements an instructor makes to the class if they apply to you and you happen to be listening, but you’ll spend years getting what you could have received out of  a few private lessons.

Here are my recommendations to find a good instructor:

1. Take group lessons.

In order to find a good teacher, you must take several group lessons with several different instructors. This way, you’ll see different styles of teaching, and figure out which style clicks with you.

2. Watch them dance.

Do you like the way your teacher dances? If their dancing is odd, rough, or unappealing, it’s best to find someone else to guide you. But remember, a good dancer is not always a good teacher. That’s why it’s important to make sure the dancer you like is a good teacher, and you’ll insure that by taking their group lessons.

3. Opposite Sex

Ok, I’m sexist and believe that it’s best to find an instructor of the opposite sex, especially for guys whom tend to get nervous dancing with other men.  A caveat to this rule is that if a guy can’t find a female instructor who knows how to lead, he should suck up his manhood and take privates with a male instructor….It’s really not that bad.

Same goes for women. Try to find a male instructor who knows how to follow well; it will allow them to explain techniques and footwork that you may not get otherwise.

Here’s my order of preference if you are a guy:

  1. A Woman who leads well
  2. A Guy who follows well
  3. A Guy who can’t follow (at least he can lead and show you that)
  4. A Woman who can’t lead (you probably won’t get too much out of this, unless you are taking the lesson for other reasons, ahemm.)

And if you are a woman:

  1. A Guy who follows well
  2. A Woman who leads well
  3. A Guy who can’t follow (at least he can lead you through moves)
  4. A Woman who can’t lead (this should be your first choice if you are only interested in styling and footwork)

Ask your Salsa guru if they are comfortable both following and leading before signing up with them. You’d be surprised to know how many teachers can only lead or follow.

4. Take private lessons solo before taking them with your partner

If you want to hone your skills for your dance partner, take lessons ALONE. You’ll get more out of it because the teacher will spend twice as much time with you. Besides, do you want your partner to know how much you suck? Once you’ve taken a few private lessons, consider taking privates with your partner. Hopefully your partner will have taken solo privates as well; otherwise, you’ll be standing there twiddling your thumbs while your partner gets all the attention.

5. Try different teachers

Only pay for as many lessons as you feel are worth it. You’ll probably get the most out of the first three lessons. Don’t be timid or feel like you are betraying your guru by taking lessons from someone else.We  have guest instructors visit from time to time. This is a great opportunity to ask around and see if they are available for private instruction.

I guess that’s about all there is to say on commandment #1. If you feel I’ve missed something, please comment below. Good luck on your quest for a Salsa guru, namaste. My next post will be on Commandment #2. Until then, keep dancing!

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