Question by User hobbiez1
I’m interested in learning Salsa as a very casual hobby and would like to get to the point where I can go out to socials and do a basic dance without disappointing most of the follows. But I have 2 big concerns:
1) In the very limited time I’ve been dancing (not salsa), I’ve learned I suck… a lot. I’ve also always been very uncoordinated and have a bad short-term memory. My only experience with dance has been 3 months of a Beginner Hip-Hop class and had a pretty terrible time. Not only did I have trouble executing the moves in the first place, I always forgot them quickly and sometimes I’d just be standing there not knowing what to do in the middle of the choreography.
Salsa seems even harder because as a man, I’d have invent the choreography on the spot based on the music in addition to being able to do the moves right and making sure I don’t step on my partner’s toes.
2) I only have 4 hours a week at most to devote to Salsa. So that probably means 1 class and 1 social. I’ve read a few posts mentioning how you almost need to treat learning Salsa like a part-time degree and do at least 2 classes and 2 socials per week, but I just don’t have the time unfortunately.
I don’t mind learning at my own very slow pace and hoping I’ll get there eventually, but with a partner dance like Salsa, I’m afraid that I’ll take too long to get competent enough to do a basic dance that doesn’t completely disappoint my partners. I know people at Socials will probably be nice initially to a beginner, but if I’m that one guy who’s been going there every week for over a year and STILL can’t even do a basic, passable dance I’m afraid people will eventually just get tired of me and avoid me.
I guess a big part of the question is, how patient can I expect people at Socials to be? Given how bad I am at dancing along with my coordination and short-term memory issues, I really do think I’d be improving at 1/10 of the pace that most beginners normally would.
Maybe if you are not confident enough yet to go to a social you should consider sticking with classes for a time. In a class you would be with other beginners and you are paying someone to teach you salsa, so it is only fair that you expect them to be patient with you. Once you feel like you have mastered the basic skills you can progress to going to socials. I learned by exclusively going to socials and after dancing with many women I would say there are only a few examples I can think of where things were a noticeably bad experience. You can also go out of your way to dance with others at your skill level and avoid dancing with experts. To be honest most of the bad experiences I have had dancing have been with beginners or random people that happened to show up at the club whereas people that know what they are doing (salsa people?) are usually pretty patient and understanding. I also find at socials it’s usually the simple moves that work the best since you are dancing with people at a variety of skill levels and they may not have learned the same steps as you.
I started 9 months ago with zero background in any kind of dancing. Am now intermediate and intent on competing.
1. My perception is that beginner salsa is suitable for anyone who can’t dance at all. From my own experience trying beginner hip-hop or k-pop solo dance classes, it seemed like people who go to beginner street dance classes are like way above “normal” adult beginners in salsa. Even now, none of the intermediate salsa classes are remotely anywhere as difficult as solo dance classes for me. Like I can retain 60-80% knowledge in intermediate salsa classes whereas I can only follow along to like the easiest 20-30% of a beginner street dance class but not remember much on my own.
2. There’s a huge distinction between being able to dance salsa, and being able to dance salsa well. I’m going to speak to just being able to execute moves to the extent they’re understood and therefore usable in social dancing.
3. 40 hours was enough knowledge wise to have a few moves to try, but to get them usable you just have to be brave and go to socials. If you do 2 hours a week for 4 months you can be doing a lot more (let’s say around 10+ moves).
4. Social dancing is hit and miss, like any other form of socialization. I guarantee every follower has danced with terrible leads that make them feel deeply uncomfortable, etc. It doesn’t kill them, and you won’t kill them with bad leading either. Everyone who dances knows the work required and that it has to be a gradual learning process. Followers who are comfortable with themselves are usually happy to give you a chance, not expecting you to impress them, but like a low key opportunity to help you learn and potentially benefit the community in case you persist and get better.
5. 4 hours a week is plenty to not only be able to execute moves, but also to improve beyond that. Many teachers will tell you that practicing literally 1-3 minutes a day outside of class/socials will help you greatly. It’s true. But socials really are compulsory too. I used to dance around 8 hours a week, because I love it. Never heard anyone say it’s like a part-time requirement.
6. You talk about fear of disappointing dance partners. Perfectly understandable, but also disappointment doesn’t really exist. A dance is just a dance, and 5 minutes later it’s over. What happens happens. Just be brave, ask people to dance, and see what happens. Heck, tell your partners you’re afraid of disappointing them. Go and do it, and you’ll find out that it’s all in your head. I used to feel like if I ask someone to dance then I’m taking away their opportunity to dance with someone better. Listening to those thoughts is pointless and just makes you not dance and not improve. Just ask for a dance and let the follower accept or reject (which may happen verbally or otherwise). In the end, there are only dances that you got because you asked for and dances you didn’t have because you didn’t ask for. It’s the same for everyone. There’s no contract about having to fulfill a standard. And mature people won’t compare you to others when you’re dancing.
I remember years ago having the exact same fear as you, that I’d try something new and scary that I’m naturally bad at and never improve at it. Well, firstly, it’s almost impossible to keep practicing something at absolute beginner level and never get better at it. Secondly, it shouldn’t even matter whether you improve or not. Hobbies are for fun, so are you doing it for fun or not? You will know from just watching good dancers and taking a few classes whether salsa seems fun or not. If it’s fun, then what’s wrong with doing it even if you’ll suck at it forever?
The truth is, you can reflect on your fears for eternity, consider all the variables and recommendations, but it doesn’t really change anything. If you just go and try, you’ll find out very quickly. If you don’t go, you’ll never know for sure. Heck, just go to one beginner class. You’ll probably find out enough from just one class. In my case, I was instantly hooked, even though on some level, the little bit they taught in that seems so trivial to get excited over. Another thing you’ll almost certainly see in an adult beginner class is lots of people being really slow learners. You’ll see people who don’t remember, people who don’t improve, people who can’t count, people who’s hands are immovable, etc. It’s unlikely you’ll feel like the worst learner there.
There are also “safe” options like repeating beginner classes. I’ve taken 3 beginner salsa classes and I always get something out of it. If you enjoy beginner classes at all, socials are way more fun than that.
EDIT: Forgot to mention. You’ll probably encounter some people at socials who very clearly will dance with anyone and not care what level you are, even if they’re not so bad themselves. Personally I had dozens of dances while only knowing the content from the first class of Bachata (because I couldn’t attend classes yet), but people would still ask me to dance if they didn’t have a partner. Literally all I could do was step left and then step right and do a simple turn. No one complained, people still had fun, no one changed their mind when I warned them I didn’t know anything, and there were repeat offers. (Eventually I did take more than the first class of Bachata.)
I feel Salsa is one of the dance forms where you can “get away with” not having very good musicality, body awareness and sense of movement. This is not to say that those who dance Salsa don’t have these qualities, I’m just saying that you can you get to a decent level, have fun and find people willing to dance with you, without having the above. In that sense I find dances like say Bachata more difficult to learn because you have to understand the music, move to the rhythm and really connect with your partner. Again, these qualities will also step up your Salsa game but you can make do without them. All in all, Salsa is a very good choice to start and as long as you keep practising with others, you’ll find it easy to get to the level where you can social dance with confidence.
To your question about people in socials, my experience has varied with different crowds. For eg. socials in universities have students who are beginners or dancing for the first time attending in some numbers, and they are usually very comfortable to dance with without the feeling of being judged. Even the experienced dancers at these events are happy to help you out and dance with you. Some famous clubs in the city that are renowned for their salsa nights have a much more advanced crowd, and it can be daunting to ask people to dance, specially since they might tend to get bored dancing with beginners. I would say attend different socials and figure out which ones have a healthy mix of people at different levels, get a sense of the culture, and then decide which ones you are most comfortable attending. As long as it is more fun than stressful, you should be okay.
My advice is to take your 1 class a week and still go to 1 social a week – at the minimum.
Most followers are usually very forgiving of beginners in Salsa. If they see you trying and aren’t hurting them, you should be able to get plenty of dances with other beginners and also higher level dancers without problem.
I’m not a fan of waiting a long time before getting comfortable with Salsa before going out social dancing. IME, those who waited a long time were even MORE afraid of dancing with others and staying in a class setting didn’t help improve their confidence. The experience you accumulate social dancing is different than what you get in a class setting.
Therefore I recommend you continue to go out once a week to your social, and dance with your friends and people you know – arranging an outing with your classmates is the best way to get your feet wet in social dancing. This is something you can build upon, but if you only stay in class, you’ll never get the experience or confidence for social dancing, IMO.
If you have limited time and want to social dance quickly, know the bare minimum: Practice cross-body lead, open break, left and right turns, and have a smooth basic. Practice these out of both open position and close position. Ignore all the other fancy stuff.
If your basic is awkward or off time, if your hand comes up at the wrong time for a turn, if your crossbody lead is slow, if you lose your timing during an open break, if you aren’t stepping correctly and precisely, etc, then you haven’t practiced enough.
You can shadow train these at home, like a boxer without a sparring partner. Once your body memorizes the steps; doing them with a partner will go much smoother. Your teacher can fix any issues you’re developing if you’re going to class once a week.
Focus. On. Your. Feet.
I agree with all that has been said so far. You’ve had some really great responses. I think you’re wise and asking for advice. Like you I was very slow at learning. But I kept at it. I ended up marrying the instructor.
A couple of things I did not notice being mentioned yet…. I recognize that you have limited time so to help you improve your ability to hear the rhythm and the beat listen to Salsa music when you’re driving or when you are in the shower etc. This will improve your ability to one recognize this song when it is played at a social and then also to stay on beat.
It’s already been mentioned a couple times, but all of these fears are mostly in your head. Just have the courage to ask ladies to dance and give it your best. This is key: be able to laugh at yourself. Remember everybody started at level zero. Also that the only way the community grows is when more experienced dancers dance with the lower skilled new people. I would ask a lady to dance and then once we got out on the dance floor I would mention that I’m still new at this so please be patient with me. That set the expectations low. If I did OK then great. If not then they already were prepared for the skill level of a new person. Everyone messes up sometimes just smile and laugh it off. Are used to have to ask the ladies whether the song was salsa bachata or merengue. Most people are very patient especially when we are not arrogant.
Here’s a link to an article that reviews the primary beginner moves. I would use YouTube videos like this to sometimes practice at home when I was new. There are also a bunch of other articles there that target issues of concern to newer dancers. I wish you all the best.
So, I’d say you can absolutely do salsa as a hobby!! That’s a great way to do it, if not the best way, some might say!! A lot of great dancers, and some of the better ones, I believe do it as a hobby!! There’s many great dancers who are not teachers or professionals, but simply party animals who dance whenever they’re free!! So, absolutely, it’s great to do it as a hobby!! I know people who just have fun with it and dance wherever they travel on holidays etc. so you’re just fine! Now, in terms of dancing, I’d say we need to break up the venues a bit, cause salsa can often be approached somewhat differently in different settings! Sure, it’s all salsa etc, but in terms of “pressure,” I think you might find a difference depending on the type of venue! So, let me classify them for you from my experience! There’re bars, there’s dance studios for “socials,” and there’re also dance studios for “classes,” which are sometimes the same venues for the “socials.”
And if you’d like there’s also street festivals often outdoors and often free for all usually in cities in the summers etc. So, there’re about 4 general different types of settings and possibly more, say, congresses and festivals etc. so, I’d say if you’re worried about “pressure,” cause you’re still getting introduced to salsa, the venue I personally usually find the “easiest,” and most laid back, often without criticism etc, is a bar setting! Generally, people will be there to have a drink after work etc, and they usually have a class which may be free, before the social dancing starts. Often, you might pay a nominal fee to take the class and then dance socially after while having a drink, watching some sports on the bar TVs etc etc. it’s just an evening out and often the crowd there will be more “diverse” in terms of skill and many might even just be there by chance, perhaps, finding it while at the bar to hang out etc etc. the bar setting, I think, might suit you well as you learn. The classes will usually vary, usually will have an introductory class which is geared towards complete learners, and then some more challenging ones for more experienced dancers etc etc. but the general approach is more laid back, I think you’d feel more comfortable to make mistakes and learn.
Often bars might also have a band, a special performance by a dance team/group etc, but the great thing about a bar is that you will see salsa in perhaps it’s most natural and ideal setting, I think! You’ll, I think, see salsa as it really “should be,” just a party where hardly anybody cares how you dance or do moves etc etc. and, often for the bars that have bands, which is many, you also actually see and hear salsa music live and get a true sense of the music and art!! So, bars, I think, are an excellent place for a learner!! You’re guaranteed not to be the only learner there!!! And, also you likely will talk with dancers and learn how they learned!! Usually, they’ll tell you they were just like you a couple of weeks or months or years ago!!! Most, if not all, dancers start out learning from scratch, just like you!!!
So, I’d strongly suggest going to bars that you lay salsa and have dancing!!! If you’re in NYC, some of the many renown bars might be Solas on 9th street or GyG, or for the start bands with salsa legends, often Monday’s at Taj somewhere downtown in manhattan!!! And they’re several others! Many cities have such bars where you’ll catch great bands and the atmosphere is so laidback for somebody like you being introduced to salsa!!! Now, the other settings, especially dance studios, are really not too tricky either when you start to really know them, but they’re understandably sometimes more challenging for a learner! I’ve danced for years, and I’ve been to socials in NYC where I felt somewhat intimidated!!! And then they’re congresses! I’d definitely encourage you to go to a Congress! You’ll see the best bands in salsa and dancers from around the world! They’re usually the highlight of salsa dance calendars!!! Now the other thing I might add about studios and taking classes, is that it’s also a great strategy to meet people to dance with!!!
Apart from learning, the people you meet at classes are often the same people you’ll see at the socials you find intimidating!! And you’ll also get access to their social dancing networks!! So, it’s often a great idea to take classes, both at bars and at studios cause those are the people you’ll often dance with socially!! When you take classes with them, the ice is Brocken, they’ll ask you to dance and you’ll ask them etc etc. and, if you have some extra money, you could also take some private classes with the teachers you take at the studios, and being nervous about social dancing is definitely one of the questions you can ask them for help with!!!! Many you might find have had the same experience!! They maybe great dancers now, but they often might have had your experience, and they certainly will have seen dancers/students like you!!!! I’ve read a few of the private stories of some great dancers, and you might be surprised to learn how humble their learning experiences have been!!! So, find some salsa bars, and take classes, and you’ll be rolling here sooner than you might realize!!!