Thursday, October 23, 2014

Salsa - The First and Most Important Rule - PYP

Instead of continuing with the story of how I started to learn Salsa I want to talk about something I think is more important.

PYP - Protect Your Partner

I have seen it mentioned in many forum posts, blogs and advice articles but where it made most impact was in Don Baarns's book ( He says that this has to be your top priority. If you remember only one thing on the dance floor it should be this.

After having had some dance floor experience, I agree. Wholeheartedly.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If a lady gets a foot perforated by another woman's stilettoe heel while dancing with me, she's very unlikely to class that as a good dance no matter how many fancy moves I did or how well I executed them!

Why is it our job?
Because we are the leads. It is in my control to initiate and lead a move. The lady does what I lead her to do. And with great power comes great responsibility. If you are in-charge of her movements then you are responsible for her well-being on the dance floor.

Although, if she pushes her arm to style and pokes someone in the eye, that I would leave as her responsibility. Fair is fair.

Here are a few Do's and Don'ts based on what I have read and what I have seen and experienced on the dance floor so far. My Salsa experience is quite limited and these lists are given here more as my own checklists than advice to the world in general. Additionally, I don't take credit for all these items, they are my compiled list from many sources including Don Baarns' book, peppered with my own thoughts.

- Your partner can't look behind her. You must look behind her and act if there's a threat.
- Leave any move in the middle and pull your partner away from the threat if need be.
- Change a move, stop a move, shorten a move, leave a move, stop dancing, do whatever is needed to keep her safe.
- Do tighter cross-body leads if it's crowded.
- Take very small steps if there's no room.
- Do the simplest moves you can if the room is limited.
- Look to see there is space to send your partner there before you start a move.
- Look where you are sending your partner just BEFORE you send her there. Things change fast on a dance floor, that place may not be free now.
- If you can take the hit to save your partner from a bump, be a man and do it.
- Smile and have fun even when you are navigating the space around you like rocky waters.
- Use a Freeze not just as a musicality move but also to avoid bumping into another couple.
- Watch not just for your own moves but also when another lead maybe flinging his partner towards your partner.
- Think "Shields up" from the moment you lead your partner to the floor until you lead her back.
- Have a margin of safety around you and your partner or don't do a move.
- Use the same precautions when practicing partnerwork in a class as on the dance floor.
- Her styling is her responsibility everything else is yours.
- Be light on your feet. If a move fails and you happen to step on her foot, you have a better chance of stopping before your heel comes down on her toes.
- Watch out for drunks on or near the dance floor. Salsa folks usually don't drink when they are dancing but other people do. A splash of beer on a favourite dress can be as traumatic to a lady as a kick on the shin.
- If despite all your precautions, something does happen make sure the lady is okay and wants to continue the dance. Just because you can't see any visible damage doesn't mean she is completely ok.

- Don't lead complex moves if the space is too crowded.
- Don't expect your partner to know what's behind her.
- Don't follow on with moves (of a sequence) if you or your partner are about to bump into another couple.
- Don't take big steps if the floor is crowded.
- Don't think of your partner as you think of your car bumper.
- Don't think that your partner is more advanced so she can fend for herself on the dance floor. You are still her protection.
- Don't even think of dips and tricks on a dance floor that's packed.
- Don't EVER say "Oh, well!" if your partner does happen to get bumped or stepped on. Make sure she's ok.

So far, I have not been as aggressive about protecting my partners as these lists suggest but I would like to be and hopefully these lists will help me get there. I haven't had anything more traumatic than someone stepping on my dance partner's foot or her stepping on someone else's but it still makes me feel bad. Even when the lady doesn't assign the blame to me I feel responsible. Because I am.

My Own Experience
I have only had a few socials and social nights but each one has been great for learning stuff and I don't mean just moves. In the beginning I used to take a certain amount of bumps and step-on's as part of the day when dancing in a crowded club. My eyes opened after reading those articles and Don Baarns' book. Now, I take it very seriously.

The worst I have had was another lead falling on me while I was dancing and I remember thinking, "Thank God, he fell on me and not on my partner!" :) No damage though, I have fast reflexes and was able to get out from under without letting him bring me and my partner down. He went down though.

Why now?
There is no way I can say this next bit without sounding "holier-than-thou" so I am just going to say it.

Another reason for posting this before my other planned posts is not just to remind me of this but also because even in my limited Salsa experience I have seen many leads ignore the PYP rule.

I don't know why but people seem to think that a few collisions and step-on's are all part of the day in dancing. Not newbies like me but even experienced leadds. I have especially noticed this in classes. If the space is crowded and during the practice sessions your partner steps on someone's foot or someone steps on her foot, it just doesn't register with the lead as anything noteworthy.

That's a big reason I am writing this post. This should really be Rule 1 in our Salsa etiquette book.

The only exception is teachers. I have never seen a girl dancing with a teacher bump into others or vice versa. I guess good teachers develop this skill as part of their salsa skills.

What I am going to do about it?
I would like to develop the PYP skill myself. In fact, now that I am able to do a handful of moves I can get on the dance floor. Which makes me equivalent to the driver who has just got his driving licence and is getting on the motorway to driving among more experienced drivers. They may have held the licence much longer than the newbie but that doesn't mean they follow the same safety rules. Remember the big 18-wheeler flashing his highlights in your rear-view mirror driving at 60 in a roadworks lane on a rainy night? The safety of my passengers and myself is in my hands.

My Priorities
Now that I can "dance", I have pushed learning new moves as priority 4. It goes like this.
1. Protect my partner
2. Have fun in each and every dance
3. Polish the current moves (own footwork, lead, timing etc.)
4. Learn new cool moves

The post ran on longer than I had planned but some of that stuff needed to be said and some of it I had to get off my chest. Thank you for reading this far. I hope I get some good tips on this topic from the more experienced leads and follows. That would help me develop the PYP skill myself. Please use the comments form below. Thanks. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sunny's Salsa Saga - The Beginning

So I finally decided to write about Salsa. Let's start with why I didn't want to write about it at first and why I decided to write now.

Why not?
- Because when I started to learn Salsa I didn't think I had much to say.
- Then it took over all my spare time so I didn't have any time to write about it.
- Then I found that I had way too much to say about it and didn't have that much time.
- I didn't think I was qualified to write about Salsa, especially things that would sound like advice or teaching.

Why now?
- I just gotta!
- There is so much to say about it that I can't keep it in and can't say it all to all my friends for fear of boring them.
- I am really passionate about Salsa.
- All the advice and teaching stuff is just my experience and opinions based on my learning journey. If I can make that clear to my audience and not pretend to know more than do I will be fine.
- I have a lot to share and who knows some of it might even be useful to somebody somewhere.

What next?
There's way more to say than can be done in one post so this will be an ongoing series on my blog.
I would absolutely love to hear from my readers about what I write. Any comments, criticisms and above all their own experiences on this topic would be very welcome.
I am hoping that salsa people will comment and share their thoughts.
In this current post I will only give the background of Salsa in my life.

So we start...
I first started learning Salsa about 5-6 years ago. Why did I start? There's a story.

Once in a while I used to go to clubs with friends. Like normal nightclubs. And even though I could not dance to save my life, I still used to get on the dance floor and "dance". No, alcohol was not involved, I just get more courageous when I am with friends and the music is good.

Every time I went to a club, there would be one brief period, like maybe a few minutes when I would be a dancing and I would be totally in the zone. At that moment I connected so well to the music that I disconnected from my surroundings. Even at that moment, I wasn't doing any amazing "take back the streets" steps, in fact I don't even know what steps I did, if any. But that few minutes period was worth the whole effort of going it Nirvana, meditation, happiness, what you will.

After a while I started thinking about how I could extend that period to more than a few minutes and achieve it more frequently. I don't really like going to clubs, so when I started looking for dance lessons I didn't look for that kind of dance. Salsa was very popular at that time in the UK and a friend of mine told me about this place on Charing Cross Rd. where you can have an intense one-day class in Salsa. Kind of like a crash course. A good place to start.

One Google search told me what there was to know about Salsa Rapido at Bar Salsa in London. I took the first 5-hour long beginners class and loved it! After paying for the class once, it was free to repeat during the next two months and I did it a few times.

Then I found a 10-week Salsa course with City Academy with a weekly class. After the intense-information-overload type class with Salsa Rapido the one-hour a week class that taught one or two moves every week seemed too slow even though the teacher was really great. I did meet several good people in that group though and it was then that I created a Meetup group called "City Academy Salsa" to connect with my classmates and other people who wanted to go out and practice together. The group still exists even though I dropped out of the course after 6 weeks. I made it open to join by anyone so it has more than 150 members today.

But, my Salsa journey did not continue that smoothly. After dropping out of City Academy I dropped out of Salsa. Honestly, I don't remember what changed. But I work as an IT contractor and move around a lot. So something like that happened and my Salsa stopped. I never forgot it though and wanted to get back to it. Recently when I moved again and it seemed like I would stay in one place for at least 6 months this time, the first social thing I sought out was Salsa.

Fortunately there was a local class every Wednesday and it was close enough for me to walk to it. So my Salsa journey started again, and this time for realsies.

More in the next post...

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