In last week’s Repertoire pattern, I mentioned in class that there was a key element that made the difference between success and “not-so-much” in the choreography. That magic ingredient? Flow.
What I mean by “flow” is the dancer’s ability to keep their body in motion through the entire 8-count of salsa “units,” if you will. As we all know, salsa music is written and performed in 4/4 time, which means there are four beats to the musical bar. Each unit of dance comprises two bars, or eight beat counts. We experience this, for instance, in the basic step which nominally counts three steps, a pause, three more steps, and another pause for a total count of eight beats.
When novice dancers begin learning the basic step, they often learn it in the style of “3 steps, together, 3 steps, together” or as a “1,2,3, (pause) 5, 6, 7” count. Many, quite reasonably, interpret this instruction as, take three steps, stop movement with feet double-weighted (that is, standing still on both feet equally), take another three steps, and stop again.
As more advanced dancers – especially those who have experienced this type of instruction as a novice dancer – will tell you, this interpretation doesn’t really serve you well to develop as a great dancer. The constant stop-and-start makes your movements jerky. The double-weighting during the pause/stop means that an inexperienced dancer may find it difficult to restart on the proper foot. The stop-and-start also brings a person into the habit of stopping after each individual element in a choreography that often interferes with executing the entire move. I shouldn’t even have to mention the fact that dancing to a count in your head means that you’re not dancing to the music (nor properly connecting with your partner). And perhaps equally important, the herky-jerky motion of the 1,2,3,stop, 5,6,7, stop means that the characteristic flow of the dance is lost.
If you have been to one of my Foundation classes lately, you’ll know that I teach the basic step as a “weight shift step-back and weight shift step-forward and…” motion. This approach conveys the idea that the body remains in continual motion for each word of that vocalization, with the “and” suggesting the weight transfer from one foot to the other in preparation for the following weight-shift (which is the “break” on the 1 and 5, for those more used to the conventional count). In essence, eliminating the double-weighted pause (“together” on the 4 and 8) keeps the flow of the basic step, and creates an expectation of continual motion.
In last week’s Repertoire pattern (the second half of which we’ll pick up this week), this idea of flowing through and not stopping after each 4-count element is crucial to succeeding in the move. It makes the difference between executing the move elements smoothly both as leader and as follower, or falling behind, which means always rushing to catch up, thereby throwing off not only your timing, but relative body position, and control over your own body movements.
Whether it’s in our classes, or in a social dance situation (and ideally both!) I invite you to practice flowing through the entire 8-count, without pauses or stops (except to hit a break in the music for styling). You’ll find not only a smoother, more connected, and enjoyable dance, but also one in which you feel more relaxed and in control.
See you on the dance floor!