From time to time, students ask me when they should move up from Foundation level to participate in the Repertoire classes. Or, they simply assume that they’re not good enough (read: haven’t yet developed the confidence) to stay on for the Repertoire class after Foundation. Part of this hesitation might come from the training and socialization we all have had in the social status aspects of dance class.
There has evolved a significant social structure among dance schools corresponding to a dancer’s skill development. One typically starts classes as a “Beginner” (sometimes having to progress through various “levels”), moving on to “Intermediate” (ditto), before advancing to “Advanced.” It’s not uncommon to hear – especially among dance teachers irrespective of genre – that Beginner dancers want to take the Intermediate classes, Intermediate dancers want to participate in Advanced classes, and Advanced dancers want to dance with the pros. (The end of this morsel of wisdom, by the way, is that the most advanced dancers focus on studying beginner steps so that their fundamentals become super-polished.)
The reason for this drive is external affirmation of the dancer’s capabilities via the very visible marker of what class you’re taking. Not that it necessarily corresponds to the individual’s actual skill: I often have new students come into my classes, very proud of the fact that they have passed Level X at so-and-so dance school without being able to properly execute a travelling turn, or having dangerous form in a spot turn, or without an inkling of proper dance connection. You see, there is a social hierarchy in the dance world, reinforced by the levelled-class structure (pun intended). If I am validated as being this level by that school, I must be better than someone who is only some-other-level in whatever school.
My interest as a dance instructor is to help people become safe, technically sound, social dancers who can enjoy themselves in a social setting, be it at a club, open social, or at some event like a company party, wedding, or other gathering. To that end, as my regular students know, I have eliminated the social structure designations and focus on developing Foundation skills in the first class, and expanding Repertoire in the second.
The Foundation class is for all dancers, both new and very experienced, to concentrate on improving skills among the fundamentals of salsa dancing. For new dancers, I do indeed teach the basics each and every week. For experienced dancers, I offer additional ideas associated with the basics to improve form, connection, posture, weight balance, timing, and other aspects that make dancing in the wild super-enjoyable. I encourage experienced students to concentrate on a specific aspect that they want to improve and maintain that focus throughout the lesson, irrespective of what I happen to be teaching that week.
The Repertoire class enables dancers who are very comfortable with the fundamentals to exercise those foundational skills through various ideas that I combine into a choreography each week. Over several weeks, there might be different variations on leading a cross-body move with head loops. Or I might demonstrate five different ways to use a hammerlock through five different combinations. Or waterfall hand-drops might appear from time to time in different contexts. This class enables you to expand your personal repertoire for social dancing, not by memorizing patterns, but through developing adeptness with each individual idea that you can insert at will into your dance.
So when is the appropriate time to add the Repertoire class to your Thursday evening lesson? If you can dance the 5 to 10 basic moves without having to think too hard about them, including: basic step (and variations), spot turns (single and double handed), travelling turns (both led and free-spin, inside and outside directions), plus hammer lock, and combinations of these without inserting a basic step between—then try staying on for a Repertoire class.
If you’ve been toying with the idea and thinking of giving it a try, this week might be a good week to stay on, as the choreography itself is not technically challenging (although it does have a few more elements than typical). Remember Yoda’s advice: “Do or do not. There is no try!”
See you on the dance floor.