Tis the season for mall parking lots filled to overflowing, never-ending holiday music coming out of every available sound device, and ugly sweaters. Yes, the winter seasonal holidays are upon us and with them come the rounds of holiday parties, be they lavish – or not-so-lavish – corporate events or private house parties, or something in between. Often there is music and with the music (combined with some eggnog spiked with a little something-something) comes some dancing. Mostly at these sorts of affairs, the dancing consists of people shuffling around, or jumping up and down more-or-less rhythmically, or, depending on how strong the eggnog is, gyrating and gesticulating wildly. And here you are wondering if you should try to dance to these pop songs with your limited, salsa-only skills.
The answer is an unequivocal and enthusiastic YES! As most people in our society are, shall we say, dance challenged, having some skill in leading and following in almost any genre puts you head and shoulders above the majority of the crowd. Of course, if you are with someone who themselves is a dancer, the choice is easy: invite that person to the dance floor, and show the rest of the party how it’s done. But what if the music isn’t specifically Latin music, as would probably be the case in most circumstances?
Despite the odd way of counting the salsa rhythm (syncopated, often without the 4 and the 8), Latin music is typically in 4/4 timing. That means that a musical phrase has 4 beats, and that two phrases are usually put together for a “count” of 8. Fortunately, most popular, contemporary music is constructed in the same way. This means that, if you listen carefully (especially to the bass line as I often suggest in class) you can hear the beginning of each musical phrase, otherwise known as the “1” and the “5.” This would enable you to coordinate your basic salsa step and other foundation moves to whatever music happens to be playing. Voila! You and your partner are dancing!
What happens, then, if there isn’t another dancer at the party? Especially if you are a leader – but often, even if you are a follower – if there is someone who is sufficiently uninhibited or only slightly loosened up by the holiday punch, you can dance for real. Again, you’ll want to connect with the 4/4 beat and coordinate the forward-and-back motion to the song that’s playing. For leaders, it’s much easier to coordinate with a partner in a firm, closed hold. In closed hold, you’re able to provide the body guidance for which way to move. Don’t worry so much about your partner’s footwork (so long as they’re not stepping on your toes!). For followers, open hold is usually best if you are back-leading yourself through spot turns and travelling turns. When a more-experienced follower is dancing with a non-dancer leader, the usual rules about not turning yourself, waiting for the lead and not anticipating, as well as the follower never releasing (except when safety is an issue) all can be forgotten. For both leaders and followers, be extra careful with your shoulders so as to avoid injury—you’ll likely want to shorten up your arm extension, and tighten up your shoulder muscles, tendons, and ligaments for protection. Finally, if you realize that your partner has indulged in a little too much “holiday cheer,” your personal safety much take priority. If you can accommodate the partner dancing only basics and simple cross-body leads, that should suffice. The moment you feel unsafe, politely end the dance and walk away.
Most of all, keep it light and have fun. The company holiday party isn’t the place where you have to display your advanced dancing prowess. Rather, it’s an opportunity to enjoy in an environment where you can let loose just a little, and show everyone how much fun you can have when they…
See you on the dance floor.