Over the weekend, I attended a family event on the other side of the country. It was an event in honour of, and oriented towards people who are considerably younger than I am. And there was music. And dancing… of a sort. Mostly, the dancing consisted of teens jumping up and down, swinging their arms around, some attempting some b-boy/girl moves, the odd Michael Jackson “Moon Walk,” and others repeating one or two moves they clearly picked up on YouTube. What’s a partner-dancer to do? Why, dance, of course!
The question here is, if all I know is salsa dancing, what do I do when I’m at a place where salsa music (aside from Despacito, Shape of You, and perhaps Havana – okay, technically, that’s cha-cha) is not exactly being played? For most music written in 4/4 time that’s neither too fast nor too slow, you can actually dance salsa. As I repeat often in class, the key has to do with the three connections: Connect with the Music, Connect with your Partner, and Connect to the Floor.
First, the music: As you listen to a song, find the “pulse” of the beat by listening for the bass line, exactly like we do with Latin music. When you hear the beginning of a measure – often corresponding to the beginning of a lyric – begin by counting off your 8 beats (including the “4” and the “8” as we do in class). Once you can reliably identify the “1,” begin your basic step with your partner. As you are listening to the music, stay with the basic until you are fairly confident that you actually have a reliable beat to which you can dance. One note of warning (and this applies to Latin music as well): Songs can change tempo in the middle of a bridge or lyric, so make sure you’re actually dancing to the music, and not to a count in your head. When the music shifts to a section that doesn’t have a clear beat, connect with your partner and simply groove to what’s happening until the beat returns.
Next, your partner: Unless you and your partner are regular dancers to random music, you might need to offer a little more guidance and support to get started. In addition to explicitly asking him/her to dance, staying in closed hold doing basic step for longer than you might otherwise do is probably a good idea. This way, you both will acclimatize to the particular song and have a better opportunity to feel what the music is telling you. Stay with simpler patterns to begin with, remembering that to pretty much everyone else in the room you will look amazing with spot turns, cross-body leads and the occasional travelling turn.
Finally, the floor: Random pop music – and particularly anything that is more of an “urban” genre – is very grounded music. It’s unlikely that the music will call on you to do complicated hand-work, or patterns that involve a lot of connected flow moves or complicated timings. Unlike native salsa music, pop music does not have a dance frame in mind, so make sure to keep your frame connection solid.
On the weekend, my partner (who is almost exclusively a salsa dancer) and I took to the dance floor and we looked like Dancing with the Stars according to some observers, when in reality, the moves we did together were relatively simple, and relatively on-time. As an experiment, I randomly asked YouTube to show me the top songs on Vevo. It returned a playlist of top songs of the month, and I flipped through the offered playlist to see which among them might be appropriate for salsa-style dancing. Eliminating the ones that were too slow or clearly rap, below is a sampling of current hit music to which you can co-opt for your salsa dancing pleasure, when we…
See you on the dance floor.
David Guetta, Bebe Rexha & J Balvin – Say My Name
Ariana Grande – thank u, next
Ellie Goulding, Diplo, Swae Lee – Close To Me
Little Mix – Woman Like Me (Official Video) ft. Nicki Minaj
Mark Ronson – Nothing Breaks Like a Heart (Official Video) ft. Miley Cyrus
Maroon 5 – Girls Like You ft. Cardi B
Walk off the Earth – Somebody That I Used to Know