Monday, May 10, 2010

What Now?

I hit a point in my dancing progression where I've asked myself  "what now?"

There are many stages to learning and some academics may even have their own models for the different stages.What I'm writing here are the stages that I went through and where I currently am almost 3 years into salsa dancing.

This progression may sound familiar - I  think that everyone goes through some form of these stages though its possible that the order may be different. Anyway, I'm writing to share and maybe help other folks who might find themselves in the "What Now?" predicament - something that can happen several times in one's dance progressions.

Beginner: Unsure but interested; having fun with the dance but not sure enough to go out dancing beyond the classroom. You're just starting and are enrolled in some sort of beginner class. You've decided to try salsa dancing for one, some or all of these reasons: your friend dragged you out, the newness is fun, the social part is fun, there maybe some attractive people in class you'd like to get to know more (instructor not excluded), its something active to do, you've always wanted to try it because it looks fun/cool.

Advanced Beginner: Its been anywhere from 2-6 months since you've started and you've gone through a few of the beginner series and have a little bit of an arsenal to play with for dancing. You may have even started to take lessons from other instructors (oh yes, there are many out there!) You're getting to know your classmates and are maybe starting to go out social dancing at least once a week.

JUNCTURE: At this point some people fall off for one reason or another: it was fun but you're not willing to spend more time to get better; you met someone and their into something else; its not floating your boat any more; you've had some bad dance experiences and have been turned off; other stuff in your life just is more important.

Intermediate: You've "graduated"! You're about  year into dancing and someone said that you're good enough to make the leap to intermediate! You're more confident, know more moves, you're actually out social dancing 2, maybe 3 times a week and are starting to notice what the more advanced dancers are doing. you pick out your favorites as you watch them and think to yourself - "I want to dance like that!"

JUNCTURE: At this point you either become a total addict, or you decide that perhaps its time to back off a little bit and focus on something else. Basically, if you've caught the bug, you're hooked and booked! You'll find yourself dancing almost everyday, taking lessons from 1 or more teachers, attending salsa congresses, talking about dancing and hanging out with dancers all the time.

Advanced Intermediate: About a year and a half close to the 2 year mark you find yourself at another weird spot. You know enough to know that there's a LOT you still have to learn. You're all of a sudden finding that all you ever do in your free time is dance - yes, you are now officially a salsaholic. If you're still stuck in the taking classes mode and haven't gone out dancing then you're not really addicted yet and should really consider social dancing more. You're probably contemplating the next congress or 2 and even starting to branch out and try venues outside your established comfort zones.

JUNCTURE: For me, this was a key juncture. I was starting to wonder how long it would take me to "get better" to the point where I would be happy with my dancing. I was a bit frustrated because I didn't think I could ever look like these professionals who were so polished and precise. I took myself away from the dancing scene I did know and vacationed in Oaxaca and learned from someone new. I met some great people and the instructor I learned from had a style I could relate to (and some advice from an ex) I was re-energized! I hit a new stride and my dance confidence went WAAAAAAY up. [This is KEY by the was, the confidence going up... it really changes your dance, and for the better!]  I decided that I didn't have to look like anyone else, I should just be me! I wanted to be the best follow I could be while social dancing and all of a sudden, all my doubts disappeared, I found my own style and got great feedback and started to really enjoy the dance. I'm able to turn off my own self-critic, still be open to learning and incorporate all the other dances that I knew about into salsa.

Advanced: All that dancing got you here :) Its likely to be going on year 3 to 5. You've established a routine of your favorite places to go and are getting more play time with the folks you've been watching and looking up to. You're still taking some lessons and likely going to congresses. You're friends list in facebook has grown because of all your new dancer friends. Its weird (but nice) when this happens but you're likely to now be the one that people want to dance like. You're dance card is always full and when you go to your familiar haunts, there's always someone you know and can say hi to, get a hug, get a dance and off you go.

Its another JUNCTURE: Where do you go from here? You've maxed out on lessons, may have even taken privates with one or more instructors and still get a high from all the dancing. Your non-dance time is quite limited and people outside of dance only ever know you to be dancing. The euphoria is still there but something might be missing or you're starting to wonder what to do next. So what now?

These are the options I compiled for myself and from talking to others in a similar stage:
  • Life is good: You are happy with your dancing, the people you're meeting, its a great place to be and nothing more needs to be said.
  • If you haven't already, dance with other teachers; attend congresses where you get exposed to teachers/dancers outside of Seattle
  • Explore other latin dances: chacha, merengue, bachata, cumbia
  • Explore other dances: blues, swing, tango
  • Back to the basics or "Everything old is new again" there are nuances that you may discover by going back the basics or taking basics from some other dance.
  • Learn the opposite role (if you're a lead, follow and vice versa)
  • Explore other forms of Salsa: casino, rueda de casino, on2 mambo, sohn, etc.
  • Understand the music more
  • Join a performance team
  • Find a dance Partner to dance with and practice for social dancing
  • Find a dance Partner to dance with and practice for performance
  • Help out with or start to contemplate teaching

What did I decide to do? pretty much almost all of the above except for performing with a partner

1) Join a Performance Dance Team and experience choreographed Salsa
2) Took  lessons to improve other related dances: mambo (salsa on 2) and understand the structure of the music more.

3) Continue to go out social dancing making sure to vary the dancing when I can: salsa, bachata, casino, rueda, cha-cha, swing/blues
4) Learn new dances: Dabble in a little bit of West Coast Swing, Belly Dancing (its fun and I have a long, long way to go; Kizomba,  which is a fusion of some of my favorite dancing AND the music is just lovely: I dabbled in West Coast Swing but am not quite ready to give up more for it.
5)  Learn to lead (salsa and bachata)
6) Started to discuss dancing with my fellow dancer friends and in some cases, we coach each other on moves that we do and the styling that we have - its great fun to collaborate and even be able to help someone else find their own stride!

To say that I still enjoy dancing is an understatement, unlike some of the folks who dance as much as I do (or did) who have hit the "burn out" period where they need to step away from the dancing, I haven't gotten there yet and I think I won't because of the variety of dances I'm learning all at once.

Is there ever an end to learning? I don't think so. I maintain that as long as you are willing, there is always something to learn. Take dancing: it is framed by music and movement and created/performed by people. There are so many different kinds of people in the world who provide an unending supply of creative juices on top of a rich history! There will always be someone new to dance with or some new song that is made. The only reason you would stop learning is if you don't want to anymore.

In the end, at every juncture, its really more about answering the question "Is dancing something I still love doing?"

For me, the answer is still unequivocably is YES!

Share your thoughts, let me know what you think and if you have other ideas to share - please do!
Happy Dancing


  1. By your time frame, I'm way ahead of the game! I guess I took the fast track. :-)

    Dancing is a total blast! It has been for the past year and I cannot envision that changing anytime soon.

    I really love how well you articulate your view points! Keep up the good work.


  2. Thanks Jonno :) Its great to get the feedback and you ARE on the fast track, I'm just slightly ahead of you but I've got shorter legs :P

  3. I would say I'm addicted, hooked, IN LOVE with salsa/bachata.I don't see myself ever stopping or burning out. Dance is my energy. Without it I burn out.

    Even after salsa and bachata I really want to get good at tango and try other dances like blues and west coast swing!

    And I also see how much I have to improve, which will spur me on to dancing more and more.

    The list goes on and on....I will talk about dance until someone shuts me up! ;p heeh

    Great blog!

  4. yup - you totally have the bug Stephanie :)
    Only time will tell about the what will happen but given the list of the other dances you're interested in, its safe to say you'll be dancing for a LONG, LONG time :D