- 1. What makes Cuban salsa dancing different?
- 2. Enthusiasm – God from within
- 3. La revolucion del cuerpo
- 4. The steps that will get you started
- 5. Important parts of the body
- 5.1. The hips in Cuban salsa dancing
- 5.2. The hips in Cuban salsa dancing
- 5.2.1. What does that have to do with shoulders and arms/hands?
- 5.3. I can’t hear a thing
- 5.3.1. Once you go Rumba, you never go back
- 6. Other dances that make-up Cuban Salsa dancing
- 7. When should I start?
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Cuban salsa dancing is not only a great way to have fun, it’s also a great way to socialise, lose weight and see life at a different angle.
I will explain further why this dance has within itself all of the sunshine you would associate with Cuba and Cuban people.
1. What makes Cuban salsa dancing different?
Cuban salsa dancing traces its origins from a multitude of dance forms. There is the Afro-Cuban roots, strongly displayed through the use of drums, clave etc. Another feature of this dance is also a link to Spanish tradition. An attentive spectator can decipher at least five different types of dances displayed when someone dances Cuban salsa. On the one hand, you might recognise the very traditional Abakua, the movements of Rumba, the specific gestures of Son, Chachacha, Cuban mambo or Chango. On the other hand, many Cuban songs also include varieties of “themes into their song” which can be confusing for a beginners. There is also a strong emphasis on the 4th and 8th beat, which actually implies that the dancer is manipulating the music. More over, movements of the hips and shoulders greatly contribute to this manipulation.
Examples of Cuban salsa songs with Rumba
Examples of Cuban salsa songs with Rumba & Chango
Vive La Vida
2. Enthusiasm – God from within
Literally that’s what you get with Cuban salsa dancing. Your body; your whole system in fact can witness huge positive changes in a matter of minutes when you practice Cuban salsa.
Because I practice every day for many hours; I got a chance to really observe what was going on with my body, mind and soul. In a matter of seconds, I would go from a phase where worries, difficulties would have crippled my mind for a whole morning, to the phase where everything was forgotten and I could literally see all seven dying. For a period of 2/3hours I would enter another universe, a bit like being on an auto pilot plane at high altitude.
That’s how powerful Cuban salsa is. The very first aspect that gets affected with the practice is of course your body.
3. La revolucion del cuerpo
Ever played with a modelling material? The more you shape it, the more it seems to offer endless shapeable opportunities? Cuban salsa dancing is a bit like plasticine. Because of its route in afro-Cuban dance, you can get a multitude of forms by using your body to the maximum. In fact, many Cuban salsa dancing schools, the first part of the student training is sessions about body movement. Unfortunately, this part tends to be neglected by dancers who believe fancy steps is the hardest thing, when in reality it’s obtaining a flexible body you can modify at will that is difficult. The fact is, once your body is malleable you can make it do anything. But to get a flexible body you must have a harden attitude toward practicing constantly. That’s duality of life at its best.
3.1. Why your body will love Cuban salsa dancing ?
The more you break down your body in pieces, the more it will reward you with an intangible force that show its appreciation of your efforts. After a while; all you will need to set your mood-up, will be a bit of music and a few seconds. Then, just watch as the magic take over. Many people underestimate dance and body movement as an essential part of your daily medicine; when in reality, these simple activities can, on their own, sort out many of your ailments. And if you mix that with a bit of yoga…
4. The steps that will get you started
In my post The Best Guide to Salsa Cuban Style, I provided 5 of the absolute most important basic Cuban salsa steps that you need to know if you are to enjoy the dance. Here, I will provide some of the steps and body movements to associate with these steps so that you can start feeling the power of Cuban salsa and why it’s in my view more powerful than say NYsalsa.
But before we get started; and if you are an absolute beginner check-out the Ekagra-ji step system on the video below to understand how and when you need to coordinate your steps on the music .
4.1. Which beats is the clave on:
From the pictures above you can see that the clave is mainly played in 2 ways. Either the 3/2 which mean you will hear 5 resonance of the clave on a basic time step; or 2/3 which also means you will hear the clave 5 times over that same time period. The time steps is made of 2 measures of 4 beats. Therefore it takes 8 beats to execute 1 basic step.
Take a look at the video below to have a practical view of the explanation and pictures above:
4.2. What kind of body movements should I do?
In the following video I take you to the stage 1 body movement program I elaborated. I like
to go to two or even three stages of body movements before I even start my Cuban salsa practices.
The first stage is to work on isolating parts of the body while the tempo of the music increases.
4.2.1. The very basic steps:
From this basic step you can transition into Rumba using the following basic steps.
4.2.2. Rumba steps:
As you can see from the picture above; on a typical rumba move the man moves his right foot left (while bending his knees) and the woman accompanies this movement by going right with her right foot. The same goes in the other directions on the counts of 5 to 8.
So the move goes like this:
(1), move leg to the side, with the help of the hips
(3), bring back the feet in the middle
(5), move the leg to the other side
(7), bring the foot back to the middle.
5. Important parts of the body
Another basic exercise you can do to understand the importance of hip movements in Cuban salsa is to move the hips according to sound of the music while tip toeing your step. It is harder that it sounds.
The areal view of the steps will look like this:
5.1. The hips in Cuban salsa dancing
As you can see in this move, we must use the same foot on two consecutive beats, which means we have to be fast. Therefore, you cannot take too wide of a step, otherwise you will quickly be off beat. So, with the help of the hips, we use the toes to play the beats (1), (3) and (5), (7).
5.2. The hips in Cuban salsa dancing
Few years ago, I spoke to a New York style dancer; who was telling me that NY salsa was more sophisticated. The main reason why many feel that way is because of the emphasis on styling. But, even if the father of NY salsa dancing instructed dancers to be creative and spontaneous and to root their dance into the street; the shift is such that you almost never see a NY salsa dancer dance barefoot for example. Instead they stick to the movements they learn in the studio. This is fine, but the result can be a number of people who will do the same routine no matter the song they listen to. In Cuban salsa dancing you have to be spontaneous. That impulsiveness is what allows you to guess the upcoming patterns of a song you’ve never heard before. And when you reach that level, the satisfaction is such that you feel you are on another planet.
5.2.1. What does that have to do with shoulders and arms/hands?
Many Cuban salsa dancers, because they incorporate different types of dance into their blend, will often use rumba movement, Columbia or even Son to execute their salsa moves. Therefore, the hand grip is fuller with Cuban salsa dancing than it is with say NY salsa. Since spontaneity is of the essence, a Cuban dancer might want to take support on his female partner to execute a surprising move. They might rest on a lady’s arm in order to recover from an equilibrium deficit they created on purpose. Or, engage in seductive solo moves using their shoulders to display masculinity and confidence. Therefore, it is important to master the use of shoulders and hands.
5.3. I can’t hear a thing
One of the key pitfalls for beginners is to neglect the basics of Cuban salsa dancing. Along with body movement, the strongest most important point of Cuban salsa is to dance on the right beat. In order to achieve that, you must develop musical ears. I said it countless of time to many people who wanted to learn how to dance, or worse; to people who got stuck at a level and could not move forward. The main reason for the later situation, is they tried and went for the fancy steps and neglected both the musical hearing and body movement. Develop these two aspects; and no matter the types of salsa dance you want to practice; you will be able to quickly accommodate.
5.3.1. Once you go Rumba, you never go back
In order to hear the clave, you should start first with songs that are heavy on that instrument and almost on no other instruments. The best types of music with heavy usage of clave is rumba. Cuban rumba as it is played in the streets of Cuba is simple in terms of the instruments used. A clave, a drum and few others. There are no pianos, guitars or brass instruments. And guess what? Rumba dance is also the dance you need to develop body movements. I just gave you an important tip, so I hope you will not overlook it.
Note: The first two years of my dancing journey were mainly spent developing musical hearing and body movements. I listened a lot to rumba songs and practiced rumba dance extensively. I felt validated, when I branched out of Cuban salsa dancing and went to learn Cuban contemporary dance. I realised they use music based on drums and clave a lot, which stress the importance of rhythm, body movement and flexibility in dance.
6. Other dances that make-up Cuban Salsa dancing
6.1. Rueda the Casino
It’s a group dance where at least two couples participate and create beautiful choreographies around a circle pattern. There is a “caller” who might or might not be one of the dancers. His role is to initiate the times where changes will occur. These will either be a change in dancing steps, or a change of partner while keeping the circle and moving. A male dancer might move to take the place of another one, or every two male partners etc. The direction might be clockwise or anticlockwise.
This form of dance is very great for socialising and fun. Generally speaking, people who engage in Rueda de casino end-up interacting with each other easily.
Son is a type of dance I like to call “the elegant dance of the elders”. Not that it is exclusive to old people. In fact, many young dancers practice son. Its mainly because; that’s the kind of dance I will exclusively dance when I grow older. There is an intricacy into this dance without the vulgarity some other Latin dance display; hence the “elegant” part of it. Man tend to dance this on 2 (left foot). It includes walking part, men taking figurine postures while the lady help move him around in circle. The speed is generally slower than normal Cuban salsa dancing.
Basically, this form of dance includes extra steps into the normal patterns. So instead of 6 steps on a normal 8 beat counts (with the 4 and 8 being a tap); with chachacha you get 10 steps. It goes like this:
■ 1-2 beats (normal) : 2 steps
■ 3-4 cha (1) cha (1) cha (1) : 3
■ 5-6 beats (normal) : 2
■ 7-8 cha (1) cha (1) cha (1) : 3
Generally, the music is slower which allow for the multitude of steps. Of course, this explanation is valid mainly for beginners to understand the difference in styles. Great dancers can create a multitude of footsteps on few beats.
7. When should I start?
Although it might seem a ridiculous question for some; for others it might be an important question. If as a non-practitioner you go to a Cuban salsa dancing event, you might be so attracted by the moves that you might wish you knew how to dance. That was certainly the case for me at the beginning. However, you might try and dance with few partners and realise they don’t really want to dance at your non-existing level. Which in turn might discourage you from starting. The key to remember is that all of these dancers were at some stage in your shoes. But they got over the initial fear and just dived into it. So you just need to do the same and, really on a good teacher and time. That’s literally all you have to do.
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