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Learning To Learn

A Practical Mindset When Learning Salsa


When taking salsa classes we quickly realize there is a big gap between theory and practice. We can understand how we’re supposed to do something, but we just can’t do it. This can be a huge source of frustration. We beat ourselves up because we “should be able to do it” or constantly criticize ourselves for making mistakes. We might give up trying all together. We haven’t learnt how to learn.

Learning something new by definition means that we cannot do it yet, otherwise we wouldn’t be learning it. So beating ourselves up after the first try isn’t really a smart thing to do. Learning is a process that takes a while. Especially when what we’re trying to learn is something quite complex as salsa dancing.

The Difference Between Knowledge And Skills

There is a difference between knowing how/being able to do something and knowing WHAT you do. If I'd ask you to explain to me how you tie your shoes you'd probably go "Eh... let me show you!" because you know very well how to do it, but you don't know what you do exactly.

The other way around is just as true. The teacher explains to you what to do, your brain goes "Sure, got it!" while your body goes "Wait a minute..." The brain works with the understanding of ideas, the body then needs to implement them. That is what we call practice.


Muscle Memory

Most of us don’t have a lot of experience in coordinated movement before we start taking up salsa classes. The body needs time to wire the movements in the brain before it can execute them without you consciously thinking about it. It’s called muscle memory and takes a while to develop. Before that you will have to pay close attention to every move you make. Make sure that you do the movements exactly as you’re told and shown. Don’t be sloppy when you learn new things. Be as exact as you can. If you’re doing things wrong as you practice, your muscle memory will automate the wrong moves. And the one thing that is harder than learning something new, is re-learning something that has already become a habit.


Focus & Feedback

When we learn motor skills, we constantly switch between the intention of doing something, and the feedback we get from our body (or teacher) wether what we're doing is working or not. Although the feedback is absolutely crucial in learning and improving a skill, the problem often lies in our lack of focus. We get stuck in negative feedback, every move reminding us of our inability to execute it properly. It's helpful to have a very clear idea about the two different "jobs" the mind and the body have in dancing: while the mind is providing the idea and intention about a certain move, it's the body's job to figure out how to do it. The mind is responsible for the "What", the body for the "How". Mix these two and you're up for trouble.

Unrealistic Expectations

When you learn to dance salsa there is often one big factor that stands in the way of improvement – compairing yourself to others, especially the teacher. Remember that the teacher necessarily needs to look much better than you, otherwise you wouldn't be taking classes from him or her. Don’t let yourself become discouraged by seeing the fluid movements of your dance teacher or other good dancers. I heard many people say “I’m never gonna be able to dance like that” six weeks into their practice. That is just not realistical thinking. Good salsa dancers and teachers have been practicing their moves for years and sometimes decades. You cannot possibly compete with that after a few weeks.

 

It's the curse of dancing that a skilled dancer makes everything look so easy, but that ease comes from hundreds and thousands of hours of focused practice. So keep these things in mind the next time you're in class.

 

Go To >> Part 2 Of The Salsa Practice Guide:

Practice Makes Perfect - Or Does It?

 

 What and How To Learn Salsa Dancing

What's New

New Article:

Contradictory Advice:
When Teachers Tell You Different Things

Salsa Practice Guide


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to help you learn and practice your salsa skills.