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Dancing To And With The Music

How To Improve Your Salsa Musicality

Timing is one of the first things we need to learn when we start dancing salsa. It gives us the main structure for our steps and tells us when to lead or when to be ready. But the more a dancer advances, the more important becomes the concept of "musicality". But what does salsa musicality mean? What does it mean to dance "musically", beyond the idea of dancing to the beat?

One of the most common mistakes salsa dancers make is to focus on patterns and styling instead of actually dancing to and with the music. But if you don't dance to the music, you might as well do gymnastics.

Without the music, we cease to be dancers. The music is our fundament, the framework in which we move. Its beat tells us where we are supposed to be, its mood influences our movement dynamics, its changes make our dance flow, its breaks gives us highlights to accent, its instruments guide our body movements. Our bodies are to make visible the sounds we hear, the rhythm, the melody, the feel of the music. We become a visual instrument of the band.

What you will see on the dance floor is often a different story entirely. You see dancers completely oblivient of the basic beat, continuing to dance while the music stops, and nothing in the way they move would tell you anything about the music if you couldn't hear it. If you shudder at the sound of somebody singing out of tune, well, that's the equivilant.

How To Become A More Musical Salsa Dancer

It takes a while to get comfortable with a type of music that is foreign to most of us. You will need a basic understanding of salsa music in order to dance to it.

If you want to become a more musical dancer, here are a few ideas to get you started:

Respect The Music!!!

You might not always like it, you might not quite understand it, but you have to respect it! The music is what gives life to the dancer, respect is the least we can give back. Get to know the music, learn a little about its history, discover the different styles. And most important: listen.

Listen To The Music

Make an effort to listen, really listen to what's going on.  
This should be a no-brainer, but most students still neglect that part. With "listen to the music" I mean 2 things:  
1. You need to listen off of the dance floor. Activley and consciously listen to different salsa songs, try to discern the different instruments, distinguish the 1 from the 5, listen for the structure and patterns leading up to breaks and so on.  
2. Listen on the dancefloor. When you're out dancing, try to actively tune in to the music instead of just focusing on patterns and styling. Are you on time? Do your patterns and styling match the feel of the music, do they highlight the accents, do you respect the breaks?  

Get To Know The Instruments

There are quite a few musicians making up a salsa band. Knowing the different instruments they are playing and how they interact together will give you a framework within which you can move more freely. The rhythm and timing will become a lot more clear to you, you will have no problems of knowing where you are in the music and you will have plenty of inspiration for your body movements and styling. You should be able to clearly distinguish the clave, the conga, the cowbell, the piano and the horns. Further listening should reveal the bongos, the guiro, the maracas, the timbales and the bass.

Understand The Structure Of The Music

Understanding how a song is structured will drastically change your dancing. You will be able to know your way around in a song and never get lost again - like you know the different rooms in your home. This understanding enables you to fit your patterns to the music, predict breaks and play along with your footwork to the different rhythmical parts and pieces of the song.

Don't Ignore The Breaks

When the music stops playing, even for just one second - what makes you think you should keep on dancing? Because you were in the middle of your move? If the music stops, you stop. Salsa Musicality is about adjusting your moves to the music. Get to know the structure of the music to be in sync with the breaks in the song.

Reflect The Feel, Mood & Dynamics

Beyond the structure of the song there is always a certain "feel" to it. A salsa romantica song can be soft and flowing, but also highly dramatic due to changes in dynamics. There might be a strong rhythm section or emphasis on the melody. The music can "drive" and power you or get you to relax and chill. Always make an emotional connection with the music as well, and let your feelings be reflected in your movements.


If you need more help understanding the music make sure you visit Music4Dancers, an excellent resource by Don Baarns!


Salsa Musicality 

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