Here are some questions I get with some degree of frequency.
What kinds of dances do you do / will I learn about in this blog?
This blog is primarily about the social Afro Latin dances (not ballroom Latin) — salsa, bachata, kizomba, and zouk.
Bachata is my favorite and my speciality, and I spend more time doing it than other dances (and the vast majority of the congresses I go to are bachata congresses). But the difference in time I devote to each dance is actually reasonably minimal. In terms of time commitment, salsa follows bachata, then zouk, then kizomba.
I also dance west coast swing, though I am much more of a novice in this dance. I will never presume to tell you how to follow it in any way, shape, or form. I am familiar with how it works however and will often refer to it, pontificate about it, and talk about it in comparison with other dance forms. It is very different from the Latin dances, and a great dance for helping enhance your skills across the board.
What are your credentials? Why should I listen to you?
The most important thing about my quest to be the perfect follow is that I am humbly certain that I do not have all the answers. I am always looking for them, though. I am always self-correcting, always looking for feedback, and always asking questions of leaders and followers I admire. I know that I have some good wisdom to pass around. But it is by no means all of the wisdom available.
I have been dancing some form of dance or another for twenty five years now. These include ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, contemporary, and everything in between. In terms of the mechanics of how bodies work and move, I am reasonably confident in the information I have to share and theorize about.
I first discovered partner dancing four years ago. After about six months I began dancing every day. (Doing this means your social dance can improve at 7x the rate of someone who dances only once a week… take note!) I do it a lot. I consult with experts a lot. I play with the forms a lot. I work on my dance a lot. Yet I am absolutely, so earnestly not an expert. I may be reasonably competent at what I do but that is about the best I can say at this point.
What’s the best dance to start out with as a beginner?
This is an excellent question. The majority of people start with salsa simply because its the most ubiquitous dance.
That being said, it entirely depends on two things: your range of physical abilities and preferences, and which dance speaks to you the most.
The dance which requries the least physical fitness and is the least risky in terms of injury is kizomba (though its easy to get stepped on at the beginning). It does require, or teach, the ability to make subtle isolated movements with the torso. It doesn’t require any acrobatics or aerobic capacity. It’s a super lovely connected dance with a lot of intricacies and subtleties, but simply not demanding.
Bachata for me, personally, is the perfect mix between delicate and undemanding on one hand and lively and aerobic on the other– which one of these it is varies a lot by the kind of music played and the leader you’re with. Like kizomba, it also requires, or teaches, a lot of subtle torso isolations. It is not all that physically demanding and low risk for injury, but as sensual bachata becomes more popular across Europe and now the US, a lot of zouk-type moves are becoming part of the dance’s regular language.
Salsa is a lively dance, but it doesn’t require the same kind of flexibility as other dances like bachata and zouk. It is quicker and more challenging than bachata to learn from the get-go. This investment can pay off big, however, since the speed, precision, and turn technique it teaches can later translate great into other dances. If you want to dance a dance that is worldwide and that happens many days a week in most major cities, salsa is the dance for you.
Zouk (that is, lambada zouk) is a reasonably demanding dance (it doesn’t have to be, but it often is) that requires a lot of energy and which requires great flexibility in the back and neck. It is most certainly not for the faint of heart. Of course many people do start dance with zouk, but it does have its own flavor and unique set of relatively demanding skills.
West coast swing is probably the second most demanding dance after zouk, as it requires a lot of moving. Of all the dances this one probably will give followers the best work out. But it also requires the least subtlety in torso movements (this subtlety just happens elsewhere, often in the hands). WCS is also the most complex and most cerebral dance: it’s the only dance where every congress (event) you go to is full of both pros and beginners vigorously debating the philosophy and techniques of the dance. That being said, if you believe that the more nuanced and complex the dance, the better it is (as I do), you may find WCS to be the perfect dance for you. It has a reputation for being the most challenging partner dance, and for good reason. Don’t let this scare you off, though. WCS is super friendly to beginners. It also has a totally different community feel than the latin dances. It is diverse in its age range of practitioners (but not necessarily ethnicities…), is super progressive in terms of gender roles, and, quite simply, earnest.
As to the question of which dance speaks to you the most, I couldn’t say. I love all of them and appreciate the unique flavor of each.
Salsa tends to be a bit zesty and sexy–though mambo (salsa on 2) chills out a bit and tends to float a little bit more.
Bachata is the most overtly romantic of the dances–all the song are about love and lust and betrayal, and those who dance it (me) are addicted to the loving connection found here (that isn’t to say this doesn’t exist in other dances, but it’s the most common here).
Kizomba is a delicately connected dance that keeps you constantly very close to your leader with a hypnotic, syncopated Angolan rhythm. It’s music varies from having a more Caribbean feel to being very electronic or urban.
Zouk (especially lambada) is, for me, the most wild of the dances. Of course it varies by song and partner, but this is the only dance in which the whole room of people are clapping, hair is whipping around vigorously, and sometimes when I glance out over a dancefloor it reminds me of raves.
WCS is the dance to do if you love pop music. It has a lot of great blues songs to dance to, no doubt, but the majority of its music these days is 4/4 pop music, ranging from Ed Sheeran to Missy Eliot. If you don’t like being all that too close to your partner, this is also a great choice, as you tend to keep your distance.
How long will it take me to become a good follower?
Great question. I have no idea how long it will take me to be a good follower. I always think, “maybe next week” or “maybe next year.” If I don’t put a limit on where I can go, then, the plan is, I will be constantly improving.
If you are earnest in your dancing and present with your partner when you dance, I would say, definitively, that you are already an amazing follower.
The physical skills that come with following take time to develop. The more frequently you dance and the more you conscientiously attempt to connect, balance, and interpret better, the more quickly you will improve.
Where do I find a resource like this for leaders?
You don’t, so far as I know. (Sorry :/ ) However, I do talk about leading a fair bit, and a lot of the posts in this blog about following are highly relevant to thinking about leading and also learning how to lead. If you can get yourself into a follower’s perspective, you will find your leading improving, I can promise you that.
I am working on my leading. Some day in the future perhaps I will consider myself competent enough to have serious discussions about best practices. For now I dabble from a follower’s perspective.
What kinds of dances do you teach?
Trick question! I don’t teach. Not currently, anyway, as I have too many other jobs.