Cuban Salsa: Practica is Number One

I call my Private Cuban Salsa Practica for my daily social workout. I train with one of several dance partners at all levels in parks and on public dance platform or in private homes. Your own Practica, where Lead and Follow decide date, time and place, the music, what and how to train, is to me social dancing at a higher level second to none. I call it Social Dance Fitness for body and soul. There is no better way to learn and develop as a dancer than to be in charge of your own learning process. You must own your own dance.

I want to promote the wonders of practicing on your own with a partner, I want to promote dance as an integral part of your daily life. To me dancing is first of all to practice on your own, and with a partner. “Socials” and “party” are far below the list. I arrive to my Practicas well-prepared with a strict agenda of what to train. I often take videos and upload them to private YouTube Channels, one for each Follow (she has the password). Video is a great tool for finding errors and problems in your dance.

The video below is a Special Edition Practica, because my dance partner, Mona, broke her right underarm while hiking in Greece a month ago. I am bringing her back to dance life with my “legendary” soft touch.

We have not prepared anything for this dance, we don’t train anything, we have just arrived to a small lake 10 km from the centre of Copenhagen. Mona is babysitting a Golden Retriever, Chilli, and is worried that Chilli will go crazy when we start to dance.

Warming up slowly.

1. My dance

I believe in “Each Lead his own style”. Each Lead must find his own style, his own inner dancer, within a given dance tradition, a style that fits and serves him well everything considered. One of the wonders of social dancing is that each Lead can become a master of his own dance.

I prefer to dance like one long, easygoing, meditative flow. I am just a happy amateur with an average talent but I work hard to become better. I like a relatively loose format making the Follow walk as freely and natural as possible, no Lady styling needed. I like that both of us face forward most of the time, that we are always on the move and step forward except for a few contrasting exceptions when figures or moves have back-steps build-in.

I want to be music driven but I have my own definition of what it means. It is always nice if you can react, just a little, to things in the music, but only to the extent that you can do it together with your Follow. The most important is to “ride” the music with your Follow, to adapt to to phrase changes of the music (distinct groups of counts of eight), to have “happy feet” and that the feel of the music is noticeable in the way you dance.

I also believe in Cuban Salsa INTERNATIONAL. I am not a Latino, I am not a white “Afro”, I am a f-ing Scandinavian, and I am proud of it, and I want to be true to myself, to my background and to my culture. I want to dance with the same “style” I walk the streets, I run the trails and I swim the ocean. I want to dance exactly as I am in my daily life, and it is good enough for me to be fully upright, Classic European Dance Aesthetics, and not to look down to control the steps of my Follow as I do too often!

2. The “plight” of the Follow

Its the Lead’s “dance”, the Lead’s choreography and that includes look and feel and attitude. The Follow must buy the full package. That’s exactly what Mona is doing. She helps my flow enormously by not stepping back, by not stopping up, by not backing out of the partner circle, by not hanging in the corners. And thank you for not ruining our dance with ridicules Lady Styling, touching your hair and rocket arms! Just being natural is good enough for me. Mona is always on the move by default and happily present with one long smile. She always gives me feedback, is full of suggestions and ideas for how to improve our dance.

3. Video with errors

This Practica video is just “warming up”, bringing Mona’s broken arm back in shape, but it is pretty much my concept of a social dance: “Advanced Simplicity”. In a whole dance of more than 5 minutes, I only use two well-known moves, Bayamo Clásico and a Setenta variation culminating in Noventa. The rest is just endless combinations of basic figures, and a lot of small walks. I know, train and use more than a hundred excellent moves regularly, but there is only room for two in this dance!

But of cause there are many errors and problems in our dance, especially since we always try to learn something new. Almost any not choreographed dance, Social or Practica, is certain to contain missteps but also positive surprises, if you take a closer look. That is why video is an important educational tool. Let me show you a couple of examples.

4. Reina (queen) as a figure

In Video Clip #2 , doing Exhibela with Paseala steps for the Follow, we continue with Exhibela Inverso, then a new Exhibela and top it up with a Reina turn. This is the first time I try Exhibela Inverso with Mona and even though we have trained Reina a lot as part of Paseo walks, it is the first time we use it in the middle of other moves. Inspired (notice my lifted finger), I continue with another “first” (for me), Enchufla Doble con Reina! Surprise, surprise, and I actually use it again later in the dance!

New use of Reina

Because of the video, I have these two new (to me) Reina applications documented. I have most likely used Reina outside of Paseo walks before without realising it. Now I have become aware of Reina inside my own dance, and that makes it much more likely that I will use it again in many different situations.

5. Bad Exhibela Inverso

In the same video clip I also notice that Mona’s Paseala steps are partly wrong because I add Exhibela Inverso right after Exhibela without proper leading. Exhibela Inverso is easy to lead as part of Paseala steps in closed position but very tricky done in open position right after Exhibela: Almost all Follows expect to turn right on “7”. It is first time I try to go left on “7” with Mona, and she is taken by surprise and her Paseala steps fall apart but she rescues the situation with some homegrown variation!

It looks like I could have used my left arm more clearly early in the move as lead, and that my right arm on her right shoulder should have helped her around. The turn itself is the easy part, the trick is to make Mona point her left foot left on “7”, if she is ever to be brought around with her right foot forward on “1”. This we must train at our next Practica.

6. Ola (wave) is difficult

Video Clip #3 shows a decent Ola (wave) figure, but too short to be impressive. Mona and I have trained it a couple of times, but this is the first time it appears naturally in our dance. The two waves look good but the right turn fails completely making it impossible for Mona to end up in Caida position (DQN start position), and for that reason it is impossible to continue the Ola walk and we must abort it for something else.

Only half of a “Ola” walk!

Ola is one of those great figures most dancers are never going to use because it is too difficult in all its simplicity. Both Lead and Follow need to have what I call “Caida” awareness. The waves are difficult enough and it gets many times more difficult with the right turn on “5-6-7”, if it is to be followed immediately by more waves. The Follow should use “Spiral Turn” technique on “5-6” in order to have a “free” foot on “7”, making it easier to pivot around into Caida position ready to step forward on “1” for the next wave.

7. Your dance?

Dear Leads and Follows! Not teachers and instructors but common dancers like me, next to me on the dance floor. Show me how you dance! When it is not a choreographed show, demo or presentation, when it is not something you have prepared or rehearsed? Show me your basic “bread and butter” dance, just happy improvised dancing…

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