Ah walking...such an easy thing to do until Monday afternoon. That's when tragedy struck on the CO slopes(OK, really it was more like stupidity and pride, but who's pointing fingers). It was my first time skiing in three years, and probably the fifth time skiing in my lifetime, and it was the first run of the day. I wasn't trying to be ambitious, I was on a "learning area" run, (Schoolmarm at Keystone, for the ski buffs).
It was a fun route, and funny too, since they kept suggesting Slow Down seconds before you hit what I now affectionately call - the death drops. "Sure!" I yelled, "I'll be happy to slow down." As if that move was in my repertoire. Then it happened. I came to a death drop scattered with kids and lingering adults, and panicked.
For the record, I'm an OK skier. It's stopping that's my weakness. Specifically, stopping on a dime when a newer skier falls in front of me. I'm also not the best Pole Position player on the slopes (though I rocked that game when I was a kid;) so weaving in and out of slower skiers makes me nervous...for both parties' well being. Yet there I was, speeding downhill with my worst ski fear looming in front of me. I think my thoughts went something like this, "oh, Oh, OH!...OWWW!... F*^#!" Call me nothing if not honest;)
I feel I should warn those of you who have never been skiing - even though the snow is soft, at high speeds, that shit hurts! After the pain induced nausea passed, I was able to attend to the throbbing in my right leg. I quickly removed my ski boot and began stretching and rubbing what's left of my knee. I say "left" because most dancers are lucky to have anything resembling that particular joint by the time they're my age. (For my age, do the math on the aforementioned Atari reference;).
It hurt. Really badly. I sat for at least five minutes rubbing my knee. Finally, the ski patrol showed up and asked if I was OK. "I'm not sure," I confessed. "Let me see if I can put my ski back on." When I play this back in my mind, this is when the patrol says, "Don't Risk It!!" But, for better and worse, we have free will - and who is the ski patrol to take it away? The nice lady instead said she would ski behind me to make sure I was OK.
In three more feet, we had our answer. Going two miles an hour, I attempted my first turn. No sooner did I twist and put weight on it, than a loud "POP!" taunted me as I collapsed. This time, after my scream, my thoughts went a little like this, "SSSHHHIIITTT!" The genius skiing behind me came back with, "That didn't sound good." Really!?! I couldn't tell because the pop is still shaking my very existence, but you didn't think it sounded "good". Well, there we have it...it must not be good...if you say so. (They say hindsight is 20/20 - apparently mine is also bitter and immature).
As the genius kindly towed me down the mountain (an impressive bit of skiing, I must admit) - I silently harangued myself for my gross stupidity. Why didn't I let them take me down after the first fall? Why did I put my livelihood on the line? What a*^holes invented skiing in the first place?! Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? I can hear them now:
Guy #1: "Darn, we're stuck at the top of this mountain. How are we ever gonna get down in time for the square dance?"
Guy #2: "I know! Let's take these broken limbs, tie 'em to our feet, and slide down! We'll get down in a jiffy!"
Guy #1: "Heh, heh, heh. OK. You go first and I'll go behind you to make sure you're alright."
Side note: if anyone knows the actual origin of skiing off the top of their heads, write it as a comment to this blog. I'd love to know how close I am to nailing this one;)
Back to reality, somewhere between chastising myself and admiring the ski patrol's mad skills, it hit me - the most important part of skiing is stopping. I'd like to say, in that very moment, I related it to dance (because the most important part of turning is stopping) - but that would be a crock of shit. The only thing I was thinking that involved dance was, "When will I be able to dance again?"
Sadly, I don't have that answer. So, never take it for granted, the gift of dance. Hell, even the gift of walking. I went to the park today on crutches. I sat and watched as my husband and son had a blast together. Not that I'm complaining - I was happy to be outside on a gorgeous day with the people I love the most. But I'll be happier when I get to join in the revelry.
Unfortunately, for now, I won't see you on the hardwood...but I hope you'll be there.
Let's clear the air, shall we? The purpose of a group lesson isn't really to teach you to dance. Sorry to burst that bubble. A group lesson is to help you fall in love with a dance, so you find a way to take private lessons. Private lessons are where you really learn to dance.
That said, my favorite instructors incorporate a bit of technique in their group classes for those few devoted students who actually care. It's not as easy as it looks, because the glaze is so thick over the eyes of the students who don't care, instructors sometimes get lost in it, never to be seen or heard from again. I try to fight the good fight, but teaching technique to a large number of people is next to impossible. Technique is best absorbed when you can physically move the student's body.
I don't write this to pump up my teaching schedule - though, let's be honest, I wouldn't be mad if that happened - I write this because people often confess frustrations to me that they don't feel any improvement, even though they come to every lesson. Let me throw a little perspective your way. A weekly lesson is 45 minutes long. A day is 24 hours. A week is 168 hours. How is one 45 minute blip, out of that many hours, even supposed to cause a dent?
But Allison, I dance after the lesson, too. For how many hours? One... two, max. It's not enough to see or feel real improvement. Dance is like any sport. If you took up golf and only played for three hours a week, how quickly would you get better? If you're answering, "pretty quickly", you're lying to yourself. A lot of life happens in that other 165 hours to help you forget what you learned in a 45 minute lesson.
Dance is muscle memory. You have to train your muscles so your mind can take a back seat. To thoroughly train your muscles, you have to repeat the combo you learned - I like to say - 30 times. If you didn't "master" the whole combo during class, just do the part you learned. It's better to lead half a combo correctly than a whole combo desperately.
We all know the saying, "Practice makes perfect." Let me burst that bubble, too. (Wow, two weeks ago I loved bubbles, now look at me?!;) In truth, practice makes permanent. So if you practice it wrong, you'll do it wrong. Trust me, I play a hideous "Moonlight Sonata" because I was young and impatient when I "learned" it.
My Tae-Kwon-Do instructor used to tell us "Perfect practice makes perfect." Unfortunately, in a group setting, you don't get perfect practice. You get to meet a lot of dancers, be introduced to a new pattern, and hopefully have a few laughs.
For the record, I am in no way dissing group classes! I love teaching group classes - (of course, I'm a middle child, so it's probably in part due to my hunger for attention;). But they're vital to the survival of dance. Most everyone starts in a group class. I know I did. I still remember what we learned, and that was 14 years ago... talk about a great instructor!!
So keep enjoying your group classes. It's where you get addicted. Then, when you want to go to that next level of understanding dance, find a way to take private lessons. I know dance is expensive - why do you think I became an instructor?! A seven-time champion dancer once said, "Always remember your students are smarter than you. They can afford lessons. You can't!" True. True.
But there are ways to make it work. You can take half lessons. Or you can find a small group of friends who want to get together and take a private group (this is super fun, by the way!) so the instructor still has a chance to give everyone a little one on one time. Or if all else fails, call the instructor and see if you can work something out. I sometimes do lessons on trade.
Again, my goal isn't to boost my roster... it's to get the world addicted to dancing! You can call any instructor. Just don't be frustrated by the "group class plateau" if you've stopped retaining information. Change. Adapt. Overcome. See you on the hardwood!
Without fail, in every lesson I teach, whether public or private, I surprise someone with what I want them to do with their arms. And though that sounds really wrong when I re-read it, it's true. The amount of tone you should have in your arms is highly subjective - especially in the salsa world - so today, I'm explaining my take on it.
My students have heard me tout "tone without tension" more times than they would like, I'm sure. But let's be honest - every physical activity or sport demands this very distinction. Tension slows you down and often causes injury. Think of downhill skiing with tense legs... I'd rather not. Or biking with tense hands - Ouch. Or, since it's March (Go Big Blue!!), shooting a free throw while tensing your arms. It's not even an option in other sports, yet we try it all the time on the dance floor. Which, if you think about it, makes even less sense because we're not only affecting ourselves - we're hindering our partner. So let's all say it together: tone without tension.
Honestly, life itself begs for the distinction. We naturally hold tension in our traps, which as we all notice when we're lucky enough to get a shoulder rub, sucks! Our muscles want to help us. All we have to do is engage them.. .then breathe. Harder than it sounds unfortunately.
Start with engaging your center - your core, your powerhouse, your abdominal muscles - I don't care what you call it as long as it's not hanging loose over your belt buckle. Then relax with it still engaged. Breathing comes in ever so handy in dancing, I've noticed. Now radiate that tone down your relaxed arms and out your finger tips. Next, relax your shoulders. Breathe again. Re-engage your center. Lastly, relax again.
Notice the importance of relaxing?! If not, I'll mention it again - I'm not scared;p When you have subtle tone in your arms, you're giving your partner a great gift, so you can relax knowing s/he will relish that gift. For my guys, you have to relax even more because you're naturally stronger in your upper body. So, for kicks, let's all say it together: Relax!
For the record, I'm definitely not advocating noodle arms. One of my pet peeves is when women don't give you anything in the arms. If dance is like a conversation, that would be like ignoring everything your partner says (and in my opinion, grounds for a good shaking). That being said, more often than not, people err on the side of too tense, which is why I've written the blog the way I have.
It boils down to the this: connection generates from your center. The arms and hands are merely the channel we use to communicate - they are not the message. Tension in the channel is as useful as static on your TV. If you have questions about this or other dance topics, call me for a private lesson, 303-895-0655.
Let's all say it together: See you on the hardwood!
I realized recently, with the help of my almost two year old son, that I've been doing the dishes with entirely the wrong attitude. I blah through them because it's a chore I'd honestly rather avoid. Clearly, it's the best part of the day since you get to play with a sink full of bubbles and move water from one container to another to another... does life get more fun than that?! If so, consider yourself lucky.
I've always taken pride in the fact I'm easily amused. Laugh all you want, but it makes my days genuinely fun. Some people say I'm childlike in that way (and/or naive) but I've gotta tell ya' - I've got nothing on children. Kai (my son) can laugh 'til he's red in the face if I give him a certain "I'm gonna get you" look. I don't remember the last time I laughed that hard - though laughing at him laughing comes pretty close.
I won't even tell you how excited he is to brush his teeth everyday, for fear you'll be bummed you weren't invited to the party. My point is, having kids helps you see things with a fresh pair of eyes. Let me save you the cost of diapers and tell you what I've learned:
1. Chase is the best game ever.
2. Hide-n-seek is second.
3. When mom or dad gets home (from work, or the store, or taking the dog for a walk) it is an event worth Celebrating!
4. We all started out as "morning people". (Can't say I kept that, but they're doing their best to help me remember.)
5. It's important to say good night to everyone. Even the dog.
6. Bubbles are AWESOME! (They really are...even at my age).
7. Sometimes we just want to be held.
8. Vacuuming is fun and should be done daily.
9.You don't need a reason to go outside. Being outside is reason enough.
10. Someone is always watching... and learning.
They are all important, though only a few can be related to dancing. #7 Guys. Read it out loud. Embrace it. Do it. (Yes, I'm still talking about dancing). And #10 obviously. Someone is probably watching you dance (even when you don't want them to). And what will they be thinking? Will they think, "Wow, they suck!" - let's hope not. (If you're that audience, try not to be so negative - you're bringing us all down). Could they be thinking, "How does s/he do that?" Better. Or maybe it's, "Damn, they're having the time of her lives!" Aah, now we've hit it.
Honestly, what other people think shouldn't effect your dancing. But we are human, and when we see we have an audience, we want to put on a good show. Know a good salsa show (or any social dance) is always a two person gig. You and your partner. And it's only going to look good if you're in the same show. You can't put on a romantic comedy if you're partner is thinking thriller. Watch each other. Learn from each other. And most importantly: play with each other.
Now, I have some dishes and bubbles to play with. Eat your hearts out! See you on the hardwood;)
My brother is in town from Miami, and he's recently begun his foray into Salsa. Watching his beginner glow is indeed adorable. His smiling, his laughing, his obvious thinking... he's got "just learning" written all over him. Every time he visits, he practically demands lessons - or do I force them on him? Details. So, this week I'm inspired to give my brave (and fantastically naive) beginners a leg up. For those of you who aren't new to Salsa, keep reading - you may discover some habits you want to drop after reading this;)
The first thing you should do is forget everything you think you know (and see) about Salsa dancing. Dance is very deceiving. What people are actually doing isn't what it looks like they're doing. The perfect example of this is moving the arms. New people are always circling their arms emphatically because they see better dancers "doing that". In truth, the arms shouldn't move if the rib cage isn't moving. You never want to circle the arms for the sake of circling your arms. It's confusing to the woman. If the arms are going crazy, and not connected to the rest of your movement, we can't tell when you want us to turn. Plus it feels silly. Keep your arms and hands in a neutral position.
For my ladies, don't try to move your hips when you're new. I cannot adequately express to you how silly it looks when you "try" to move your hips, but trust me - it's not as hot as we think it is. Get your feet right first. Work on your turn out and landing on bent knees, and the hips will come. I spend so many lessons correcting bad behavior with hip movement. So, if you never learn the wrong way because you are diligently staying neutral with your hips, you'll save yourself lots of money (and embarrassment;).
Back to my guys - don't rush into learning lots of moves. Women would rather dance with someone who can lead four moves well, than fifteen moves poorly - I promise you!! Take your time and get it right. Dance is muscle memory, so if you learn it wrong, you dance it wrong - for a long time! Slow down and get it solid.
Ladies, do not step before the guy! Our job is to follow. If you step before him, you're not doing your job. You're back leading - which makes his job near impossible. I know you're trying to help, but it's infuriating, literally. Don't believe me? Try leading someone who does it. You'll never do it again:)
For both guys and gals, keep your shoulders quiet! I call it the "white man's shuffle" when I see shoulders shrugging up and down with each step. I know you're excited, (believe me, I've cornered the market on excitement) but it's not Salsa. It's not any dance actually, (save maybe a touchdown dance) so stop.
Basically, less is more. I know that sucks to hear when you're new because you're intoxicated by this new world of dance. You want to throw caution to the wind and rules be damned! Like I said, I get it. Let me offer this: dance in front of a mirror at home (yes, you too guys). Play with different ways to move your body. Watch what you do when you're dancing and see if you like it. If you do, Great! If you don't - call me for a private lesson:)
I still remember my first dance lesson. I still remember flinging my body through space and Loving It! I'm not hatin' on beginners. I'm proud of you! My brother included. I love when people finally get up and dance!! I want the whole world to be that brave and free! I only offer these tips because I wish someone had given them to me sooner. On the dance floor: less really is more. Which, if you think about it, makes dance that much more enjoyable because now you can relax and have fun!
See you on the hardwood!:)
Allison loves to write almost as much as she loves to dance, so no one had to twist her arm to get her to write about dancing!