I love Salsabut I admit that it was not my first love. That title belongs to swingLindy Hop to be more specific. But thats ok, because had it not been for my love of one particular dance style, I would never have ventured to others, including Salsa. My experience has taught me that you can always learn something new and apply it to something you already know. The benefits of doing this can lead to increased kinesthetic knowledge of how your own body can move, dance innovation by applying elements of one dance style to another, and improved dance technique. My disclaimer is that not everyone takes away the same thing(s) from each style of dance, so I will share a few examples of what I have learned along the way:
From Swing (Lindy Hop, East Coast, West Coast, Charleston, Shag, & Balboa): I learned the basic concepts of lead and follow. Leading with my body and not with my arms has helped me tremendously. I learned how to use a persons momentum to help move or spin her faster. I learned about musicality and syncopations and how to play with the music. Were I to characterize this dance, I would describe it as smooth, jazzy, and relaxed half of the time, yet energetic and happy the other half of the time.
From Ballroom (American style Rhythm and Smooth): I learned the fundamentals of partner dancing such as balance, weight transfer, body positioning, footwork, floorcraft, and timing. I learned how to dissect a dance move into individual beats of a measure such that I know when to be parallel to my partner and when to be in promenade position, especially when doing a cross-body lead 180 or 360. Knowing simply to step ball-flat in Latin style dance helped me with feeling balanced and grounded while moving across the floor. A simple pattern, such as a box-step from a Waltz can be adapted and applied to Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba, Samba, Cha Cha, Bolero, and even Salsa; you can carry many patterns across from one dance to another. Were I to characterize this style of dance, I would describe it as strict and structured, oozing with confidence.
From Argentine Tango (Fantasia, Salon, & Milonguero): I learned (and am still learning) to keep my head up, positioned properly on my spine line. I have learned to balance myself with a partner who may lean heavy on me, and how to dance with my body frame open and strong. There is strong emphasis on leading with the body, and not power dancing with the arms. Your body is what moves your partner, and your core must always be centered over your steps. Your feet, when thought as suction cups with toes spread out, help stabilize and ground the body to the floor, especially when weight is shifted heavily to one leg. This is probably the most intimate dance I've ever experienced, and would characterize it as being sexy as hell when done correctly.
From Hip Hop and Jazz: I learned to how to extend my arms and legs with fast, sharp, controlled movement. This lends itself well to performing. Muscle control and conditioning are key elements in these styles of dance. Learning particular exercises in stretching and warming up the body has helped prevent many injuries. I would characterize this one as feeling free, and sometimes cool depending on the music.
I suppose if I were to list something I've learned while doing Salsa, I would say that I've learned to think of the character of a dance to mentally prepare me for how it should feel. This probably isnt the most common answer to What has Salsa taught you? but it is something I have taken away from it. I suppose to me, Salsa is flirtatious, its hot, and its passionate.
When it comes to my Salsa, I try to apply the different things I've learned to my social dancing and my performances. I still need work in both areas, but I believe I can improve if I begin to focus, and practice what I preach. It may not work for everyone, but I believe cross-training in this sense has a lot of potential to help. Who knows, it might be fun to go to a club downtown, and then suddenly break out the Salsa steps to the Hip Hop music.
And now for something different, not Salsa, but entertaining nonetheless: