By Edie, The Salsa FREAKThe aim of this Dancer Hangout Forum is to provide you with the best, non-biased, and most accurate information on this planet.
Choosing a great Salsa/Mambo instructor can be very confusing and frustrating if you’re a beginner, and don’t really know where to start. If we’re already going to be spending our hard-earned cash on dance lessons, we want to make sure it’s spent wisely and only on the best – not wasted on SOME IDIOT who “thinks” he/she knows how to teach Salsa/Mambo.
The type of information you are about to read is priceless, and precisely what we’re in the process of collecting from cities all over the world in our Forums.
Keep in mind, that we’re all different and unique. We may even end up choosing different instructors than our friends choose. If you don’t like a particular instructor, but your friend does, then, unless you are physically joined at the HIP, go to a different instructor without your friend. That’s life. Accept it, and tell your friends to accept it, because sometimes, that’s just the way the world works.
I’m going to explain to you what you should expect and look for when choosing an instructor that is male or female. Whether you are a male or female, I highly recommend taking private lessons and classes from both male and female instructors. Take as many as you can afford, then after a while, choose for yourself which instructor “fits” your own individual personality and style.
Just because you can dance, doesn’t mean you can teach. Period.
I’ve seen some amazing dancers really upset their students because they don’t understand the fundamentals of “quality teaching“.
Choosing a Good Male Instructor
The male instructor you choose should dance very well and stand out among the crowd with ANYBODY he dances with – not just his regular partner. Only watching and being impressed with him with his regular partner can be VERY deceiving. He should even look good dancing with a beginner. Before you sign up with him, get references from dancers that have taken instruction from him. Go watch him dance at the local nightclubs. I don’t care how much “experience” your instructor has teaching. If he can’t lead each partner he dances with beautifully, and look great with each one, then I wouldn’t go there.
Watch him closely. Make sure, number one, that he follows the rhythm. Make sure he looks comfortable dancing. Make sure he doesn’t steel the show, and look off-balance with his partner – in other words, is he really dancing with her, making her look good, or just concentrating on making himself look good? Does he appear to be just dancing and performing aerials, spins, and complex shines by himself, or is he “really dancing” and more importantly, complimenting his partner?
Look at his partners. Make sure his partners are enjoying dancing with him. Without the instructor’s knowledge, quietly ask three of his partners after each song (whether it was his regular partner or not), if she would recommend him as an instructor for you. The majority of the time, on first impulse, women will tell you the truth. She may say, “Well, he’s a little rough…. a little stiff….. doesn’t follow the rhythm…… puts me in difficult moves that I can’t follow….”. This is a negative.
If you get two out of three negatives for two out of three women, well, there you have your answer. If you get one out of three negatives, then you’re taking a slight risk asking him to teach you. However, I highly recommend taking instruction from a man that has every woman melting like butter, and all dreamy-eyed after she dances with him.
Men, your male instructors should also be able to be good “followers” when you’re practicing your lead with them. They should be able to follow and critique your dancing when you lead THEM during practice. They should only back lead you when showing you the pattern – but not once you “get it”.
Ladies, don’t get too used to your male instructor. Remember, not everyone is his caliber. Don’t be spoiled by him. You’ll regret it, and other men will regret YOUR ATTITUDE if you start comparing them verbally and/or with your eyes. Remember, when we touch and dance with another human being, our partners can “feel” in their bodies our emotions and attitude in a sixth-sense sort of way – male or female. Watch it. I go into great detail on this in my Beginner’s section.
Choosing a Good Female Instructor
Female instructors should know how to lead – not necessarily to a male instructor’s calibur, but at least the basics, cross body leads, back breaks, multiple spins, dips, and other standard moves. For most female instructors, leading is relatively difficult for them, because they RARELY get any practice doing it, and virtually NEVER get to lead at nightclubs – much less when they’re teaching men. Knowledge of the man’s footwork, moves, and breaks are critical. Being a man, the advantage of having a female instructor is that you get to practice with an excellent dancer. Most of the time, men are intimidated to ask the “great female dancers” to dance. Now this is your chance.
Because she has danced with the best of the best, she can point out the moves you’re doing that feel awkward or just don’t “feel right”. She’ll look at and correct your hand placement, your thumbs, your posture, the timing and execution of your turns, all that. Be aware that leading her will be a piece of cake compared to most of the women who are not at her level. Most advanced females and/or instructors can follow virtually ANYTHING – even if the move is executed horribly, or just plain wrong. This is how an excellent female dancer can even make a beginning male look incredible.
However, remember that not all women are at this caliber. To avoid getting used to leading such a great follower, ask her to close her eyes at times during practice, to see if she can follow you blind. This will help your lead tremendously. Female instructors shouldn’t have any problem doing this for you, and will find it very helpful for them as instructors.
Ladies, when you’re learning from a woman, make sure she teaches you how to be sexy. Like I’ve said many times before in other articles, being sexy on the dance floor is a “learned thing” – if you aren’t naturally a BOMBSHELL (99.9999% of us aren’t) then you’ve got to be “shown” how to do this. Being sexy also comes over time and experience, as you build up your confidence on the dance floor. My article on “Sex Appeal” gives an excellent explanation of why this is important.
Lastly, Don’t expect your instructors to dance with you at a nightclub because you’re “paying them” for privates or classes. This is an unfair tradeoff. Leave them alone. Let them have their fun too. Many of them go to nightclubs to relax and have fun like the rest of us. They also may be out there trying to drum up new business, and may only want to dance with their favorite partners to look as good as possible for potential prospects and film scouts. You see, since they have many many students, they are probably asked to dance by them all the time. Unless they ask you to dance, or suggest it, let them be. Don’t expect them to be your “instructor” in the nightclub either. Many of them consider it impolite to correct their students in a nightclub while dancing with them. This is common courtesy. The only corrections should be made in class.
Remember that dance instructors are human, and make mistakes like all of us. They have a tremendous responsibility to help make you look good on the dance floor. The worst thing that could happen to them is if you took a few classes with them, continued to dance horribly, and you pointed at them as your instructor. Talk about pressure!
They should never teach you beyond a dancing level you can handle. Don’t force them to go on to the next level, or teach you new fancy moves, especially if they think you still need help with your basic. Trust them. If you chose the right instructor, they know EXACTLY what they’re doing. You must understand them clearly, and communicate EXACTLY what you want to get out of the lesson. Make sure you have the end goal in mind for that lesson and agreed upon between the two of you, so you won’t feel cheated at the end of the session. It may even be a good idea to type-up or write out what your goal as a Salsa dancer should be. I know this may sound rather “anal”,
but hey….. WHATEVER WORKS!
Make sure you understand very clearly what they’re saying and trying to teach you. And finally, don’t ever, ever, EVER be shy to ask as many questions as you can possibly think of. That’s what you’re paying them for.
– Edie, The Salsa FREAK!! See you in the Forums!!
Edie, The Salsa FREAK!! is one of the most recognized and respected Salsa Instructor/Performers in the world. In the past twenty years, she has traveled to 63 countries teaching the world to dance, and has been the first American to teach in 18 of those countries. She now lives in the high mountains of beautiful Colorado with her wonderful husband, Nick. You may contact her at www.SalsaFreak.com
Excellent article! One of my students up in Atlanta sent your URL down. I now live and teach out of central Florida. I’ve been a professional ballroom dance instructor going on fifty years. While I “grew up” and gained my early education through the franchised “chain schools” – Arthur Murray as a student, then trainee, then instructor for five years as well as one year with Fred Astaire – I grew tired of the high pressure selling and went independent. I never made tons of money but there are about 25,000 dancers out there who would give you a good recommendation if you mentioned my name.
I have my own website of which ballroom dancing is a major part…www.oldnslo.com/dance The booklet I wrote is on there also with the various subjects split up in individual pages. Interested folks can click on the menu on the left. You’ll notice I agree with you in almost every situation.
Keep up the good work. Just wish I weren’t so old…I’d help you out! I am doing a two-day workshop next weekend in Georgia in beginner and advanced Foxtrot, Waltz, Swing and Mambo. Should be a lot of fun.
All the best,