The Competitors Edge
Tips for Developing Your “Winning Edge”
by Edie, The Salsa FREAK
With the overwhelming popularity of partner dancing lately, more and more dancers all over the world are busy looking, choosing, and quietly deciding who to partner with. This month, I’d like to discuss how to find (and keep) a good dance partner, and how to prepare for a dance competition.
Aside from our partner-search service, partners can be found in classified ads in the newspaper, in dance magazines, at dance studios, colleges, universities, at the gym, and in nightclubs.
The first thing you have to decide on, is what type of partnership commitment YOU, YOURSELF are willing to make on a personal level.
Can you honestly say “Yes” to the following?
- Are you willing to dedicate countless hours with someone, day in and day out, week after week, and possibly month after month?
- Do you have the physical energy left after your day job, to practice into the late hours of the night, very very hard?
- Are you willing to put up with the bruises, falls, accidental hits and physical demands placed on your body?
- Are you willing to adjust and move around your otherwise “normal” schedule to fit in the hours, days, and weeks of practice sessions?
- Are you willing to motivate and encourage the partner you choose when they just don’t seem like they’re with it, nor worth it anymore?
- Are you willing to pay the money for studio time, music, outfits, and sometimes needed professional instruction?
- Are you willing to withstand your partner’s bad habits (ie smoking, smell, poor attitude, demanding personality, off-beat problem, farting or burping problem, jealous husband/girlfriend/wife problem, kid problem, dress problem, weight problem, hair problem, dance problem, acne problem, posture problem, lead problem, following problem, etc) during the weeks of preliminary rounds, then semi-final rounds, then final rounds?
- Are you willing to give up television?
- Are you willing to give up time with your loved ones for a few weeks or maybe even months?
- Are you willing to commit to hours and hours of grueling practice with your partner instead of going out and spending time with all your friends at your favorite nightclubs?
- [*=center]Are you willing to chance all this for little or no return?
These questions, my friends, are what you need to ask YOURSELF first. Once you’ve made the decision, and your desire to compete and perform is more powerful than your good sense, you’re ready to find a partner.
Finding a Partner
Finding a partner with the EXACT same personal commitment and passion as yourself is a whole other issue. Not only do they need to have the above similar commitments, but must also live “geographically” close to you so you don’t spend hours on the freeway commuting to get to each other. On an extreme case, professional ballroom dance competitors/instructors tell me that to show that type of commitment to the sport and to each other, most partners either live together, or marry each other, just for the mere convenience of the time required to train, instruct, and compete.
Finding a good partner is like finding a good spouse. Sometimes it’s just like a marriage. Some tell me “it’s worse than a marriage”. Well, being formerly married myself, and having had several dance partnerships over two decades, I’m here to tell you that the two relationships are EXTREMELY similar. There is a tremendous amount of commitment, perseverance, compromising, submission, and patience dealing with issues that must be worked out like two mature, rational adults. There may also be arguments, fights, and hurt feelings that only a marriage-like, loyal relationship can withstand and endure. Total commitment to a serious dance partner is not easy. Dance partnerships have all the issues of a marriage without the sexual benefits (see below).
Janette Valenzuela, Professional Los Angeles Salsa instructor, says “When you think you’ve found the right dance partner, both of you must sit down and set your goals together first, in the very beginning.” I couldn’t agree with her more.
Mutual Goal Setting
What I suggest is that both of you write down your ultimate goal – your ultimate objective for partnering. Would you like to just “Place in the Top Five”, or do you want to “Go for the Gold” and do whatever it insanely takes, with a passion, obsession, and blood on your teeth, to win. If you’re going to spend the time, energy, and resources to do this, then you’ve both GOT to write down your ultimate goals. If you don’t, there is an incredibly slim chance you’ll make it. You’ll end up wasting your valuable time. I suggest you write down your goals very clearly, on a simple sheet of paper, with a defined date written on it, and paste them to your bathroom mirrors.
My first partner, Angel Galvan, and I did this when we were training for the Los Angeles Mayan competition. We wrote down, on a sheet of paper the words, “Win first place at the Mayan Competition, May 11, 1996”. We taped up that sheet of paper in our practice area in clear view from day one of the preliminary rounds. It was so prominently placed in our practice area, and so etched in our minds, that if someone were to wake either of us up in the middle of the night, in the midst of a dead sleep, and yelled, “WHAT’S YOUR GOAL?” In a deep sleep, half stooper, eyelids half open, and complete daze, we would grumble back, “To Win first place at the Mayan Competition, May 11, 1996…”
Well, needless to say, we won the Mayan, on May 11, 1996, just as planned, and right on schedule. The power of the written word, and it’s affect on the mind truly works. Having a clear, written, visible goal at all times in front of the both of you keeps you focused on your objective. It helps you to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and odds. It helps you to prevent strangling each other. It focuses the both of you, and helps you in naively believing that you actually can do the impossible.
the bumble bee should not be able to fly,
but it doesn’t know that…
…so it flies anyway…
Now the question we’ve all been waiting for…
“To Sleep with Your Partner, or Not Sleep with Your Partner…”
I KNOW this goes through everyone’s mind. Some Salseros will only choose a partner they know they’ll get to sleep with. In fact, they may even forego a perfectly great, less attractive dance partner that they could actually Win with, for another, more gorgeous beauty, they could eventually Sleep with.
It’s nice to have an attractive partner. Keep in mind however, that the judges are not judging on superficial facial good looks, bodies, makeup nor hair-do’s. It does help, but not when the rubber meets the road. They are judging on timing, execution, creativity, routine complexity, partnership, and your ability to DANCE. These criterion have absolutely NOTHING to do with great legs. If however, you are not competing and just doing shows, then finding a drop-dead gorgeous partner who is trainable would work here.
I’ve seen this happen quite often. It’s sad for very talented dancers who get overlooked and passed up for performing in shows and events because of their lack of physical beauty or age. This is unfortunately, just the way it is in our superficial, and sometimes painful world.
Getting back to dating your partner…
Unfortunately, in dance circles, it is ALWAYS assumed that you’re more than just partners. I got asked CONSTANTLY if Angel was my boyfriend (he was not). I had people come up to me and ask if they could “dance with my husband” – referring to Angel, my dance partner – he was not my husband either. “Yea right. By all means!” I would say, “Please do! Take him, he’s YOURS!” We practiced so often together that we got sick of even dancing together socially at times.
Having sex with your partner is a decision that you both have to make. I’m not saying, that in order for you to have a great partner you must sleep together, this is far from the truth. BUT, it is eventually something that may cross both of your minds at one point or another. Some people truly believe that having sex with your partner actually helps the chemistry in your partnership. I personally believe it actually hurts it – but then again, that’s my own personal opinion that can be argued until the cows come home.
I highly recommend you NOT have a sexual relationship with your partner – unless of course you were dating first, and decided to be partners, or obviously if you are already married.
If you end up having problems with your personal, sexual relationship, those problems will flow into the dance partnership as well. If it gets to the point of being so bad that if you break up, your dance goals, and everything you’ve both worked so hard for will all have gone to waste.
Great Partnerships Withstand the Test of Time
You MUST be friends first and foremost.
If you’re dating your partner, there must be a clear definition between the relationship and the partnership. If you argue with each other during practice, it will flow into your dating relationship and you’ll have a terrible sex life. What may happen is that you break up the dating relationship, but choose to remain partners. This rarely happens, however I have actually witnessed this on a few occasions. The few times I’ve seen this work, is when the partnership is one of the best of the best in the city or country, and you’re both making money performing and instructing together.
It was awful when one of my many dance partners year wanted to start a dating relationship with me. He wanted it so bad that it got to the point of where he (for some VERY STRANGE REASON) very rudely grabbed and caressed my breast in the middle of a song, in front of a group of people. I was so disgusted and so pissed off at him that I walked off the dance floor and broke up our partnership immediately.
This was so sad, because he was such a great dancer, and we danced SO WELL together. He just wanted more from me than what I was willing to give. Some people just assume you’re their property if you’re their partner. One of my other partners was King Fiti, Lord of the Internet Salsa Chatboard. He is a very dear long time friend of mine, and I’ve enjoyed dancing and competing with him immensely. He’s a ton of laughs and sometimes puts me into hysterics on the dance floor. I have so much fun with him, that I wouldn’t trade him for anyone. We have a unique agreement, in that if a contest comes up, we’ll compete if we can. We’re not TOTALLY committed to each other like glue.
We leave a lot of breathing room between us. We’re NOT dating, we just love dancing together. We’ve only practiced once in my living room. We don’t have the time to practice because of our hectic schedules. We come up with crazy moves just out of sheer creativity and screwing around at various nightclubs. We never compete with a routine. We just free-style and call out crazy moves / tricks. This wins a lot of contests this way. This proves you DO NOT have to have a routine to win! Some couples look BETTER social dancing than putting together a canned (fake) routine. If he wanted to compete / perform with someone else, that was fine with me, and visa-versa. This has been, to me, one of the most beautiful relaxing partnerships I’ve ever had.
Making Chicken Salad
Yes, you can turn something that looks completely disgusting into a beautiful work of art with enough imagination and hard work.
Been there, done that. .
What if both of you basically suck at this? Figure out what you are BOTH good at individually, and combine your strengths! One of my ex dance partners, Al, was great at Pop Locking and Hip Hop, and I was great at Salsa. We combined Chocolate (him) with Peanut Butter (me) and basically made Reeses!
Yes… there IS HOPE! YOU CAN MAKE CHICKEN SALAD OUT OF CHICKEN SH____***T!!!
We were so unique and “out of this world” with crazy routines that combined hip hop / locking and Salsa that we eventually became in demand worldwide. It was an amazing experience. However, there was one time, when a promoter PREFERRED our social dancing to our performances, and asked us to close the Innsbruck, Austrian Congress with a Freestyle performance to Ran Kan Kan by Tito Puente! We were stunned that he wanted our freestyle social dancing OVER our routine that we had worked so hard putting together! We got a standing ovation. I write more about this later on below under “Routine or no Routine”.
Dancers can be insanely jealous. Believe me. ESPECIALLY SALSA DANCERS – OMG. Let’s not beat around the bush here. You must be prepared to feel like your partner owns you for some crazy reason. Although you may not even have a dating relationship with them, they may still not want you to dance with certain men or women.
I wrote an article about jealousy here…
Believe me, even if they don’t show it, if you look better dancing with someone else, or if there is a threat of them losing you, I can guarantee you the subject will come up in one form or another. Feelings of insecurity and domination may come out, and this may be something you must be prepared to deal with. I would make it very clear up front that when you’re practicing together, you’re together. But when you’re in a nightclub dancing socially, it’s FAIR GAME out there and there are NO CLAIMS on you, by your partner, or anyone.
Trust me, if you both agree to this all up front and in the beginning, it will save you a lot of mental stress, anxiety, jealousy, and pain later on. The dance relationship must remain a business and FUN relationship – with no personal, passionate feelings involved. Who cares if your partner looks great dancing with someone else? If you’re both committed to each other, it shouldn’t matter. You chose to work together, and that’s it. Your partner chose YOU, so leave it at that. They know, that if they danced with someone else, they may not be able to get along. Remember, you are compatible, and they chose YOU as their partner for a reason. Trust in that, and respect them for it.
On the other hand, if your partner is a DOG, and in the middle of your partnership decides to DUMP you for someone else, well, consider it a lesson of life. Don’t stress about it. You won’t be the first one this happened to, and you won’t be the last. Something terrible would have happened between you anyway, so consider the situation a savior of that forthcoming event. Donâ€™t show a long face, act sad or pissed, just brush it off, smile and wave, and MOVE ON. There is NO REASON to show your pain, to him/her, nor anyone else. If you do, YOU WILL LOOK BAD.
Respect Each Other
One of the most essential traits about a good partnership is that you honestly respect and admire the way the other person dances.
You must honestly like your partner’s style. You must like their sex appeal, their timing, and feel in your heart, that they’re very, very good. You would be amazed at how much more fun and creative you both can be when you respect and enjoy each other’s dance style. If you try to force yourself to like your partner for one reason or another, your partnership won’t be fun, and will NOT last, much less win.
I like having a blast when I dance, so I always end up with partners that crack me up while we’re dancing – even if they’re not the best of the best. I hate being too serious. If my partner makes me laugh, then I have a better attitude, and it truly shines during a performance. King Don Fiti, one of my favorite partners of all time, was always impersonating other dancers (and a particular promoter) while we’re dancing. Sometimes I would laugh so hard, I lose the step, and screw up – but that’s only when we’re dancing socially. I had another partner whom I did a number of shows with that danced so “funky groovy” that I was in constant amazement with him. Sometimes I would want to stop dancing just to watch his body move and start laughing! I always say, that if you can make me laugh, that means you are REALLY REALLY good!!! Trust me, I am not laughing AT you. I’m admiring your TALENT!!
Practice, Practice, Practice
During practice, you’ve got to be tolerant of each other. You should set out your goals for the session, and then build from there, the next session. I highly recommend purchasing or borrowing a video camera for your practice sessions as this speeds up the rehearsal / finding mistake process. You may even think, “Oh, I’m not ready to be videotaped yet…” but I can guarantee you, if you don’t start RIGHT AWAY, a lot of effort and hours will be wasted from the beginning. I suggest videotaping how you both dance together in the very beginning, keep the tape, and then compare how you dance together in a few weeks. I’m hear to tell you, you will NOT BELIEVE the difference and improvement if you can hold out that long.
Professional – 2 – 4 hours per day, 6 days a week.
Semi-Pro – 3 – 4 hours per day, 3 – 4 days a week.
Amateur – 2 – 4 hours per day, 2 – 3 days a week.
The above are absolute minimum requirements. In Black Belt Salsa (BBS) Black Belt Competitive Training, we recommend professional time training at every level, at a minimum. My famous quote:
but the QUANTITY of time you spend together
that makes an excellent partnership, and performance. – Edie, The Salsa FREAK!!
Preparing for an Audience
I also highly recommend getting a disinterested non-dancer, third party to occasionally come in and watch you not only perform, but rehearse as well. This will help you perform in front of an audience. If you’ve made it past the preliminary rounds, I suggest you also go to a popular dance studio and ask if you and your partner could do a show for one of their parties they usually hold for all their students on Friday nights.
Most dance studios have these types of social dance get-togethers” and are always delighted and consider it a treat to have an outsider, guest couple come in and perform a sexy Salsa or Mambo routine/exhibition for the “upcoming competition”. This is INVALUABLE audience experience while preparing to be judged at the actual competition. You can even ask the studio instructors to video tape the performance, and ask their advice on where and how you can improve. They are always more than happy to help you in exchange for the free performance you just gave their students and patrons.
Seeking Professional Advice
Hiring a professional coach to help you out is very necessary. They will catch things that you may have missed, will help you with your choreography, and basically take you right up to the upper echelons of your fellow competitors. All winners of the world championship competitions seek professional advice and instruction. Having a 3rd party view your performance routine is invaluable and priceless. They can point out glitches or ambiguities in your choreography that you would never be able to see on your own, nor with a video camera. Your coach can provide ideas, insight, and save you hundreds of hours of wasted time. They can also buffer the both of you from fighting, as you will both be on your best behavior in front of a coach. I’ve heard of stories where some couples argue during rehearsal so much to the point of immobilization. They MUST have a coach during their rehearsals in order to get through them. Trust me, rehearsal time can get THAT stressful – especially at the professional levels where big money and your livelihood is at stake if you don’t win.
Connecting with your Partner, Audience, and the Judges…I can’t tell you how much judges will DESTROY your score if you constantly look down at the floor while competing. I don’t care how nervous you are, you HAVE to look up, at your partner, then at the audience with big smiles. Remember, the audience is LOOKING at what YOU”RE looking at! They are invited into YOUR WORLD, not the other way around!
I wrote another article here at Dancer Hangout about Beating Nervousness for Competitors that you should have a look at.
If you’re nervous, practice more. Period.
Remember, it’s the QUANTITY of time spent rehearsing, not the QUALITY of time… You need to get your moves and routine embedded in your muscle-memory and literally make them part of your DNA, FIRST AND FOREMOST – this comes with doing the routine over and over, at a minimum of 100 times before putting it on stage – with no stops in the middle. That’s really not a lot. It’s only ten times over a period of ten days. Some do it 1000 times without stopping in the middle. You should then do your routines with your full costumes at least 30 times before they are ready for the stage. The more you practice, the less you nervous you will be.
STOP CARING SO MUCH OF WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF YOU!!!
WHO REALLY CARES…
It is your JOB to burn a hole in that floor and tear it in HALF out for them out there. Rip it apart and TAKE NAMES LATER. You should completely care less what people think of you AT ALL TIMES when on stage. You should Absolutely CARE LESS.