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So You Want to Join a Salsa Team?
Written by Randy Kish
September 20, 2010. Over the past weekend, over 2,000 people attended three nights of dance performances at The 4th Annual San Diego Salsa and Bachata Festival. The shows included a range of performers from North America and Europe, from Amateurs to World Champions, all sharing a desire to express their love for dance through imaginative choreography and high energy music. Witnessing such an event can inspire a social dancer to improve their skills and can be one of several avenues that lead dancers to team-oriented Salsa.
Joining a team is a commitment of both time and money. Most teams have more than one practice a week and require some amount of dues or tuition. The reasons individuals join teams vary, and usually fall within one or a combination of the following:
- Social. Teams offer new dancers an instant facility to meet a large number of people in the salsa scene. As a new dancer, meeting people while learning new skills dancing socially can be intimidating – even to experienced dancers. Stephanie Olsen, a professional ballroom dancer shares, “I joined a team so I would actually know people when I went out dancing.” She added “I used to go out, feel terribly shy, and leave if I was sitting out for too long because I didn't know anyone.” This is a common story. Like many others Stephanie elected to join a team - in her case Alma Latina Dance Company. Teams quickly offer a network of new contacts that often become close due to a common bond of interest and social activities. Angel Rivera, Director of A Time To Dance, agrees, “It’s a social club for a lot of people. Parities, going out, hitting the beach; it’s the next best social atmosphere.” Many refer to their teams as “my second family” or “my salsa family.”
- Structure to improve dancing. The complexity of today’s linear salsa requires technique that is offered through team practices and workshops. Each director has some level of progressive curriculum, which builds skills through instruction, drilling and choreography. The syllabus of each team varies depending on the experience and focus of the Team Director(s). In all cases, team structure and instruction allow a dancer to grow at an accelerated pace.
- Desire to perform & travel. Many dancers work for months for a three minute show. The rush it provides is great, but performing also gives dancers a sense of accomplishment and a boost in self confidence. Juan Garcia, Director of Señor Juan’s Dance Company explains, “You are consistently learning with a reward at the end – the performance.” Others are lured by the trips some teams take to perform in fun and far-away places. This can include a variety of destinations such as Las Vegas, San Francisco, Miami, New York, or Puerto Rico for Salsa Congress events, or as far away as Ooh La La’s Cosabella Tour of Greece and Egypt this past summer.
- It’s cost effective. Teams provide their members considerable value in a variety of ways. Membership typically includes more instruction at a lower cost than taking individual lessons. Teams with their own studios, such as Alma Latina, allow students to openly practice during studio hours at no additional cost and encourage attendance for their wide variety of skill building workshops. Similarly, Majesty In Motion cross trains their dancers with outside instruction in Hip Hop, Jazz, and most recently Pachanga. Another cost savings is related to the performer fees offered to team members when attending regional Salsa Congress and Festivals. Performer rates are typically 30% the rate of the full passes for non-performers.
Thinking about Joining a Team?
- What are your expectations? Some teams are more social, some are focused on choreography, others have their sights on championships, and a few offer travel as a team. Understanding what you really want out of a team can help to focus your selection.
- What are your goals as a dancer? If you are thinking about joining a team, you have some idea as to why. Is it because your friends are there, do you want to be a better social dancer, are you looking to perform, or just want the exercise and activity?
- Look around. There are a lot of teams in San Diego. Take the time to watch a team’s performances and observe how their team members dance socially and behave outside of their practice setting. Simply put, you should like what you see and what the company produces and want to be part of it. It’s too easy to join the first team that approaches you, which would be similar to buying the first car you drive without researching anything else.
- How do your goals align with the team offerings? If you have an idea as to what you want from a team, it’s a lot easier to see which teams may offer programs to meet those desires.
- Understand the costs, schedule and any caveats. Most teams have some sort of dues or tuition. All operate on a schedule for practice and rehearsals. Knowing these details in advance may sway your decision. For example, some teams offer dancers “administrative” work to offset costs, and others offer discounts to students and military. Finally, if a team has a contract make sure you read it entirely and are comfortable with the terms before signing.
- Test drive before you buy. Most teams offer free workshops, affordable boot camps, and socials to attract new team members. Participating in these types of activities offers you the opportunity to get a chance to experience their instruction style and personality to see if it fits.
San Diego Team Information
Pitfalls to Look Out For...
A team environment has a lot of positive qualities as mentioned above. There are also some not-so-great things which can be avoided. These guidelines can help you side-step many of the potentially precarious situations that can occur with teams.
- Don’t forget to social dance. Salsa is a lead-and-follow dance. The styling and patterns from choreography can enhance your social dancing skills, but should never replace the need to let loose and create while dancing with unfamiliar partners.
- Do your best to avoid dating within your specific team. You are with your teammates so often that this can be one of the hardest policies to follow. However, fights and breakups make for an awkward practice and create unwanted drama that can be counter-productive and unfair to your team. Some make it work, so take it as a guideline more than a hard fast rule.
- Dance outside your team. It’s very comfortable dancing with people you know with familiar patterns to both lead and follow. For guys, it’s a good test of your lead to use learned patterns with non-team members, to different music while staying on count and integrating musicality. For ladies, dancing with unfamiliar leads can be both challenging and fun, as well as help practice the art of styling “without interrupting the lead” (Ana Masocote, SD Workshop August 2010).
- Look around, outside of your team. Salsa doesn’t stop outside of the four walls of your practice studio and the club exits. A multitude of technique, patterns, styling and philosophies are easily accessible in today’s online society. Keep an eye at trends and what inspires you to become a better dancer.
- Don’t confuse performance with social dancing. Some of San Diego’s best dancers have never stepped foot on a performance stage and never will. There is a lot of skill involved in learning a routine and a mental toughness to perform in front of your peers. That being said, it does not directly translate into social dancing capability. “Don’t be a choreography monkey!” pleads Serena Cuevas, Director of Deseo Dance Company, “to be a real dancer takes both training and patience.”
- Be versatile. Salsa Clubs have many styles and flavors in San Diego, including On-1, On-2 and Cuban-Casino salsa, as well as Bachata, Cha Cha, Merengue and some Cumbia. Limiting yourself to one style is like akin to going to Europe and speaking only one language. You limit who you can talk (dance) with.
This year’s World Latin Dance Cup, hosted by Albert Torres Productions (ATP) will be in San Diego this December and broadcast on ESPN (www.worldlatindancecup.com). Join a team and train hard - maybe we’ll be watching you on TV one day.
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