Some of you were probably hoping that this wouldn’t be on the list of “HOW TO A BETTER DANCER”. Pero si, it’s definitely on the list. Some of the most admired Latin dancers in the world can throw down and burn the floor with funky, sexy, playful and always musical footwork (otherwise known as "shines" in salsa and cha cha). Needless to say, their talents go beyond just turn patterns. While partner connection is the essence of the Latin dances, evolution has brought other elements that allow for individual freedom of expression.
We at iFreeStyle.ca love shines/footwork!
If you’re thinking “I hate shines!”, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to step up your game and become a more rounded dancer.
Coming from an urban dance background, “solo” dancing not only taught me HOW to move, but also WHEN to move with a confident attitude. So naturally, coming into the Latin dance scene, it wasn’t as scary to learn footwork. But for the millions of people whose first ever dance steps were to Acid (which I still love by the way) or some super slow salsa/cha cha/bachata, dancing on their own isn’t what they signed up for, and for as long as possible, they avoid doing it AT ALL COSTS. Eventually though, it creeps up on you...like when you want to dance with some really awesome dancer who enjoys a balance of partner work AND time to shine.
Why some people don’t like shines/footwork
- “I’m afraid”/“I feel naked when I’m dancing on my own.” This one isn’t so hard to understand…many feel self-conscious about how they look when making up their own stuff.
- “Isn’t Latin dancing about partner work?” For the most part it is… As mentioned above, the dances have evolved to include solo work or adding footwork to partner work.
- “I don’t know when to do it.” When a dancer hasn't yet developed an ear for musicality, what you do, and when you do it might just be arbitrary. If it happens to match the music, it could be purely coincidental.
- “I can’t remember what I learned from class.” This is just for lack of practice.. or more accurately, avoiding practicing what you hope you never have to use.
Here are 8 Ways Foot work/Shines (“solo dancing”) can help you improve your dancing.
- TIMING: Dancing is about connection. Whether we're talking about partner connection or musical connection, it’s always important to connect to the rhythm and pace of the music. Learning to match your footwork to the beat of the music is a fundamental skill that you typically learn before you attempt dancing with another person. Practice footwork to help drill solid timing and develop the skill of connecting with the beat of the music. Learn to speak the same language first (same timing, coordinated stepping) and your on your way to smooth dancing.
- QUALITY OF STEPS – Many dancers think that just "doing the steps" is good enough. In reality, HOW you do your steps becomes more important… how you transfer your weight, how you coordinate your body with your steps. So not is it only a no-no to be late for class (don’t get me started..), don’t come late to class with the intention of missing the footwork warm up because you’re missing out on an important element of your dance training!
- SPEED (FAST, SLOW & IN BETWEEN): It takes energy to move body across a floor quickly and on time. And it’s also challenging to take sllllooooooow controlled steps. It starts with your centre and then your feet. Learning to adapt to the different speeds and moods of music takes focused practice. Learning footwork can help challenge your ability to move at different speeds in ways that are controlled and on time.
- AGILITY: Great dancers make quick directional changes look easy. Until you try it yourself and realize that it takes a heck of a lot of balance, centering, and clear intention to change directions quickly. Learn and practice a footwork combo that incorporates quick directional changes and be an agility champ!
- BALANCE & CENTERING: In partner work, many new dancers and even experienced dancers depend on their partner for balance. And while you may think I’m talking about followers, this goes for you too leaders! If you struggle with spins/turns (which is a tough skill to master), or keeping your balance within partner work, it’s time to practice that stuff on your own. Practice at home, practice at the club on the sidelines, take advantage of the “solo” time on the dance floor.
- MUSICALITY: Some of the most musical dancers in salsa, bachata and cha cha are not only comfortable dancing solo, they are liberated by it. Latin music has such a variety of sounds, instrumentation, moods, flavour… Dancing on your own can give the opportunity to explore the nuances of each song without the added challenge of leading or following. The horns, the baseline, the piano melody, the vocals, the breaks….. it takes time to master moving to those musical elements. And the better you are at doing it on your own, the more comfortable you’ll be to incorporate into your partner work. So work on YOU and you’ll have much more to give to your partner!
- DEVELOP YOUR OWN RHYTHMIC STYLE: Once you’ve learned a bunch of footwork, with practice, you’ll develop a rhythmic style to your dancing. It may be intentional or it may sneak up on you one night at club. Rhythm is part of musicality and every experienced dancer has developed his or her own flow that they express both within partner work and when they seize opportunities to do it on their own.
- CONFIDENCE TO DANCE WITHOUT PARTNER: One of the greatest benefits learning footwork is overcoming your fear of breaking OUT of partner work and dancing on your own! Dancing is a mental challenge and a physical one. And gaining confidence to dance on your own is like taking the training wheels off your bike. Once their off, the world is yours!
In summary, foot work can help improve your dancing both technically and artistically. Take a footwork class – whether in salsa, bachata or cha cha. Be not afraid.. embrace the challenges and look forward to the rewards to come!