How important is ‘salsa technique’?
by Ana Gherasim
Salsa technique and I have a complicated relationship. It’s love and hate; it’s on-again, off-again; it’s the nice boy you introduce to your parents but wouldn’t be caught dead with in a club around your ‘cool’ friends; it’s the kale smoothie you drink because it’s good for you, even though it makes you gag, and every fiber of your being looks forward to replacing it with a nice thick milkshake on cheat day.
With that disclaimer firmly established, let’s talk about the place of technique in dance.
We love likening dance to language, and technique is to a dance what grammar is to a language – it’s the general framework that structures it. Some dances – such as ballet or ballroom – are heavy on the technique side the way some languages – say, German or Russian – are heavy and strict on grammar. Other dances – such as salsa and other street dances – have a more relaxed relationship with technique, the way some languages are less uptight about their grammar rules. In English, for instance, breaking grammar rules can be the mark of a specific dialect or style – and ain’t that the truth!
How important is technique to dancing? I’d say it depends on context.
Competitive dancers will likely tell you technique is all-important, because in competition-style salsa, it is. More than anything else, competitions are about displaying perfect technique, so technical mistakes in competition are akin to grammar mistakes in an academic journal – they are never ok.
Performers will have a mixed relationship with technique – some will be all about showcasing it, while others will use artistic license to explore new forms of dance expression. They are the writers of the dance world – some are novelists, others are poets.
So where does that leave social dancing? Well, as Jeff likes to say, social dancing is a conversation – you need to understand each other, of course, but what you’re talking about and how you relate to each other is by far more important than remembering to use the subjunctive. Most dancers understand this, and won’t be uptight about technique when social dancing (beyond safety concerns). Unfortunately, the dance world also has its version of the self-appointed grammar police, who are sticklers for technique no matter the setting, are convinced of their own superiority, and are seen as a mild annoyance by most of us.
In my classes, I treat technique as a necessary evil – I pick the important bits, the ones that will keep you safe from injury and ensure you lead/follow the move well. I teach those bits as gospel, and leave the rest for you to interpret as you see fit.