Life Beyond Intermediate
by Ana Gherasim
We’ve received questions lately about whether we are planning to introduce advanced salsa classes soon, or why our highest current level of classes is called Intermediate 2 instead of Advanced. Here’s my attempt at answering these questions, the only way I know how: with a long blog post.
What is “advanced” salsa?
To me, part of the beauty of salsa is its diversity of styles and the many avenues for self-expression that it allows. However, this also makes it hard to develop a comprehensive salsa curriculum. The World Salsa Federation has tried, but its guidelines only really apply to competitive dancing, which is a small subsection of salsa, with heavy ballroom influences.
While beginner salsa classes will likely teach you some of the same moves no matter where you go, starting at the intermediate level there can be lots of variation in the moves taught, the techniques explained, stylistic preferences and overall difficulty of the class. There are so many moves at or around the same “level” that one can stay in intermediate classes for years and constantly learn new footwork and partnerwork combinations.
There is also considerable geographical variation: not all salsa scenes are created equal, and moves (and dancers) that would be considered “advanced” in Ottawa might be deemed “intermediate” in Montreal or Toronto – larger cities with larger, older and more established salsa scenes, as well as a higher concentration of world-class performers and competitors.
With all this, it’s hard to tell where the imaginary line between “intermediate” and “advanced” can be drawn, so I always encourage dancers to take the class that best suits their needs, rather than getting hung up on its title.
Take charge of your own development
New dancers and intermediate-level dancers can greatly benefit from group classes and from an assessment by a good teacher. If you haven’t been dancing for long, or if you’ve mainly danced informally and want to get some more structured training, then you can safely rely on a qualified instructor to tell you what your strengths are and what you should work on.
However, if you’ve been dancing for a few years and you’re not learning much in group classes any more, you need to take your future dance training into your own hands. I’ve posted this chart on our blog before, but it bears repeating:
As you can see, past the “intermediate” level, group classes tend to become less useful, for a number of reasons: first, advanced dancers have a solid grasp of their strengths and weaknesses, and odds are they will know what they need to work on; however, this will vary from person to person, and addressing everyone’s needs in a large class is difficult. Second, each person will likely have a different goal, a different style, or a different approach to learning. While these can all be reconciled in beginner and intermediate classes, it becomes very difficult in an ongoing “advanced” class. Third, many of the fine adjustments advanced dancers want to make to their dancing depend on hours of private practice, and can’t easily be achieved in a weekly group class.
For all these reasons, I believe advanced dancers need to own their dance goals and mindfully plan their progress. Here’s a rough road map for what that plan can include.
Your training plan
Regular group classes can still be part of your routine. They can be great for thinking up new combinations, practicing your social dancing, and staying in touch with a community of dancers around the same level as you.
Private classes – with an instructor or a coach – can help you work on specific techniques, styling, and make you reach your dance goals. Pick an instructor whose style you admire and work with him or her to create a list of goals.
Congresses are fantastic for getting dance inspiration and getting a sample of what international artists have to offer. Check out the artist lists for each congress, research the dancers you are interested in, attend their workshops and see if their style suits you.
Instructional DVDs or online videos can be a good tool if your area doesn’t have a lot of advanced dance classes or resources. Check out our article on picking good instructional videos.
Practice, practice, practice. No matter how much new material you learn, you will lose it just as quickly if you don’t practice. Whether it’s social dance, practicing with your favourite dancers, or just you and a mirror, nothing can take the place of practice when you’re building muscle memory. When you practice with a mirror, be mindful of how moves look, experiment with variations, and find what moves and styling look best to your eye.