Who’s (Really) Killing the Salsa Scene?
by Ana Gherasim
There’s a blog article that’s been making the rounds of the salsa community in the last couple of days. It’s called “Why “Social” dancers are killing Salsa” and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
I read through most of that article periodically going, “yeah, so?”. For example:
Some people start dancing salsa and seek to continually improve, while others start salsa, learn the basics, and are happy dancing at the beginner level without feeling the need to improve.
Yeah, so? Salsa is a fun social activity, not Olympic gymnastics.
That means some people will be forever mediocre, and won’t feel the need to do a thing about it!
Yeah, so? Salsa is a fun social activity, not Olympic gymnastics.
These dancers will be hard to dance with, or they might not be very much fun to dance with.
Ok, first of all, I believe that being a good dancer includes adapting to your partner’s level, and compensating for your partner’s weaknesses. But second of all:
Yeah, so? If you don’t like dancing with them, don’t dance with them. Who’s forcing you?
Then came the fun part. And by “fun” I mean the part that made my inner smart-ass do a happy dance because I get to tell someone on the Internet that they are dead wrong. Here it is:
“Bah!-dancers [oh yeah, he calls the people who are happy at a beginner level “Bah!” – Basic And Happy! ] are detrimental to a salsa scene. If the number of Bah!-dancers reaches a certain critical mass, it creates a precedent for others to follow. What this means is that when people are exposed to large amounts of mediocre dancers they have no incentive to improve as everyone is already dancing at the same low level and is relatively content doing so.”
That, right there, is what set off my bullshit-meter; this next part is what made it overheat and blow up like the world’s tiniest firework:
“A surplus of Bah!-dancers reduces the relevance of great dancers. They can be ignored as outliers, on the sidelines of the salsa community, not part of the main group, unreachable. Most of us still behave like sheep and stick with the herd mentality of “do as everyone else does”. If that’s the case and you’re surrounded by Bah!-dancers, how are you going to end up dancing?”
First off, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to dictate what the “standard” of a dancer or a salsa community should be. Yes, most good dancers wish they had more good dancers around, but that’s a very far cry from declaring that salsa communities need to raise their standards. Who died and made you the king of salsa?!
Second, I’m bothered by the fact that this guy doesn’t see a blatant contradiction in his own argument. On the one hand, he makes the distinction between two kinds of people: the kind who strive for constant improvement, and the kind who reach a plateau and are happy there. On the other hand, he claims that the only way to break the cycle of mediocrity is for the second group to somehow develop an awareness that they should improve. In other words, people should not be allowed to be Basic And Happy, but should feel the pressure to get better. And again I ask: who died and made you the king of salsa?!
Third, I think what pisses me off the most is that people who write articles like this will rant and whine and make grand, categorical statements in the abstract, but will never take ownership of the situation or be part of the solution. His half-assed conclusion is that these unnamed masses of mediocre dancers just need to wake up and want to be better. How? By dancing with better dancers, and having those better dancers give them constructive criticism. Which is inane for two reasons: first, people who are happy where they are will not seek that kind of critique; and second, if those “better” dancers were to offer critique without being asked, then they would truly become outliers. Because who wants to dance with the bossy know-it-all that makes you feel like you’re not good enough?!
Don’t get me wrong: this article does make one or two good points. Yes, some people will be more motivated than others when learning new things. Yes, dancing with a better dancer can open your eyes to different things and it can be an inspiring experience. But I find that both this guy’s frustration and his so-called solution are misdirected.
You Are The Problem – AND The Solution!
See, the thing is, the people who are happy at a lower level of dancing aren’t the ones with the problem; the people at the higher levels are, because they’re the ones looking outside, comparing themselves to the world, and finding their community inadequate. The “Bah!-dancers” are not aware that their community’s “standard” of salsa is lower than some other city’s; odds are they don’t care. And if you tell them they should do better, you’ll come off as the ass-hat who’s trying to stir up controversy for no reason – which is exactly what happened with that blog article.
Yes, good dancers inspire us to be better, but not by pointing out our mistakes. Oftentimes, great dancers are seen as outliers not because of an abundance of mediocrity, but because these great dancers isolate themselves or become very selective of who they dance and interact with. The salsa community, like any community, needs leaders to help it grow. Those are the dancers that aren’t just fun to watch from a safe distance, but also fun to dance with, approachable, friendly, easy to talk to. They make a concerted effort to be part of the community. They teach, they perform, they coach, and they know when to back off and just dance.
If you’re looking to raise the level of the salsa community, it’s not the “mediocre masses” you need to address. You need to talk to the elite, the dancers people admire from afar, and make them the heart of the community instead of putting them on a pedestal. Have them go out to socials and ask people to dance regardless of level or proficiency. It’s easy to dismiss the “pros” as unreachable outliers when the “pros” are busy navel-gazing, writing blogs about the state of the dance scene, and never condescending to dance with a beginner. The moment these dancers make themselves accessible and become a real part of the community, they’ll start to appear human, and you might see more people strive to emulate them.
Finally, your leaders need to lead by example – not just by dancing well, but by continuously striving for improvement themselves. The best teachers never stop being students. In my admittedly limited experience, stagnant salsa scenes are not so much the result of “Bah!-dancers”, but the result of good dancers becoming stagnant, or even regressing, because they stop learning or stop being involved in their community.
To paraphrase Gandhi, be the change you want to see in your salsa scene! Be a teacher. And a student. And an ambassador. And a friend. And see who you can inspire.