Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Late Bloomer - Short Introduction

Salsa dancing isn't something most people think of when they see me. I'm older than most, not Latino, haven't mastered "Cuban motion" (yet), have short gray hair, grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and in almost every way, I'm not most people's image of the "typical" salsero. Before people know my name they often think of me as "the gray-haired guy" since that is different from most of the "classic" salseros in LA.

I suspect a few other people will benefit from my experience of moving from a TOTAL dance beginner, to someone who teaches and/or dances 3 or 4 nights per week. In some ways I'm quite advanced, thanks to some great instructors, private lessons and concepts I learned as a musician. In other areas I'm a complete work in progress and almost embarrassed by my lack of current skills. I'll add some pictures soon so you can see for yourself.

I'm wasn't voted "most likely to win a dance competition" in high school/college or any other school. As a teenager I started playing drums (later considered "music" but in the early years it's primarily noise). I've watched others dance at my thousands of gigs as I played music, and taught drums for a living in my early 20's. (BTW - Most musicians don't dance... and I have some strong theories about "why" that I'll outline in future postings...)

After 43 years of NOT dancing and watching others, I needed to lose some weight and started with "cardio salsa" at my local World Gym (darned clothes were getting smaller in the dryer). I didn't know "basic", cross-body leads, that people would argue endlessly about "on-one" or "on-two", that male salsa dancers are called "salseros" (I couldn't even spell that word!), or that salsa was really a partner dance. For me it was a good cardio workout and a challenge to learn the footwork. I loved the music and it worked with my latin-jazz/big band/studio musician background. The music was my first hook, and over time I started losing my gut and gaining confidence in my dancing.

Fast forward a few years and now nearing age 47, I teach Salsa dancing and dance 3-4 nights per week in the LA area. I teach with "Edie the Salsa Freak" at her LA boot camps, have taught at Mama Juana's (a famous LA Salsa club), in Palm Springs for the semi-annual Salsa-Mambo Festivals . I work with and/or sub for some of LA's best salsa instructors and like most, I teach private lessons. I specialize in both salsa dancing and musicality, AKA "dancing to the music". My music background provides context and insights that many dancers don't think about and I'll provide details in future blogs.

Again, I'll fill in more back story in later blogs, and I'll chronicle some of the more interesting moments I've had in clubs and teaching. I'm a total work in progress, and every month I continue to improve since now I'm taking jazz classes, private lessons, watching salsa videos, and constantly continuing my dance education. Along the way I've learned a thing or two and I'll share to make it easier for others to join the fun.

I may be unlikely, but I've had the privilege to dance with some of the best female dancers in the clubs and I'll give you the tools to do the same. At the end of the day, you'll figure out if someone like me can learn to dance, so can you.
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero