Saturday, July 14, 2007

Improving Your Perspective In One Night

This is a follow-up to my Dual Perspective article from last Tuesday.

Going to clubs or nights outside your normal routine can be interesting. Being in a large crowd with fewer great dancers or the opposite provides a totally different perspective.

I found myself in the unusual position of being among the strongest leads in the room tonight, and that isn't something that happens to me regularly.

(Tired disclaimer: I'm writing this around 2:23 am Saturday morning, after returning from Friday night dancing. It's raw and will get some editing over the next couple days to polish the content/grammar, but I'm going to put it out there before I go to sleep. Please excuse any typos; I usually let all articles age a couple days to provide some editing perspective before publishing. Not this time.)

If you're always a little fish in a big pond, it distorts your point of view just like being a big fish in a little pond. Both extremes are out of balance. Long term I enjoy being in the bigger pond, knowing that it pushes me to grow faster, and it certainly keeps me humble and hungry to grow. Sometimes it can seem like I'll never even be a reasonable dancer, compared with others in my scene.

The Los Angeles area is dense with very good dancers; it's unrealistic for me to be in the top tier consistently, since I haven't paid enough dues. I tend to fall into the "above average" lead around here, and I'm confident I'm on the path to excellence. Many nights I'm surrounded by Mayan champions, ESPN champions and/or a large set of people who could be competitive at the highest levels if they choose. I may be dancing next to Walter Jones, Abel Pena, Alex DaSilva, and/or ten other couples who are on the road to being world class. Many of these people have danced years longer than me, and they have more experience on the floor.

Tonight (Friday) I went to the Granada, the same club I generally go to on Saturdays. But Friday's crowd is different, less experienced overall and it's less crowded.

Being in the top tier in a room with 300 people or so is interesting, and helps me balance my perspective. A few years ago, I was at the bottom of the food chain in terms of ability and experience. I was the tiny minnow in an ocean of quality dancers. Without my perspective from being a musician, I'm not sure I would have survived the beginning stages.

In an ideal world, you and I will experience at least two perspectives. If you are the whale in the pond, go find a bigger pond occasionally to keep yourself humble AND to gain perspective on how much further you can go. If you already swim in the bigger ponds, it's nice to occasionally find the smaller club scene and see how the bigger fish feel. In my case, it doesn't make me a better dancer directly, but it gives me confidence that I'm making progress, even though I know I'm not even close to my potential.

It's sort of like being in a long line at Disneyland. At first you are at the very end of the line, and it seems like it snakes around forever. You get talking with your friends or family and in 20 minutes you realize you've moved way down the line and now there are hundreds of people behind you. You still may have a ways to go, but you are much closer to the ride than the new people joining at the back of the line.

That's how I felt tonight. I've made tons of progress over the last few years, but I'm still not getting on the ride yet. Only the line in dancing almost never ends, but it's still nice to see the progress occasionally.

I have to admit I'm the personality type that feels best with constant improvement. While I may be better than some others, I primarily compete with my concept of my potential, so it always provides plenty of room for improvement.

For me, going out on a different night and/or different club is helpful to keep my overall perspective, and I suspect it will do the same for you.

I'm curious; what do you do to keep your perspective fresh? Let me know via the comments link below.

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.
-George Burns


  1. Living in a small town with a cute small salsa scene is a very limited perspective :(

    In our hometown there is just one location playing salsa ... sometimes, that is, usually they play a lot raeggeton and merengue and only occasionally salsa.

    A few local dancers privately rented a room to social dance salsa once a week, usually about 10, up to 30 people coming there for dancing. Nearly all dance cuban, we are about the only couple dancing more LA style than cuban, and have been told a few times that we look very different.

    This makes it a bit difficult to keep a fresh perspective. And difficult to improve since we got only three salsa teachers here.
    We usually use DVDs.

    So in our hometown we are, well, big fish maybe, but mainly we are strangers.

    Last weekend we've been to the salsa festival in Hamburg, in a crowd with a lot of very good dancers - there for a short time (after a lot of hours with workshops) I really felt like I will never learn how to dance salsa properly, even though I dance ballroom for more than a decade now. Well, you probably know that feeling :(

    Well, let me tell you, it was a big change of perspective! :)

  2. I know the feeling. You'll see my follow-up article the next night.

    As long as it's kept in balance, seeing both ends of the spectrum is a win. I am constantly amazed how much learning material is available via DVDs and YouTube. Imagine learning salsa just 5 years ago, when DVDs were young (and expensive) and YouTube didn't even exist. Now we can see dancers from around the world via the web.

    A great time to be learning/dancing!

  3. *grin* I don't have to imagine how it was to learn salsa five years back, I've been there and know it first hand, 2001/2002 must have been the first time I started.
    The only way was one local instructor who was not that good at explaining moves, he hoped you get them when he showed them, and who never said much about lead&follow, tension and stuff. I stopped after a year or two because I ran out of options to improve, and because there was no place around where I actually could dance the stuff to practise outside of classes.

    I started again last year, this time I got better conditions: DVDs, Youtube, a lot of huge salsa-festivals around germany, we rented a room for practise and there is a private salsa party once a week.

    Now I probably will have to start teaching salsa to get a bigger crowd for this dance here :)


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero