Thursday, July 5, 2007

Great Style: Back to the Future (Part 1 of 2)

"I want to look just like you!"

Those are words I've rarely heard when someone watches me dance. I'm confident that will change over time as my dancing continues to mature. As I've stated many times, looking great myself is secondary compared with making my partners look great, dancing to the music and providing a smooth, clear lead so my partners are showcased in the best possible light. The response I get from my partners is very positive overall and I believe my “partner first” approach is one most guys would find helpful.

You could say my current success is based on the reflection of my partners, but like most guys, I want it all.

So how do we improve our look and style as we mature? As a dancer, I recognize the path, because I've been down it as a musician. It is NOT a quick fix type of thing, but rather something you start now and it shows up over time, with excellent results for those who go along for the ride. Unless you have previous dance experience (I didn’t), don’t expect great style in the short term. It takes time to learn to express yourself with your body.

Here are the principles I learned as a musician, modified for salsa dancing:
  • The best salsa dancers are great dancers who love salsa, rather than just great salsa dancers.
  • The better dancers have depth, and a respect for the historical roots of salsa and other related dances.
  • Great stylists tend to integrate other styles into their salsa and they learn via a direct-indirect approach.

It all boils down to two complimentary concepts which I call the “Baarns Direct-Indirect” (BDI) learning approach.

Most people find a favorite dancer or instructor, and they learn and copy all their great moves directly. It makes sense to learn from the best salsa dancers you can find. This is how most dancers start and many people stay with this approach for many years. However, if that is your primary or only strategy, over time you’ll look like a watered down version of your favorites.

The real “trick” is identifying dancers you like, researching their influences and going back to the source. This is the “indirect” part of the equation. This is NOT an either/or equation. When you combine direct learning from your favorites AND indirect learning by going back a generation or two to their influences, you’ll be worlds ahead of the dancers who primarily learn from their favorites directly. Since it takes some time, the sooner you start including the indirect part of the learning equation, the better off you'll be. In the longer term, you'll end up passing many of your peers who focus on learning directly from their favorites.

What does this mean for you and me? How about some examples to illustrate these concepts?

I’ll expand on this Baarns Direct-Indirect concept in Part 2 of this series including examples and links to materials you can use to improve your dancing.

(I’ve already written 90% of that article, so you'll see it in the next couple days.)

In time even a bear can learn to dance.
-Russian Saying

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero