Sunday, October 28, 2007

Finding "One" Over the Wires

I read one of my e-mails and here's the question:
"Can you teach anybody to hear the beat in Salsa music? I have never been able to do this. It drives me crazy - it's the only music that I can't 'hear'."

Being the obnoxious, confident guy I am, I thought, "Sure, if you'll do the work, anybody can hear it." I’m confident because I've been successful with enough terminally time-challenged individuals via private lessons, so it seems like a safe bet that this e-mailer will simply be another one in the crowd. To date, I haven’t found anybody who couldn’t hear it IF they will invest some time; maybe someday I'll find the exception to the rule, but so far, so good.

It all started with my constant improvement mindset, and I was looking for interesting dance blogs and articles, hoping I'll find the cure for cancer and some detail or perspective that will enhance my dancing. I tripped over a site named "Great Dance", run by Doug Fox. After reading a few articles, I checked out his personal blog named "Dancing into the Future" and decided I should contact him.

I sent him mail complimenting him because I like his content. (And I recommend you check them out via the links above.) When I find quality blogs or sites, I let the authors know someone appreciates their work (sometimes you wonder if anybody is reading your stuff).

Being a good blogger himself he checked out my blog and told me it was the finest blog he has ever seen in his life ( But he did like some of my articles.) He returned my e-mail, and after a few back-and-forth messages, he asked me the question that started this article.

We had a couple more e-mails and he asked if I could teach timing remotely, without meeting in person. That is something I've never done, but because he's in New York and I'm in LA, we agreed the commute was a little too long for face-to-face sessions. Success in person is something I almost take for granted, but teaching music to someone over the net with e-mails, phone calls, WebEx and/or other Internet technologies presents a new challenge.

Doug was originally a little skeptical when he first approached me, but I think after our initial phone conversation, he's moving toward "cautious optimism." I'm not sure he totally believes we can make salsa accessible, but he no longer thinks he's terminal and doomed to life without a salsa groove.

My first assignment for him was to download the Susie Hansen song titled “La Salsa Nunca Se Acaba (The Salsa Never Ends)” and listen to the introduction twenty or more times. See “My Favorite Tunes: Part 1 of 367” for more details on that tune.

Doug and I agreed to blog about the process --each from our own perspective-- documenting our successes and/or frustrations as we work though the process remotely. My goal is to show someone how to hear the time, understand the song structure and be able to be comfortable finding “One” in the music without ever meeting in person.

We’ll keep you informed along the way and when we are finished, I hope to refine my teaching so it can be repeated easily with others and shared with you. I suspect you’ll find it an interesting journey. Doug has promised me he'll download this week, and I'll let you know how we progress.

I used to have a dog. And he was a good dog.
But these days, he'd be called a 'Canine American.'
-A. Whitney Brown


  1. I'd be most interested how this turns out!
    Teaching something intangible like to hear '1' is quite a challenge.

  2. Don,

    Great post! I look forward to working with you on this project.

  3. Great post Don! I am really looking forward to seeing the outcome! I am a salsa instructor and have my own blog and have commented on this challemnge in my recent post. Good luck to Doug!

  4. Hope it's okay to post a link, but I got a lot of help from this site:

  5. That is an excellent link (and one I have in my personal favorites.)

    I'm a drummer and love percussion, but from a dancing perspective, my experience is many people are better served by learning more about the overall music structure and rhythm section (percussion, bass and piano) rather than focusing on the percussion as the first step.

    I'll provide more details in an upcoming article.

  6. I look forward to hearing about both of your progresses. My first salsa instructor was a percussionist and that really made the difference for me. He integrated an understanding of the clave right from the beginning so it was woven into our learning of the steps.

    I would recommend listening to a lot of cha cha cha, because that slows everything down and you can really hear the interaction of the clave and the tumbao (and helps you to feel more than just the one, which is important too).

  7. Maybe with a metronome?

    If he would like a musician partner in NYC, let me know; I'll dance with him. (Always on the lookout for a partner who knows where "one" is. :D)

    Happy New Year, Don!

  8. A metronome is a great tool and I use one to practice some exercises to make sure my timing is right on. That said, I don't usually use it with people just getting started with the timing.

    I use it with private students working on getting more advanced moves where I don't want the complexity of salsa music during the learning process.

    Do you use one and how do you use it?

  9. Dan in MississaugaFeb 1, 2008, 8:55:00 AM

    Hi Don, I wanted to know if there were any updates to this. Like many new salseros I have a heck of a time finding the one!
    I've been reading your Blog and it is very helpful to me. Great insight on the articles you've wrote.

  10. Dan,

    I'm assuming you viewed the article published November 2nd

    Nov 2nd Update

    I have a draft update that will go live in the next few days.


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero