Monday, November 11, 2013

Studio vs. Club Classes: Different Animals (Part 2 - Clubs)

This is part 2 of a series. Please check out Part 1 of this series before reading this article. You'll find some overlap between the articles, but that is normal for a series.

Сальса-вечеринка в Бернардацци | Salsa-party i...Dance studio classes and club classes may appear similar at first, but there are distinct differences you'll want to keep in mind. This article focuses on club classes. Part 3 details studio classes.

At most dance studios, the mood is a little more serious. Studio classes tend to be focused on more foundational, technical and longer-term exercises, and the social aspects take place before and after class. I'll leave additional details for part 3 of this article.

At the clubs, it's about getting enough drinkers to pay the bills, and the dancing is a way to attract more people. I love the clubs, so don't take that as a negative, it's simply different than a studio. Club classes can be excellent social events, where meeting people is as important as the actual dancing. You should use both scenes to your advantage.

If you are a newer lead, club classes are an excellent way to find a set of follows who will dance with you later in the evening. Beginners benefit more from stronger social ties.

If you're a respectful and growing lead, followers will generally put up with your learning during social time. Few follows turn down leads they've meet in class unless you make a terrible first impression. (Hint: Be nice in classes! Let the instructor make corrections. This applies to BOTH partners.)

As a follow you can get an idea of which leads seem like they are learning, and which are just there to get their hands on a few ladies. Find the few you like and say something like, "Save me a dance later..." and they'll almost always find you after class.

If you're more advanced, club classes can give you a few new moves, and you don't need the details due to your prior experience. They can be a quick way to brush up on existing moves and/or get some new patterns that tend to be easier to learn. Most club instructors focus on cool moves and fun patterns, because that attracts more people.

Club instructors often gloss over details that will slow the class down, because you're not trying to create performers or high-level dancers, just get them to the floor with enough skills to have fun and make some new friends.

Many club guys return wanting something new each week, even though they didn't get close to mastering last week's material. Learning "new" is often more valuable than learning "well" in the clubs. This works to the more advanced lead's advantage as you'll "get" the combo and meet some new people.

Clubs often have some students who didn't even intend to take a class that night. They were meeting friends for a drink at a nice place, and hey, there's a "free" (or low cost) lesson, so let's join the fun. Salsa sounds like fun, so they decide to go along with it.

When I first started teaching in the clubs, I treated club and studio classes similar. Big mistake on my part; different audience, different mindset and the studio approach doesn't pay off well in most clubs.

I was too into the details, and half the guys just wanted to get their hands on the ladies, even if their dancing wasn't progressing much. Conversation time was just as important as dance time.

As I grew, I learned a very interesting concept from a veteran club instructor. During the class we played music and rotated the students so they could practice the patterns until the song ended. In the beginning, I would immediately start the next move, because I wanted them to get more dancing/patterns/information during the lesson time.

My experienced club mentor told me, "When the song ends, if people are talking, I wait a minute or two until the chatter starts to die down. As long as they are talking, I don't start the next session, even if it takes a few minutes." He was exactly right!

His concept is simple: If they are having fun talking to the people around them, that's as valuable as learning another dance step or pattern. He knew from experience that half the people wouldn't return, and others would only return if they meet someone interesting. The talk time established the social connections. Even while demonstrating/instructing, some chatter is normal at the clubs.

My mentor had a much higher return rate than many "better" dance instructors since he understood the social dynamics of the club.

Over time, I adapted his methods for club classes, because the social time between tunes creates a great buzz and people return. Attendees may not improve their dancing very much, or "get" a specific move this week, but that isn't the point of the class anyway. You need to help them have  fun and return next week.

The overall quality of instruction can vary widely at the clubs, from world-class to the waiter/instructor who was already on the payroll. Enjoy the class and the people. It's often a fun time.

The clubs can be a decent place to learn salsa, but if you get more serious, you'll often seek out the studios. Part 3 of this series focuses on the studio's strengths and weaknesses.

Please let me know your experiences in the club classes.
I feel like I'm in a rut. Every time I go to bed at night,
I find myself getting up again in the morning.
--Brad Stine


  1. I *hated* club classes when I first started, and I still do now, but for different reasons.

    When I first started salsa dancing, I took club classes for a few months, but I didn't really improve all that much, and it was really hard to have a decent dance with any of the girls.

    When I started taking studio classes, my salsa skills jumped through the roof during the first 1-2 months, and I met really cool people who are among my best salsa buddies today (leaders and followers).

  2. I loved club classes. I am a very quick study and learned a lot of salsa, swing, west coast swing, cha cha moves this way. Some good grounding in studio classes set the stage and I was away to the races.

    Via club classes I not only met some great leads but also some truly fun people. And I was able to pass on some of my knowledge by helping the instructor at times. For me it is about the LOVE of dance and everything else is second.

  3. Anonymous: Makes sense to me. If you're strong enough to assist the instructor (and pass on knowledge), club classes often add great value. Someone without your studio experience may or may not get the same dance value, but of course, the social side is great for everybody.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero