A lot of dancers think that mambo dancing is all about turn patterns or spinning or shines. Some one said, "It's not about what you do, but how you do it". Let's take a cross body lead for example: You have two different couples executing this same move. One of them looks forced, with no feeling or structure, while the other one looks stylish, very smooth and lead without difficulty. The two are executing the same move, and have taken the same amount of classes, so what makes one better than the other one.
There are a couple of aspects that in my opinion dancers should consider in order to achieve a higher level of dancing. The follow would cover a couple of aspects that "a leader" and "a follow" should concentrate in order to become a good dancer.
In my belief, a leader needs to:
- Have a strong understanding of the basics. Things like, when to change your weight; arm tension, basic footwork and when to lead the turns are all part of the basics of mambo. The better you understand them as a beginner the quicker you'll improve your dancing. Notices that I say understand them not execute them, going through the step doesn't necessarily mean that you know the steps; can you execute them to the music on time? That is the question you should ask yourself every time you think you know a step or move!
- Measure your partner's level. Have her go through a simple routine of basic moves (basic, cross body lead, right turn, left turn) for you to have an idea of what moves she'll be able to follow without difficulty.
- Adjust your lead. After you have measured her level, keep in mind that certain followers respond better to more obvious signals and leads, and others to stronger or softer leads. You'll have to determine how to calibrate your lead accordingly. A good leader is able to adjust his lead while keeping his flavor and style with almost every single different partner. On the other hand, when a couple dances constantly together, they lose the ability to adjust to another dancer. A good lead can only be develop if you get yourself out there and dance with as many different partners as possible.
- Share the dance floor with the lady. I have seen a lot of posing from some leaders but no dancing. Some times, they don't even move their feet, while their partner is moving from point A to B, side to side, turning left and right with doubles and triples while the man is holding the same pose. Dancing is movement, not posing. If you ever watch Eddie Torres dance, you'll understand what I'm talking about. Think about dancing in a circle, you want to share the circle not be in the middle and have the lady run around you. If you do this, your lead would improve and you'll notice while leading fast inter-exchange of places or dancing fast songs.
- The most important one is to feel the music. Feeling will manifest through your body. That is probably the most admirable characteristic in a dancer, not how many times he spins or makes his partner spin, not how many moves he goes through in a single song, but how connected he and his partner are with the music.
Mambo or salsa dancing is all about the lady, it's often heard that the lady is the 'picture' and the man is the 'frame'. Followers delight us with their style, sexiness and playfulness. In my belief, all these aforementioned characteristics come to place after the following:
- A strong understanding of the basics. By this I mean: When to put weight in the proper foot. How to interpret the lead and to know which direction to go. Know how to execute right and left turns properly without depending on the leader.
- Prepping for spinning. No matter if there is one or a thousand spins led, there is always preparation before a turn. Of course, prep for a single right turn is going to be different than prep for a triple right. It's all about adjusting to the lead. The better you prep the better you spin.
- Good connection. It's a must for the follower to be able to feel the lead. Starting with the way your following hand is positioned, it should not be flat. You should use your ring and middle fingers of your hand to connect with his ring and middle fingers on his hand, that way we have good security on the hold and not too much friction (which would be uncomfortable and would slow us down). Keep tension in your fingers and slightly curve them to his to maintain connection. Then comes your arm, you need some kind of tension to be able to react on time to any kind of move. Always match the tension you receive from the leader. Tension will range from a zero level to a five level depending on what is being led. Your posture should include a straight back that is what is going to help your balance while turning. This is also going to allow you to carry your own weight and give some tension at the same time. If you keep all these pointers into consideration you'll become a follower that is not too light and at the same time not too heavy.
- Experience. The leaders and followers' learning process is different. Leaders need more time to develop than followers. From an experience standpoint, a follower needs to get used to standard moves and be ready for new ones and learn how to respond to certain leads. On the other hand, if the follower gets too used to a certain lead by dancing with the same partner all the time, she'll have problems adjusting to a different lead. A follower should try to dance with anyone who is available to be able to react to different feelings.
- Styling. This is something that comes in place after all of the above has been achieved. It's not easy. Good stylish dancers are able to keep their own flavor and follow any move flawlessly. A lot of experience is needed because the follower needs to understand when she has time to style during a turn pattern or what she can do while been led during a move. You can use every single part of your body to style like your hands, arms, shoulders, rib cage, hips, and head.... even your hair.
- Feel the music. Styling and feeling the music go hand in hand, but when you feel the music, the moves that you execute are not pre-designed or rehearsed. They are inspired by the music and transformed into those sexy hips movements and head rolls we guys love to watch.
These are just a couple of aspects that I think an upcoming dancer should consider to develop into a great dancer. While you might think some of them are more important than others, remember that dancing is an interpretation of the music from our soul with in our bodies and we will have different approaches. I hope this helps some of you and have fun at the dance floor.