Where Have All The Good Men Gone ?
There has a been a noticeable drop in leaders at weekly classes in Belfast. What's the reason ?
Okay, so in the words of Bonnie Tyler ... Where Have All The Good Men Gone ?
I'm going to give my opinions and you are totally free to disagree. Don't go off on a rant, just hear me out and maybe I can make some suggestions, not that many people listen to me anyway :-)
What's The Point Of Salsa Classes
For me, the purpose of classes changes the longer you dance. As a beginner, you attend a class as something new to do, to meet some new people and to have a bit of fun. The teacher should be aware of this and make it fun, while still respecting the history of salsa and it's music.
As an improver, you start to learn more moves (as a leader). In fact, all you want to do is learn moves. Men have this in-built fear that if they don't do a million moves in a dance, then the follower will get bored and will criticise him. Totally not the case. In fact, if you talk to most female dancers, lots of moves is the last thing they want. Firstly, they want good timing and a respectful leader.
Unfortunately it's not until you become that intermediate level that you start to appreciate the precise timing, leading technique, musicality and all the other things that make you a great dancer (in the eyes of the follower). I say unfortunately because many dancers drop out before they ever get to this stage or else the local teachers don't provide classes for this level.
Why Are There Not More Intermediate Classes
I'm talking only about Belfast here, although I have seen this in lots of places around the UK. At the end of the day, most salsa teachers are in it for the money. Fair enough, if you don't make enough, you can't afford the venue and that means no classes. So they stay away from the Intermediate level as there are less people in the class. They focus on beginners and improvers, because there are more of them and it makes more money. I'm not asking teachers to do it for free, but this needs some thought. Are you a salsa teacher who cares about your students and about salsa ..... or are you a person who "teaches salsa" solely to make money and doesn't care if your students progress or not ?
Are The Classes Too Easy ?
Yes, in my opinion. I frequently ask students who attend other classes "what did you learn in class last night". They said "oh I learned a wee move". When I repeat "but what did you learn that you didn't already know". They think hard and then admit, very rarely did they learn any technique. They just did another combination of moves they already knew. It wasn't challenging, it didn't make them sweat or think. But they enjoyed it because it massages the male ego when we are able to do something. We don't like it when we can't do something first time. So who do I blame for this .... the teachers .... full stop. When I see a teacher "making up a move" in the first 3 minutes of the class, I know for a fact that they won't be doing anything difficult. And this is common place in Belfast and elsewhere. it makes the leaders lazy because they think they are improving by going to classes, but they aren't. Sorry, but that's a fact.
I spent a weekend in Italy last month. We did 6 hours of classes each day. We sweated, we swore, we learned new stuff, we hurt afterwards but we progressed. We walked away from that weekend with new techniques, new ways of leading, new abilities and new musicality. That simply doesn't happen much at home anymore. Why ? This is what I've been trying to work out. Do the men not want to get better ? Do they think they are too good already and don't need classes ? Do they feel the classes are too easy for them ?
How Come There Are Lots of Ladies in Class ?
The ladies seem to have a willingness to learn. Each time we do a ladies workshop with Suzanne, Nikki or Jayne, the ladies are lining up to learn more. They want to improve, they want to get better and they are willing to put the time in. When we offer the same thing to the men, the line is very short. And for the men reading this, I'm going to be 100% honest here. I frequently ask the ladies to name their favourite dancers, who they think is really good. The list is always very short. They won't tell you this directly because they want to dance at the socials, but they are being let down big time by the men in Belfast. If everyone is happy just dancing at an improver level (which is what's happening right now) then fine, but I get asked constantly "how do I improve", "how do I spin better", "what makes a good leader", so people are obviously wanting to get better from what I can see.
So What To Do ?
First off, the teachers need to up their game. They need to teach technique. They need to put some effort into their classes instead of just repeating the same combination of moves that they have been teaching for the past 10 years. They need to push the students. They need to teach stuff that the students don't already know. And they need to dance with the students to find out what is and isn't working.
Secondly, the levels need sorted. The phrase "class for all levels" is becoming all too familiar. What does this mean ? It means that we're going to attempt to teach an Intermediate class, but if anyone turns up who has never danced a basic step before, we'll throw them in as well cause we couldn't be bothered doing a separate beginners class. This benefits no-one and needs to stop. This occurs more frequently at events where it's just one teacher or couple, who can't split the class because they have no-one else to teach the other levels. Thankfully we are able to call on several of our friends who will help us in this scenario, allowing us to provide a few classes at the right levels.
Finally, students need to change their mindset and make the teachers realise there is a market for better classes. There are a lot of men in Belfast who ask me "how do I get better" and then they don't turn up for classes. Now this could be for many reasons, either the times don't suit (fair enough) or else they think they are too good (you're never too good) or that they simply aren't getting anything from the class (see the points above). Whatever it is, we need to get back to a point where a salsa class is pitched at the appropriate level, contains some actual teaching and most importantly is still fun. There's no point teaching 100% technique but also being 100% boring.
Sorry If I Have Offended Anyone
I'm not really. If you know me well, you will know I have spent more than 14 years promoting salsa in Northern Ireland. I want the whole scene to improve and appreciate salsa music. I want to see new people coming in. I want to see the existing dancers improve. I want to see the older dancers coming back. I want to see big party nights attended by everyone. I want more classes, better classes and useful classes. I want to be able to answer honestly when I get the question "So, what's salsa like in Belfast ?"