One of the biggest challenges for a Salsa teacher is not to teach the moves themselves, but to help a student, who doesn’t really have rhythm, understand the different Latin beats.

Latin music is just like mathematics.

Being a musician, I often ask myself : what does someone who starts dancing and has no musical background need to know. At this stage, I don’t think that a long theoretical musical explanation helps anybody. By experience, every time I tried that approach, I saw their eyes literally go in a daze. I think that a realistic goal to have is to make our students more sensitive to Salsa music, considering that for some, latin music is a giant maelstrom of indiscernible instruments.

First off, we can address music in a lot ways, but in its most simplistic form its basically mathematics: a never ending time divisions. Usually salsa dancers learn to dance on a 8 count, 4 and 8 being pauses. Thus, we can double up the counts in the same bar or time frame. At this point we can talk about a 16 count, a concept not too hard to understand for advanced students. the 16, being the “links” in between the 8 count. It is possible to do 32’s and 64’s as well, which will require great skills.

Keeping the beat

I would also like to address the rhythmic struggle faced by some. For an unknown reason, some people are better at keeping the beat than others. If I can give one tip to improve that aspect is to download a metronome app and practice at a ridiculously slow speed. Often, even the most experienced dancers will find it hard. They usually find it easier to move at a faster pace. My observation is that fast pace hides mistakes. This rule applies to music as well: what you do slowly, you will be able to do fast, but the other way around, doesn’t guarantee success. Slow practice helps you comprehend and improve movements. But why is it harder to do a slow movement? Two reasons, really. First, it’s not easy to manage slow passing time: the longer the pause on the 4th and 8th count, the more precise the movement. Secondly, weight transfer is harder slower, for those who tried rumba and waltz dancers know what I’m talking about. In short, if you want to clean up your moves, do it slowly.

Tips to find the one

A good start off point is to listen to instruments related to Latin music, it helps to define which instrument does what. Moreover, to find the one count, or the beginning of the musical loop, is not always easy, because students often don’t know what they are looking for. A good exercise is to listen to a piece of piano and have the students clap when they think the piece starts. You can even do that exercise in your car.

Below, you’ll find some videos that can help you get into Latin music.

Alex Wilson’s salsa con soul timing workout, you’ll find that song on iTunes also. I use that song in my classes all the time, one of the best songs to teach, no matter what the level. A good “keep the beat” workout.

Sometimes just listening to the instruments helps a lot:

There’s a great iphone app called Salsa Rhythm, where you can deactivated the instruments of your choice.

An Eddie Torres classic:

If you have any questions about latin dance music feel free to ask in the comments below 😉