About a week before I sat down to write this I posted a video on a technique to help people improve their ability to dance in time. It was aimed at social dancers, but it would have been equally suitable for any type of dancer. The aim of the video was to show people who are more visual or hands-on in the way they learn than they are auditory. Auditory people usually have very good timing so they didn’t need the help. You can see the video below, but the point to keep in mind is that it was focused upon helping people improve their timing alone. This was because the assumption was that timing was really all that was required for basic musicality in dance.
The response to the video was good, which meant that for many people it was still a question of timing, However, one response reminded me of another less common issue: one that I have also had, and forgotten about. This was trouble with starting on 2. I have been given permission to reprint the response from the author below.
I thought your video was brilliant! What you are doing is great. It shows interest and consideration. My biggest problem is the timing for the Rumba. I need to master this dance. Starting on the second beat is always tricky. How can you help me?
This message really struck me because I had a similar issue with Rumba. However I found starting on 2 most difficult with Mambo (or what some people call Salsa, but starting on 2). I had also spoken to a couple of dance teachers about this and to conclusion was that when we learn dance at the start, we only learn to start on 1. This can create an unconscious habit of thinking that you just always start on one and it becomes ‘wired’ into your brain. This would mean that you simply need to get used to starting on 2, and developing a more flexible mind set or ‘rewire’ your brain so that it can start on 1 or 2.
However, I also spoke to a dance studio manager about this and he mentioned Chacha never causes such large a problem. Indeed I noticed that I had few issues with Chacha, which also starts on 2. So that makes the issue a bit more complicated and interesting. The question then became: why are some on 2 dances hard to master and what can be done about it?
I still do think that part of it is wiring. I, and probably you to, learned dances that started on 1 it the left foot for the man and the right foot for the woman. This was drilled so much it became habit. Then when it came time to do Rumba or Mambo, things went wrong – at least for me they did. I still have issues with mambo and I only overcame the issues with Rumba because I really liked it, and tried to work out ways of comfortably starting on 2. And that’s what I will talk about now.
To overcome this issue I first focused on a dance that I could start on 2: the Chacha.
I think I was able to start on 2 with the Chacha for the following reasons:
- I counted it differently. I counted “2, 3 cha cha cha”. This made it different enough in my mind from the other dances, that I did not carry over the idea of needing to start on 1
- there was clearly an action to take at each point. The issue I had with Rumba and Mambo was that the action on 1 seemed to be non-existent.
Using the second of the above two insights, I focused more on the action that was meant to take place on 1 for Rumba and Mambo. In both cases it was just a weight transfer so I made sure that in my mind that weight transfer was not only a major event (even if the action wasn’t) and I also made sure that that was what I considered to be the start. The second trick was most important if I was still counting “1, 2, 3, 4”: I would start with a weight transfer on the “1”.
This was what worked best for me because I usually like to count the beats. However, I did also try other types of counting. With Rumba, some people like to count “Quick, Quick, Slow” or “2, 3, Hold”. I found the second one more useful because it was a bit like the Chacha, which is similar to the Rumba. The basic idea though is to try a different counting method so that you are less likely to carry over the idea that you should start on 1.
The above method has worked for me when dancing Rumba. I have not really had a chance to try it with Mambo. Also, I have forgotten about this issue and never asked anyone else if it has worked for them. So I can only suggest that you try the same thing: count differently and focus more on the action of the 1.