Learning Plateaus in Dance

This applies to Salsa, bachata & Kizomba

Everyone has learning phases, it's like climbing a mountain. The biggest is in the first year of learning Salsa & many other partner dances. At some point you will plateau 'level off', it's where you reach a certain level where you feel as though you can't learn any more, or not progressing at the same rate as you started, this may even seem to feel as though you are going backwards!


The trick is to keep on going until you break through your plateau and then you will be on your next learning phase. Breaking through a plateau is an awesome feeling! You'll then be on your next phase of learning until you eventually plateau again.

Yes you will plateau again & again & again.....


If you feel like you've "learnt it all or Plateau'd" there are always more things to learn. It's essential to keep an 'open mind' to pick up on the small things which are actually "big" things! Sometimes going back a level to relearn or practice the fundamentals make a huge difference. Remember social dancing & practice is also an essential part of the picture. These are the keys to breaking through your plateaus.


You can never learn to much in dance classes, there are always many benefits of keeping going & going even when you think you've learnt enough, i.e. learnt so many combos's. Actually combinations & variations on dance moves taught in "Salsa Latina" classes are used as tools to teach you more skills & technique, the more you learn the more you can do with ease.


Regular classes pay off in accumulating effect to your own style/flavour, flow, feel of the music, partnering, body movement & styling. The more you do the easier it gets, even if you consciously don't remember, you do actually absorb it all....it will all come out somewhere in your dancing. For guys, moves & combos start happening without realising, you be able to put its together with more flow. For females, you'll be able to follow better with awesome style.


An interesting thing about learning, the more you learn & the more you break your plateaus the more you relise there is more to learn. This is the great part about Salsa dance, there is always more... & its fun!


Learning Curve

See the first Phase of the beginner learning curve in Salsa known as Beginenrs Hell becuase the first plateau feels like that (see Below)...

Note that the curve still continues and more plateaus happen for Male & Females as they progress further & further.

learning curves


~ It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows. ~ Epictetus


~ The more you learn, the more you become aware of what you have yet to learn. ~ Steve Pavlina


Beginners Hell for Partner Dancing

When Will I get good?   By Edie, The Salsa FREAK

When beginners ask me that question, I can't help but smile.  My usual answer is two simple words: 'It depends.'

This applies to all partner dancing and most solo dancing. Including Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba etc.


I always suggest educating yourself about what Beginner's go through during the beginning phases of learning.

There are a lot of factors to consider

- Do you know other dances?

- Have you ever partner-danced before?

- Do you have any physical limitations?

- Are you, or were you athletic as a child?

- How often do you attend partner-dancing nightclubs and/or events?

- How much time are you willing to invest in classes, private lessons, dance camps and/or dance Boot camps/workshops?

- How big is your instructional dance videotape collection?

- Just how badly do you want to master the dance?

- Who or what is motivating you, and why?


Do you know other dances?

Knowing how to hip hop, tap, ballet, jazz, flamenco, or any other type of solo dance will obviously help you in understanding rhythm.   However in the beginning it will actually hurt you while learning partner dancing, because you?ll want to fall into old habits of doing everything on your own without having to worry about anyone else?s balance or control.  Females will have a problem with trying to submit to their partner?s lead, and leaders will feel constrained and frustrated while mastering the basics.  Most of them cheat through the basics because of impatience.


Have you ever partner-danced before?

Knowing another partner dance will speed up the learning process of anything else you learn on the dance floor.  I suggest you learn and master one dance at a time.  Learning too many all at once is both mentally, and financially draining.  It will take you longer to 'get good', than focusing your attention on one dance at a time.  If you know your patience wears thin, learn one at a time.  If you have lots of patience, and lots of money, go ahead and learn every type of partner dance, all at once.


Do you have any physical limitations?

If you are physically handicapped in any way, your progress will not be as fast.  This should never stop you from learning however.  Just keep in mind that in your case, private lessons will be beneficial to both you, the instructor, and the group class.  The group may progress at a much faster rate than you can handle.  You may end up frustrating the rest of the class if you can?t keep up.  Unless the entire class is made up of people who have various handicaps, be sensitive of your limitations, your fellow classmates, and invest in private lessons and videos.  You'll find you'll get better much faster, and may even surpass those stuck in group classes!


Are you, or were you athletic as a child?

Students with prior athletic abilities learn much faster than those who don't.  I've found that the fastest learners are those who have taken Martial Arts Training.  In Martial Arts, they are trained on body momentum, control, and how to physically handle their opponent.


How often do you attend partner-dancing nightclubs and/or events?

If you don't go out to dance clubs and lean by watching other dancers, you won?t learn very fast.  Dancing won't come to you; you have to go to it.


How much time and money are you willing to invest in classes, private lessons, dance camps and/or dance Bootcamps & Workshops?

Like anything in life, you get better over time.  Like anything in life, money talks.  If you went on a vacation, and spent the same money as you would on dance lessons, you'd come back with just a bunch of pretty pictures and memories.  Investing in learning how to dance is a skill you can never forget ¨ like riding a bike.  It is something no one can take away from you ¨ like earning a college degree.  It's so worth it!


How big is your instructional dance video collection?

The best dancers in the world have the most dance videos. I have collected hundreds of videos over the years, and my collection keeps growing!  Learning visually is the next best thing to a real instructor or coach! 
Note:We're talking about High quaility instructional DVD's etc, not You tube clips. You need to pay for good quality.


Just how badly do you want to master the dance?

The more you want it, the faster and better you?ll get.  Just where is dance on your priority list?  Do you think about dancing day and night, or just on weekends?  Do you dream of dancing at night?  During the day, do you daydream of being the best, most confident dancer on the dance floor?  Do you practice your steps in the shower?  Are you addicted yet?


Who or what is motivating you, and why?

That is a personal question that can vary from as far as the East is from the West.  I've heard everything from exercise and weight loss, to family events, to peer pressure, to boredom, to surprising a significant other, to enraged revenge.  The reasons are endless.


The Male vs Female Learning Curve?

In partner dancing, men are usually the leaders, and ladies are usually the followers.  I'm here to tell you, no matter what dance you learn; it's a longer, tougher road for the guys.  They've got a lot more to worry about than their female counterparts.


Leaders, at a minimum, have to:

Learn enough moves to keep her interested.

Make sure she is comfortable, and well taken care of.

Maintain self balance and control.

Not be too light, nor too heavy.

Understand frame and body momentum

Keep his arms and feet out of her way.

Smile, and tell her how beautiful she looks tonight.

Stay on beat.

Make sure his lead is not too light, nor too rough.

Ask her to dance, and risk the humiliation of a 'No', or lame excuse.

Make sure he doesn't touch her in the wrong place.

Allow her the time and space to turn and execute her moves.

Make sure just the right amount of hand-pressure is applied on her body.

Make sure he doesn't poke her with his fingers.

Protect her from bumping into other dancers.

Remember turn patterns and figures

Adjust to timing changes in the music

Keep her from falling if she is off-balance

Make sure there is just the right amount of body-momentum between both of them.

Keep the moves fluid, and working together.

Display her talents.

Display his talents.

Play traffic cop on the dance floor

Make sure she doesn't run into anyone, nor let anyone run into her.

Dance to the peaks, valleys, and hits of the music.


Followers have to, at a minimum

Know the basic steps.

Stay balanced.

Not be too light, nor too heavy.

Smile, and look pretty.

As you can see, the responsibilities of the leader far outweigh that of the follower. To illustrate, I've created a graph to give you a good idea of what it takes to get good.

'Getting Good' is a function of time and money invested.  The X-axes represents time, and the Y-axes represents dance level.  The higher the level, the better the dancer.  As you can see, the woman will progress at an even pace.  This does not mean that she is better, more athletic, nor more intelligent (sorry ladies), but men have a bigger responsibility, and a lot more to learn in the beginning.  We call this 'Beginner's Hell' for the guys.  Most males will quit at this point.  They give up just days before the whole thing 'clicks'.  If they had stuck it out just a few more days, they would have started 'getting good' very quickly.   For the guy who persists, and keeps on keeping on, suddenly his level will get better at an exponential rate ¨ without his realizing it.  This is a phenomenon that I cannot explain, but I've seen it happen time and time again.  That's why I carefully watch the beginner dancers whenever I go out to clubs or teach in my classes.  I can immediately recognize the guys that will be awesome in a few months.   They exude a certain attitude; a look ¨ that special sparkle in their eye that catches my attention right away.  I just know in my heart they will be fierce in a few months.  Treat beginners with respect and admiration.  Trust me ladies, they will remember you later on, when they become amazing dancers.   Many men quit during Beginner?s Hell because they get frustrated that the women they started classes with no longer want to dance with them, or feel as though they are now getting 'mercy dances' with them.  This is not a good feeling. If the man can get through 'Beginner's Hell', he can conquer just about anything he sets his mind to ¨ for the rest of his life.  All it takes is patience, lots of practice, and a combination of the following:

Take quality group classes that emphasize solid technique & fundamentals ¨ not just the 'move of the week'.

Watch instructional DVD's or videos before you go to sleep at night.

Take lots of private lessons

Collect lots of salsa dance music.

Go out to partner dance clubs every week.  Watch and try what you've learned a few times.

Attend dance camps, events, conventions, congresses and dance Bootcamps as often as possible.

The more you do, the faster you progress.  Beginner's Hell can last a couple of weeks, or a few months ¨ depending on the time, money, and effort invested.  The choice is yours.


Female Progression

As shown in the chart, since most females progress at a much faster rate, she would rather dance with men who are at her same level, or, in other words, men who have been dancing for a considerably longer period of time.   Over time, the female students will eventually start to level off at a certain point.  They don't feel like they are progressing or getting any better.  To get over this plateau, they need to light a fire under themselves and start doing some radical changes.  Most start taking Ladies Styling classes, investing in instructional styling videos, join a dance team, or even start competing.  Some take up other forms of dance, to get ideas and build their creativity.   If the ladies don't do something to get out of their little 'rut' of no improvement, they will find themselves sitting on the sidelines watching their male counterparts look fabulous with the better, more stylish female dancers.   Their male counterparts are now blowing her away.  They will eventually leave her in the dust if she doesn't continue to learn and grow.    Listen up ladies.  The guys have an enormous responsibility.  Leaders have to learn how to hold you, take care of you, turn you, make you feel comfortable, and protect you.  Give beginners respect, honour, and most importantly, your patience and understanding during their learning process.  They will remember how you treated them.


"But Edie, I spent so much time with him in the beginning, now that he's good, he doesn't want to dance with me anymore."


I hear that a lot from women.  Let me be realistic here.  There are some guys out there who?s egos get out of control after a while.  They forget how much time you spent with him in his early days of 'getting good'.  Now that they are awesome leaders, they only dance with the prettiest, best girls, and refuse to give you the time of day.  Unfortunately, people like this exist, and are simply a cruel fact of life.  Don't hold a grudge.  This will spoil your fun and make you look like an ogre ¨ unapproachable and with a negative attitude.  Attitude is everything.  Even if you're hurting inside, fake a smile and MOVE ON.  Improve yourself, and focus on the positives ¨ ANYTHING positive.  Focus on improving YOURSELF.  You can't control others, nor convince them of anything, or even let them know they?re being a jerk.  The one thing  you CAN control is your SELF. Practice THAT.  Do what he did to get good.  Focus on getting so good, that he will come begging to dance with you again ¨ just like he did in the beginning, when no one else would dance with him but you. Invest every ounce of energy into learning and growing, and working on your SELF

and you will 'Get Good' beyond your wildest expectations. EVERYONE pays the price in the beginning.  There are no short cuts.  Once you 'get good' you?ll feel you have the world at your fingertips.   IT'S PAYBACK TIME for all the 'No's' you endured.


Success is the sweetest revenge.