I remember the day when I arrived in Cali (Colombia) and went to a Salsateca the first night. I saw so many great dancers there and especially their fast footwork for which Cali is famous for was incredible but also daunting. It was the first time I asked myself what I have gotten myself into?
I arrived in Cali with no dance skills at all! I didn’t have any rhythm, I couldn’t memorize the easiest steps, I felt like a bull in a china shop and after my first few days, I still remember painfully thinking: That I am truly a hopeless case. And that I only gave myself 30 days to learn it.
But it is exactly at this edge of your comfort zone where you really grow. The following is an experience report of my 30 days but it focuses more on the success system I used, which you can apply to any 30 day challenge you plan to start on your own.
Use Accelerated Learning as a key to success.
The first vital part of this success system is accelerated Learning. I am a huge fan of accelerated learning and I believe doing intense learning in one month gets you further than sporadic lessons once or twice a week for maybe 6 month or even longer. The key is focus here. You just have this one goal, so there is no distracting yourself. You fully indulge in learning this one skill.
The first week and to get started was by far the hardest thing for me. I walked into this dance school, had my first lesson and struggled on all ends. It was even hard for me to lift my feet because in Germany we always walk flat footed. I got the timing wrong, It felt like I do not have the rhythm and remembering the easiest steps was like an impossible task.
Learn like a Child again.
What makes accelerated learning so effective is that it’s based on the way we all naturally learn. Or how we learned as children. Children learn activity based. Try that too and no matter what obstacles/hardships you face during that just keep pushing forward. Just to reassure you I probably told myself a thousand times during these 30 days, that I cannot and never will make it. But they key is to act like a child and to just continue to get up and try it again. No toddler ever stopped after the 1000th attempt to learn how to walk because he thought he can’t do it. There is no such thing like stopping or failing, you just get up and try again.
Get a great Teacher.
Getting the right teacher is another very important aspect. Sure nowadays you can learn almost anything without a real teacher just by watching online tutorials etc. But there is something missing. I believe the best first step is always: Finding someone who has done what you aim for and asking him/her for advice on how to do the same or even better to learn from that person. Trust your intuition in the process. I tried five different teachers before I decided for one. Aim for a mutual fit.
In the first week I had two hours of one to one personal training a day with my teacher plus two times group classes of two hours each, so in total 18 hours of dancing. The first week passed by and the hardest bit was learning the basics. It was so incredibly hard for me to learn the basic Salsa Caleno step (paso básico) and to make it part of my movement. Intellectually the concept of the step is a joke but to make it feel and appear natural was not. I practiced hours in front of the mirror just to get this basic step right. At the end of the week I was still just learning this basic move and didn’t even think of any advanced move. It is at that stage that you are most likely to give up. Learning the fundamentals is really dull, you feel like you’re not really progressing which then shatters your motivation but the worst is this thought, that if you can’t even get the basics right, how will you ever be able to do any advanced stuff? I know it seems counterintuitive to us but if you want to learn faster don’t rush into more advanced stuff. The truth is once you learned the basics the relatively harder appearing moves are actually the easier things to learn. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to take your time and get the basics right.
Focus on the basics.
It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree – make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to. – Elon Musk
A house built on shaky foundations will always turn out shaky, and the same goes for dancing or any other skill. Trying to master advanced details of anything before you nail the fundamentals just leaves you with confusion. So take more time to learn the essentials and it will actually provide you with faster & better overall learning! The second week I increased my number of hours. I added two to four hours of group classes a day. Making it around 25 hours a week in total.
I still struggled a lot with the timing so whenever I heard a Salsa song I counted and clapped my hands to the typical Salsa rhythm. (un,dos,tres, – ,cinco, seis, siete) By the end of the second week the basic movements finally became natural to me and now it was more a matter of what new advanced moves to learn and for that I used the Pareto Principle.
Use the 80/20 Pareto principle.
The Pareto principle basically means that with 20% of actions 80% of the consequences are achieved. The Pareto principle can be applied to almost any area of life. It is very accurate but see for yourself: With 20% of customers a company earns 80% of its revenues, with 20% of your friends you spend 80% of your time, and applied to dancing, 20% of the moves you do 80% of the time. So I just focused on a limited amount of moves. Together with the basics I decided to focus on just 15 different moves and practiced them over and over again.
In week three I was now able to do my moves but It still looked very stiff and I still had problems with the timing of the songs. Especially the songs which have a break in between and switch the tempo were quite hard for me. Another issue was dancing with someone else I was not familiar with. It showed my bad lead and it made me desperately feel the need to practice more social dancing. Luckily I was in Cali.
Choose a great setting & learning Environment.
The setting is super important. Learning Salsa in Germany for example and paying for private tuitions is not only barely affordable but also quite hard to find if you plan to do accelerated learning. I chose Cali because it is the world’s capital of Salsa. There are literally Salsa teachers and group classes everywhere, ranging from under 5 Euro per hour for private lessons to under 1 Euro for two-hour group classes. But not only the value is unmatched. Even more importantly there are so many options to practice what you just learned. Every single day of the week the people in Cali go out to dance salsa. So no matter whether it is Monday, Wednesday or Saturday there are always Salsatecas in which you can dance the whole night. Learning new skills in class is vital but playing and practicing with other people, is even more important.
Go to where the Fear is.
I believe success can be measured by the number of uncomfortable things/parts of the other side you’re willing to tackle. If you overcome the fear of it, it will serve you forever.
Seeing all these incredible dancers at the discoteca’s was one of those situations. Just going to a girl and asking for a dance was still a source of insecurity for me. But I also knew this is a crucial step in becoming a good dancer. Dancing with many different girls who differentiate in height, dancing style, talent, temperament is when you truly learn how to dance and feel natural in every situation. Unfortunately, I don’t have a patent for overcoming your fears yet. But there are a few things that really do help. First of all, its the setting again. Going somewhere, where no one knows you certainly helps you to just give it a go. Secondly keep in mind that you’re just a beginner so use the child approach here as well. Just give it a go and no matter how bad it went, get up and try again. Thirdly have the right mind-set. What helps me a lot is that we often think we are immortal. We work so hard, sacrifice our health, spend the best years of our life just to hope for happiness in the last. We live as if we are never going to die, and then we die having never really lived, so what helps me is to become aware of that. I am getting aware that Death is real and watching me. Not as some kind of morbid thought but rather as something that encourages me because if I don’t do it now, when am I going to do it?
In my final fourth week I was getting better and better at it. Risks actually aren’t that scary once you took them. I was dancing more freely, I could relax more into just Being, letting go and just having fun. And fun is so important! I came to realize that dancers with average moves who just smile and have fun, actually look way better than their dance skills actually are.
Allow your Body to feel.
So what about the Bodywork part? As I mentioned before, Dancing is a very gentle form of Bodywork. You have to want to sense any form of releasing. You have to tune into your body and allow yourself to feel it. Nevertheless releasing is a very personal matter, it depends a lot on how sensitive you are and what you’ve already done before in this regard. So for me during the first two weeks not that much happened. During week three and four however, when I finally got the steps down, we focused more on my rhythm. While videotaping me I clearly saw, that I still do not only make way too big steps, but I also barely used my hips and my upper body at all. So in week four I focused on trying to get that typical Salsa hip swing. I was just practicing in front of the mirror and did not dance much at all.
It was in this moment, when I realized the power of bodywork again. It felt as if I was using my hips and my scapular for the very first time. I dislocated the movement from how I would normally move and although it was a painful and tedious task, it was one of those things where you feel, it is a very good suffering because it will be worth it. I also figured out that unlocking these body parts triggered some emotions in me. I didn’t have an emotional breakdown, but I allowed myself a lot of downtime and to actually feel my body during that time. I still think it’s crazy how blocked I was in these areas and that all my life I never really consciously used these body parts. Even if you’re rational mind doesn’t believe in the power of Bodywork yet, from a logical/evolutionary perspective you have to admit that not for nothing do we have these Body parts. If people in Latin America are almost born with this natural movement and it’s entirely possible to move and dislocate these Body Parts, why don’t we use them at all?
The Goal of the Master of love and life is to free myself. Even if being able to move one more subordinate part of my body more freely appears to be a minor thing. Each effected change in our body brings along a change in our feelings and belief system and is therefore, one further step on the way to free myself.
So I encourage you to do the same. Become a student of Love and Life yourself, Trust your intuition and choose a Body Movement skill you fear. Set up a 30 day challenge and go where the fear is.