All accomplished craftspeople know one fundamental truth: to go fast, you have to go slow.
It sounds counterintuitive. To go fast one has to move quickly; why, then, would slowing down yield more speed?
Simple: doing something at great speed but with poor technique often does not yield the required or desired results (a superior product, practice, or habit). Haste permits mistakes to creep into the work—more time is then needed to correct any flaws from a rushed process. Exercise routines, any artistic enterprise or craft discipline, and even simple tasks are best done slowly, with care and attention to detail.
The first step to doing something right is focusing on the fundamentals: doing the most basic movements or forms until they feel normal. The repetition of these movements is what is known as practice, an essential component for learning to complete any task (whatever it is) with a high level of skill.
But not any practice will do. The practice itself must be geared towards mastery—it should be conducted with diligence, consistency, and motivation. There are three kinds of practice techniques—only two types yield the desired end-product of practice: permanent reinforcement.
This kind of practice assumes that repetition alone will lead to improvement. Emphasis is placed on robotically repeating motions or actions. As soon as an “adequate” level of accomplishment has been achieved, there is no further development—this kind of practice is to be avoided.
Here four features stand out: firstly, clear goals; secondly, ways to reach them; thirdly, a methods of tracking progress; and, fourthly, some form of feedback which provides information about possible areas for refinement. This kind of practice is more successful than basic repetition because there is a strong motivation for doing something—there is a why which keeps the practitioner interested in the slow process of advancement. Crucially, the motivation allows the practitioner to overcome any disappointment encountered on the journey to mastery.
The Master’s Way
This method builds on the caveats of motivated practice. However, it has one important addition: the guidance of a master is sought. The purpose of the master is to set a standard to which the novice or apprentice aspires. (Hallo Obi Wan Kenobi and Pai Mei!) Coupled with motivated practice, following someone who has mastered their craft imparts more intimate knowledge of the craft in question.
To improve one’s dancing, the same principles apply: drastically improving one’s technique (executing more complex steps and patterns gracefully) requires a dancer to master the basics—timing and moving one’s body in harmony with the music.
A simple dance practice rule: to dance on time, one needs to practice dancing on time.
Mastering timing is an important skill for dancers of all levels and experiences.
One of the best ways to begin learning how to count properly in salsa, and to dance on time, is by using the Salsa Beat Machine (available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store). Its interface allows the listener to control the tempo (beats per minute—slowing it down or speeding up); how the counting instructor counts; the loudness of particular instruments (which allows for isolation of particular rhythms in the music); and to vary melodies (which provides changing aural landscapes that work against boredom). Practicing with slow rhythms will allow dancers to gain a better understanding of how various instruments affect the music and, therefore, the dance. Using focused and motivated practice, with mastery as the goal, dancing on time will become a reinforced and normalised habit. Once the slow tempos have been mastered, then the music can be speeded up.
Master the basics. Practice on time. And remember: to dance fast, one must first dance slowly.
Featuring songs from Willie Rosario, Calypso Rose, Afro-Cubism, German Villareal, Cubanismo, Son Varadero, and Sonoros De Verdad, this playlist curates some slow melodies that are wonderful accompaniments to practice sessions. Whether basic or intricate, all steps and patterns can be practised to these songs before they are strutted out on a dance floor.
Calyspo Blues—Willie Rosario
For something with a different energy and feeling, try Calypso Rose’s version.
Almendra—German Villareal featuring Mambo Big Band
A Buena Vista—Sonoros De Verdad