It’s hard to explain. Everyone feels music differently. You may hear and feel what my ears or brain cannot detect, while I can enjoy some set of tones which you might find meh at best and preferably wait for the next song. It’s natural, and I think there is no harm.
Let me start by being honest. I like to dance, but I’m no music expert. I don’t play any instrument nor understand song structure or anything. I think I don’t need to be a music nerd to appreciate what I like to dance to. It just limits me from explaining what I do and don’t like.
Recently at one salsa party, my friend told me that the currently played song starts… and then ends. Nothing was interesting about it. Totally flat. It was a horrible party because I felt like that during every song that evening. It was tough to dance to it.
Sometimes, we say someone is a fantastic dancer. And we go to our friends to tell them “hey, go dance with him or her; she or he is extraordinarily awesome!” The issue is, is that genuinely true? What do we mean by it?
First of all, a friend is someone we like to talk to and do activities with, someone with whom we enjoy spending time together. For everyone, it is someone else. Dance is both (non-verbal) communication and activity; therefore, even a good dancer is different for everybody, the same way as the definition of a good friend is different for everyone.
Second, even though someone could be a great friend, it depends also on the timing. Timing can be two things. In the salsa world, we care about on1 or on2 and so on. I love dancing on2, so I will not enjoy Cuban follower that much, for example, and you might have it similar. But by timing here, I mean something else: everyone is evolving. Our personalities more or less change over time, and therefore also our definition of good friend or dancer. The type of dance I like today might differ from the other day or year.
Finally, the context is essential. I could enjoy dancing with someone on the specific song, yet it might be a completely different feeling with another song. Music is super important. No one is a good or bad dancer. It all depends on many variables. How you feel at that moment, how the dance partner feels, what DJ plays, and how that resonates with both of you.
I don’t think I’m a good dancer. I like dancing, mostly salsa, but I learned salsa up to a level I don’t find rewarding going further. What I find joyful is when the song is funky, as I call it, and I can play with it and perform crazy moves that are for sure wrong, off the music, and not elegant, at least from a professional point of view. The word professional is important because many times, non-professionals watched me and thought I was professional and knew what I was doing. I’m not, and I don’t.
So when a funky song hits the floor, and I happen to dance with a partner who doesn’t mind breaking the rules, then it is fun I’m searching for. All the rest is boring. Even though salsa music has a large variety, it is often still the same for me. It is not inspiring and leads to the usual pattern going there and then over here with a turn to the left or right. That’s it.
That’s what I mean by I love salsa when it is not salsa. In my case, pure salsa music leads to non-inspiring salsa dance. I can dance with anyone, but it will not be fun that much. But once the salsa music is a bit different, preferably weird and borrowing from the non-salsa world, then I cannot sit down; I literally have to find someone to dance with.
The issue is, I feel like a unicorn. Most salsa dancers prefer salsa dura or romantica or whatever, simply salsa which sounds still the same every time, from my point of view. Of course, DJs play for dancers, so they play such sets. They are rarely brave enough to play something different. But there was one fearless DJ at Berlin Salsa Marathon, and she was terrific. I hope I can dance to her set once again at some point!
I will close this post by apologizing to everyone who was told I’m an interesting dancer they should dance with, and it ended up as a regular dance. It doesn’t work without correct music at appropriate time.
And sorry that I didn’t define what I mean by funky salsa. :-)
Ok, Lenka forced me to give at least some examples. I wanted to avoid it as it’s hard to make a pick. Well, let’s do it. Do you know Hit the Road Jack? The proper version is by Son de la Bog orchestra! It’s fast but amazing. Another good one is El Día que Llegó el Payaso by DDLO; I was listening to this one last year quite a lot. I cannot count how many times I danced with Lenka to Spanish Love Affair by Terrence Howard. And I should not forget chan chan version, as everyone loves chan chan, right? Try Chan Chan Tributo by Trio Trovarroco. There is more, of course; also, these examples are not my (only) favorite ones, but it should give you some hint if you are interested.