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San Francisco Salsa Classes with Felipe Polanco

Location: Cafe Cocomo, San Francisco, CA
Date: Sunday, January 13 (12:30pm-2:00pm and 2:30pm-4:00pm)
Presented by Albert Torres Productions and Latin Symbolics

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I had the chance to attend this very unique workshop by the master of dancing "on clave". The flyer for the event stated that prior "on 2" experience was necessary, which presaged a very engaging and challenging workshop! And challenging it was in terms of comprehending a unique teaching approach that requires you to listen to the music rather than relying primarily on numbers to mentally mark your steps! And for those who weren't used to the "2" beforehand, this was probably quite a "wake- up call"! Mr. Polanco never counts numbers; instead, he imitates the sound of the clave when demonstrating his footwork patterns. You will come out of this workshop with the beat of the 2-3 clave ("pah-pah, pah-pahpah") playing over and over in your mind.

The workshop had a turnout of between 50 and 65 attendees, including a lot of the usual Cafe Cocomo Thursday night dancers (many of them dance troupe members), some of whom were probably there the night before. However, attendees encompassing all levels were all present and open to learn.  I also found out through Albert Torres that Mr. Polanco will be moving to Paris, France very soon, which made this event even more of a priority on a salsa dancer's to-do list!

If you're used to counting "123, 567" you will find yourself either a) completely lost and frustrated or b) learning right there on the spot and keeping up with the pace! I realized how critical the beginning part of the workshop turned out to be! For those of you used to dancing "on 2" the way it is taught in the Bay Area (the "Eddie Torres 2", which begins on "1" and breaks on "2"), you probably had to make some adjustments in thinking out your step pattern and timing. Mr. Polanco's "on clave" technique (to which it is hard to put numbers to begin with) most closely approximates the "234, 678" of the "Classic 2" or "Ballroom 2" or "Palladium 2" (I can't keep up with how many names it has been given!).

However, it seemed from a casual observation of the crowd that everyone was keeping up pretty well and competently. 

In both levels of the workshop, Mr. Polanco teaches you to feel the music within yourself and to show it in the way you execute your steps. 


Here is a breakdown of the very basic techniques covered in the workshop:

-The Forward Basic

To execute this step, you push off the ball of your right foot to bring yourself forward; step forward on the left foot, then take a step back on the right foot. The ball of the right foot should be level with the ankle of the left foot.

In relation to the clave pattern, your forward left and back right steps happen on the initial "pah-pah" of the clave. In effect, you are marking the "2-3" side of the clave.

-The Back Basic

For this step, you push off the ball of your left foot to bring yourself back; step back on the right foot, then take a step forward on the left foot. The ball of your left foot should be at the same level of the big toe of your right foot.

In relation to the clave pattern, your back right and forward left steps happen on the "pah-pahpah", or 3-side of the clave. In numbers, you are marking the "5, &8" of the clave, which is the syncopated part of the clave beat. 

He also explained how everything in your basic step happens in your calf and upper thigh. When executing your basic step, your upper body should be in control without too much deliberate movement. The movement that happens in your upper body should derive from natural opposition or contrabody movement coming from your basic step. He always dances with arms and wrists parallel to the floor. His hands move in opposition like they are drawing a circle around his navel. 

This basic technique was important to comprehend for the more advanced part of the workshop in which you did crossovers, flares and half-flares (just to name a few) in your footwork patterns.


I spoke with Mr. Polanco that same night at Ava Apple's "on 2" Social (see review) at the Metronome Ballroom. Towards the end of the evening, I told him how I was able to dance that night without having to count numbers in my head. He explained to me that this was his intention when teaching this dance: to enable his students to dance "feeling" the music or "bailar sintiendo". From then on, inspired, I set myself as a goal to "bailar sintiendo".


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