We want your
articles and publications! We DO publish. Do you want to
write a review? Do you want to write a commentary?
name it, we'll publish it! Submit your articles, or ask
for our writing guidelines,
So... You Want to Be a Salsa Instructor…
By Stephanie Palmeri,
There's an old saying: "Those who can, do; those
who can't, teach." Whoever said that obviously never was a teacher. Teaching
anything requires a deep understanding of what you teach, along with many other
skills. I am a school teacher by day (middle school language arts) and a salsera
by night, so it seemed only natural that I would some day become a salsa
teacher, but I actually fell into teaching salsa by accident. The director of my
daughter's dance school knew I danced salsa and asked me to start a salsa class
over four years ago. I agreed and luckily I didn't do too much damage before I
figured out what I was doing. Here's a list of suggestions I wish I would've had
for those of you who consider teaching, or who already teach and just want to
1) Know your salsa.
You need to have strong technique,
a wide repertoire of footwork and patterns, and an understanding of timing
(whether you dance on the "1" or the "2"). You should also know styling. You
must know enough to be able to give your students information on the basics of
salsa as well as specifics about the nuances of leading and following. You
should be an experienced dancer before you attempt to teach. I had considered
myself a good dancer when I first started to teach, but I had to go back and
re-learn things that I had picked up incorrectly because I mostly learned to
dance from going to the clubs and not from taking classes. I like using the
analogy of typing: You may type quickly with two-finger "pecking," but you
wouldn't want to be a keyboarding instructor until you learned proper "home row"
2) Know how to break it down.
Just because you know something, doesn't mean you'll be very good at explaining
it. Learn how to do everything in slow motion and to understand where you should
be at each count. You must pay close attention to everything you do and figure
out how to explain it in steps. You must have the patience to move slowly and
repeat yourself a lot, especially if you plan on teaching beginners. One of the
most difficult aspects of teaching salsa is instructing students on how to find
the beat in the music and stay on beat as they dance. You must learn how to
teach students to hear and stay on the beat.
3) Become a student again
yourself. The best way
to learn how to teach, in my opinion, is to observe excellent instructors. Go
back to beginning classes and watch how instructors break down the steps and
explain the basics. Notice which instructors you learn the most from and try to
figure out what they do that helps you. Keep taking intermediate and advanced
classes and workshops to expand your repertoire of patterns and styling.
4) If you're a follower, learn to
lead; if you're a leader, learn to follow.
This will help you in many ways. First of all, you will know what it's like to
be a beginner again and be able to relate to your students. Also, you must know
what both partners have to do in a pattern to help your students without
constantly being accompanied by your partner. Finally, this will up your
credibility as a teacher.
5) Get a good partner.
It is possible to teach without a
partner, but not recommended, especially in group classes. Having a strong
partner allows you to better demonstrate patterns and gives both perspectives on
a move. It also allows you to emphasize the differences in styling. Two
different styles in teaching and personality also make the classes more
interesting and dynamic. In addition, when it's time to go around to help
students, the two of you can cover more ground. Just make sure that you can work
together with your partner. While it is not necessary to have a partner who is a
perfect fit, you must be professional and decide on how you will teach together.
There is nothing worse than watching teachers who argue in class or contradict
each other. You should decide who will do the explaining of which parts. Usually
one instructor does more of the explaining, but it's nice to divide up the
teaching, especially when it comes to the specifics of leading and following.
6) Be aware of the advantages and
disadvantages of teaching.
This will be different for each individual, so think about it. For me the
advantages were: 1) I could make some money to support my salsa habit and at
least try to break even, 2) I could have a legitimate excuse to spend more time
doing something I love, 3) I could improve my dancing by focusing more on
technique and learning new patterns, 4) I could immerse myself more in the salsa
community, and 5) I could have the satisfaction of seeing my students improve
and get more excited about salsa. Here are some disadvantages you may want to
consider: 1) Teaching is difficult - you must know what you are doing and have a
lot of patience, 2) There is a huge time commitment, not only for weekly
classes, but to keep on top of what's going on in the salsa world, 3) Expect to
invest money in more CDs, classes and workshops for yourself, extra shoes and
outfits (especially if you teach at a club), business cards, travel, etc., 4)
Understand that it is difficult to balance teaching with a regular day job and
you may also find your other responsibilities and hobbies are affected, and 5)
You are putting yourself more into the public eye and opening yourself up to
judgment by others.
7) Self reflect.
Good teachers constantly reflect on what they're doing and pay attention to what
works and what doesn't. Ask for feedback from people you know and trust. Be
brave and have someone record your lesson so you can watch how you teach and see
your students' perspective. Don't be too hard on yourself, but notice your
weaknesses and improve upon them. Listen to constructive criticism even if you
decide not to take it. Don't worry if your not loved by everyone. Build on your
strengths. When someone gives you a compliment on your teaching, remember to
keep doing whatever it is that helped him/her.
8) Be humble. Don't let it go to your head. Get down off the stage and
interact with your students. Continue to dance with people at all levels. People
will appreciate you for being friendly and down-to-earth. Don't be afraid to
teach ALL of what you know. I once knew an instructor who wouldn't teach his
"best" moves because he didn't want people "stealing" them. First of all,
imitation is the highest form of flattery. Second of all, I don't know anyone
who holds the copyright to any moves. Finally, you should be secure enough in
your ability as a dancer and teacher to know that teaching others "your moves"
does not take away from your own ability and success.
9) Differentiate and be flexible.
Differentiation is an
educational term that means adjusting instruction to all the different levels of
students in your class. Just because the class is titled "beginning" or
"intermediate" doesn't mean that everyone is at the same level. Give your
students options. Show a simplified and more advanced version of the same move.
Showing styling options is a way to challenge the more advanced students in each
class, but be sure to encourage students to only try what they're ready for. Be
flexible with what you're teaching. If you realize that what you've planned is
too difficult for the group, modify the move. If it's too easy, show advanced
options with more styling or change to a more complicated combination. Pay
attention to the group and pace yourself accordingly.
10) Find your own style.
Different students have
different learning styles and what works for some students doesn't work for
others. Find your own style - the one that works for you. While you may not be
the perfect fit for some students, those who prefer your style will stick with
you. Most teachers start by copying the technique and teaching style of those
they most admire. This is fine to begin with, but as you get more comfortable
teaching, adapt what you do to what fits with your personality and what works
for you and your students. Find a style that goes with who you are. If you have
a sense of humor, don't be afraid to joke around a bit with your students. If
you connect well with people, take time in class to go around and interact
one-on-one with your students.
Many salsa instructors go into teaching because
they see it as a logical next-step in their professional growth as dancers. But
a great dancer does not a great teacher make. It takes a certain type of
personality, a lot of dedication and plenty of training and practice to be an
admired and successful salsa instructor. But if you feel like you have what it
takes, consider the above recommendations and go for it! The rewards of teaching
something you love and sharing it with others make it all worth it.
Stephanie Palmeri has been dancing, performing, competing and teaching as a
salsera for over four years. She and her partner, Danny Zepeda, won third place
at Alberto’s professional salsa competition last year and performed for two
years with RicaSalsa. They currently teach salsa lessons to all levels at the
Mexican Heritage Plaza and at Club Miami, both in San José.
be co-directing the Bay Area branch of Salsa Brava Productions. You can contact
her at (408)806-0787 or e-mail her at
Return to SalsaCrazy Featured Dance Articles
| Contact/Support | Write a Review | About SalsaCrazy | Private Policy |
Dance San Francisco |
Salsa Dance Clubs
& Events |
DanceSF Salsa Classes |
Salsa Cruise &
Get your Site Salsa Dance
Salsa Dance San Francisco
Your Online Salsa School
Ballroom + Latin
Dance Video Store!
Salsa Dance Videos