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Guest Blog: Some Days Are Better by Don Baarns


Don Baarns, AKA the Unlikely Salsero, is a US based salsa teacher renowned for his regular blogs on teaching, technique, musicality and more and has kindly agreed to lend us some of his wisdom. This week: Some Days Are Better, a look at the frustrations we experience when learning to dance and how to persevere.
Why are those other dancers better than me? Ever work on something for a while and wonder if you'll ever get it?

I have. Your "it" and mine will be different, but almost everybody has an area that seems like a huge hill to climb. Learning new dance moves tests our attitude, our learning skills, and provides a never ending set of positive challenges. It's an excellent vehicle for making you a better person. Occasionally it can turn my hair a little greyer, especially if I'm having a bad attitude attack.

I've had moments where it seems like I'll never get a move, a spin or a pattern. Worse, it seems like others around me find the same thing easy. I've had flickers in my brain of the dreaded "that will never work for me." I work hard to replace those thoughts with the, "At some point I'll smoke this thing and make it happen."

I rarely say it out loud because it doesn't last long, but a couple times a year I've seriously considered quitting, because I'll never master this thing called dance. (Nobody "masters" it!)

At other times, I've marveled at how much progress I've made in areas that seemed nearly impossible at the start. Once you have a few successes, you know it's worth the effort.

Nothing is as much fun as a dance where you make a connection with your partner. There is magic available on the dance floor and when you experience it yourself, you forget about the learning struggles and want to do it more.

Persistence is the major factor for progress, but other factors come into play.

In those down periods, it's my thinking that needs the upgrade and adjustments. Once I get my attitude back in a positive direction, things get better much faster.

Everybody has those down days, and there are few "secrets" I found over years of learning to play music. They directly apply to dancing, or actually any skill based learning. I use them to keep my head straight while practicing and learning, and hopefully one or two will help you.

Most sticking points require one of a few approaches. I'll list a few you should consider when your "moment" arrives:

Don't quit

Break it down into smaller chunks/exercises/moves

Don't quit

See if some foundational part of the move is weak, and work on it

Don't quit

Celebrate small, incremental improvements

Don't quit

Get input from quality instructors

Don't quit

Find something good, and pat yourself on your back

Don't quit

Do it slower!

Take a nap or break, then try again

Don't quit

Try it again in a few days, weeks, months

Don't quit

Practice when you don't feel like it

Don't quit

Practice more, but in shorter sessions

Don't quit

Practice more, trying a few longer sessions

Don't quit

For me, it isn't surprising that some things that seemed impossible or very hard a few years ago are now easy or within reach. I still have occasional negative moments, wondering why it takes me so long to improve.

If I'm really down on myself, a short nap often does the trick. As I mature, I find that strategy works much better than I expected, and have read studies about sleep integrating skill learning, and that's all the excuse I need. (Besides the fact that it works well for me!)

While I occasionally struggle to improve like everybody else, I've also had nights in the club where things are working extremely well and I'm proud of my progress. Good nights or not so good, pat yourself on the back for small successes, and keep on moving forward, even if it seems slower than others.

You'll always be refining your practice and searching for ways to improve your learning attitude. Dancing is a journey, and few will every "arrive" although anybody around a few years can be much better than average.

Over time things tend to work out very well. Often a minor attitude adjustment, more or different practice, some tips from experienced instructors, combined with some time will give you skills way beyond your current dreams.

Sure some days will be better than others, but soon your worst days will be better than your current strong days. All that assumes you continue learning and challenging yourself with a positive attitude. Being a little better each week adds up to large gains over time.

Let me know what you do to move past your sticking points. I'm sure some of you have some great strategies that will benefit others.

Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
--Will Rogers

Don Baarns' full blog can be read at