Mambo: The Secret Behind Ballroom’s Performance at the Arts Retreat.

By Nikolas Grossen.

I recently completed my first arts retreat at Heritage Academy. It was an experience that has changed the way I see ballroom dance. On the morning of the first day at camp, we met Brandon, who teaches Salsa 1, 2, and 3 at Arizona State University. From him, we learned a dance that was similar to a salsa that we had previously learned. Just because something is similar, doesn’t mean it is the same. Apples and oranges are both in the same family, but they taste very different. The dance we learned was a pineapple in comparison to an orange. Brandon called it Mambo or Salsa on 2. We spent the first couple minutes throwing everything we thought we knew out the window and started to learn the basics of the dance. After two hours of learning the dance, we were ready to start the choreography. Brandon, being an experienced teacher, had already taught us most of the “shines” (a word that describes a certain set of moves that a leader/follower does by themselves). Soon enough, we got into partner-work.

It was fun to meet the ballroom dancers from the other campuses. It was  interesting to learn what happens differently in their ballroom classes. For example, they had never seen a boy follow a boy, which is common at Heritage Mesa campus during the ballroom practical test. For the practical test, you must show that you can lead and follow a dance. This means that boys occasionally pair up with boys, so they can have a strong leader to follow.

Partner-work is very difficult. In shines, you need to only worry about yourself. In partner-work, you have to worry about yourself and your follower. It is necessary to know the dance especially with this high level choreography. It would be nearly impossible to cheat off of your neighbors or be back-led by your follower. In this dance, I was in the front, which meant that I could barely see the people to the next to me. I had to make sure I didn’t ever get ahead of them while also making sure I didn’t mess up. Thankfully, I had a good partner who would keep me on track whenever I tried to go ahead or almost forgot a move.

We had ten hours to learn a choreography that Brandon said he would not have had his Salsa 2 class do. He explained that it was Salsa level 3 material that he put into it. He was very impressed about how quickly we learned it. In the last practice, we finished the choreography with an hour to spare. It was nowhere near perfect, so we spent the last hour of our precious time perfecting the solo work and partner-work. Earlier that day, I knew maybe half of the choreography, but after 4 hours of learning and reviewing, I knew the whole dance. We were ready to perform by the end of the ten hours.

On the last day of the arts retreat, there is a performance showcasing what we have learned in ten hours. Ballroom was last. We sat through all the other performances, anxiously awaiting our dance. I was not as nervous as I anticipated. This is because I knew the dance; we had practiced it enough that I had committed it to memory. Soon, the dance started. It was nerve wracking to be the first one to move because it would be fairly obvious if you were off beat. Whew, we are all close enough on time. The two and a half minute song seemed to pass by in a couple seconds. Next thing I knew, we were all in a line bowing. After the performance, my partner and I were trying to figure out if we skipped a move. I was certain we did it, but I had no recollection of doing the move. I learned that I need to have all my dances to the point of muscle memory where I can just feel the music and not have to worry about the moves. This will prepare me for my aspiration to make it into the BYU ballroom dance team. In order to make that goal, I will have to take ballroom seriously and keep my mind open to learning. It was also very eye opening to see a real dancer dance. Brandon was incredible. He has made me realize that I am but a beginner in the fascinating world of ballroom.

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