What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “extremist”? Religion, nationality, language, race, caste or culture? There is one particular aspect that I cannot call the main problem. We are currently facing or seeing or reading about either of them all the time and unfortunately the world is constantly moving towards extremism in all we know now! These extremist thoughts lead to wars and wreak greater havoc for humanity. It all starts with a simple side effect of HATE and the failure to accept different perspectives! It continues to explode into war and greater destruction that is as small as a simple relationship with larger communities.
But something we didn’t notice or maybe didn’t acknowledge is the recent extremism in dance! I’ve been dancing for almost a decade now, and it’s only been the last few years that I’ve seen so much extremism (if I can use the term to emphasize it well enough) in the dance community at all levels!
Dance is like any other art form, it is constantly evolving, spreading across different borders, adapting to changes and new cultural influences, and doing what is necessary to survive its existence. I’ll explain it in terms of salsa, bachata, or kizomba instead of generalizing the dance, so it’s more specific to explain.
When I started dancing on Edinburgh’s crowded dance floors 10 years ago, all dancers, Cuban or ‘Cross Body Style’, On 1 or 2 or other styles, enjoyed dancing in one place. Nobody complained about other dance styles (at least not in public) and put the dancers down (unless they were exceptionally creepy). Until then, this was the case in most countries. It was also the time when bachata was just called bachata with no additional adjectives. Now there is so much discussion about different styles and each style is the best way to dance, each specific technique is the best way to dance! But if that is the case everyone is dancing the same thing and it gets boring too quickly and probably the art form would be extinct in no time! First, there is not just one way to dance and that is precisely why salsa was more interesting and its ability to adapt to new cultures made it more popular than many other dance forms that have struggled with time. I’ve danced in the USA, Europe and many countries in Asia. The beauty of all the dances I’ve had is that they’re not perfect; It’s different and has a local flavor that adds to the beauty of the entire dance experience. Salsa has evolved in the last few years from hard leads to a resistance-free connection, of more shine; less partner work leads to less shine; complicated curve patterns. And so the music has evolved or changed over time just to please listeners with changing musical tastes.
When it comes to dancing salsa, music and dance go along with music that was central until the 1970s and when dancing started to make the leap there was a lull in music development that we cannot deny. This does not mean that the new dancers who love the music of the new generation have to be criticized.
Salsa music now encompasses so many genres. I remember Frankie Martinez once explaining about 40 different rhythms in salsa at a festival in Bangkok. And I’m sure he didn’t take timba and other Cuban salsa music into account. And How Maykel Fonts explained at the festival in Croatia, for example, how different music can be interpreted than just with counts, but with music. And from various conversations with some dance pioneers like Billy Fajardo on his trip to Chennai, India in 2013 and from many conversations about music with DJ Henry Knowles, I see the complicated world of salsa, which can be on1 or on2 or more and music constantly evolving from mambo, to boogaloo, to cha cha to salsa, just to stay alive over time! Salsa is now a world art (both dance and music) that is accepted across all borders, regardless of race, skin color, religion, caste, culture, language. We need to embrace the changes dance goes through as it crosses different boundaries and accept them for what they are and embrace all changes.
Dance extremists come in different categories.
The traditionalists grew up with art and culture and help to preserve knowledge and to remind the new generation of dancers again and again of the roots. Indeed, you are the source of knowledge. They are a very important part of the dance ecosystem in order to keep the art from not completely straying from its roots. You could be the greatest mentors. They start causing anger and war when they criticize the changes and send out negativity. Traditionalists are a powerful source of dance extremists. They do not represent a lot of large numbers, but they can greatly affect many dance fanatics who will be carrying the negativity. Recently there has been a whole debate about what is music, what is salsa, what people should dance and similar topics from traditionalists who have been brought up on social media. The role of a teacher is to educate people about the music, not forcing them to like or hear what they think is good music. Not everyone shares the same taste in music and dance, and that’s normal. Be a traditionalist, not an extremist.
The fanatics have drawn their perspectives from a source, be it their teacher, a traditionalist, or even a random source, and blindly believe in it. As you go back into the history of music and dance, you will let go of many assumptions and ardent beliefs and begin to embrace change and different ideologies. These fanatics are mostly teachers in their respective cities or regions. These dancers / instructors are making noise and constantly bombarding criticism about dance, music and how to dance, what to dance etc. The list of their criticisms is endless. This is partly due to incomplete training on a topic for discussion and also to showing their authority on dance in their region, community or country by expressing as much criticism as possible. This has become a common trend on Facebook. It is mistakenly assumed that the number of reviews posted is proportional to the knowledge gained. And what they don’t know is that they are actually killing the dance community with slow poison. Their negativity is very addicting and this can deter and scare beginners and newbies from being happily welcomed into the dance community there as it is one reason to kill the number of potential dancers. They lose their own opportunities to shine at larger events and festivals due to the negativity they bring with them. Even the whole discussion about which style or which music is better is mostly just argued by fanatics more than traditionalists. The good thing about fanatics is that their energy and enthusiasm is very addicting and they have the power to propel the local community forward. Be a fanatic, not an extremist.
I use the term ‘drifter’ because they are open to change, but use it to create drift in the community rather than to expand it. The new generation of dancers is the game changer as they bring new elements and directions into art. If we had stayed with tradition and culture, salsa would not have appealed to many people around the world. Bachata would have struggled to stay in the Dominican Republic and likely died there without notice trying to fight his identity. The new remixes and urban bachata had given dance lovers a new lease, and the sensual and fusion styles of bachata have made the once salsa-dependent bachata a completely independent music genre and dance form. Kizomba already comes in 3 main recognized styles, viz. traditional, urban and fusion. The music of the individual styles has now moved away from each other. Not that I’m justifying that the new music is good, but it probably appeals to the newer generation and needs recognition. I still love the music of 10 years for bachata and the pre 80s for salsa, but I won’t let me stop enjoying the new music and I enjoy it just as much to be able to enjoy the dancing too. Development is inevitable, for better or for worse! The problem is when these ‘drifters’ become extremists who drive the community in two and instead of enlarging it! Drifters are healthy for the evolution of art! Be a drifter, not an extremist.
I am not blaming anyone, I am asserting a fact and we tend to be extremists sometimes, or sometimes to become one! It’s a tough world for every dance instructor and organizer to try to battle their meaning and identity, which is not wrong! In a way, fame is bigger than money! But it’s important to keep the peace, be more tolerant and include differences, and encourage more positivity in the dance world! If we don’t stay greedy, Salsa (also Bachata & Kizomba) is a big happy world and has space for everyone to be happy!
It’s very important to go back and remember why we started dancing in the first place! It has given us happiness and smiles and that is exactly what we need to share and right now the world needs more of it!
Please: The next time you want to post your negative opinion, think twice!
kˈstriːmɪz (ə) m, ɛkˈstriːmɪz (ə) m /
attitudes towards extreme political or religious views; fanaticism
trəˈdɪʃ (ə) n (ə) lɪz (ə) m /
maintaining or cultivating traditions, especially to withstand change.