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The Salsa Whisperer: An Interview with Dan Allen

Desperate to find someone who can answer all of those little questions that they just can’t answer in Salsa classes? Wish you had a Salsa mentor to turn to?

Expert Sydney salsero Dan Allen heard your cries and set out to save the day! This year alone, he has published “The Little Book of Dancing…Salsa“, “The Little Book of Dancing…Rueda” and “The Little Book of Dancing…Bachata” which are highly rated for their friendly and down-to-earth content.

We decided to pick Dan Allen’s brain and find out more about salsa laziness, looking good and spreading the salsa love throughout the world!

What gave you the idea to write a book about Salsa?

If you would have asked me 5 years ago if I would write a book about salsa dancing, I would have laughed! At that time, I was renting a room from an Argentine friend of mine from who teaches Salsa, and I started taking classes with her. I loved it, and took heaps more classes. At one point I was dancing 5 days a week!

Then some friends and I started up a social dance group on Sunday afternoons to practice our Rueda. It’s hard to dance rueda in a large group in a club due to things like space and noise level. Then we decided to include Salsa and Bachata too.  I would help some people with the basic moves like guapea and dame so they could join the circle. These people could already dance salsa but they needed a few pointers to adapt it to casino Rueda. I noticed a lot of beginners coming with the same questions, problems and issues about dancing.

One day someone said I should write a book about salsa so I did! It literally just started flowing out of me, I couldn’t stop it. I was writing notes on scraps of paper on the bus, text messages to myself on my phone, and writing whenever and wherever I could. Suddenly there was enough material for a (little) book. I organised it and gave it to one of my housemates and a few friends to read and they all loved it, so I published it.

What did you hope to achieve with the books?

As a kid, I was one of those students who would drive teachers crazy with lots of strange questions. I am a very curious person, so when I was leaning to salsa, I wanted to know ‘why can you only turn a woman on 2 or 6? Why not on 1, or 3, 7, etc. I had a couple friends I would practice with who were helping me learn, and they would laugh at me (in a nice way) because I was making notes and charts about when and which way a woman could turn based on her momentum, etc.

Since Salsa is a very physical thing to learn, in the majority of classes it’s taught simply by showing a move and then the class repeating it, with very little ‘theory’ or talking.

I wanted the books to provide that special background information that people might not get in a class, from more experienced friends, or even just from their own experience. I wanted to take all the little bits of knowledge I’ve got, and put them in one place so that it might help other dancers understand why they are doing something, or how to do it even better.

And then came the Little Book of Rueda and the Little Book of Bachata…

sydney ruedaEven before I finished the first book, I was starting notes for a second which was to be more specifically about rueda (de casino) I wanted to keep it separate as not everyone who dances salsa likes rueda. They are two very different dances, in many ways. I absolutely love rueda and I wanted to share this with the world. Then when I started learning bachata rueda, I decided to write an additional one about bachata. I absolutely love bachata rueda! I think I enjoyed writing the first one the most, as I had never written a book before, and it literally just poured out of me. I honestly couldn’t stop it if I tried! I felt a little like more of an ‘experienced writer’ and tried to organise “Rueda” in sections or chapters as I wrote it, so it felt more like ‘work’ to me, but it was still fun too!

Did you need to do some extra research as you were writing?

I also had to do a lot more research for the rueda book, as I wanted to make sure I got the most common, standardised version of the moves I was describing. Moves can vary greatly from country to country or even city to city, so I would ask friends from places like Cuba, London, Berlin and the U.S . I also watched plenty of  YouTube videos from around the world of some of the more common moves and read the book by Ian Smith called ‘Dancing the Beautiful Wheel – A Guide to Rueda De Casino’. I was surprised to discover that in Norway, they had created a “Norwegian Rueda Standard” as a collaborative attempt of all the dance schools and instructors in Norway to standardise all the rueda moves!

What is it you love about Rueda?

I fell in love with rueda when I was learning to dance salsa, as it meant that I didn’t have to think of what to do next! I only knew 10-20 moves, and instead of me going through my mind which one to do in a dance, someone else was calling and telling me what to do! It was great – I could relax and enjoy the dance!

Eventually, I ended up learning to call  out of necessity and also fairness to those who were calling.  Calling rueda can be very tough on your voice. Even though it had changed for me, it was still just as fun.  There is always that challenge of trying to keep everyone happy doing moves that are simple enough for everyone, yet fun! I still love a good, fast advanced rueda where everyone knows all the moves – it’s literally like dancing a fast salsa with 10-20 people all at once. Fantastic!

Has learning to dance Salsa had a positive effect on your life?

Personally, learning to salsa has had a huge impact on my life in many more ways than just learning to dance. I have made heaps of great friends, I found a social activity that doesn’t involve drinking, I’ve met a great community of people and I’ve been introduced to great music as well! I found it helped my confidence in many ways, not just with asking women to dance, but in many other aspects of my life. I still think to myself sometimes, “if I can learn to salsa dance, I can do this!”

If you could give just one tip to a dancer to improve their dancing, what would it be?

IDaniel allen salsa bachata rueda think if I could give one tip to any new salsa dancer, I would say “just do it for yourself, to make yourself happy“. I think a lot of people get so caught up in looking good and knowing all the moves that they forget that people all over the world dance just because they are happy. That is what keeps the world (and wheel 😉 going around!

What does the future hold for you? Any more books in the pipeline?

I’m still helping run our social rueda on Sundays down here in Sydney, Australia and dancing as much as I can. I am also learning new other dances as well now. As we have a lot of Brazilians coming to Sydney  there is a lot more forró and xote, which I love as it is so fun and genuine. It’s just all about connection and being happy – like all Brazilians are!

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Best of luck with the future!

You can find Dan Allen on Facebook or buy his books for Kindle or in Print from Amazon (see below)

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