Cuban Salsa: El Sabor Comes After Mastering the Basics

Instructional designers should take a cue from Cuban salsa when they put together their programs. Here’s why: When you learn salsa, you first master the rhythm and the basic steps, which if you diagram them, do not look difficult.

In Cuban salsa, the clave is the key to maintaining the rhythm that propels the song and the dance.  Stick with the basic beat, and you will keep to time and show the world you are a decent salsero and a confident lead.

The mistake many instructional designers make–like beginning salsa dancers– is mastering some complicated move and missing the basic beat. The result is out of step with the song rhythm which can change at any given moment. You have to pay attention to the clave, the wooden sticks which are tapped together and orchestrate the song’s rhythm.

Once you nail the basics, then you add el sabor. El sabor (flavour) are the many stylistic flourishes that make the moves your own. It is a way to express who you are on the dance floor and show you are confident and sexy.

Mojito Club salsa dancers, Barcelona, Spain

The beauty of Cuban salsa is that the moves you learn are done within the context of the rueda de casino or wheel.  When working, it is a beautifully coordinated spicy and sexy rhythm wheel with lots of sabor. The rueda relies on a caller to coordinate the group’s moves.

So, let’s translate this into instructional design with the idea you will be designing in a wheel.

First, listen to the rhythm of your group of trainees. Like in salsa, there will be dancers who get the moves quickly and others slower to pick them up. You have to keep going back to the basics in many cases.

Second, establish a consistent beat in your training. Make sure that you get the basics down before you move on to the next moves

Third, design in a rueda. In Cuban ruedas, the callers can surprise the dancers by having them moving clockwise or anti-clockwise and change partners next to one another, two partners away, or slingshot between two partners. So add some nice surprises to your training to keep your learners on their toes. In other words, make sure your design navigation allows your trainees to go in any direction they want.

Fourth, take the new moves one step at a time and demo them as many times as needed. And most importantly, let your new dancers fail without penalty. It is just a matter of practice, getting the steps down.

Fifth, warm up before you start your dancing. And make sure the warm-up includes some of the steps you are going to be teaching. In instructional design, this warm-up can be some easy lessons followed by some more complicated concepts.

Sixth, give your learners a chance to develop their own style or sabor once they get the basics down. That can mean extra training modules if they want to advance.

So the next time your design needs a bit of juice, turn to the dance floor and practice those Cuban salsa moves.