How to Do a Salsa Festival Like a Pro

This time I survived two weeks of dance madness: first, a week of Summer Sensual Days and then Croatian Salsa Festival. This has been my 3d time of this festival, and to my joy, happiness and tiredness I have added some valuable insights which make me feel something like a veteran 🙂 While chatting with a friend about my festival experience, I made a joke that I once will write my handbook of how to do the best of this festival. Wait a minute, I have a blog (which I kind of totally forgot in all that craze) – I don’t need to start a handbook to share all I know now!

So how do you create your best and happiest experience? This goes for dancers and not dancers alike (so keep on reading, even if you are not a salsa enthusiast!).

cro31. Relax, it’s not a workout. This insight comes from Riccardo (instructor of Afro-Latin Connection) who was teaching kizomba workshop. “People often expect us to dance to any song when we are at social dancing, because we are instructors. But we don’t connect to every song, and it’s ok. Some people have this workout mentality: if you are here, you must dance to every song, like in a gym. We must remind people that this is a party, not a gym: you connect to your friends, you connect to the music. Your body wants to move to some song, and to another one it will not, you don’t have to push yourself to dance like you push yourself in the workout”.

This sounds easy, but it has set me free this year. I remember my first two years here, when I would stand waiting 2-3 songs in a row and feel desperation creeping up. Why am I not invited? Why don’t I dance? But you don’t have to dance every song, darling! You have 6 hours of a party. And a whole week of it (sometimes two)! Take a breath, take some water, meet a friend, come back and return. You are here not for dancing to every song in some intense two hours, like in a Zumba class, and then go home. You are here for fun. Take your time and enjoy every moment –dancing or standing, watching people on the floor, dancing on your own, meeting new friends.

2. Make friends. Some people came in groups and were hanging together. I came with a friend who would often disappear for hours, and turning negative into positive, this was a huge motivation to meet new people. I love to chat with strangers, and being alone made me even more open and curious. There was no group to come back to – so I was creating my groups all the time. Some were for the moment, some were for the whole stay.

At this festival there was an outside area to sit and chill, and I discovered that I underestimated it during the previous years. It was a perfect spot for meeting new people. At the school where I had worked we started “a friendship bench”, a place for kids who have no one to play with where they could sit and find others. So I tell you, this area was a perfect friendship bench for me! I made a tradition to spend some time there before and after the party, changing shoes, talking to neighbors, taking a break. Last years I was like a soldier: changing my shoes inside, straight to the floor, wait and dance, then straight home if no one would invite me for a hangout. Now I was hanging out on my own initiative – sometimes even more than dancing :). And so many amazing people I met. There was this Croatian guy who damaged his foot and was sitting at the same place every night – and it was a perfect start of the party to find him, sit there for a while, say hi to his friends, getting gradually into the party mode. There was Walter, a social butterfly, who has been a team member and volunteer for many years, who knew every pretty and funny person in the house and was there every night, sparkling with energy, jokes and inspiration. And it was just enough to sit next to someone and ask a classical question: “So what do you dance?”, and that could be a start of a beautiful festival friendship.


3. Create a moment. Dancing is not playing a game of chess or football, it requires more than a technical skill. A feeling, some magic, that kind of chemistry that makes a difference. We often expect it – but what if we start creating it? I have danced with technically amazing dancers and felt bored, and I have danced with intermediate dancers and had so much fun. It is not always technique that wins over, but the heart you put into a dance. So put your heart into that moment! Be present. Create that sense of magic, involve your feeling, not just your feet.

That especially goes for dancing with beginners. I know, we all want to dance on our level or higher, so we can grow. But one song with a beginner will not kill you (as long as they don’t break your arms or legs). Be generous! And don’t just walk your steps, dance your steps. If you are such a great dancer, dance your part, even if your partner is not there yet. Make him/her shine, give the only gift you can give – your undivided attention, it is only for three minutes. I have done this before: getting invited by the beginner, and internally roll my eyes, walking from side to side in the basic step, watching others having fun, waiting till it’s over. And the wild stories raced through my head: “why does it happen to me? What if I give a sign for all other beginners to dance with me? What if it is kind of bad luck?” I choose not to do it anymore. It has nothing to do with bad luck or signs, I radiate more desperation and neediness with that attitude, than when I just give myself to the moment.

Don’t expect fun – create it. For your own sake. Smile, move, feel like this is the only dance you dance, the only moment you have. A really advanced dancer for me is the one who can take a beginner and create a dance with fun and feeling, no matter the level of technique. The ones who only want to dance with the stars, still have a lesson to learn (this however is not applied to any bad dance. If you feel that your borders are crossed, you have the responsibility for your own wellbeing. You have to take care of yourself. And it’s so important that we can communicate it to that partner, otherwise there are enough people who think they are just great because nobody has guts to tell them that they are crossing the line).


4. Take responsibility for your energy. It is vital that you take care of yourself and your levels of energy. Bring your best vibes to the venue. Don’t come drenched, expecting the party to fill you up. Well, if you are that kind of person who gets filled up by the party vibe, then do come. But I have discovered that if I come tired and unhappy, no one will make me happy. It is only my responsibility. I don’t come to get fun – I come to create fun. And for that I need energy. Where you go your energy from – it is your business, but make sure that you fill up on it. You can go swimming, or walk alone in the beautiful town, or sit with a book sipping coffee. Make sure you make yourself happy first, then you have something to share.

And forget about this fomo (fear of missing out): “Everyone is partying, why am I tired and sitting here with a book?” I used to envy all those party animals who do night parties till 6 am, then beach parties, then dance on the main square, then night parties again – every one of them. I guess, some of them exist only in my imagination. But for the rest, good for you guys, but it’s not me! And instead of freaking out “I am missing the whole fun”, I adopted a mantra: “the best thing happens where I am. I am not missing any fun, because fun is wherever I feel happy”. Even if that doesn’t look as glamorous as a beach party, even if it is a quite wandering through cute streets of old town with my camera. But it makes me happy! And I am here for vacation, not for work, so forget the schedules (even party schedules)!

There is this saying on the festival: “Sleep is overrated”. Yes, you can survive on 4 hours of sleep, filling up on sun, enthusiasm and colossal amounts of joy – but not for weeks. Not me. And my strategy this year was to go to the big parties (from midnight till 6am) every other time, instead of every time. I did every time last year, and was so tired and depleted in the end, that when I showed up for the highlight of Saturday night, I felt like “this shit again?”. Needless to say, that night didn’t turn out to be fun. So while everyone went dancing and sent me messages “you not coming?”, I took it easy and went to bed early (which means while it is still dark 🙂 ). But guess what, the next night I was so excited to go out. Like “party!!! I have missed it!”, throw on some party outfit, do easy makeup cuz I’m going to celebrate this night! I would come to the venue with sparkling eyes and that hunger for life, and that was the best present to myself and those around me.  So take care of your energy, and if you need sleep, then do sleep. Do whatever you need. Do it for yourself and for the total amount of happiness in this place.


5. Really important: remember to have fun. Guys, it is really that easy. But some people make it look difficult. So much seriousness at times. Like when during workshops the guys follow the instructors with stressed eyes, clenching your hand and almost breaking your arm. Yes, it is a class, but no, we are not at school. There will be no exam afterwards, guys, so relax. Instead do connect to your partner. Don’t excuse yourself for every mistake – as long as you don’t break my arm or don’t step on my feet, it’s ok. What is a mistake? It is not math, there is no correct answer in the end of the book. Don’t make it feel like a test. It is a dance, and dance is a game. Yes, there are some rules, but they are really basic: don’t damage your partner, be polite, respect your partner’s level. But the rest is pure improvisation. So play!

So focus on fun instead of correctness. Some people dance with the faces like they do rocket science. If it is physics, then of different character, people! Smile instead. Connect to the music – do you like the song? Connect to your partner. Use the first seconds to connect, don’t jump into the basic step before you hear the beat. Thinking of the best dances I had, it was all about fun and connection. Those I remember. That guy with a big smile who danced bachata with me on the main square. That French man who did some unpredictable playful moves in salsa, making me laugh every time. Those guys with whom I had an amazing connection on the kizomba floor that makes the world disappear.

Don’t worry, be happy. If you love the song and see no one to dance with – dance alone. Girls, dancing alone and smiling while “waiting” never leaves you without a dancing partner. It felt like whenever I wanted to dance alone, I would be invited. And why not? Happy people are attractive. I would also go for someone who has fun than for the one with big waiting eyes. And if there was a lovely song and I didn’t want to dance alone, I would go and invite someone. Why wait? And when you put in enough heart and joy, the dance partner cannot disappoint you, almost never. Because when you are creating this moment with your love and attention – who can really stop you? 🙂


Do you have your secrets of partying, dancing and celebrating? Share them with me! Let’s make this world a fun place to be!

p.s. all the photos used in the post are from Google pictures.


5 thoughts on “How to Do a Salsa Festival Like a Pro

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