I have been approached by many aspiring salseros, wanting to know how I picked up the art of salsa dancing, and what they can do to rocket speed their salsa dancing learning curve. There a few foundational building blocks that any aspiring salsa dancer should work on, I will list these and describe what it entails. They are by no means in any sequential order, they should be learnt together harmoniously for the quickest learning.
Finding the salsa beat!
Finding the beat is crucial in salsa, it doesn’t matter if you’re dancing cuban, cross-body style or rueda you have to time your dance, timing is essential because salsa is a partner dance and both partners need to be in co-ordination and timing with each other.
If you don’t have the timing right, your dance will look like a mess, and you will be all over the place. Because of your bad timing you will never get enough actual dance experience to get any good.
In my salsa journey I had studied the dance for over a year and didn’t get anywhere, I only started to get good with salsa when I figured out how to identify the beats. The good news is that you don’t need to find every beat, just knowing where the 1 is, is enough. Because when you can find the one you can at least guess the other 7 steps by spreading out the steps in your head.
The correct attitude for Salsa Dancing
Having the correct attitude for salsa dancing is important, when I talk about attitude I mean having the correct frame of mind.
In all walks of life it’s not really the most technically savvy person that get’s far, it’s typically the more outgoing and more confident person who get’s far. This is especially true in careers and any other social interactions. Actually it’s usually the more intelligent people who have a fewer network of friends.
This essentially boils down to attitude and confidence.
Simply put, confident people, who have the right attitude tend to draw more people towards them, than less confident people.
And this is important for salsa dancing because salsa is a social dance, and being socially savvy is just as important in salsa dancing as is the competence of dancing itself.
The first step is presentation, you must conduct yourself in a manner which conveys your confident self, you should walk around tall, and happy to be in the club, slouching at the corner of the room looking like you’re not having any fun will not help your cause, if you are a woman no guy is going to approach you and ask you to dance, if you are a man, women will be reluctant to accept your offer of dancing if you don’t appear confident.
It is important to be relaxed and feel at home, the best way to do this is to go to a club where you are familiar with other dancers, so stick to the usual clubs and build up your base. If you go to a bar by yourself, avoid standing around by yourself for too long, this will make you get inside your head, be social and talk to people right away when you enter the club.
Hand Coordination in salsa dancing
Hand co-ordination is very important part of salsa dancing for both the lead and the follower, this is often missed by beginners who focus too much on the steps and getting the footwork timing down in salsa dancing. The fact is hands play a very important role in slasa dancing because the hands are used to communicate to the follower which moves and turns should be done next. The turns, dips and shines all rely on the hands to work, for instance, when couples are salsa dancing they will hold each other roughly between waist and chest height, but for the turns the lead will raise the hand above the head to tell the follower to turn.
The best way to learn hand co-ordination is to
- Attend classes, and pay special attention on how to use hand movements, most beginner students tend to focus on the steps too much.
- Dance with a wide variety of different people to test your lead/following ability, if you dance with someone from salsa class try to mix things up and vary your moves so that you are really leading and and the follower isn’t just guessing your movements.
- Always try to dance with someone much more advanced than you, for most followers this is a given, however a lot of leads are intimidated by advanced followers, during my learning curve dancing with advanced followers was great for learning because they were good at giving pointers to improve and they knew how to follow, so if I did the hand movements wrong, they wouldn’t budge until I did it correctly.
When you master your hand coordination, you dance should flow a lot more smoother and your followers will have a much better job, communication will be clear and the movments will be carried out my succintly in salsa dancing, and you will have a lot more fun as well!
Eye contact in salsa dancing
Eye contact is very important in salsa dancing, eye contact creates chemistry and rapport which permeates your dancing and the chemistry is there for all to see when you are dancing in front of others. If you do not have eye contact the dance is more rigid and lacks feeling.
I can understand that a lot of dancers will find it difficult to make eye contact, especially if the person they are dancing with their partner for the first time and are unfamiliar with the other person. A great trick I learnt to make it easier to make eye contact with someone you’ve just met new is to use peripheral vision, that is to look at the other person’s eyes but meanwhile look at the surrounding areas and your partners body with your peripheral vision. That will make it a lot easier for you to hold eye contact, plus the bonus with doing that is that you are aware of your surroundings so it makes you dance a lot safer.
The benefits of have good eye contact in salsa dancing are many, including
- It creates rapport and connection, which adds FUN to the dance, as a result your dance has a lot more fire and passion, and it avoids you putting up a lackluster performance.
- It’s a way of communicating with your partner that is more authentic and honest than verbal communication, plus it’s more feasible than trying to talk on the dance-floor during the spins etc. It allows you to get a feeling of what your partner is thinking, are they having a good time or not? Plus the follower can sense what moves are coming up.
- Gives the impression of a relationship between you and your partner, and creates a bond between you, which creates a much more co-ordinated dance.
Eye contact is the special ingredient in salsa dancing which brings soul to the method. It’s simply not enough to just go through the motions and the steps, you need to ignite passion and fire into the dance and to do that you need to make eye contact. Whilst eye contact alone won’t make you a pro salsero, it’s one step into that direction.
Safety, Comfort and body awareness in salsa dancing
Beginners can be forgiven for stepping on their partners (and others’) toes, salsa requires a lot of things to work together. However once you become more experienced and have gotten a few hundred dances under your belt you will start to become very self aware of your body and be aware of other people around you in salsa dancing.
Here is a very easy and effective rule to implement which will help your floorspace mastery by ten-folds.
- In salsa any step you take backwards should be done a lot smaller than a forward step, this ensures that firstly, you don’t take a huge step backwardss unnecessarily which might cause you to step on someone behind. Also a big backward step breaks momentum in your movement in a way which a big forward step doesn’t.
- Be aware of your partner, a lot of tall guys take huge steps in salsa dancing, and they don’t realise that their partner (the follower) may not be as tall as them so they can’t match their partners pace without losing momentum.
- Keep a comfortable space between you and your partner at all times, make sure you don’t go too far away from each other which makes movements difficult, and also you don’t violate someone’s personal space.