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Learn How to Dance Salsa Well, Improve Your Dancing, & Become A Really Good Salsa Dancer

Updated on June 30, 2015
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Anya Brodech is a professional Salsa, Latin, Swing and Ballroom dance teacher in Oakland CA. Visit her website, YouTube channel and Facebook

Partner dancing can be fun and exhilarating!
Partner dancing can be fun and exhilarating!

Introduction to Dancing Salsa

Learning to dance salsa, or any other dance, is no easy feat. If you are just starting out or have been dancing for a while, I welcome you as a fellow dancer! I have been dancing for the last 8 years so I have a lot of time and experience under my belt. In this hub, I have provided what I believe to be some useful advice that I hope you will try out. Keep in mind that this isn't everything, because there are so many things that only be learned through practice and experience, but I have done my best to be as thorough and clear as possible in providing you with advice that has worked for me and those that I know.

Musicality: What It is and How It Improves Your Dancing

According to Merriam-Webster, Musicality is defined as "sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music."

This means that there is more to music than you think: having a good understanding of the music you are dancing to will make you a better dancer because you will have an inherent sense of the rhythm, beat, and all the other nuances that go into the music, which in turn will allow you to respond more accurately and precisely to it when you move.

How to Develop Musicality by Listening to the Music

If you want to dance salsa well, you gotta learn, know and understand salsa music.

Once you know the music, you can develop your musicality. Musicality is defined as expressing the music through your body while dancing.

An easy way to start developing your musicality is to listen to the music. And by "listen," I mean REALLY LISTEN to it. Immerse yourself into it! Set some time aside distraction-free, when you can just be by yourself and listen to some salsa music and try to find the rhythm and the beat and any other patterns that might emerge.

Experiment with different types of salsa music, fast and slow, from different artists and countries, so you can start recognizing the different styles of salsa there are.

Become familiar with salsa music by listening to it in your free time and/or substitute it for your regular music. There's a lot of places you can listen to salsa music besides on the dance floor: YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, CD's, the local radio, etc..

The more you listen to salsa music, the more familiar and comfortable you will be with it. Try to listen for the beat and discern patterns in the songs. This is a good mental exercise because the knowledge of the songs will be stored away in your memory and will then be activated the next time you hit the dance floor and it'll only take you a moment or so to figure out if the song that just started playing as salsa. It also helps you be able to identify new/unfamiliar songs as being salsa or not, and thus allow you to dance confidently knowing that you are doing the right dance!

Just get into the music when you listen to it and check for pauses, breaks, instrumental solos, or other fun little bits where you can take a moment or two and do your own special moves unique to that part of the song. This well help add some variety to your dancing and let you have some extra fun with your dancing. It's even better when your partner knows the song as well and does his own little thing at the same time. This is just one thing you can do to really make your dancing unique and expressive.

Listen to the beat and keep up with the rhythm. The beat for salsa is 1-2-3-4, slow-quick-quick-slow...(with quick-quick being the rock step forward or back, and the slow being the pause in the middle when you have your feet together).

You'll know that you're doing it right because each step you take will be in line with the bada-bam-bam-ba-ba beat you hear in the music (wish I could say it better but I can't). If anything, rely on your partner and his timing (provided that he's doing it right). But if you're off, you'll definitely feel it.

One of my favorite salsa songs, very strong salsa beat making it easy to follow

Marc Anthony- Valio La Pena (Really good Salsa Song!)

The Importance of Having Good Form for Dancing Salsa

Keep your knees bent as much as possible when dancing salsa if you want to get that nice body motion. If you dance with straight legs, you'll end up looking stiff and uncomfortable. Just keep your knees soft and try and stay at the same level the whole time you're dancing.

Unlike smooth dances, such as foxtrot or waltz, that have a rise and fall action, salsa is danced all on one level. The exceptions of course are when you're doing dips and other tricks. Salsa is supposed to be even in that you don't want to be bouncing up and down. All of the action should be in your feet and hips.

Keep your arms soft and flexible, but maintain a firm connection with your partner so you are able to respond to each others movements.

Overall the look of salsa is very fluid, even though it's very fast. You don't want to be stiffy and jerk-y because that doesn't look good. With really good salsa dancers, they'll have motion in their entire bodies, but it will look whole and complete, like a rippling river.

Source

Keep Your Head Up and Maintain Good Eye Contact While Dancing Salsa

Unlike Tango, salsa looks best when you keep your head up and look out straight ahead and pay attention to your partner and what's going on around you. You should avoid looking down at your feet unless you feel momentarily confused about where your feet should go and/or what they should do. It's good manners to look at your partner when you're dancing with them and not be staring off into space or oogling that hottie dancing next to you.

You don't have to engage in a staring contest with your dance partner and not break eye contact with them because that's awkward, but you should make it known to them that you are paying attention and focused. Not looking at your dance partner can result in you missing signals/cues/leads, etc. and making unnecessary mistakes.

In addition, keeping your head up when you're dancing salsa shows other people that you are confident and secure with your dancing and that you're not apologizing for being there. If you watch any salsa dance performance/competition/show, etc. you'll notice that the dancers keep their heads up the whole time and look out straight ahead.

Fun salsa video!

Find a Dance Role Model Who Inspires You to Dance Better

Find a dance role model, whether it's a celebrity, a world-famous salsa champion, a teacher, someone from an online video, or a fellow dancer and use them as guide and source of inspiration.

Watch other dancers and look at what they do. Feel free to copy or emulate some of their moves (provided it's just in a social setting and not in a competition, obviously). Don't be shy about using other people for ideas to come up with your own moves!

If you ever find yourself in a fix or stumped on what to do while dancing, just think of your dance role model and ask yourself what he/she would do in your place.

Personally, I love Shakira and use her as my inspiration. She is completely uninhibited and effortlessly sexy, which is something that I think every latin dancer should aspire to be!

Shakira: My Dance Role Model

Wear the Right Clothes and Shoes So You Be Comfortable Dancing Salsa

Obviously you should wear something that is comfortable and appropriate to dance in. This applies to both clothing and shoes. If you are not sure what this is, or need some clarification, then please read my other two hubs that I wrote specifically on this topic. The links can be found at the bottom of the page.

It is essential that you wear comfortable and appropriate shoes so that you can move and glide about the floor with ease and not be distracted thinking about how much your feet hurt or worrying about the blisters you're going to have to suffer through tomorrow.

Women's latin shoes
Women's latin shoes
Wearing a fun skirt that makes you feel sexy and want to swish around in, is a great way to motivate yourself to move your hips
Wearing a fun skirt that makes you feel sexy and want to swish around in, is a great way to motivate yourself to move your hips

Dress Like You're Actually Going to Dance Salsa!

Dress Like You're Going to Dance Salsa! You're not taking the dog for a walk or going to the grocery store, so no schlepping allowed!!!

You should wear something that makes you feel confident and want to strut your stuff. And yes, I do mean STRUT! You are not going to look amazing if you are shuffling around meekly trying to hide in the nearest corner. Dancing is a performance-based activity, so show off!

Regardless of whether it's a fun swishy skirt that makes you want to move your hips and show some sexy attitude on every turn, or a fitted dress that makes you want to run your hands all over your body and do some irresistible arm styling.

Salsa dancing is all about having fun! Don't be afraid or nervous if you make a mistake! Just smile and laugh it off because we're all just here to have fun and learn from our mistakes
Salsa dancing is all about having fun! Don't be afraid or nervous if you make a mistake! Just smile and laugh it off because we're all just here to have fun and learn from our mistakes

Be Fearless!

Confidence is key to pulling off any dance well. If you are hesistant, reluctant, unsure, or uncomfortable in any way; it will be visible to those around you! So just relax, take a deep and go for it. Don't worry about messing up; dancing is a lifelong learning process and everyone makes mistakes on the dance floor. If you screw up something, just smile and laugh it off and keep on going! :)

Make Sure You Dance Salsa with the Right Partner

In order for your dancing to be successful, you need to find a partner that you are really compatible with that brings out your inner Shakira/Beyonce/other amazing female dance role-model and makes you look like a superstar! I love guys that have a lot of energy and enthusiasm so it's fun to dance with them, as well as ones that have a strong lead so it's easy to follow them and I don't feel confused by any ambiguous leads. This may sound selfish, but it's the guy's job to make the lady look good ;)

It is important for you to be able to trust and rely on your partner to lead you effectively and safely around the dance floor. He should always be keeping an eye for you and moving you as needed to avoid colliding with other people or objects. The more comfortable you feel with your partner and he with you, the more steps and you moves you two will be able to do with each other. If you two know each other well and are familiar with one another, then it will be a lot easier for him to lead you into a low dip or perform a complicated set.

You can tell if your partner is right for you or not based on how comfortable you feel around them and how well you are able to follow their lead. You'll know that you have a good match because you'll move in sync with each other and be on the same page with your dancing. It's best to find someone who is at the same or similar level as you so you don't frustrate or overwhelm each other.

However, if your partner handles you roughly, doesn't maintain proper dance form, avoids eye contact, doesn't pay attention, or spends the whole time showing off their own moves and leave you feeling lost and confused, then don't with them anymore! Finish the song and be polite as you can, but don't feel obligated to accept any future requests to dance with them. It's okay to dance with someone only once and then not anymore if it's not a positive/rewarding/pleasurable experience for you, especially if you're out dancing socially and not in a group class.

Getting comfortable with yourself and your body is not an overnight thing, it's a long-term process that takes time and practice to develop. Once you feel good about yourself and learn more about dancing and have more experience, it'll become easier
Getting comfortable with yourself and your body is not an overnight thing, it's a long-term process that takes time and practice to develop. Once you feel good about yourself and learn more about dancing and have more experience, it'll become easier

Don't Force It!

Don't force yourself to be super sexy all at once because it'll come off as unnatural and awkward. It's okay if you're shy or don't consider yourself the "sexy" type. Just find moves that you are comfortable with doing and gradually work your way up. If you want help on learning how to move, consider going to a Ladies Salsa Styling Class (or Men's, if you're a dude), or signing up for private lessons with a dance teacher whose moves you really admire. And of course, smile and be happy! Being grumpy is a sure-fire to kill your sexy moves. Remember, Beyonce and Shakira didn't come out the womb shaking and strutting, they had to put in countless hours of work and practice and training to get to where they are today! Just take it one day at a time and remember that you'll get there someday!

Prepare to get hot and sweaty on the dance floor when you're dancing salsa
Prepare to get hot and sweaty on the dance floor when you're dancing salsa

Fuel Up and Stay Hydrated So You Can Dance Your Best

Salsa is physically demanding activity, so make sure you eat something filling before you go and leave some time for it start digesting in avoid dancing when you're super full.

Stay hydrated by drinking water or sports drinks like Gatorade. Usually I drink a bottle of Gatorade on my way to dance and then drink 3-4 bottles of water while I'm at dance, depending on how hot it is and how much dancing I am doing. Some places have water fountains where you can refill your water bottle, or they'll give you free cups of water at the bar if you ask nicely and leave a tip. However some places are stingy and will demand that you buy $4 or $5 water bottles from them, which is ridiculous, so consider bringing your own water bottles and drinking them discretely.

I've also found that having a glass of soda, like Sprite, helps me retain water and stay perky if I don't have a sports drink available. I still make a point of drinking water though.

However, you should not try to hydrate yourself by drinking alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, or mixed drinks because they will impair your dancing.

Stay Sober & Stay Focused on Salsa

Dancing is done best sober!

If you are planning to dance, then either minimize or completely avoid your alcohol consumption. Don't dance if you are drunk or tipsy because...

a) you will have trouble focusing and subsequently make a lot of mistakes,

b) your coordination will be impaired and you might fall down or crash into someone, either way it's bad

c) it's annoying to your partner!

Furthermore if you are deemed a nuisance, you might be kicked off the dance floor, or out of the place altogether! Don't be that person!!!!!

Concluding Thoughts

It is important to remember that an amazing dancer, whatever the genre, is not made overnight. It takes a lot of time, effort, practice, dedication and determination to become really good. Remember that once upon a time every dancer started out at square one like you did, so stay focused and don't be discouraged if you don't get it right away.

Becoming free and expressive with your dancing is a life-long process that takes time and confidence to develop
Becoming free and expressive with your dancing is a life-long process that takes time and confidence to develop

The Ultimate Secret

When it comes down to it, the secret to being an amazing salsa dancer is being uninhibited which only happens when you are 110% comfortable with yourself and who you are.

Once you stop being afraid of looking stupid, thinking that you can't do anything, or worrying about what other people think, the quality of your dancing and the experience overall will quickly skyrocket.

Everyone has a special key to unlocking their dance abilities: whether its dancing with a partner that we trust completely who makes us feel amazing about ourselves, practicing at home and being totally silly, or letting our hair down, literally (as in my case), and feeling wild and free and letting it become a part of the dance.

Whatever it is, find something that works for you and makes you feel unapologetically sexy and amazing because when it comes down to it, that's what salsa dancing is!

With hard work, the right training, and perseverance you can become a champion dancer someday!
With hard work, the right training, and perseverance you can become a champion dancer someday!

Please Read My Other Dance-Related Articles for Even More Helpful Information

Salsa:

What to Wear to Dance:

Social Etiquette/Interpersonal Relations at Dance

Where to Go Out Salsa/Latin Dancing:

Bachata:

Other Types of Latin Dancing: Cha-Cha, Merengue, Reggaeton and Zumba

© 2013 Anya Brodech

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    • GiblinGirl profile image

      GiblinGirl 3 years ago from New Jersey

      Great hub. You really hit all the key points about refining your dancing. I really liked your discussion of appropriate attire (bad shoes can really throw off your dancing) and about dancing with the right partner - I remember dancing with men who criticized or tried to "teach" me while dancing - not fun.

    • abrodech profile image
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      Anya Brodech 3 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      Oh yeah I've danced with guys who also tried to teach me while dancing, it just annoyed the heck out of me! I mean really, how much can you expect to do in a 3 or 4 minute song? Social dancing is about having fun and doing your own thing without getting lectured or criticized, etc. I'm glad that you liked my hub! :)

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      One of my biggest turn-offs is when a guy I'm dancing with has a weak lead, especially when double turning & spinning you, and you end up working extra hard trying to make the spinning look decent.

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      Also when the guy ends up turning or spinning you right into people standing/ walking by...this comes across as very inconsiderate & selfish, because they are not looking out for you or your safety... their main concern is them looking good, hence missing what salsa is all about.

    • abrodech profile image
      Author

      Anya Brodech 3 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      I agree with you about weak and bad leads. I hate it when the guy doesn't know how to lead properly so I'm left guessing what it is that he wants me to do and where I should be going, which is incredibly frustrating!

      Guys that lead you into other people are super annoying and obnoxious because they are showing that they don't care about their partner and are obviously not paying attention to you!

    • profile image

      Jen 2 years ago

      Great articles- as a now experienced salsa dancer, I sure wish I had read these when I first started- they probably would have saved me a whole lot of grief! It's also awesome to come across another lady who loves Shakira as much as I do...she did her first belly dancing performance when she was 3 years old, so though she is a great role model, I don't feel bad about the fact that I will probably never be as amazing as her!!

      Have fun out there, and we ladies need to stick together and take care of one another on the dance floor! Down with cattiness and jealousy and let's enjoy ourselves like we originally intended to!

    • abrodech profile image
      Author

      Anya Brodech 2 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      Thanks for your comment Jen, I'm glad that you found this useful! Dancing anything, especially salsa is not just about knowing a million and one patterns or steps, it's about being able to embody and reflect the fun upbeat sexy fearless character of the music and really being able to work the dance floor!

      I agree with you that women need to help and support each other and so far I haven't had any issues with csttiness, but that's because I dance and teach for fun socially, not to compete!

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