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How to Do the Salsa

Updated on June 14, 2015
Salsa
Salsa | Source

The Basics of Salsa Dancing

So you think you can’t dance? Don’t write yourself off so quickly. Learning to dance – especially ballroom dance – isn’t quite the elusive enigma you might think it is. While I won’t say that anyone can become the next Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire (if you don’t recognize those names, think Dancing With the Stars cast), I will say that with some basic technique and a little practice, even those with two left feet can find the right step to take.

Salsa is – I think – one of the best dances to start with. It’s fun, it’s upbeat, and it’s got a simple basic step that can be danced pretty much in place to almost any music that has a “quick, quick, slow” beat. I actually once choreographed a Salsa showcase routine to “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

Okay let’s learn the basics.


The Hold

I consider Salsa to be one of the more “relaxed” ballroom dances. Unlike the Foxtrot or the Waltz, the follower’s upper body isn’t locked into an arch leaning away from the leader’s straight-backed position, and you and your partner aren’t quite so glued at the hip and thigh (trust me, this is a good thing – you can still get plenty close to each other). With Salsa, your upper bodies actually lean closer to each other and your hips farther apart. Take a look at the charts below for the specific positions – head to toe – of the Salsa hold.


Leader's position

Body Part
Position
Feet
Together, left slightly forward with toes turned slightly out. Left heel slightly raised
Knees
Left bent, right straight.
Hips
Right slightly extended to the side.
Back
Straight but slightly leaning forward.
Chest
Slightly leaning over the toes.
Left arm
Raised with palm facing forward and elbow dropped just below chest-level.
Left hand
Lightly grasping the follower’s hand below the fingers (i.e. fingers should not be intertwined).
Right arm
Extended out front with a slight curve, palm facing you, fingers pointing left.
Right hand
Placed lightly on follower’s left shoulder blade.
Head
Facing toward your partner's.
Leader's foot position
Leader's foot position
Leader's left arm
Leader's left arm
Leader's right arm
Leader's right arm

Follower's position

Body Part
Position
Feet
Together, right slightly back with toes turned slightly out. Right heel slightly raised.
Knees
Right bent, left straight.
Hips
Left slightly extended to the side.
Back
Straight but slightly leaning forward.
Chest
Slightly leaning over the toes.
Left arm
Extended out front with a slight curve, palm facing down, fingers pointing diagonally toward the right.
Left hand
Resting on leader’s right shoulder.
Right arm
Raised with palm facing forward and elbow dropped just below chest-level.
Right hand
Lightly grasping leader’s left hand, fingers curled over the top between the leader’s thumb and pointer finger (i.e. fingers should not be intertwined).
Head
Facing toward your partner’s.
Follower's foot position
Follower's foot position
Follower's left arm
Follower's left arm
Follower's right arm
Follower's right arm

The Footwork

The basic Salsa step is an 8-count pattern, although the “4” and the “8” are “silent.” It’s kind of like the “e” at the end of the word “soothe” – it’s there, but you don’t really do anything with it. For the leader, the basic begins with the left foot (hence keeping the left heel slightly raised in the Salsa hold). For the follower, it begins with the right foot (hence keeping the right heel slightly raised in the Salsa hold). So let’s break it down count by count.


Leader

Count 1: Raise your left foot slightly off the ground (the ball of your foot should actually skim the ground) and step forward just past your right foot (the toes of your right foot should be next to your left heel). Put your weight down on your left foot so the left knee is straight, which will cause your right knee to bend.

Count 2: Pick your right foot slightly off the ground (the toes of your foot should almost still be touching the ground) and then put your foot back down in the same place. Your weight should now be back on your right foot and your right knee should be straight, which will cause your left knee to bend.

Count 3: Raise your left foot slightly off the ground (the ball of your foot should again be skimming the ground) and bring it back to its starting position. Put your weight on your left foot so the left knee straightens, which will again cause your right knee to bend.

Count 4: Hold the position you are currently in (weight on the left foot, left knee straight, right knee bent).

Count 5: Raise your right foot slightly off the ground (the ball of your foot should actually skim the ground) and step back just past your left foot (similar to count 1, the toes of your right foot should now be next to your left heel). Put your weight down on your right foot so the right knee is straight, which will cause your left knee to bend.

Count 6: Pick your left foot slightly off the ground (the toes of your foot should almost still be touching the ground) and then put your foot back down in the same place. Your weight should now be back on your left foot and your left knee should be straight, which will cause your right knee to bend again.

Count 7: Raise your right foot slightly off the ground (the ball of your foot should again be skimming the ground) and bring it back to its starting position. Put your weight on your right foot so the right knee straightens, which will again cause your left knee to bend.

Count 8: Hold the position you are currently in (weight on the right foot, left knee bent, right knee straight).


Leader's step

Follower

Count 1: Raise the right foot slightly off the ground (the ball of your foot should actually skim the ground) and step back just past your left foot (the toes of your right foot should be next to your left heel). Put your weight down on your right foot so the right knee is straight, which will cause your left knee to bend.

Count 2: Pick your left foot slightly off the ground (the toes of your foot should almost still be touching the ground) and then put your foot back down in the same place. Your weight should now be back on your left foot and your left knee should be straight, which will cause your right knee to bend.

Count 3: Raise your right foot slightly off the ground (the ball of your foot should again be skimming the ground) and bring it back to its starting position. Put your weight on your right foot so the right knee straightens, which will again cause your left knee to bend.

Count 4: Hold the position you are currently in (weight on the right foot, left knee bent, right knee straight).

Count 5: Raise your left foot slightly off the ground (the ball of your foot should actually skim the ground) and step forward just past your right foot (similar to count 1, the toes of your right foot should now be next to your left heel). Put your weight down on your left foot so the left knee is straight, which will cause your right knee to bend.

Count 6: Pick your right foot slightly off the ground (the toes of your foot should almost still be touching the ground) and then put your foot back down in the same place. Your weight should now be back on your right foot and your right knee should be straight, which will cause your left knee to bend.

Count 7: Raise your left foot slightly off the ground (the ball of your foot should again be skimming the ground) and bring it back to its starting position. Put your weight on your left foot so the left knee straightens, which will again cause your right knee to bend.

Count 8: Hold the position you are currently in (weight on the left foot, left knee straight, right knee bent).


Follower's step

The Arm-work

I’m not quite sure “arm-work” is a word, but what I’m talking about is the upper body. What are you doing with it while your feet are moving back and forth? Not too much. Your arms, hands, chest, and back stay in pretty much the same position while doing the basic step. This way, when the leader initiates (i.e. leads) a new move such as a turn or a cross-body lead, the follower can pick up on the signal.


A few pitfalls to avoid - these go for both leaders and followers.

Pitfall
Why You Should Avoid It
Jump rope arms – i.e. moving your arms in small circles as though you are swinging some double dutch jump ropes.
“Lead” signals are more difficult to initiate and to follow.
Squeezing your partner’s hand.
It hurts!
Dropping the right elbow (leader) or left elbow (follower).
Your upper body starts to collapse and you’re no longer connected to your partner – you might as well be dancing away from each other.
Hunching your back – i.e. leaning to far forward.
You’re likely to throw your partner off balance.

The Next Step

Put on some music, grab a partner, and give everything a try! Don’t worry if you don’t get right the first time. Keep practicing and remember to have fun – that’s what dancing is all about.

Did this article help you learn the basics?

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    • GiblinGirl profile image
      Author

      GiblinGirl 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks abrodech. I'll be sure to check your article out :)

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 4 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      I liked this article, especially the tables that you put in about how your body should be. I've been dancing for 8 years so I already forgot how I learned the basics because it was such a long time ago! I think it's a really good start for someone who's just learning to dance. I was especially amused by the chart of things to avoid, haha! I wrote a hub too on salsa dancing, but it's more about getting your dancing up to the next level, not so technical as this one though because honestly I have no idea how to explain the basics as well as you do! Feel free to read my article and let me know what you think!

      https://hubpages.com/entertainment/How-to-Dance-Sa...