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How to Get Started Salsa Dancing for Beginners and New Dancers

Updated on January 9, 2017
abrodech profile image

Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, latin, swing and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland CA. Visit her website, YouTube channel and Facebook

Author's Introduction

As someone who's been dancing salsa almost 9 years, through trial and error, and a lot of personal experience, I've discovered tons of information that I wish I had known from the very beginning. Everything that I'm putting in here is either something that I've personally experienced myself or have been told by other people.

I'm going to be as honest as I can writing this because I know that making the decision to learn how to dance can be difficult and figuring out how to get started can be challenging, especially if you don't know anyone else who dances.

Some of this advice may seem very obvious to you, and some of it might not. At times, it may leave you feeling surprised. Don't feel stupid or embarrassed about anything that you read in here if you didn't already know it or thought the complete opposite of what's written here. I should point out, that all of this information is based on real-life examples and people that I know and what they have told me.

This information is generally agreed upon by the majority of the dance community. Unless you find yourself a new majority of successful dancers that are regularly involved in the dance community that disagrees with this advice, I highly recommend that you follow it. Trust me, it will make all of this much easier and take a lot of the guesswork out of it.

All of that being said...here we go...

Learning to dance salsa can be extremely confusing at first and takes some time to figure out
Learning to dance salsa can be extremely confusing at first and takes some time to figure out

How to Get Started Salsa Dancing in 5 Easy Steps

Here is a quick list of steps you should follow in order to get started salsa dancing, which I will elaborate on throughout the article:

  1. Find out if there are dance studios and/or private instructors who teach salsa near you, or at least would be willing to consider it.
  2. Set up an initial conference meeting with an instructor and/or staff member to learn more about taking lessons/classes and to discuss what your dance goals are
  3. Get some salsa ready clothes and shoes that you can dance in
  4. Start taking lessons/classes
  5. Do your homework and practice, practice, practice!!!

Becoming a professional salsa dancer takes many years of hard work, dedication, training, and practice. If you put in the time and effort, you can become an incredible salsa dancer one day!
Becoming a professional salsa dancer takes many years of hard work, dedication, training, and practice. If you put in the time and effort, you can become an incredible salsa dancer one day!

What To Realistically Expect When Learning to Dance Salsa

When I was discussing this article with a friend of mine from dance, he made a blunt, but very honest point: "In some ways I feel bad for suggesting it...But, I think some people think it is easy to be successful/spectacular in dance."

I have to admit that he is 100% right. I go out to dance a lot, especially out for social/open dance nights where it's basically live music and/or a DJ and the dance floor is open to whoever shows up. On more than one occasion I've seen groups of friends and/or dating couples show up feeling very excited, but then leave dejectedly because they found learning to dance salsa well (if at all) significantly more complicated/difficult than they initially expected.

It's for this reason that I (and my fellow experienced dancers), feel obligated to inform all beginners and first-time dancers that learning to dance salsa is not easy and it will take a lot of time.

Realistically speaking, it takes about 6-8 months (or more) just to get the hang of salsa, and another 6-8 months to get out of the "just a beginner" phase, if you practice dancing and take classes/lessons on a weekly/biweekly basis.

If you want to be "good," it's going to take about 1-2 years, depending on your natural abilities, how many classes/lessons you take, how much you go out and practice, and how much time and effort you put into it.

The quality of your dancing is directly proportional to how much time and training you put in. Dancing consistently and putting in consistent effort, will give you consistently good results.

The Importance of Having the Right Dance Partner for Women and Having a Good Lead

  • At the beginning level, 70% of the dance is the lead.
  • Good leads are scarce; treat them well.
  • Women need to nurture beginning leads. They're fragile. If they're trying, going to class, practicing, encourage them! They can be very loyal down the road.
  • For leads: you can't lead her if you can't lead yourself.

This is an important point of discussion because a group class/lesson or social dance setting, can be either a really positive or negative experience for women depending on the teachers/leads who are present.

Having a partner who is a really good lead, no matter how much he (or she) knows, is the secret to becoming a successful dancer for women. Since we women (as follows) are dependent on our dance partner to lead us around, it is important that we dance with someone who knows what they're doing. Dancing with a guy who isn't a good lead and doesn't improve your dancing, will delay your progress if you're trying to become a good dancer separate from him.

Salsa is a very up close and personal dance so you need to make sure you present your best self to your dance partner
Salsa is a very up close and personal dance so you need to make sure you present your best self to your dance partner

Honest Advice on the Importance of Hygiene for Salsa Dancing

Let me be completely honest and tell you some painful truths that will hopefully save you from some uncomfortable and/or awkward situations when you go to dance.

  • Good hygiene is a MUST: it's absolutely non-negotiable. You cannot show up looking and smelling disgusting because that's just rude and bad manners to everyone who is near you. You will be dancing about 1-3 feet away from your partner during salsa, so you must practice good hygiene if you don't want to labeled as "that smelly/sweaty/gross person" that other dancers don't want to be near.
  • Looking sloppy to go dance shows that you don't care enough about the people there to make an effort to be presentable.
  • Both men and woman want to dance salsa with dancers who look like nice, clean, and respectable. You don't have to be a male model or have the "perfect" body to dance salsa, but you do need to practice good hygiene and wear clean clothes.

That being said, I did write an article about hygiene specifically for men, link below.

Accept the fact that you're occasionally going to have an "off-night" salsa dancing and that you shouldn't get yourself down or be upset about it
Accept the fact that you're occasionally going to have an "off-night" salsa dancing and that you shouldn't get yourself down or be upset about it
Stay positive and try talking to new people if you don't know anyone there
Stay positive and try talking to new people if you don't know anyone there

Women: Be Persistent and Don't Be Discouraged by Men

One of my male friends from dance once told me: "I feel really bad for women because they are so dependent on male attitudes and biases. I know women who have walked away from dance because the guys just won't ask them to dance."

This is an unfortunate, but true statement because you will not always have a "good"
night of dancing. You might be at a new place where you don't know anyone and there might be a bias against "new people" by the regulars, or the people you normally dance/hang out with aren't there because they're sick/out of town/busy with work, etc., or the weather is bad or there is some event going on which is keeping people at home, etc.

When this happens, don't worry, get upset, or freak out. It's okay.

You win some, you lose some.

Us dancers are a fickle bunch and not always easy to get along with.

Some nights will be amazing and you'll stay past closing and hang out in the parking lot with your friends after they kick you out for the evening, and other nights you'll call it quits at 9 o'clock.

If you find yourself having an "off-night," stay calm and relax. Don't take it personally. Try to spend some time with people you know, or might like to know. You can hang out on the side and take a break, and just watch other people dance and count it as an opportunity to learn what other dancers are doing on the floor.

If you aren't being asked to dance as much as you like, then get up and find some guys that you'd like to dance with and tell them that you want to dance. Say, "Hi, I'd like to dance with you," this way there's no awkward moment when he has to give you a yes/no response. He can say, "Great" or "Maybe later." I learned this valuable lesson, along with many other useful ones in "A Salsa Dancing Guide for Women: 19 Easy Ways to Attract More Men to Dance With You" which I recommend all women salsa dancers to read.

What to do With Someone That You Want to Avoid at Dance

Ladies and gentlemen, if there's someone at dance that you would like to avoid, either because they're creepy, weird, and/or make you feel uncomfortable in some way, don't worry about it. This kind of thing is perfectly normal and happens all of the time. It doesn't mean that it's a good thing, but rather that it's not unusual so you shouldn't be too surprised. There is a special method for women on saying "no" to guys that you don't want to dance with (for whatever reason) and for avoiding guys that just straight up creep you out, which I've explained in detail in my other article on how to avoid awkward and uncomfortable situations on the dance floor.

How to Stay Safe at Dance

Generally, in my experience, if you are going to a respectable legitimate salsa dance studio/night/class/lesson, etc. in a relatively good neighborhood, the other people who attend will be a nice bunch that shouldn't give you any trouble.

The unfortunate thing is that although most people are there to dance and take it seriously as an opportunity to learn and develop a new skill while having fun, there will always be a select number of individuals who do not treat it that way. These individuals consider going out to dance as a method for finding new people to date and/or "hook up" with for a one-night stand. I don't want to use the phrase "sexual predator" because that sounds a bit extreme, but there have been incidents of sexual harassment and/or assault on innocent/unsuspecting dancers by some of these unsavory characters.

Usually you can tell if someone is looking for more than just a dance because they'll be loitering on the side, (typically by the bar), behaving inappropriately (and offending most of the people that they interact with) and won't be dancing much (because they'll be busy trying to come onto unsuspecting people). Some of these people are just harmless creepers that we're stuck having to avoid, while others can be more problematic.

Ladies, I recommend you keep an eye out and pay attention to any suspicious behavior that will be giving you a red flag. If someone is harassing you, you need to take action and do something about it. Remember that your personal safety and comfort are a priority and that if someone is doing something that isn't right, you need to tell someone about it: either a fellow dancer, a security guard/bouncer, a dance teacher, or another staff member.

Regarding personal items and concerns about possible theft, don't worry too much. Since everyone who dances brings stuff with them and leaves it on the side of the dance floor, there is a mutual trust between fellow dancers that no one will tamper with each others' things because that will ruin it for everyone. Besides, there's ALWAYS someone watching and paying attention to what's going on on the side, so any kind of funny business will be noticed. And since we're a talkative bunch, it won't be long before EVERYONE is alerted about the suspicious individual who is trying to mess with someone else's things. Trust me, we WILL find out and that person WILL be kicked out and not allowed back.

Usually, I can leave my coat/bag/shoes unattended on the side of the dance floor on a chair/table and not have to worry about anything being stolen/tampered with.

I only bring my driver's license and enough cash to pay the entrance/class fee and a drink or two. I don't bring my credit card or iPod with me to dance because I don't need them there. And I make sure to keep any important things that I have out of view in a zipped pocket somewhere or leave them at home.

As long as you don't leave out a wad of $100's or your fancy $500 smart phone on the surface of your purse/bag that will tempt unsavory individuals, or walk around flashing expensive things like the high-roller that you are, you shouldn't have to worry about anyone snooping around inside your things.

Salsa dancing can be very sexy, so make sure that it is something that you and your romantic partner are comfortable with before you start dancing with other people
Salsa dancing can be very sexy, so make sure that it is something that you and your romantic partner are comfortable with before you start dancing with other people

How to Handle Romantic Relationships at Dance

"I don't know how you can express the relationship side of dance."

I've literally had a dozen people tell me at one point or another: "Dance is tough on relationships."

Dancing is one of those things that can really screw up a good relationship if you're not careful about it. However, it can also be one of the best things that's ever happened to your relationship because you'll learn to connect with each other and other people in a special intimate way that lets you express yourself more freely, comfortably, and openly.

Long story short: Dancing is personal because you interact with other people in a way that you never might otherwise. How personal the experience is depends on you as an individual and how you react to being around other people in a close setting.

Salsa can be very sexy, and get hot and heavy really quickly. So if you, or your significant other gets jealous easily, you're relationship as a dating and dancing couple will fail.

Before you start dancing, it is important to evaluate what your needs, goals, and desires are for your relationship, as well as for your dancing.

  • If you are learning to dance so you rekindle the magic or passion in your romantic relationship, then you should only dance with each other and not with other people.
  • If you are learning to dance to have fun, you should be open to the idea of dancing with other people.
  • If the idea of dancing with other people makes you jealous, angry, or uncomfortable, you should stop and ask yourself why you feel this way. If you don't trust your partner, or feel that he/she is going to cheat on you or leave you for someone else at dance, then you may want to hold off of learning to dance until your feelings and relationship have stabilized.

Trust me when I say that whatever issues you may have with your relationship off the dance floor, they'll become magnified the moment you set foot on the dance floor. So get your affairs in order before you start dancing and avoid becoming that "dramatic" couple.

For even more advice on how to handle romantic relationships at dance, please read my other article that I wrote, link below.

Final Notes on How to Start Salsa Dancing

Salsa dancing is a very fun activity that takes a lot of times to learn, but becomes very rewarding once you are good at it! I have tried to provide some advice on how to get started, along with some links to other articles that I wrote for more information about specific topics. Please visit my home page for a list of all of my salsa and dance-related articles for even more help and answers for any questions or issues that you may have about salsa or Latin dancing. I hope that this has been helpful to you and I congratulate you on your decision to start salsa dancing!! :)

Credits and Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my friend John V. from dance for suggesting the idea for this article to me. He also provided me with a lot of useful content to write about, as well as helpful advice and insights from a man's perspective about dancing.

I'd like to thank the dozens of amazing, wonderful individuals and talented dancers that I've met and known as dance partners and teachers over the last decade, ....including, but not limited to.....

  • Nino D., Amanda D., Bryan S., Kelly L., Luke M., Kam C., Nancy H., Mark H., Zlatko T., Ed P., Christopher S., Danny P., Andy W., David D., Dora B., Erin M., Scott S., Ramon C., Ned V., Glen M., Vishy S., Grant C., Gunter K., James M., Jeff S., Raimudo V., Loancy, Yossi, Israel R., David V., Herbert, Miguel G., Jaime, Vlad R., Angelo P., Meriel O., John D., Mike, Jim B., Joanna O., John R., Jose R., Juan R., Julie A., Kaname T., Katie E., King K., Laura H., Luis C., Marco A., Maria G., Natalie M., Nicole G., Peter D., Rick M., Tanya M.,
  • .....as well as the dance studios/companies: Arthur Murray, May I Have This Dance, Pa Samba, Latin Rhythms, Latin Street, Hot On One Salsa, Studio Viva, and 4 Fantastic Events.

Thank you everyone for sharing this wonderful journey of dancing with me, none of this could have been possible without you!

Please Read My Other Articles for Even More Helpful Information About Dancing!

Social Etiquette/Interpersonal Relations at Dance

Salsa:

Bachata:

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

What to Wear to Dance:

Where to Go Out Salsa/Latin Dancing:


© 2013 Anya Brodech

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    • abrodech profile image
      Author

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

      Thank you for your comment. My hub article is based on my experience of living and learning how to dance in America. I agree with you that dancers who are married and have been together a long time have a special connection when they dance.

      Sincerely,

      Anya Brodech

    • radhikasree profile image

      Radhika Sreekanth 2 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Here kids go for learning Salsa from a nearby tutor. I like watching Salsa if the dancers are really life partners...

    • abrodech profile image
      Author

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

      Thanks for your feedback, leading is super duper ridiculously important when it comes to partner dancing. Guys who know what they're doing can make any follower look good!

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      I agree with you that finding a good lead is important. I haven't danced salsa before but I know about bad leads from the men who step on my toes when I'm out clubbing (I'm a dancer). Voted awesome!

    • BNadyn profile image

      Bernadyn 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida

      Such an informative article with plenty of resources and you offered lots of good tips. Last year, my husband and I went to a dance studio to take a few classes for fun since we found a good deal on Groupon. We learned a couple dances but aren't experts, (far from it!) but it did bring our relationship closer. We didn't learn salsa but it looks fun and a bit intimidating. One day, I'd like to learn when I know I'll have more time to practice.

      I'm glad you brought up the awkward tip of good hygiene - so true! We had to switch dance partners during the classes we took and hygiene is something everyone needs to remember.