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How to Pick and Choose A Good Salsa and Latin Dance Partner for Men and Women

Updated on April 10, 2017
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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

What to Look For in A Salsa or Latin Dance Partner

Salsa and all of the Latin dances are incredibly intense, passionate, and sexy with a lot of energy. You need someone who has a lot of character and personality in their dancing and knows how to move their body well, especially their hips! ;)

Salsa is done best with people who put in a lot of energy and passion into their dancing and really feel the excitement of the music and can't stay still when they hear it.

Dancing salsa isn't just about how many crazy dips, tricks, and flips you can't fit into a song; it's also about expressing your personality and feeling sexy. You have to feel uninhibited and loose and let the music move you. If you are self-conscious and prudent, then your dancing is going to look stiff and mechanical, like you are just going through the motions (because well, you are).

Most of all it is important to smile and have fun with your dance partner!

Do you have a designated dance partner now?

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Have you had a designated dance partner before?

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How to Tell if Someone is a Good Dancer Before You Dance With Them

It's not easy being able to tell if someone if a good dancer before you dance with them. However, over the 8 years that I've been dancing, I've been able to figure some cues that are indicative if someone is a good dancer.

Usually when someone has been dancing for a long time and/or is (really) good at it, you can tell because their bearing/carriage is different than that of lesser-skilled dancers/non-dancers.

If you are out somewhere at a salsa club/bar/restaurant for open/social dancing, here are some helpful hints on what you should look out for:

  • Proximity to the Dance Floor
  • Proximity to the Bar and Alcohol Consumption
  • How They Dance With Other People
  • What Kind Of Shoes They Are Wearing
  • What Kind of Clothes They Are Wearing

People who want to dance tend to stay near the dance floor, those who don't want to dance usually stay far away from it
People who want to dance tend to stay near the dance floor, those who don't want to dance usually stay far away from it

Proximity to the Dance Floor:

People who are good dancers tend to hover close to the dance floor. Conversely, people who aren't dancing, either because they don't want to or don't know how to will tend to be further away from the dance floor.

If someone is sitting not conveniently near the dance floor and/or separate from most of the other people there, then they are probably not interested in dancing, so don't ask them to dance (unless you already know them from before).

Generally the closer someone is to the dance floor, the more likely it is that they actually want to dance, so that's who you should be looking for to dance with.

Alcohol impairs your coordination making quality dancing difficult, if not impossible when you are intoxicated
Alcohol impairs your coordination making quality dancing difficult, if not impossible when you are intoxicated

Proximity to the Bar/Alcohol Consumption:

Drinking alcohol impairs your coordination which is necessary for quality dancing, so usually dancers don't really consume alcohol (more than 1-2 drinks) when they are out at dance. You can spot a non-dancer based on how much they are drinking. If someone has been glued to the bar for most of the evening and not moved from it except to greet someone or go to the bathroom, they are probably there just to drink and hang out, but not to dance.

Although it may seem obvious, do NOT dance with anyone who looks like he/she is drunk because they will bumble, stumble, try to grope you, and/or fall over; none of which is fun for you, especially when you have to try to pick their drunk butts off the floor. So if you get asked to dance by someone who looks like they've been drinking, politely tell them "No, Thank You" and walk away, especially if they are very drunk and try to insist that you dance with them.

Have you ever been subjected to dancing with someone who was drunk?

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Watching How Someone Dances with other people is an easy and effective way to find out what they are like as a dancer and if you two would make a good match
Watching How Someone Dances with other people is an easy and effective way to find out what they are like as a dancer and if you two would make a good match

How They Dance With Other People

It is incredibly helpful if you look at how someone dances with other people before you try and go dance with them. The reason why is that they may not be a very good match for you because they are either too advanced (or not advanced enough), difficult to follow/lead, clingy/touchy-feely in an inappropriate way, or just strange altogether.

For whatever reason, there are always weirdos and strange people anywhere you go, including at dance. This is why you should try and look how someone interacts with other people before dancing with them so you don't end up in awkward situation trying to get away from someone who is making you uncomfortable!

Anyway, on the other side, it is good to watch people on the dance floor so you can find/discover someone new to dance with that you may not have seen or noticed before! I've met a lot of new dance partners this way, so it's a tried-and-true method. Sometimes I miss guys that are standing on the side with their friends hidden from view, or are hanging out across the room/not in my immediate vicinity.

Either way, watching people on the dance floor is an easy and effective way to discover your next dance partner!

Types of Women's Latin Dance Shoes

Typical satin beige women's Latin dance shoe
Typical satin beige women's Latin dance shoe
An example of fashion heels that aren't official Latin dance shoes that can be worn for salsa. (this heel would be considered too high for dancing, but the Mary-Jane style with the strap that secures the shoe to your foot is something you should get)
An example of fashion heels that aren't official Latin dance shoes that can be worn for salsa. (this heel would be considered too high for dancing, but the Mary-Jane style with the strap that secures the shoe to your foot is something you should get)

What Kind of Shoes The Women Are Wearing

Generally, if someone is a dancer that know what he/she is doing, then they are going to make sure that they wear the proper attire for dancing. This includes shoes, clothes, and accessories (for both men and women).

Women's dance shoes tend to be on the strappy side so they are securely attached to the foot, and are usually made of either a black or tan/beige/gold satin material, with a suede bottom. These are proper Latin dance shoes and most women who are at least semi-serious about their dancing will make a point to be wearing them.

Usually I can tell which women aren't dancers easily just by looking at their shoes. Like I said already, If a woman is wearing proper Latin dance shoes, then she is serious about her dancing because she taken the time and effort to buy the proper shoes.

However sometimes women don't always wear their Latin dance shoes when they go out salsa dancing at a bar or club because the floor can be very dirty and they don't want to spoil the suede bottom of their shoes. In these cases, women can wear fashion heels that securely attach to their feet and are 2.5" or less, usually no more than 3" because then it becomes difficult/uncomfortable to dance in them.

Conversely, women who are wearing flip-flops/sandals, flats, gym shoes, snow boots, or ridiculously high-heels most likely have not danced before and/or are not planning to dance at all that evening. The reason why is because one cannot properly dance well, or at all sometimes, in these kinds of shoes without compromising technique/form, not to mention risking injury!

For an explanation of proper dance shoes for women, please read this article I wrote for a thorough understanding of what a proper dance does and does not entail.

Types of Shoes Men Wear to Dance

Dress shoe that is not an actual dance shoe
Dress shoe that is not an actual dance shoe
Proper/official Men's Latin Dance Shoe
Proper/official Men's Latin Dance Shoe
Jazz Shoe
Jazz Shoe

What Kind of Shoes The Men Are Wearing

On the other hand, with men it is a bit more difficult to tell whether or not they are a dancer based solely on their footwear. Usually men wear dress shoes with leather bottoms for dancing, and many times street shoes work just as well as "official/proper" dance shoes.

Since there tend to be a lot of Latino/Hispanic and Eastern European men at dance, you will notice that they tend to wear pointy dress shoes. This is just a cultural style thing and not indicative of anything.

However, if a guy is wearing flip-flops/sandals, he probably doesn't know how to dance and/or hasn't tried to before. Any guy who knows anything about salsa dancing will know these two things: 1) Women wear high heels for salsa dancing, 2) Getting stepped on by a women's high heel is incredibly painful and hurts a lot! This is why they make a point to wear shoes that cover and protect their feet!

Sometimes I've seen guys wearing sneakers or tennis shoes for dancing, including guys that are really, really, really good dancers! You might see a guy wearing jazz shoes, which kind of look like clunky sneakers. These are good for giving a guy the traction he needs to stay in place and not slip or fall while he spins and moves you around quickly.

What Kind of Clothes They Are Wearing

Just like with shoes, people who are dancers know that dancing is a physical activity and so like many sports, you have to be dressed properly in order to perform well. People who haven't danced before, or aren't dancing, will be wearing something that makes dancing impractical and/or uncomfortable. Since you're going to be moving around a lot and getting warm, you shouldn't things like coats or sweaters (especially heavy wool ones). If someone is wearing something warm like this, then they probably aren't dancing that night and/or don't know how to.

People who are dancers will wear comfortable clothes that they can move around easily and allow for a range of movement and not make them too hot.

You should be able to understand what it is your partner is doing/wants you to do
You should be able to understand what it is your partner is doing/wants you to do
You don't have to be this close to each other when dancing (unless you happen to be dating/in a relationship with your dance partner), but it's important to feel safe, comfortable, and respected around your dance partner
You don't have to be this close to each other when dancing (unless you happen to be dating/in a relationship with your dance partner), but it's important to feel safe, comfortable, and respected around your dance partner
Some men like to pack their dancing with a lot of dips and show off their lady, while others are more subtle
Some men like to pack their dancing with a lot of dips and show off their lady, while others are more subtle
You need to feel comfortable dancing with your partner and at ease with them or else the quality of your dancing will suffer
You need to feel comfortable dancing with your partner and at ease with them or else the quality of your dancing will suffer

How You Know If Someone Is A Good Partner When You're Dancing With Them

Hopefully your candidate has passed the screening for the criteria above before you decided to dance with them. Now once you're dancing together here are some questions you should try to answer as a way to figure out if you two make a good dancing couple.

  • Do They Have a Good Sense of Rhythm? The basics of dancing start with having the right rhythm. If one (or both) of you don't have good rhythm, then every single step that you take will be "off" and your dancing will not look right, no matter how many flashy moves you do. Every step has a particular count that happens at a certain time, so if your timing is bad, then so is your dancing.
  • How easy is to lead or follow your partner's steps? You should be able to transition and flow from one step to another and not feel confused, flustered, or overwhelmed trying to figure out what they are doing. Usually if they have good rhythm you should be able to follow/lead them; however, if they don't have good rhythm, you'll constantly be at odds with one another and nothing you do will come out right and you'll always be a little (or a lot) off.
  • What kind of a lead or follow are they? Ladies your lead should be gentle but firm so you able to sense and figure out where they want you go and what they want you to do without much force. Gentlemen, you should not be dragging or pushing around your lady because a) that's not good form, and b) it's uncomfortable for the lady. Likewise, ladies you should not back lead because it's annoying and undermines the guy's efforts to dance with you (unless you are trying to teach the guy how to dance and he has explicitly asked you to show him).
  • Do They Make Good Eye Contact? Dancing is a social activity that you do with another person in very close quarters, so it's good to have eye contact. It's rather discouraging when you (or the other person) stare down at the floor (or at that more appealing person over there that you wish you were dancing with). You don't have to (nor should you) stare down the person you are dancing with and not blink your eyes for even a moment during the whole song because that will make your partner think that a) you are having a one-sided staring contest and/or b) are a disturbed/strange/crazy person and potential stalker. You should look at your partner, if not directly at the eyes, then at least at their face. Don't look down at the floor or at their shoes (or yours) unless you need to check on something that you are doing and are confused for a moment about where to put your feet. When you're dancing with someone socially (like not during a lesson/class) it's totally fine to let your eyes wander off to other parts of the room and at other people for a little bit here and there, but you should be focused on dancing with your partner 100% of the time to show that you are respectful of and appreciate their time. It's bad manners to be staring at other people/stuff the whole/most of the time because it gives the impression that you don't want to be there and are wasting your time with that person. Very not nice! :/
  • How similar are your dance styles? Everyone has their own particular way of dancing and no two people are exactly alike. However, there are generally "dance personality" types and it is important that you two both have a similar one if you want to get along. Some people are more on the flashy side and like to show off, so if your partner likes to do a lot of arm styling, dramatic poses, and crazy complicated steps; but you prefer to keep things more subtle and low-key, then you probably won't be happy long-term dancing with each other.
  • How skilled are you in comparison to each other? It's perfectly fine to dance with someone who is a little more or less advanced/skilled than you are. However, if there is a BIG difference in your skill levels, then you may not want to keep them on as a dance partner because conflict and frustration may arise, with one partner resenting the other for not being as good/skilled/advanced as he/she is.
  • How comfortable do you feel with each other? You should always feel comfortable with your dance partner and both of you should be at ease. If you feel anxious, pressured, or any other negative emotion because of how you feel dancing with that person, then you should probably not continue dance with them in the future. If you are at ease with your partner, then dancing becomes a lot easier, not matter how simple or complicated the steps are. Once you feel comfortable with someone, your dancing improves because you are better able to sense each other and pick up on each others movements, and just have a better connection overall.

The Secret to Finding the Right Dance Partner

You'll know when you've found the right dance partner because dancing with them will just come naturally and you'll feel at ease and comfortable with them. Then the next time you see him/her you'll get a smile on your face and feel happy to see them. Ultimately there is no magic formula to instantly find the right person, you just need to take the time to dance with different kinds of people and figure out what kind of partner is best for you.

© 2013 Anya Brodech

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    • abrodech profile image
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      Anya Brodech 2 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      Yes, since the title of the article is how to pick a salsa or latin dance partner. You don't want to dance salsa, bachata, merengue, and or chacha with someone who is all stiff and not comfortable or wanting to express the character of the dance/music with their body.

      On the other hand, in Smooth and Standard like waltz and foxtrot you're not going to have hip action, but instead will be focusing on rise and fall and stretch/sway.

    • g37752 profile image

      g37752 2 years ago

      know how to move their hips? you talking about salsa?