Learning to dance salsa can be a real challenge. Why? First, salsa is
a "club dance" or "street dance" that has not been
brought into the ballroom dance curriculums. Being a "club dance,"
and being outside most ballroom dance curriculums, salsa is taught mainly
by night club salsa dancers and each may have their own, unique style.
For such an easy dance, night club dance teachers often do not agree on
what to teach as the "basic step" and they often do not agree
on which beat to start the dance. Most night club salsa teachers fall
into one of these two categories. Category 1: They grew up dancing salsa,
they are great dancers with great style and "feel," BUT
they can't teach it in a way that the average person can grasp - every
detail broken down to count. The second category: They are fairly new
to salsa and they can't teach much beyond very basic figures. Finding
the combination of a great salsa dancer and a great teacher with the technical
knowledge is very difficult.
- Small Steps. Salsa and mambo steps are very
small. Keep the feet beneath the body versus taking huge break steps.
As the music gets faster, smaller steps must be taken. Your feet should
generally be less than one foot apart, usually less than 1/2 foot
- Foot turn out. Break steps should always have
foot turn out. Never dance break steps in a pigeon toed fashion.
- Don't "blend" the steps. Avoid "blending"
the slow step with the quick steps. Instead, hold the slow step for
the complete duration of two beats of music and delay stepping to
the first quick prematurely. A verbal queue, if dancing on the "2"
beat would be: 2,3,4, lift, 2,3,4, lift, 2,3,4, lift. In this case,
the break step occurs on the 2 beat, the replace step occurs on the
3 beat, and 4 is the first beat of the "slow" step. Many
mambo teachers say, "Nothing happens on the 1 beat." That's
true in that a step is not taken. However, on the 1 beat, the heel
is lifted and the same hip drops, as the same foot is released in
preparation for making the upcoming break step on the first quick.
In other words, during the "lift," the heel is lifted and
the knee is bent as the same hip drops and weight then goes to the
other foot. You could also use the verbal queue, 2,3,4, drop, 2,3,4,
drop to remind yourself to drop the hip. This might help in developing
"Cuban motion." Adding the "flick" action to your
basic will also assist in preventing "blending," and premature
movement to the first quick. An observer should be able to clearly
discern your slow steps and your quick steps.
- Weight transfer. To the extent possible, each
step should be distinct and should entail a complete weight transfer
versus a "shuffling" of the feet.
- Soft knees. Cuban motion (that is, hip and body
action) comes from the alternate bending and straightening of the
legs. As a knee is bent, the same hip drops. Take steps onto a bent
knee and begin weight transfer before the knee straightens. Rather
than feeling like you are dancing lightly on top of the floor, you
should feel like you are dancing into and pushing out of the floor.
Before beginning any Latin dance, think about lowering yourself slightly,
perhaps as if a glass ceiling is overhead. Do not stoop or compromise
- Don't over extend arms. In general, arms should
not stay rounded with the elbows bent. Connections should be relatively
short and connections should be very responsive to sudden changes
in the direction of the lead. Don't allow elbows to collapse behind
the body (the chicken wing look).
- Posture, Frame, Connection, and Timing are the
most important elements for any partner dance. Don't stoop or look
at your feet. Don't allow your frame to collapse or loose integrity.
Always maintain firm and secure connections. Never give up counting!
Count the steps always but don't count out loud. Always start "on
phrase" with the music.
- Merengue: This dance uses the easy footwork
timing of 1,2,3,4 or step, step, step, step - one step for each beat
of the music. The key to this dance is the hip action. The "Basic"
is a side-chasse to the left (for the Gentleman). The best verbal
queue for this is: drop, together, drop, together, etc. The left hip
is dropped on the first beat and the same foot is freed, next a small
step to the left is taken and the right foot closes to the left (together).
This is repeated. Thus the verbal queue: drop, together, drop, together
to complete two chasse steps to the left. Without the hip action,
the entire character of this dance is lost. A mistake is to tilt the
top part of your body back and forth like an upside down pendulum.
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