Salsa Dancing: The 2020 Complete Dancer’s Guide

Salsa Dancing: The 2020 Complete Dancer’s Guide

I think you’ll agree with me – when you see chemistry on the dance floor, it looks magical.

Many of us wishfully admire dance, and may even entertain the idea of learning to do it someday.

The fact of the matter is:

Most people think that they will never be able to enjoy dancing, at least not like they see other people doing it, so they never give it a go.

As someone who teaches salsa lessons in Las Vegas and the Bay Area, I get a lot of questions about it.

In this blog post, I want to up-level your curiosity about salsa dancing and perhaps inspire you. What is salsa dancing and how do you dance it?

Intrigued? Read on…

Let’s first start out with explaining:

What is Salsa Dancing Exactly?

several couples dancing salsa

Some insist that Salsa is not just a Latin dance, rather, it is a completely different world in and of itself.

The energy, the fun, the stress relief that Salsa brings to its dancers are all ingredients that play a powerful part on the psyche, not to forget the fantastic and natural endorphins it releases.

Most people who pick it up as a hobby aren’t mediocre about their love for Salsa.

They will hear Salsa music and just have to move to it and will find it impossible not to smile while doing so.

What’s there not to love?

Imagine the tantalizing experience, dancing the night away with new friends as you forget all of your worries. You experience every positive aspect of the dance: its passion, vibrancy and hotness.

Lively, Afro-Carribean rhythms play with sounds of big band jazz.

The music is fast and lively, building to a crescendo and then a release.

Which is why…

Many people who give Salsa dancing a chance eventually catch the “Salsa Bug”.

Have you heard of the Salsa Bug?

Picture it…

The “wallflower you” is now able to get “In the Zone” on the dance floor.

Dancing not only feels amazing… all you want to do is more of it!

As a byproduct, you’ve become more confident, coordinated and have an outstanding social life.

You stand up tall and know that going back is impossible.

Salsa has changed your life not only on the dance floor but in real life.

You’ve got fun, new friends, you feel great about yourself and like previously mentioned, all you want is more of it.

Yup, it’s true…

And that’s just a snippet of all the benefits which come from getting the “Salsa Bug”.

Now let’s get down to business:

What Does Salsa Dancing Look Like?

Let’s start with what you might have seen in the movies.

You’ve probably seen Salsa dancing scenes in the movies.

I’m including two movie clip examples.

Both examples should inspire you one way or another.

The first one will mesmerize you and show you how magical it can be to have Salsa skills.

The second clip will show you how appalling it can be when you have no Salsa skills, whatsoever.

Salsa in the Movies

Movie Clip #1: Great Example of Salsa Dancing

Dance with Me

This clip is an ideal and dreamy depiction of how fun Salsa can be at a Club.

The dance chemistry is on fire and everything that can possibly go right, does.

Check out Vanessa Williams tearing it up on the dance floor.

This is the Salsa look and feel we are going for:

Dance With Me Dance Scene Vanessa Williams & Chayanne

Movie Clip #2: Horrific Example of Salsa Dancing

Along Came Polly

This clip has one of the most absurd and awful Salsa / Cha-Cha dance depictions ever.

However, it could possibly be an authentic representation of what most of us would look like with absolutely no dance skills.

It’s painful to watch but super funny.

See for yourself if you’d like to have Ben Stiller’s Salsa Skills… or not:

Along Came Polly (5/8) Best Movie Quote - Salsa Dancing Scene (2004)

Would you prefer to look like Vanessa Williams or Ben Stiller on the dance floor?

Now that we’ve had a laugh, let’s talk about the real salsa world out there, and what it’s really like.

Where Do People Dance Salsa?

Salsa is commonly danced at Salsa Socials.

These are gatherings of Salsa dancers of all levels who come together at a set time and place to enjoy an evening of dancing.

These socials may be held at restaurants, bars, clubs, ballrooms or even outside.

Here is an examples of Salsa Dancing at a Club in New York:

Joel D. & Shani Talmor at Club Cache: Social Dancing on the New York Salsa Scene (7/26/12)

Bigger events such as festivals called a “Salsa Congress” bring dancers together to grow in their learning of Salsa.

They also give dancers an opportunity to showcase talent and build on Salsa dancing communities all over the world.

Salsa Dancing at a Festival in Milano:

Puerto Rico Salsa Dance - Ataca y Alemana

Or, quite simply, Salsa can be danced in the Streets, as long as there is a feeling of rhythm in the body and fun!

Now that we know where to dance it…

What Does Salsa Music Sound Like?

salsa musicians performing

In short, it’s fast and exuberant.

The rhythm of salsa is exciting and usually inspires an immediate reaction in Latin music lovers everywhere… sending them to the dance floor.

Although Salsa music has its origins from Cuba, it also blends African drum rhythms with Spanish guitar.

The music itself mimics a call and response pattern between the instruments and singers, just like that of traditional African songs.

Here is an in depth video clip that explains Salsa music, its rhythms and timing.

It allows the absolute beginner to start grasping an understanding of Salsa music:

Understanding Salsa rhythm for absolute beginners

Why Do So Many People Get Hooked on Dancing Salsa?

What’s unexpected is this:

What starts out to be a journey to improving your dancing, becomes a journey to improving all aspects of your life.

Salsa goes beyond just dancing closely together with a partner.

Rather, it becomes a journey full of life emotions and life lessons.

cuban salseros posing in the street

The next step for you is to learn how to do it, and get you out there to enjoy it for yourself!

A Couple of Things to Understand About Salsa Dancing

Salsa is danced in 4/4 time.

It is comprised of rock steps, and has a timing of Quick-Quick-Slow. There are 3 weight changes on every rock step.

It takes 8 counts to complete the basic step, and the timing of the entire basic would be counted as “1-2-3, 5-6-7”.

How to Dance Salsa

As a guide for following the video tutorial below, here are the instructions for the footwork. Start with feet together.

Key: LF = Left Foot | RF = Right Foot

  • LF steps forward
  • RF replaces
  • LF closes to RF
  • Hold
  • RF steps back
  • LF replaces
  • RF Closes to LF
  • Hold

Video Tutorial of the Fundamental Salsa Basic Steps

Watch the video below to start learning to dance the Salsa Basic. Remember that practice makes perfect!

Beginner's Guide: How To Salsa Dance (No Experience Needed)

Next Steps for Learning More Salsa

After going over the basic Salsa steps in your living room, consider taking some dance lessons to further your proficiency in Salsa.

There are many local dance studios just about everywhere.

Here are your options from here on out: you can either join some group classes or take some private lessons.

Both are great avenues for learning to dance.

Group Classes allow you to dance with others, rotating partners, and they will give you a chance to meet new people.

Private lessons are the fastest way to learn, as each lesson is tailored specifically to you.

That means you can also learn styling and leading / following techniques.

Are you not ready to take the plunge into the dance studio?

No worries, let’s keep learning online.

Salsa Videos on YouTube

Most beginners want to get out of the beginner / awkward stage of their dancing as soon as possible.

The good news is…

There is a bunch a great video content out there!

However, you can only get so far with YouTube when it comes to a physical contact activity like dance.

Eventually it will be time to get out to a dance studio, but for now:

Let’s have some fun learning how to dance on YouTube!

Below you will find additional instructional videos that will help you get started.

Get These Core Basics Down

To start looking like we know what we are doing, it is crucial to ace our basic steps and get coordinated.

Review the short 2 minute video below and get familiarized with 5 of the core basic steps, and add them to your practice routine.

Follow along:

Salsa Core Basics - Before Connecting (w/ counts)

Notice the couple is still dancing basic rock steps, but in now new directions.

Also notice how Salsa may be danced without connecting to your partner.

Ladies Arm Styling in Salsa

One of the secrets to looking natural on the dance floor is to learn how to use your arms.

This goes for both guys and girls, but in this case I’m focusing on girls.

Many beginners don’t feel confident enough to use arm styling, but it is a major component to making the dancing look on fire.

It is important to learn arm styling, especially to understand your range of motion and the appropriate flight paths for the arms.

Here is a great video that breaks down good arm styling, and also shows examples of bad arm styling:

BASIC salsa arms & hands in details by Anna LEV

As personally expressive Salsa is, we want to make sure that we express ourselves with the understanding of what makes arms look “Latin” and what type of “styling” belongs to Salsa.

Get Coordinated with Footwork and “Shines”

The benefit of spending time practicing footwork and shines is huge.

Shines are mostly combinations of basic steps done to music, separate from a partner connection.

Learning shines will help you improve your dancing, as you will learn timing, control, foot speed and how to shift your weight.

In addition, you will develop an awareness of body position, practice balance, and acquire the muscle memory necessary to become more advanced.

Check out the playlist below of almost 50 footwork tutorials, taught by a super happy guy:

Playlist: 👟 Salsa Footwork for Beginners ★ Full Shines Tutorials ★ On1 & On2

The more you do these Salsa exercises, the more fluid and fluent you will become.

The end goal is to own your movement, and have control of your body.

Great for Practicing!

Get Familiar with the Music of Salsa

Below is a great visual explanation of all of the different Salsa Rhythms:

Montuno with 2-3 Clave Audio Visual

Start listening to Salsa Music on your free time, in the car, in the shower, wherever.

It takes a long time to start “hearing the music” and it’s totally not easy.

So start now!

Give Salsa a Fair Chance

Don’t hold yourself back.

As scary, crazy and awkward dancing may be at first, the experience is irreplaceable, the memories are amazing, and the dance journey will improve your life.

Nobody who has ever started learning to Salsa Dance has ever regretted it.

After asking around, the only thing Salsa Dancers regret not doing is starting sooner!

Make a Plan to Start Dancing

Sit down and make a one to two year plan to learn to dance.

There are no shortcuts, so there is no sense in rushing through it.

Take your time going through the levels, so that you don’t miss out on the awesome journey of learning how to Salsa.

Fancy tricks are not what it’s all about.

Learn to enjoy the music, enjoy making new friends and enjoy practicing.

Making mistakes are the best way to learn and laugh at yourself.

If you do this, the rest will come on its own.

In no time you will be burning up the dance floor and discovering a new side of you that has finally found a zest for life!

Words of Advice

It might sound cliché.

But the best advice out there is this:

  • 1.) Learn to love the journey.
  • 2.) Practice your basics.
  • 3.) Fall in love with the process.

Like I’ve heard many experts say:

“Salsa is easy to learn, but difficult to master.”

Now I want to hear from you!

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite thing about salsa and what else you’d like to know.

Happy Dancing!

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