A Guide to Learning How to Salsa

Stage 1-2: Technical Elements Involved In The Basic Steps

Stage 1: Understanding The Steps & Foot Placement
Stage 2: Technical Elements Involved In The Basic Steps
Like walking, salsa dancing involves a number of mechanics that contributes to the overall look. In this section we break down the basic steps into elements that can be exercised one by one.

Move On Your Toes
When it comes to walking most people walk heel-to-toe. When people learn how to salsa dance, especially the leaders, they have nothing to reference their steps to other than walking. This causes the person to appear stiff or heavy in their steps.

Instead of stepping heel-to-toe we should move on our toes when dancing. By doing so allows you to move faster and smoother. To be more accurate, you are moving on the balls of your feet however most people understand moving on your toes better than moving on the balls of your feet.

Moving on your toes is not only used in salsa dancing. Boxers are also taught to move on their toes in order to move quickly in the ring while ballet dancers move smoother when on their toes.

For women that wear flat footed shoes the concept still applies. For women that wear heels however, the weight is already forced to the toes or to the balls of the feet to be exact. As a follower, understand this so that when you are moving you are not rocking all of the weight to the heel.

Benefits of Moving On Your Toes
+ Be able to respond to the music quicker
+ Be able to move faster
+ Steps are not heavy and as a result you move smooth
+ Your feet do not become stuck in one place
+ You do not look mechanical

Size of Your Steps
Your forward and backward step should be about the same size as when you walk casually down a sidewalk. For those wearing flat-footed shots (sneakers, flip-flops, men's dress shoes, etc.) the approximate distance is left heel to right toe for the front and back step:

For women that wear heels however, the casual stride is shorter and in turn the steps should also be shorter in salsa dancing. There is no exact distance however is it generally right toe to mid left foot.

If you are already applying the concept of moving on your toes technique, your steps should already be shorter because it is awkward to take big steps when the toes are used.

Taking big steps causes you to split the weight away from your body, which means that when you take a big step forward or back it takes you an additional amount of time to recover and pull the weight to start.

Benefits of Not Taking Big Steps
+ Be able to stay on beat with the music
+ Move faster in the basic steps

Height of Step
For any amount of distance you bring your foot off the ground requires the same amount of distance to bring to the ground. Distance equals time so the more time it takes for you to complete a basic step the easier it is for you to drop off count from the musical beat. Speed is the key in salsa dancing especially when the music that is usually played at a club is moderately fast.

Your foot should stay in contact w/ the ground as much as possible and only loses contact when necessary. For the eight counts in basic steps, counts one-two and five-six are the only counts where the feet should stay in contact with the ground.

To maintain the count, instead of stepping or replacing your feet, you should shift your weight from one foot to another, whether its 1-2 or 5-6.

Benefits of Keeping Your Feet Close To The Ground
+ Speed
+ Staying on count

Eyes Up & Leveled
When children first learn to walk, they get up and look towards the direction that they are walking. When people first learn to ride a bicycle they look at the direction they are going and do not look the ground otherwise you'll fall. In dancing the same concept applies so you need to have your eyes up so that you can execute patterns but more importantly you need to see whether you are bouncing up and down when you step.

Benefits of Having Your Eyes Open & Leveled
+ Awareness of what is around you
+ Execute turns with minimum dizziness

Relax shoulders, Arms Up
Salsa dancing involves the lower and upper body with the upper body used to execute patterns. When the shoulders are tensed or locked it limits the range of motion is that needed in salsa dancing.

Salsa dancing usually involves a partner and each partner is connected to each other at the hands. Although you may me dancing along it is a good habit to keeps the arms up to the level at which you would connect with your partner. Imagine holding a one pound weight in each hand with the forearms roughly parallel to the ground.

Benefits of Relaxing The Shoulders & Having The Arms Up
+ Followers can turn easily when the leader leads them into a turn
+ Ease of movement in patterns

Keep the weight distribution to center
It is common for new dancers to take heavy steps forward or backward during the basic steps. In salsa dancing it is important to not throw too much of your weight forward or backward during your basic steps. Although each of your forward and backward steps should be weighted you want to keep most of your weight to the center of your body. An indication that you are taking heavy steps is when your height drops when you take a step forward or back. Your eyes and body should be steady during your basic step which means that you should not be bouncing during your basic steps.

Benefits of Not Taking Heavy Steps
+ Your body does not bounce up and down during the basic steps
+ Move quicker

Once we are able to execute the basic steps without consciously thinking or counting we can move on to Stage 3 which involves techniques with dancing with a partner.


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