Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, Latin, swing, and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland, CA.
Introduction to Dancing Salsa
Learning to dance salsa, or any other dance, is no easy feat. If you are just starting out or have been dancing for a while, I welcome you as a fellow dancer! I have been dancing since 2005 so I have a lot of time and experience under my belt. In this hub, I have provided what I believe to be some useful advice that I hope you will try out. Keep in mind that this isn't everything, because there are so many things that only be learned through practice and experience, but I have done my best to be as thorough and clear as possible in providing you with advice that has worked for me and those that I know.
Musicality: What It is and How It Improves Your Dancing
According to Merriam-Webster, Musicality is defined as "sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music."
This means that there is more to music than you think: having a good understanding of the music you are dancing to will make you a better dancer because you will have an inherent sense of the rhythm, beat, and all the other nuances that go into the music, which in turn will allow you to respond more accurately and precisely to it when you move.
How to Develop Musicality by Listening to the Music
If you want to dance salsa well, you gotta learn, know and understand salsa music.
Once you know the music, you can develop your musicality. Musicality is defined as expressing the music through your body while dancing.
An easy way to start developing your musicality is to listen to the music. And by "listen," I mean REALLY LISTEN to it. Immerse yourself into it! Set some time aside distraction-free, when you can just be by yourself and listen to some salsa music and try to find the rhythm and the beat and any other patterns that might emerge.
Experiment with different types of salsa music, fast and slow, from different artists and countries, so you can start recognizing the different styles of salsa there are.
Become familiar with salsa music by listening to it in your free time and/or substitute it for your regular music. The more you listen to salsa music, the more familiar and comfortable you will be with it.
Just get into the music when you listen to it and check for pauses, breaks, instrumental solos, or other fun little bits where you can take a moment or two and do your own special moves unique to that part of the song. This will help add some variety to your dancing and let you have some extra fun with your dancing. It's even better when your partner knows the song as well and does his own little thing at the same time. This is just one thing you can do to really make your dancing unique and expressive.
Listen to the beat and keep up with the rhythm. You'll know that you're doing it right because each step you take will be in line with the heavy beats, formally known as the chord beats on the 1-3-5 and 7.
One of my favorite salsa songs, very strong salsa beat making it easy to follow
Keep Your Head Up and Maintain Good Eye Contact While Dancing Salsa
Unlike Tango, salsa looks best when you keep your head up and look out straight ahead and pay attention to your partner and what's going on around you. You should avoid looking down at your feet unless you feel momentarily confused about where your feet should go and/or what they should do. It's good manners to look at your partner when you're dancing with them and not be staring off into space or oogling that hottie dancing next to you.
You don't have to engage in a staring contest with your dance partner and not break eye contact with them because that's awkward, but you should make it known to them that you are paying attention and focused. Not looking at your dance partner can result in you missing signals/cues/leads, etc. and making unnecessary mistakes.
In addition, keeping your head up when you're dancing salsa shows other people that you are confident and secure with your dancing and that you're not apologizing for being there. If you watch any salsa dance performance/competition/show, etc. you'll notice that the dancers keep their heads up the whole time and look out straight ahead.
Fun salsa video!
Find a Dance Role Model Who Inspires You to Dance Better
Find a dance role model, whether it's a celebrity, a world-famous salsa champion, a teacher, someone from an online video, or a fellow dancer and use them as guide and source of inspiration.
Watch other dancers and look at what they do. Feel free to copy or emulate some of their moves (provided it's just in a social setting and not in a competition, obviously). Don't be shy about using other people for ideas to come up with your own moves!
If you ever find yourself in a fix or stumped on what to do while dancing, just think of your dance role model and ask yourself what he/she would do in your place.
Personally, I love Shakira and use her as my inspiration. She is completely uninhibited and effortlessly sexy, which is something that I think every latin dancer should aspire to be!
Shakira: My Dance Role Model
Dress Like You're Actually Going to Dance Salsa!
Dress Like You're Going to Dance Salsa! You're not taking the dog for a walk or going to the grocery store, so no schlepping allowed!!!
You should wear something that makes you feel confident and want to strut your stuff. And yes, I do mean STRUT! You are not going to look amazing if you are shuffling around meekly trying to hide in the nearest corner. Dancing is a performance-based activity, so show off!
Regardless of whether it's a fun swishy skirt that makes you want to move your hips and show some sexy attitude on every turn, or a fitted dress that makes you want to run your hands all over your body and do some irresistible arm styling.
Confidence is key to pulling off any dance well. If you are hesistant, reluctant, unsure, or uncomfortable in any way; it will be visible to those around you! So just relax, take a deep and go for it. Don't worry about messing up; dancing is a lifelong learning process and everyone makes mistakes on the dance floor. If you screw up something, just smile and laugh it off and keep on going! :)
Make Sure You Dance Salsa with the Right Partner
In order for your dancing to be successful, you need to find a partner that you are really compatible with that brings out your inner Shakira/Beyonce/other amazing female dance role-model and makes you look like a superstar! I love guys that have a lot of energy and enthusiasm so it's fun to dance with them, as well as ones that have a strong lead so it's easy to follow them and I don't feel confused by any ambiguous leads. This may sound selfish, but it's the guy's job to make the lady look good ;)
It is important for you to be able to trust and rely on your partner to lead you effectively and safely around the dance floor. He should always be keeping an eye for you and moving you as needed to avoid colliding with other people or objects. The more comfortable you feel with your partner and he with you, the more steps and you moves you two will be able to do with each other. If you two know each other well and are familiar with one another, then it will be a lot easier for him to lead you into a low dip or perform a complicated set.
You can tell if your partner is right for you or not based on how comfortable you feel around them and how well you are able to follow their lead. You'll know that you have a good match because you'll move in sync with each other and be on the same page with your dancing. It's best to find someone who is at the same or similar level as you so you don't frustrate or overwhelm each other.
However, if your partner handles you roughly, doesn't maintain proper dance form, avoids eye contact, doesn't pay attention, or spends the whole time showing off their own moves and leave you feeling lost and confused, then don't with them anymore! Finish the song and be polite as you can, but don't feel obligated to accept any future requests to dance with them. It's okay to dance with someone only once and then not anymore if it's not a positive/rewarding/pleasurable experience for you, especially if you're out dancing socially and not in a group class.
Don't Force It!
Don't force yourself to be super sexy all at once because it'll come off as unnatural and awkward. It's okay if you're shy or don't consider yourself the "sexy" type. Just find moves that you are comfortable with doing and gradually work your way up. If you want help on learning how to move, consider going to a Ladies Salsa Styling Class (or Men's, if you're a dude), or signing up for private lessons with a dance teacher whose moves you really admire. And of course, smile and be happy! Being grumpy is a sure-fire to kill your sexy moves. Remember, Beyonce and Shakira didn't come out the womb shaking and strutting, they had to put in countless hours of work and practice and training to get to where they are today! Just take it one day at a time and remember that you'll get there someday!
Fuel Up and Stay Hydrated So You Can Dance Your Best
Salsa is physically demanding activity, so make sure you eat something filling before you go and leave some time for it start digesting in avoid dancing when you're super full.
Stay hydrated by drinking water or sports drinks like Gatorade. Usually I drink a bottle of Gatorade on my way to dance and then drink 3-4 bottles of water while I'm at dance, depending on how hot it is and how much dancing I am doing. Some places have water fountains where you can refill your water bottle, or they'll give you free cups of water at the bar if you ask nicely and leave a tip. However some places are stingy and will demand that you buy $4 or $5 water bottles from them, which is ridiculous, so consider bringing your own water bottles and drinking them discretely.
I've also found that having a glass of soda, like Sprite, helps me retain water and stay perky if I don't have a sports drink available. I still make a point of drinking water though.
However, you should not try to hydrate yourself by drinking alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, or mixed drinks because they will impair your dancing.
Stay Sober & Stay Focused on Salsa
Dancing is done best sober!
If you are planning to dance, then either minimize or completely avoid your alcohol consumption. Don't dance if you are drunk or tipsy because...
a) you will have trouble focusing and subsequently make a lot of mistakes,
b) your coordination will be impaired and you might fall down or crash into someone, either way it's bad
c) it's annoying to your partner!
Furthermore if you are deemed a nuisance, you might be kicked off the dance floor, or out of the place altogether! Don't be that person!!!!!
It is important to remember that an amazing dancer, whatever the genre, is not made overnight. It takes a lot of time, effort, practice, dedication and determination to become really good. Remember that once upon a time every dancer started out at square one like you did, so stay focused and don't be discouraged if you don't get it right away.
The Ultimate Secret
When it comes down to it, the secret to being an amazing salsa dancer is being uninhibited which only happens when you are 110% comfortable with yourself and who you are.
Once you stop being afraid of looking stupid, thinking that you can't do anything, or worrying about what other people think, the quality of your dancing and the experience overall will quickly skyrocket.
Everyone has a special key to unlocking their dance abilities: whether its dancing with a partner that we trust completely who makes us feel amazing about ourselves, practicing at home and being totally silly, or letting our hair down, literally (as in my case), and feeling wild and free and letting it become a part of the dance.
Whatever it is, find something that works for you and makes you feel unapologetically sexy and amazing because when it comes down to it, that's what salsa dancing is!
© 2013 Anya Brodech
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on November 16, 2014:
Thanks for your comment Jen, I'm glad that you found this useful! Dancing anything, especially salsa is not just about knowing a million and one patterns or steps, it's about being able to embody and reflect the fun upbeat sexy fearless character of the music and really being able to work the dance floor!
I agree with you that women need to help and support each other and so far I haven't had any issues with csttiness, but that's because I dance and teach for fun socially, not to compete!
Jen on November 15, 2014:
Great articles- as a now experienced salsa dancer, I sure wish I had read these when I first started- they probably would have saved me a whole lot of grief! It's also awesome to come across another lady who loves Shakira as much as I do...she did her first belly dancing performance when she was 3 years old, so though she is a great role model, I don't feel bad about the fact that I will probably never be as amazing as her!!
Have fun out there, and we ladies need to stick together and take care of one another on the dance floor! Down with cattiness and jealousy and let's enjoy ourselves like we originally intended to!
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on February 11, 2014:
I agree with you about weak and bad leads. I hate it when the guy doesn't know how to lead properly so I'm left guessing what it is that he wants me to do and where I should be going, which is incredibly frustrating!
Guys that lead you into other people are super annoying and obnoxious because they are showing that they don't care about their partner and are obviously not paying attention to you!
P on February 11, 2014:
Also when the guy ends up turning or spinning you right into people standing/ walking by...this comes across as very inconsiderate & selfish, because they are not looking out for you or your safety... their main concern is them looking good, hence missing what salsa is all about.
P on February 11, 2014:
One of my biggest turn-offs is when a guy I'm dancing with has a weak lead, especially when double turning & spinning you, and you end up working extra hard trying to make the spinning look decent.
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on August 06, 2013:
Oh yeah I've danced with guys who also tried to teach me while dancing, it just annoyed the heck out of me! I mean really, how much can you expect to do in a 3 or 4 minute song? Social dancing is about having fun and doing your own thing without getting lectured or criticized, etc. I'm glad that you liked my hub! :)
GiblinGirl from New Jersey on August 06, 2013:
Great hub. You really hit all the key points about refining your dancing. I really liked your discussion of appropriate attire (bad shoes can really throw off your dancing) and about dancing with the right partner - I remember dancing with men who criticized or tried to "teach" me while dancing - not fun.