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Salsa Dancing Tutorial

SALSA Dancing FOR BEGINNERS

Who wouldn’t want to learn Salsa? It’s full of energy, life, and excitement! In today’s blog, I am going to get you started on this wonderful journey of Salsa dancing. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!


In This Post, We Will Cover:
· History and Characteristics
· How to Count
· Dancing the Basics
· Dance Frame and Holding Your Partner
· Putting It All Together

History and Characteristics

Salsa has a very rich history. It’s roots begin with Mambo in the 1950’s, and has evolved into many different styles. The style you will be learning about today is LA Style which is also known as Salsa On 1.

Trish and Abe dancing Mambo at Dance Competition
Trish and Abe dancing Mambo at Dance Competition


Although Mambo was popular in the 50’s, by the 1970’s, Latin dancing was dead and Latin clubs were non-existent. However, Latin dancers still found a way to continue dancing at family events during this time.
When these dancers heard the amazing Gloria Estefan creating Latin music with a Disco flare, these dancers got excited and started coming out and dancing on the streets again. Latin clubs were on the rise, and Salsa began to gain back its popularity again!


LA Style Salsa has been primarily influenced by West Coast Swing and Latin Ballroom with a soft Puerto Rican style. Puerto Rican style can be danced on the 1 or the 2, however, LA Style is danced on the 1. This refers to which beat a dancer will “break” on – more about Breaks later 😉 LA Style is also known for flashy and dynamic footwork and patterns. In performances, you will see a lot of tricks, flips, and aerials. In the social dance settings, you’ll see fancy footwork, patterns, some dips, and shines. What’s a shine? A shine is solo footwork where you will dance separate from your partner and focus on the rhythm and self-expression of the music.


I’m sure that by this point, you are excited to get started! Next, we will go into how to count the basic Salsa rhythm.

The Count

I’ll be honest, Salsa music was very confusing to me when I first started dancing. There are so many instruments in Salsa music, which can make it difficult to know what to listen for and how to stay on time. Some of these instruments include clave, cowbell, horns, guitar, piano, and others, however, the one you want to listen for as a beginner is the Conga Drum. The drum is one of the instruments that sets the tempo and keeps the other musicians on track. (However, today, musicians may use a keyboard to set the tone.) You will hear the conga sound on counts ‘4 And’ and again on ‘8 And’. By listening for these hits, you will be able to find the prominent downbeat (which is the 1) and continue counting to eight from there. When you dance Salsa, you will only be taking three steps per measure making it a Quick Quick Slow rhythm. That is three steps in four beats of music. The most common way to count is 123 567. Notice we don’t say 4 or 8. That’s because, in the basic steps, you will pause or hold on counts 4 and 8.


Try listening to “Yamulemao” by Joe Arroyo and practice finding the one beat and counting the Salsa rhythm.


Here’s the song on YouTube: https://youtu.be/FrbPhhJMVQk

Now, let’s get you dancing!

Dancing the Basics

There are multiple basic movements in Salsa, and we are going to take you step-by-step through a few of the popular beginner steps.


Let’s begin with a break step. A break is when you take a step in any direction and then return to your starting point, which will be in the opposite direction of the first step. This is also known as a rock step in other dance styles.


Before we get into how to dance these break actions, we need to go over which foot to start with. If you are learning to lead, you will always begin with your left foot and if you are learning to follow, you will always begin with your right foot. When I teach Salsa to my students, I always have them imagine they are standing in a box then to step out of it with one foot and then return to their box. I would like you to do the same as we go through the different break steps and the Basic Step.

Forward Break

Leaders: Beginning with both feet in your box, step forward with your left foot on count one, replace your weight to your right foot (the one in the box) on count two, then return your left foot to the box on count 3. Now, repeat with the other side – Step forward with the right foot on count five, replace your weight to the left foot on count six, and bring your right foot to the box on count seven. Don’t forget to hold on counts four and eight.


Followers: You will do the exact same thing as the leader, except you will begin with your right foot on count one and your left foot on count five.

Practice this at least four times before moving on to the next Back Break Step.

Back Break

To dance the Back Break, step back on count one, replace your weight on count two then return to the box on count three. Repeat this same movement on the other foot for counts five, six, and seven.


Practice this at least four times then try alternating between the Forward and Back Break. Try doing two sets of the Forward Breaks and then two sets of the Back Breaks and repeat a couple of times before moving on to the Basic.

The Basic

Finally, you get to learn the Basic Step! This will be your buffer step as you learn to connect patterns together. We call it the “thinking” step. As a leader, you may be trying to calculate your next “move” and need to do a Basic between transitions to keep the dance going while you think of what to do next. Essentially, the Basic is a combination of a Forward Break and a Backward Break. Below, I have it broken down into the leader’s steps and the follower’s steps. Here we go!


Leaders: Starting on your left foot, you will begin with a Forward Break on counts one, two, and three. For the second measure, you will dance a Back Break starting with your right foot for counts five, six, and seven.


Followers: Starting on your right foot, you will begin with a Back Break on counts one, two, and three. On the second measure, you will dance a Forward Break starting with your left foot for counts five, six, and seven.
Now, let’s do a few Basics in a row. To help you remember when to do what, I want you to say out loud: ‘left foot forward and right foot back’ for the leaders. Followers, you will say the opposite: ‘right foot back and left foot forward’. When you say this, you need to sing it in the rhythm of Salsa music to help you learn to dance on time and in rhythm. Don’t forget to pause when your feet come together.


Check out this video to see what the Basic Salsa Steps in action: https://youtu.be/WskQL8rBVR8?t=175


We have one more break step to learn for today – the Side Break!

Side Break

The Side Break is like all the other breaks, so you may have already figured it out. Either way, let’s get to it!
Leaders will begin with your left foot and followers begin with their right foot, you will step out to the side on count 1, replace your weight on count two and return to your box on count three. Then, repeat to the other side for counts five, six, and seven. Practice this at least four times to lock it in.
Next, we will teach you about frame how to hold your partner

Dance Frame and Holding Your Partner

There are many ways to connect with your partner in Salsa dancing. The first one you should start with is an open position with a double handhold. I always recommend starting this way, because there’s a smaller chance of stepping on your partner’s toes when you are a little further apart.


Open Position


Leaders, stand facing your partner and hold your arms out in front of you while keeping a slight bend in your elbows with your palms facing in.


Follower’s, stand facing your partner and place your hands in your partner’s hands with your palms facing down and a slight bend in your elbows.


Arms should remain relaxed and at about the follower’s waist level throughout.


The next position is the Closed Position. This is the normal starting position of a dance and allows partners to stand closer together. Once you are feeling confident with your steps, try dancing your basics in this hold.


Closed Position


Begin by facing your partner about a foot apart and with the follower slightly offset to the right of the leader. If you are leading, place your right hand on your partner’s right shoulder blade and your left arm will lift with your hand curved toward your partner at about her eye level.


If you are following, you will rest your left arm gently on top of your partner’s right arm and follow the curve of his arm to his shoulder. Place your right hand in your partner’s and lightly clasp.


Make sure to keep your arms and elbows in front of your body with a slight forward poise to create a positive connection and make it easier to lead and follow.


Now, it is time to put it all together!

Putting It All Together

We have covered so much today and now it’s time to put everything you’ve learned together! Throw on your favorite Salsa song, grab your partner, and here we go. Begin in closed position and begin to feel the rhythm of the music. Once you figure out where the one beat is, count to eight, then begin dancing on the next one count. For the combination, I recommend dancing at least two sets of each pattern. For example, below is a routine you can follow along with until you are more comfortable with the patterns:


Two Basics
Two Side Breaks
Two Basics (slide to an Open Position on the second Basic)
Two Back Breaks
Two Forward Breaks (return to closed position on the second set)
(Repeat from the beginning)


Salsa dancing is a lifestyle; once you start, you will fall in love, and dancing will become part of your routine. I hope you enjoyed this blog and learned a lot. Thanks for reading 😊

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