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The Beginner’s Guide to Salsa Dancing

Want to learn salsa dancing? Fantastic! Let’s get you started. You’ve probably already looked at Youtube videos of the dance – which are easy to find, since salsa is one of the most popular dances in North America – and now you want to learn at a studio. But that doesn’t mean you should just hand over your wallet to the first one you find.

While researching studios, check the instructors who dance there and look them up on YouTube. Often more experienced salsa instructors make their names through Latin club nights and performances with other instructors or students. Not that reputation is everything, but it’s good to know what you’re buying.

Wait, you’re going to class wearing THAT?? Hold up – loose the stripper stilettos first. The highest heels you should be wearing are 3”, and men’s should be half that much. Higher heels will tire out your ankles faster, and it’s harder to balance – and believe me, you want good balance while salsa dancing.

Next, change out that loose-fitting top that your partner’s hands will snag on, and switch to something fitted, that breathes well. An insulating fabric like silk will get really sweaty, leaving you feeling like you wore a wet towel to class. Especially since salsa dancing is fast – did I mention you’ll be burning some serious calories?

Now that we’re arrived at the lesson, time to tune your ears to the music. Salsa can be a bit tricky to follow sometimes, so listen to the “quick-quick-slow” the instructor counts out. If you practice at home (which you should), listen to a salsa with a strong beat, like “Guero Canelo”

Wait, they’re counting in “1-2-3, 5-6-7” instead? No problem, that’s actually the same thing! Counts “1,2” and “5,6” are the quicks, and “3” and “7” are the slows. The “4” and “8” counts are skipped, because we don’t do anything there at the beginner level.

By the way, be aware that there’s more than one kind of salsa dancing out there. Some of the most popular versions are L.A., New York, and Cuban style, as well as mambo. New York style is probably the easiest to learn, so hopefully you started out with that.

Are the turns getting to you yet? Yes, salsa dancing has a LOT of turning, especially for followers. If you get dizzy easily, try spotting, which is looking at the same point just before a turn, then quickly turning your head to look back at the same spot. It might take a bit of practice, so keep at it!

Whoa whoa, easy on the hips there! You may think you’re the next Tito & Tamara (top-level salsa dancers – we’ll get there), but right now it looks a bit messy, and it’s liable to get you hurt. Keep the midsectional-movement minimal for now, and try these exercises at home.

If my rant hasn’t scared you away yet, check out Nicole’s salsa class every Tuesday, 8pm at the Joy of Dance Centre.

Next week, let’s slow it down with the waltz!

About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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