Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, Latin, swing, and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland, CA.
As a professional dance teacher, I work with a lot of single men who want to be able to dance with a wide variety of women when they go out salsa dancing at a night club. For men, being a good salsa dancer isn't just about knowing 100 different really cool and amazing dance moves; it's about creating that perfect dance environment that makes your partner feel amazing and effortless in her dancing. You want your partner to feel comfortable when she is dancing with you, so that means you don't jerk, pull or push your partner around because all women hate that (myself included). Yanking your partner for three and half minutes will only result in her arm and shoulder getting sore and you will probably not get a second dance after that. Men (and women) who are good leaders don't necessarily know a lot of different moves, but what they do know is how to give directions and communicate well. This article will describe the 4 characteristics every leader should have in salsa dancing.
One characteristic of a good salsa dancer is power. When I say power, I mean a well-positioned and toned frame. As a leader, you always want to have a strong, but comfortable, hold on your partner. Just like a handshake, you want your frame and dance position to be nice and firm, but not so firm that it hurts the person. A strong, supportive frame is the foundation for successful dancing.
If you dance with no tone, pressure or strength in your frame, it will be very hard for your partner to follow you and this will result in your partner having a missed, delayed or incorrect response to your lead. As a leader, you want your partner to dance the right move at the right time, you don't want her to do something completely different, do you? Having a limp, noodle-armed, or dead-fish hand frame is one of the worst things you can do as a leader because it makes you look like a) you have no confidence in yourself or your dancing (just like a limp handshake), and b) you don't know how to dance right because your partner has no idea what you're trying to get her to do 99% of the time.
If you are taking dance lessons or classes right now, ask your teacher for advice and feedback on your frame. Someone who is a good teacher will be able to identify exactly how much pressure or tone is enough. You should have the same amount of pressure on your partner's back and hand as you would if you were giving a firm handshake. Having a good amount of tone and pressure in your frame will result in better quality dancing.
Precision means that you are very specific in your leads and highly aware of what you and your partner are doing at all times. As a leader, your dancing should be intentional, not accidental. You can't just randomly flail. Yes, there is a certain amount of spontaneity and improvisation in your salsa dancing, but that doesn't you can just swing or pull your partner around without a clear idea in your head of exactly what move it is you want to do.
Precision also means that you know where your feet are going and where you're stepping. In salsa, you want to have small, compact steps, with your legs being close together. Dancing wide, swinging, long steps (like you're a cowboy who just got off from riding a horse), is not the look you want to have. In addition, you want to make sure that you're paying attention to how much you turn/rotate yourself or your partner when you're dancing.
In addition, precision is dancing to the beat or rhythm (whether you're dancing Salsa on-1, on-2, timba, rueda, etc.). Dancing off-time to the music doesn't look good, and it certainly doesn't feel good to your partner either!
If you're not sure how to dance salsa correctly, or where you should start or end, or how to do something, I highly recommend taking group classes or private lessons with an instructor who can break it down for you step by step.
You want your moves to look sharp and on point. Dancing sloppy is the same as mumbling or speaking gibberish to your partner: hard to follow and difficult to understand. Precision is the secret to high-quality dancing with your partner as you advance through the basics.
Salsa is fast-paced, so you need to be able to move quickly to the speed of the music, without rushing your movements or compromising your form. A lot of leaders tend to panic when a fast song comes again and start making a lot of mistakes or dancing very sloppy, which never looks good. As a leader, it is important that you are able to dance to fast salsa music while maintaining a certain quality of dancing.
If you are a beginner, don't worry about dancing super-fast right away, but ask your teacher to gradually increase the speed of the music that you practice dancing to. In order to be able to dance quickly, you have to know your moves really well so this way they are ingrained in your muscle memory and don't fly out the window the moment the tempo speeds up!
Conversely, it is important to remember that not all salsa songs are super fast, which means that you should be able to adjust the speed of your dancing accordingly to slower-paced songs. The speed of your movements should always match the speed of the music, be it fast, medium or slow.
Control means being in control of yourself and your partner. This entails being aware of your surroundings and making sure that you don't slam yourself or your partner into another couple on the dance floor. Constantly bumping into other little people or furniture while dancing makes your partner feels nervous and afraid. No matter how many people there are in the room, your partner should always feel safe and comfortable in your arms, never thinking for a second that you'll let any harm come her way.
As you progress through your dancing, you will notice that more advanced moves, especially turns, require a lot of control in order to lead them successfully.
It is important to remember that you give your partner your 100% undivided attention and look at her when she is dancing and observe what is going on around you. In order to have control over your dancing, you need to have power and precision. When you dance all wild and crazy, not paying attention to where you're spinning your partner, or the fact that another couple is in her way, you will end up with a group of very unhappy people.
Just like driving a car, you want to make sure that you have control of the situation. Having a strong frame and dance position with your partner is like having two hands on the wheel when you're driving. You want your dancing to be like the driving in the Fast & Furious or Mission Impossible movies.
Control in your control is the result of power and precision working together, and speed works in conjunction with control.
You never want to feel like you're about to lose your partner, or have her slip away from you, or worse, bump into someone else! As a leader, it's your responsibility to make sure that your partner is safe and secure at all times. Leaders who don't have control over their dancing and constantly bump themselves or their partners into other people usually don't get second dances, because who wants to play bumper cars when they're dancing salsa?
Great Dancing Happens When You Combine All Four Elements Together
These four characteristics: power, precision, speed, and control are essential for any leader to have in salsa dancing. Obviously, leaders need a certain knowledge base of dance moves, as well as Latin body action/Cuban motion in salsa dancing. In addition, you need to have good posture and a certain degree of technique to be successful. There are also personality characteristics good leaders should have such as patience, kindness, gratitude, and understanding.
Developing quality salsa dancing is a long-term process that can take years to master, but that doesn't mean that is impossible. Beginners should not get discouraged or feel that they need to perfect everything right away. Dancing should be viewed as a journey, to be enjoyed and taken one step at a time.
© 2016 Anya Brodech
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on December 25, 2019:
Barrington Williams II on December 24, 2019:
Thanks once again for your articles. I see your effort and creativity in writing them...and yes, of course, being informative.