Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, Latin, swing, and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland, CA.
Hi there, and welcome! My name is Anya and I'm very excited that you're here and have made the decision to take up salsa dancing—yay! The only regret you'll have learning salsa is that you didn't start sooner! After you're done reading this article, check out the links on the bottom to other pieces that I wrote on salsa/Latin dancing for even more information, including song lists, dating your dance partner, and getting out of dancing with that creepy weirdo! There's even stuff for guys too, so check it out! :)
Physical Aspects of Salsa Dancing
Now, before I tell you exactly what to wear, you should know exactly what is involved physically in salsa dancing. Salsa, like any other kind of dancing, is a physically demanding activity, so it is important that your clothing is able to meet the challenges if you want to make the most of your evening and not let your clothing limit your fun. I've been dancing salsa for 10 years now, so listen close because I know what I'm talking about.
Here are some of the things you will be doing that you should be prepared for:
- You will be moving a lot (unless you plan to spend most of your time sitting on the side, hanging out, or talking)
- You will be getting hot from moving around and the room temperature will probably increase as the evening progresses due to a build up of everyone's body heat
- You may sweat a little (or a lot) and possibly get red-faced (depending on the intensity of your dancing and if you're pale like me)
- Your partner will be touching your back while you dance and trust me when I say that sweaty, wet clothing feels really gross for anyone who touches it (eww)
- You will be in close physical proximity with the opposite gender (duh)
- You will be spinning around and lifting your arms above your head, so underarm sweat stains will be seen (also, eww)
- You will be standing on your feet while dancing, so your shoes should be very comfortable (gaak)
- You may get stepped on or step on someone else which hurts a lot, may bruise, and may chip your pedicure or rip your pantyhose/stockings (eep)
- You will be holding hands with someone and have your hands and arms grasped, so watch out for rings, bracelets, watches, and other jewelry that hurt your partner's hand or get caught in your clothing
This may sound violent, like tackle football, but don't worry it's not that bad. It's just a bunch of little incidents that can happen over the course of the evening and leave you not so happy. But don't worry, because most of these things can be avoided or minimized, so you can maximize your fun!
Are you up to the challenge?
How to Dress to Deal with the Heat
You will get hot, really hot, because salsa dancing counts as a cardio activity. This means that you should wear something lightweight if you don't want to be drenched in sweat and feel un-pretty. I recommend wearing something made of cotton or other natural fiber that breathes well.
Short sleeves, tank tops, and halter tops are all great, but tube tops can be a problem because they tend to slide down when you move and it's annoying to have to be pulling up your top all the time so you don't end expose yourself by accident. I know I wore a tube top before and at one point my dance partner said "Hey nice bra" and I looked down and my strapless bra was showing because my tube top had slid down while I was dancing, so embarrassing!
Usually tank tops paired with a pushup bra work great. Halter tops are good too, especially if they have padded cups so you don't have to wear a bra if you don't want to.
Sequin Top Tip: Try not to wear anything with sharp sequins that will cut your arms and give you a rash/irritation. You can test it at home before you leave by rubbing the inside of your arm against your shirt and seeing if it bugs you or not. This usually happens with square-shaped sequins, so I recommend round-sequins.
What NOT to Wear to Dance Salsa: Wool and Warm Materials
Don't wear anything made of cashmere, wool, or another warm material because you will be boiling! One time I wore a jean miniskirt with a cute little wool sweater, figuring I'd be ok since my legs were uncovered... boy was I wrong! After two dances I thought I was going to melt! Never again! Learn your lesson from me: warm fabrics will heat you up like nobody's business, no matter how exposed the rest of your body is!
Even if it's winter outside, it's still always going to be summer inside when you're dancing salsa!
Baby Got Back: How to Wear Backless Dresses and Tops Successfully
Most of us can agree that backless dresses and tops can be very sexy. You get to show off some skin without the risk of exposing yourself like you might when wearing a low-cut top or a short skirt.
Combine this with dancing, and girl, you look oh-so sexy! ;)
Unfortunately though, this sex appeal comes at a price :(
The thing about wearing something backless is that as you get hot, your back perspires, leading to a sticky experience for your dance partners. I've heard a lot of guys complain about women who wear something backless so the men have to go to the bathroom to wash their hands after the dance. Gross!
To avoid this unpleasantness, you have three options:
1) Take a lot of breaks and don't dance much so you don't sweat.
2) Run to the bathroom every few dances, as needed, to wipe off your back. What I like to do is get a bunch of paper towels then go into a stall and take off my dress/top for easy access. Avoid using toilet paper because it disintegrates easily (especially that generic stuff) and you don't want little pieces of toilet paper on your back. Another option is to use a hand dryer on your back to dry it off.
Yes, it's awkward, I know. But I've literally gone into a bathroom stall, taken off my top, hung it over the door, and compulsively wiped down my back to dry it off (and underarms too, while I was at it).
3) Your final option is to just to not wear anything backless if you don't want to hassle with it.
Salsa Dress and Skirt Guide
Finding the right dress or skirt for salsa involves meeting some additional criteria besides simply fitting and looking good.
Length: wear something that falls above the knee to avoid getting tangled up as you spin. Long skirts and dresses are better suited to smooth ballroom dances like the waltz or the foxtrot because they are slower and there is more room between you and your partner for your clothes to move around. At the same time, you don't want to wear anything so short you have to worry about potentially exposing yourself the whole time you dance. Since you'll be moving around a lot, your skirt/dress can ride up. To avoid this problem, try on your outfit at home and move around a bit and see what happens. If your outfit stays put, you're good to go; if not, it's time to change!
Avoid skater-style skirts because they tend to flare out and put you at risk for exposing yourself if you're not planning to wear spandex shorts underneath (if so, try to coordinate the colors so the shorts are not as noticeable and just look like a part of the outfit).
The criteria for skirts and dresses are about the same. The only additional concern with dresses is being careful about finding one with a top that's not too revealing so nothing "falls out" when you go into a low dip or something. Furthermore, find a dress that has a secure fit so you don't have to worry about it shifting around and having to fiddle with it all evening.
What You Wear Depends on Where You Go to Dance
Depending on where you go, the dress code can vary, so it's important to find a middle ground when you don't know what to expect. The reason I say this is because some places can be very casual and others more upscale and it can be awkward and uncomfortable when you show up dressed in something that looks wildly out of place. Unfortunately, this is one of those things I experienced personally many times before I finally learned my lesson and figured out what to wear, where!
Where to dance
What Kind of Shoes to Wear to a Dance Studio Party
For practice dance parties held in a dance studio, I recommend wearing genuine dance shoes with a suede sole. Since most dance studios feature a hardwood dance floor, it's best to use that to your advantage by wearing genuine dance shoes. Also, you don't have to worry about damaging/dirtying/ruining your shoes or the floor. Leather-soled street shoes are not the best idea because a) they can dirty up or scuff the dance floor, b) they don't let you move as well as genuine dance shoes do, and c) they don't give you the same range of motion needed for your fine styling points.
For a more detailed explanation on what to look for in a dance shoe, please read the article I wrote specifically on the topic!
Dressing for Social Dancing in a Nightclub or Bar
Social salsa dancing at a nightclub or a bar is a great way to show off your dance skills, meet new people, and dress up!
In general, the ideas for what you should wear are about the same: something that looks good, fits well, doesn't make you hot, and moves well. The main difference is that you get to ramp up your look and wear something dressier than you normally would to a class.
Dressing for salsa and social dancing in a nightclub or bar tends to be different than dressing for studio because of several reasons:
- You're there to hang out and have a good time; so how much dancing you want to do is up to you since it's not a class/private lesson where you have to dance. This means that you have more freedom to wear what you want. Case in point: you can ditch your stuffy practice shoes and instead strut around in those cute shoes you can only handle four dances in before you have to sit down for the rest of the evening.
- Usually, it's dimly lit and not very bright, which is good because you don't have to worry about being in the spotlight.
- It's at night, so night-time attire is the norm, meaning you can wear something more sexy and/or revealing than you normally would during the day and/or to a dance studio
- Unless the venue has been booked for a private event hosted by your studio/dance group, there are probably going to be plenty of non-dancers there as well, so you'll have a mixed group of people wearing different things and therefore no obvious dress code.
In short, you have an excuse to dress sexy and release your inner salsera!
What to Wear to a Salsa Club
- Just about anything sparkly, colorful, patterned, ruffly, lacy, fringed, tight, flowy, sexy, short, and/or low-cut will do.
- Vivid/bright colors, like red, will make you stand out and be noticed by more people than if you wear something muted like navy blue or black, which in turn leads to getting asked to dance more.
- Load up on the sparkly stuff: sparkly top, sparkly necklace, sparkly eyeshadow, whatever! Have fun with it! Just don't go overboard and end up looking like a disco ball, that's a big no-no.
- Statement necklaces are a great way to add oopmh and salsa-fy your outfit!
- Something backless, but only if you manage your perspiration levels over the evening (see what I said above about how to wear backless things).
- Something that moves well if you're planning to do a lot of dancing.
- Avoid long dresses or skirts so they don't flare out as you spin around and get tangled between your legs.
- Shorts (but not too short so you don't look trashy), because they give you a good range of motion, show off your legs, and prevent you from any "oops" moments that you might have while wearing a skirt.
What Kind of Shoes to Wear to a Salsa Club or Bar
Club and bar floors tend to get very sticky and dirty with the occasional spilled drink. It is very bad for your dancing if the floors are not cleaned properly because you'll end up sticking to the ground and have trouble spinning, not to mention the fact that the soles of your shoes can get very grimy and dirty!
For these reasons, I say be careful with what kind of shoes you wear to a salsa club/bar!
Where to Shop For Salsa Clothes
It's not hard to find places that sell clothes you can wear for salsa. You can find salsa dance clothes at just about any other retailer that sells sexy night-club type clothing. If you go to the mall, you can find small stores that sell sexy nightclub clothes exclusively, most of which are very affordably priced ($10-$20 per item), or you can go to Ross, Marshalls, or TJMaxx and look for sexy/nightclub clothes there. You can also shop online at places like Amazon, Ebay, or Zappos. And remember not to buy a salsa dance costume or anything resembling a bedazzled bikini unless you are performing in a salsa competition!
© 2013 Anya Brodech
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on February 05, 2019:
Hi, thanks for your question!
It is up to each couple to decide whether or not they would like to dance only with each other all not long, or if they would like to dance with other people as well. It all depends on your personal relationship and whether or not you are comfortable with your boyfriend dancing with other women, and if he is comfortable having you dancing with other men.
Personally, I think it is very healthy for a couple to dance with other people when they go out salsa dancing together. Whenever I am on a date with a guy, I always let him dance with other women and he lets me dance with other men. We both recognize that dancing is just dancing and that it doesn't mean anything else.
Next time you go out to a salsa club together, pay attention to what other couples are doing and how many exchanging of partners there is.
Also, it sounds to me like your boyfriend might be jealous of you dancing with other men, so that is something that you might want to ask him. Make sure you tell him how you feel about him dancing with other women, so that this can be a two-way conversation.
Think about it and let me know how it goes!
Gia on February 04, 2019:
I am new to the Salsa world and just beginning. My boyfriend started 5 years ago and he and I have been dating for a year and a half.
My question is when he and I go to a salsa club for the first time... he had said it is not usual for couples to dance with other people.. just trying to understand.
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on January 24, 2018:
Hi, I'm not from LA and not really familiar with specifics regarding teachers in that area. I did write an article about how to find salsa clubs in your area, which you might find useful: https://hubpages.com/entertainment/How-to-Find-a-S...
I'd also suggest doing a google search, as well as a search on Yelp (www.yelp.com) for salsa dance instructors/salsa dance schools, etc. and see what comes up.
Going out dancing also helps because you can ask people where they learned to dance or if they have any recommendations for you.
kris on January 22, 2018:
Hey I am in los angeles, also in my late 50s and a mother my whole life so far, looking for the best place that has patience and can teach me how to salsa? Thanks for the tips above they were helpful and would like to find a place here in la. Since you have these great tips thought maybe you might know of a great place or salsa community in Pasadena. Thanks
C on June 10, 2017:
Thank you so much for this! Going salsa dancing for the first time, tonight!
Julia on May 01, 2017:
I really like dancing and your tips help me a lot
Anja H on February 18, 2017:
Delarosses on June 18, 2016:
A beginner. Will be all ready from the first day. Thanks
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on March 30, 2016:
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed my blog! And yes, I'm listed on Salsa by the Bay instructor directory. Happy dancing!
Irma on March 30, 2016:
Im Mexican raised in San Francisco.. Ive been dancing since birth..my father was a Latin dancer so we danced all the time I also learned other dances... But I've danced different types of salsa for 40yrs..Now I'm 66yo and I still dance Salsa like I a 30yo..
It is my favorite dance..
I really enjoyed your blog.. It has very valuable information..
Glad I came across it..
You keep on keep on with the Salsa Blog..okay..
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on August 08, 2015:
Glad I can help!
Isabel on August 07, 2015:
I love all this info.
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on January 27, 2015:
I'm happy that my article was useful and helped you out! That's really good to hear!
Phoenixsalsa on December 19, 2014:
A lot of women come to dance salsa for the first time and don’t’ spend much time on the dance floor as they are not prepared: heels are too long, or just uncomfortable shoes, skirt is too shot and not suitable for spinning, or something else is not thought through well. Great article! A must read for any girl going salsa dancing for the first time.
Loradae on December 14, 2014:
Heck of a job there, it abosultely helps me out.
Anya Brodech (author) from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on September 18, 2014:
Thanks Takeshi, I'm glad that you liked it!
Salsa Dancing on September 11, 2014:
Good advice for beginners!