Salsa steps is like a ball of yarn. Waiting to be conquered

The Ultimate Guide To The Most Important Salsa Steps – Part 1

Couple dancing salsa

When you start dancing salsa, the most important request dancers have is “what are the salsa steps?”.
Although I will cover some of the most basic salsa steps that will form the basis of your whole salsa learning journey, I would like to share my story of how I became the great dancer that I am today.
You will not feel an once of modesty in my handwriting because I spent enough time on my own repeating the same movements days after days after days; to know what it takes to be a great dancer. Not only that, but the days I did not feel like it I still showed-up because that’s what I wanted to do as a profession, but also because I understood the passion is like a flame. Unless you keep feeding that flame, it will eventually fade away.

1. Know what it takes

I knew on the onset that it was going to take me at least two years to understand the kind of dance salsa is. By understanding I mean learn how to listen to the music, and how to recognise the patterns, change of variation etc. This part is often missed by students who want to jump right into the salsa steps. They tend to forget that dance is an expression of yourself, not the mere copying of someone’s interpretation of another individual’s own expression. Many people get addicted to the shiny part of salsa dance and tend to forget the different layers of spirits that are present in these songs. And when they dance they often are off beat.

2. Dance as an expression of yourself

Bruce Lee said it countless of time when he talked about his jet-kundo. That philosophy is even truer for dance. So, if you really, truly want to express yourself through dance, put that “expression” at the centre of everything you do. Understand that you are playing with a tool (your body), which you heat-up so that you can break it in many pieces and rebuilt it as you desire. Then destroy what you have designed to create another shape and so on. 
What I will teach you in these basic salsa steps is to synchronise your ears, brain, parts of your body with the music that you hear. That way, you enter into the realm of synchronisation.

2.1. Beginner’s note:

If you are an absolute beginner, chances are that you will get frustrated. Remember, do the right thing for a few months is better than the wrong for many years. Do not compare yourself with others, even if you feel helpless and wish you could move as graciously as the ones you watch. If they have rejected you on the dance floor, this is not a down on you. It is a down on them because a true dancer knows how to adjust his level to the one he or she dances with. Even if what I will teach you are very basic salsa steps, the connection with your body will be present. Therefore, if you take these lessons with you and repeat them over and over, you will feel many great emotions and feeling without the need of a partner.

2.2. Listen to your own system

At the beginning; I tried to dance on the steps others taught me, but my body somehow rejected that system. It instead led me to study absolute masters in the field and create a dance style that was unique to me because it was the translation of what I am. That’s why I naturally branched out into Rumba, Chango, Abakua, Cuban contemporary, Elegua and even hip-hop, flamenco and classical dances.
Therefore, I suggest those who want to learn salsa steps to keep in mind the need for self-expression first. Use your body as a malleable tool that you can shape any way you want. Of course, some will have limitations; and that’s the beautiful things. If you work long enough on creating a flexible body; soon enough this body will answer to your request.

3. Salsa steps on beats:

Basically, a salsa song is made of a multiple number of 8count beats. An 8 count beat is actually split in 2: (1,2,3, pause) then (5,6,7, pause).

3.1. Salsa steps and beats


The image below shows you the simple step. In the video below you can see clearly the explanation. At the beginning many people get confused about how to move and they generally tend to make jumpy steps. That’s why our first salsa steps will dive into the dances that are at the root of salsa, namely rumba.

4. The first salsa steps 

I will teach you a simple left and right lateral step that follow rumba rhythm. Rumba is important to develop good musical ears; great body movements and coordination and strong muscles. Rumba uses the leg muscles a lot and counter steps. It’s a playful dance between men and women, with the man trying by all mean to conquer the lady. The woman however, does all she can to avoid this “seductive thief”. Trickery, changes of level, and different rhythms are used. 
The other advantage of rumba is that it uses somewhat more “simple and primitive” musical instruments. This is great to help you recognise the steps while developing your musical ears. As you move more into traditional salsa music you will find it easier to find the notes to dance onto.

4.1. For men: your left leg will go left

Your left leg goes on the “1” to the left and comes back to centre (3)
Followed by your right leg to the right (5) and back to centre (7).

Drawing of Salsa steps for men and women

4.2. For women:

Your right leg goes on the “1” right and comes back to centre (3)
Followed by your left leg to the left (5) and back to centre (7).

5. The second salsa steps 

It still follows up on the rumba dance. This time we will integrate the sounds we hear with extremely simple steps. Although simple, these steps can prove tricky since I instruct you to learn to listen to the music and find the right time to do each step. So instead of moving in a lateral left and right side; we will only move our hips and try and not move the legs. To properly dance salsa, it is imperative to focus on moving from the hips rather and the legs. That’s why many people who try to learns salsa steps at the beginning stumble or look out of coordination. They try to move the feet and when the rhythm changes or the requested direction changes, they are either to slow to transition or too fast. With this simple salsa steps that borrow again from rumba you will learn to focus on your hips. This basic step is one of the most important one. You are entering into the realm of “giving order to your whole system”.

5.1. For men and women

If someone was to get an aerial view of your movements, they would only see this:

Simple salsa step

That’s because you do not move your feet, instead it’s your hips that do all the work.
Men would move the left side of the hips first as if going to the left.
Women the right side, going in the right direction.

6. The third basic salsa steps 

Now that we can move from side to side and we can coordinate our movement with our hips; let’s put both together and do a front and back steps movement; which is what most schools will teach you first. The difference is that this time we will learn this salsa steps on a count of 2 x 8 as opposed to 1 x 8. This is done to help you out take your time and coordinate your movements.

6.1. For men

We move the left leg forward first. Women will respond by moving the right leg backward.

6.2. For women

Women respond to men’s step by moving backward first with the right feet.

7. Fourth basic salsa steps  

Let’s now use the same technique we used on the second salsa steps to help you coordinate your movement better. We will therefore make the front and back movements in our head while moving the hips. That will again help you out with balance, coordination and consequently hearing. Notice that the upper part of the body does not stay motionless. Generally speaking, the opposite arms and torso move with the step we want to emphasise. For example, if we move to the left, the right arm will move forward while the left arm and torso moves back.

8. Fifth basic salsa steps  

This last step we will learn today is a circular movement. This movement tend to confuse some students but as long as you follow what I show you, in no time you will be able to master this salsa steps.

8.1. For men

We move in a lateral way with the left leg first crossing (1) the right leg
■ The right leg then moves further to the right (2)
■ Left leg moves back (3)
■ Right leg crosses behind the left leg in essence catapulting the left leg forward (5)
■ Left leg moves forward and to the left (6)
■ The right leg comes at the same place as the left (7).

Basic salsa steps : circular move for men

8.2. For women

The movement is the same but because we start with the right leg for women the pattern is as follow:

Basic salsa steps : circular move for women

I hope you enjoy these salsa steps. The key to success is to come back to the base. Repeat these basic salsa steps over and over and witness how your level go up in no time

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