Lead (traditionally a man) is the person who is active in giving dance signals to Follower.
Follower (traditionally a woman) acts on Lead's signals.
Follower never leads, but Follower does have some latitude for expression - styling for instance. These subjects are not covered in this Website.
Lead's Signals - Pushes, Pulls, Haloes, Arm Twists etc.
All Lead's signals should be gentle but firm; not too strong, too weak, or sudden. They are never a shove, tug, jerk, or knock.
When the move's charts use the terms Pull or Push, unless mentioned otherwise, these will mean a steady force that lasts the length of a beat.
Lead must remember that their signals are only signals, so they do not force Follower to do anything.
Lead's signals should always be clear. Lead can achieve this by deciding what their next move will be a few beats before starting it.
When in Closed Hold the signals can be more subtle (or even non-existent) because the close contact helps transmit Lead's intentions to Follower.
The charts for the basic steps like the Mambo Step, Backward Step etc. show very basic signals given to Follower without much warning. Lead can give a little more warning of their intentions to Follower by slightly moving their hands in the opposite direction one beat before starting the main signal. This is most useful when changing from one step to another, ie. changing from Mambo Step to Cucaracha Step.
Follower carries their own weight at all times, and never leans against, pulls on, or hangs onto Lead.
Follower keeps their arms midway between rigid and loose so Follower can feel Lead's signals. No spaghetti arms, or arms of steel.
Follower must be alert and responsive to Lead's signals.
When Follower has read a signal from Lead they act on it themselves, and do not rely on Lead to power them.
Follower never relies on Lead for balance while doing Spins, Turns, Travelling Turns, etc. Follower has to effectively do their turns independently, so if Lead got a hand hold wrong, or let go while spinning, or gave a bad signal, then it would not cause Follower to fall.
As a general rule, if Follower does not receive any signals from Lead then Follower would start Step in Place. But, if Follower has been doing Mambo Step and then Lead starts a move but has not given any explicit signals to Follower, then Follower would normally continue the Mambo Step.
An example of this is at the beginning of Lead's CW Turn > Cross Body Lead, sn0151, H2.1. Do not try this move at the moment.
Lead's right foot is on an invisible line that goes between Follower's feet so that Lead is slightly to one side of Follower.
Important - Lead's knee's are at risk of colliding with Follower's knee's if Lead and Follower become directly opposite each other, and this may cause injury.
Lead's and Follower's feet are slightly apart. Torsos are upright.
The palm of Lead's right hand is laid flat on the middle of Follower's back.
Follower's left hand is laid lightly on Lead's right shoulder. Follower's left elbow is held up to avoid Follower's left arm resting on or interfering with Lead's right arm. Follower carries the weight of their own arms, as always.
Lead's left hand holds Follower's right hand as shown, at about face/shoulder level.
As a rough guide, for slim people, Lead and Follower stand about 6 inches (15cm) apart, they can of course stand closer if they wish.
This is sometimes called Ballroom Hold.
An alternative way to do Closed Hold is for Lead's left hand to hold Follower's right hand in Hook Hold. Lead's left forearm and Follower's right forearm are held horizontal, and out to the side, with their upper arms vertical. In this position Lead and Follower are ready to do moves without having to change the hand hold into Hook Hold.
Also, Lead's right hand cups Follower's left shoulder blade, which gives Lead more control. Follower's left arm is positioned as described above.
Lead and Follower stand directly opposite each other. Torsos are held upright, with the feet slightly apart.
Lead's hands hold Follower's opposite hands as shown, ie. Lead's left hand holds Follower's right hand, and Lead's right hand holds Follower's left hand. Lead holds Follower's hands using Hook Hold.
Arms are bent 90° at the elbows with forearms horizontal and hands forward. Arms are held like this even if Lead is only holding one of Follower's hands.
As a general rule, when the arms are not being used in a move, they are held bent 90° at the elbows with forearms horizontal and hands forward.
It is especially important that Follower does this as their hands are easily accessible in that position for Lead to take hold of during a move, and Lead will expect to find them there.
Important - To avoid injury keep free hands and arms away from your partner's body.
Lead and Follower always (or as much as possible) look into each other's eyes.
Do not accentuate the hip movements. Doing the footwork correctly will make them move.
The main hand holds that are used in this Website are shown, but this Website does not attempt to show exactly how the hands are at every point during a Spin, Turn etc.
Because the hand positions can change rapidly, hands are always held loosely.
Important - Never hold hands tightly.
Unless mentioned otherwise, do not let go (unless you are changing hands) when changing from one hand hold to another, just slide the hands over each other.
The transition between one hand hold and another should be practised so it happens naturally without requiring much thought.
Important - Only use hand holds that you are sure are safe. If a hand hold does not feel safe then do not use moves that use it.
This is the main hand hold used when not in Closed Hold.
Lead's hands form hooks, with the palms facing inwards, thumbs on top, and fingers together.
Follower's hands form hooks, with the palms facing forwards (relative to Follower), and fingers together.
Lead and Follower link hands loosly as shown. Neither Lead or Follower grips or holds onto the other tightly.
Lead's fingers can pull against Follower's fingers, or push against the heel of Follower's hand. Also, the friction between Lead's and Follower's hands make it possible for Lead to move Follower's hands in other directions.
Lead's thumbs should not press on the back of Follower's hands as this will eventually hurt Follower. It is possible to signal most moves, including Arm Locks, without Lead's thumbs pressing on the back of Follower's hands.
Lead can test if the hand hold is correct by moving their hands backward and forward quickly (while in Open Hold). If Follower is holding too loosely then it will feel sloppy.
In general Salsa music has four beats to the bar, called 4/4 or 'common time', and a fast beat.
What makes Salsa music unique is far more complicated than the above criteria, but this is the minimum a dancer needs to know.
A two-bar phrase of Salsa music has eight beats. In this Website these beats are referred to as B1, B2, ...B8.
The first beat in a bar of Salsa music will be either B1 or B5. You can recognise these beats because they are usually slightly louder, and have more emphasis on them than on the other beats in the bar.
The first beat in the two bar phrase (B1) is usually near or on the beat that the lead singer starts a verse and/or phrase of lyrics.
The Salsa dance is usually danced to Salsa music but it can be danced to any 'common time / two-bar phrase / fast beat' music, and there is a lot of popular music that fits this minimum criteria.
Salsa Dance Steps
Salsa dance moves can be broken down into eight step sections which fit conveniently into the two-bar (eight-beat) phrases mentioned above.
A step is made on each beat. In this Website these steps are referred to as S1, S2, ...S8.
A step is made on each beat, except for S4 and S8 (and sometimes also on S2 and S6) where there is a pause. Although no step is made on the pauses there is a shift in weight.
When stepping onto a foot the ball of the foot always contacts the floor a moment before the heel does. Keep the feet close to the floor as the movement is like a walk. Do not hop from one foot to the other.
Study Mambo Basic Step in Detail, sn0174 and practise it, preferably to Salsa music, until you have a flowing movement. This is the step most often used, especially when you are a beginner. Notice that the steps are essentially - left, right, left, right, left, right, etc. and after three consecutive steps there is a pause, followed by another three steps.
In all the other dance charts the foot positions and arm work will be different to the Mambo Basic Step in Detail, sn0174 but, unless mentioned otherwise, what will always be the same will be which foot carries the weight and which heel is off the ground on each beat.
Also, in all the other charts, because the foot work (except the foot positions) is essentially the same as the Mambo Basic Step in Detail, sn0174, for clarity these details will be left out. Any exceptions will be given in the relevant chart.
When the music has a fast beat then you will need to shorten your steps, and the slower the beat the longer your steps can be. As a rough guide your toes would be about level with your heels when doing the Mambo Step to average speed Salsa music.
Which Step on Which Beat?
The normal way to start the Mambo Step, for example, is for Lead to step forward on the first beat of the 'two-bar phrase' (S1 done on B1) - and Follower will step backward on B1.
On the pauses S4 and S8 some dancers like to put in a toe tap on the beat, tapping on the spot the toe of the foot that is next to move. For Lead this will be the right foot's toe on S4 and the left foot's toe on S8.
It is useful for helping to keep the beat, especially useful when doing Step in Place, sn0021, H2.1.
Finding the Salsa Beat
For beginners, finding the beat of Salsa music can be difficult, so it is recommended to regularly listen to Salsa music to familiarize yourself with it. Count the beat, and practise your steps to it (without a partner if necessary), until you instinctively know what each foot should be doing on each beat.
One suggestion is to practise the footwork while doing your chores at home. So, while doing your vacuuming, or making a cup of tea, you would be listening to Salsa music. Leads would be doing B1-Left, B2-Right, etc., and followers would be doing B1-Right, B2-Left etc.
When to Start Dancing to the Music
Most songs start with a short instrumental intro' before the lead singer starts the main part of the song. Use the intro' to get into your starting position, Open or Closed Hold, and your feet familiar to the beat of the music. Do not start any steps or moves untill the song really starts.
As an aid, Salsa beginners are normally taught to count the beats while they are dancing. Here are several different ways Salsa teachers count/indicate the beats B1 to B8:
- As mentioned before, Salsa dance moves are in repeating sections that are eight beats long. So, some teachers count these beats as "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight". This is probably the best method as it is very specific.
- Because the music is 4/4 time other teachers count "one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four".
- Because S4 and S8 are pauses, some teachers consider there are only six steps, so their count is "one, two, three, and, four, five, six, and". The 'ands' indicate the pauses.
- Also, some teachers who consider there are only six steps (for the reason mentioned above) refer to them as "quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow", ie. B1 = quick, B2 = quick, B3 + B4 = slow, B5 = quick, B6 = quick, B7 + B8 = slow.
One of the reasons why you may find yourself dancing the 'right' steps on the 'wrong' beat is because an extra bar of music has been inserted somewhere between the normal 'eight beat/two-bar phrases' in the piece of music you are dancing to. They are not in every piece of Salsa music. The composer adds them to make the music more interesting to listen to, but they do make it more difficult to dance to.
This extra bar would probably be about two or four beats long. An example count that contains this musical hiccup might go like this: [1, 2, ...8], etc., [1, 2, ...8], [1, 2, 3, 4], [1, 2, ...8], [1, 2, ...8], etc. The music doesn't usually give any warning when it is about to wreck your count. Hopefully, the people selecting the music for you to dance to will weed them out.
They are something to be aware of, and it would be to your advantage to get familiar with how they sound so you can spot them when/if they happen and quickly get back to stepping on the right beat again.
The routine sections will be of more interest to Lead than Follower.
Trying to dance using moves spontaneously put together, and which go together well, is not as easy as it may appear. Having a few routines up your sleeve is a useful way to get an interesting dance, but you should not rely on them entirely.
After you have practised a routine you will find you only have to start the first move and the others will naturally follow. It's like the magician's handkerchief trick; they pull a red handkerchief out of their top pocket, and a yellow one appears in its place; they pull the yellow handkerchief out, and a blue one appears in its place etc., etc.
The routines in this Website have been designed to demonstrate how the moves in the Resource of Salsa Moves can be used. They are not traditional or standard.
There are various styles of Salsa - New York, Cuban, LA, Columbian, etc. They each have their own characteristics but they are all related by the same basic footwork as described in Mambo Basic Step in Detail, sn0174 making them essentially compatible.
Salsa Instruction Conflicts
Salsa has not been standardised so different ways to do the same thing have evolved, all of which may be equally correct. If you find there is a conflict between what your teacher instructs and what this Website says then I suggest you follow your teacher's instructions because your dancing partners in your class will be expecting you to dance the teacher's way.
Here are some suggestions on how to behave on the dance floor which have not already been covered in other sections:
- Anyone can ask for a dance, men or women.
- You can decline an invitation to dance by saying something like "I am sitting this one out", but it becomes rude if you then jump up and dance with someone else before that song is finished.
- Introduce yourself to your partner right away.
- Lead should aim to make Follower 'look good', so do not over-challenge them.
- Unrequested teaching may offend your partner.
- Don't be offended if your partner doesn't want a second, or third, dance. Dance with everyone, and let everyone dance.
- At the end of the dance, thank your partner for the dance.
- Never blame your partner for a mistake, or a bad dance.
- Do not persistently ask someone for a dance who persistently refuses - Take the hint!
Bad Breath and Bad Body Odour
When dancing you often get close to the people you would like to know better, so it would be to your advantage not to have bad breath and/or bad body odour. You may not realize that you have a problem so pay attention to signs like people stepping back, or turning away, when you start talking, or get close.
Bad body odour - After someone perspires the skins normal bacteria live on the perspiration causing a bad smell. The most sweaty places, and so the most likely to be smelly, are the arm pits, groin, and feet.
Bad breath - After eating, some food will stay around the teeth and on the tongue which will decay and cause bad breath. Smoking, sugary food, sugary drinks, and strong foods like garlic, onions, and coffee, can also cause bad breath.
Important - there are medical conditions that cause bad body odour, and bad breath, and for these you should seek medical advice.
Here are some suggestions on how to prepare for an evening of dancing.
- Don't eat strong foods like garlic, onions, and coffee.
- Don't have sugary foods and drinks.
- Take a bath or shower and wash all over using soap paying particular attention to the arm pits, groin, and feet.
- Shampoo your hair.
- Floss your teeth.
- Brush your teeth with toothpaste.
- Brush your tongue with your toothbrush.
- Apply a deodorant or antiperspirant.
- Put on clean clothes.
Now try the routines in the Beginner's Routines section.