This is a guide suitable for all salsa students and experienced dancers. Salsa clubs have their very own code of ethics and conduct that may sometimes not be apparent for new dancers. To make your dance experience as well as your partners' and the dancers around you more enjoyable, please take note of the following salsa club guidelines and tips.
What To Wear
Positioning Yourself On The Dance Floor
How To Ask Someone To Dance - The Male And Female Perspective
Turning Down A Dance
Ladies - How To Get Asked To Dance
How To Read Your Partner's Skill Level
What Moves Are Appropriate To Execute
Respect On The Dance Floor
Partner Communication And Connection
Timing vs Moves
How To Make A Graceful Exit
Who Should You Dance With?
For dance classes you should dress informally in clothes that are comfortable, not too tight and reasonably light in weight (a good plan if it's a hot evening...).
Jeans and a t-shirt are fine for the guys (but avoid t-shirts with no sleeves - this is a contact dance and your exposed underarm can offend!).
For dance nights, the girls usually dance in heels (with some flats as stand-by in case the feet start to ache!). If you wear flats in classes but want to wear heels on dance nights then you need to wear heels at some of your classes and/or practice dancing in them - otherwise you'll find the dance night tough going. Ladies dance shoes with heels cost around £40.
The other option for both genders are dance trainers. These look initially like standard trainers but the toe and heel have a very loose connection and there tends to be quite a high arch. Dance trainers have more grip than the dance shoes described above (plus, you have to get comfortable with that heel/toe dislocation) but others wear them all the time.
There are two main styles of salsa dancing (ignoring the 'latin ballroom' manifestations!) - they are Cuban and Cross Body (also referred to as 'New York' style).
Cuban style salsa has an earthy, organic feel. It tends to be strongly 'led' (moves can be led quite early - so there may be little or no set-up with the move itself starting within the first three beats of the eight-count). The dancers tend to move in a circular motion on the dance floor with the follower tending to rotate around the lead. Cuban style dance moves are also used in the dance form called 'La Rueda' (Spanish for 'The Wheel'). This is a dance performed by more than one couple (it can involve an unlimited number of couples depending on the available floor space). The women are danced around the wheel via a range of simple turn pattern moves - when La Rueda is working as it should it's a very dynamic and exciting way to dance salsa.
Cross Body style salsa, said to originate in New York but danced across the US, is a much more linear dance form. A characteristic of the Cross Body style is that the couple will dance their turn patterns so they always end up on the same orientation - imagine that the couple are dancing together and the guy is facing North and the girl is facing South - they may change places during the pattern but one of them will always end the pattern facing North and the other facing South. This means that the dancers begin with an implicit understanding of how they will tend to move on the dance floor (which allows time for more complex leads than in Cuban style salsa). The dance looks crisp, smart and exciting. With experience, the cross body style salsa dancer will tend to dance turn patterns that are more complex than those found in Cuban salsa.
You have just arrived at the salsa club and are anxious to begin dancing. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the surroundings and the dance scene. Every club is different in terms of where it is appropriate to socialize, stand and dance. The edge of the dance floor is a great place to position yourself when you are ready to begin dancing. Try to refrain from bringing glasses or bottles close to the dance floor as it can be dangerous. Be aware of the dancers and give them enough space to manoeuvre. Do your best to always navigate yourself around the edge of the dance floor (not through the centre) and take your time to ensure you do not bump into a dancer. There are many instances when a female is being spun and is bumped into by a passing patron/worker/dancer. This can be very dangerous and frustrating. Try not to congregate or socialize in groups around the dance floor. Most clubs have an area around the bar or to the sides for this and it will be less obstructive to the dancers.
Gentleman, there is a right and a wrong way to ask for a dance. Please be polite. A smile and a general inquiry of "Would you like to dance?" is usually the best method but if you are not comfortable it is also appropriate to offer your hand (with a smile of course) to the lady. Once she accepts, an introduction of yourself will put her more at ease and create a connection.
Ladies, don't feel that you have to wait for the men to ask you to dance. It is quite appropriate for you to do the asking. Remember that most men are very open to dancing. They may just be uncomfortable with doing the asking or afraid of being rejected. They will be relieved to have this task out of the way. If you have a good connection on the dance floor, the chances are great that the man will take over the asking task in the future.
It cannot be stressed enough that rejecting someone's offer to dance can be a very negative experience for that dancer and has even led some to give up dancing. Do your best to accept every offer unless you are uncomfortable with the person. Remember that people have very long memories and one rejection (for whatever innocent reason it may be) may be remembered for a long time. The salsa scene is a small one and people do relay stories about others. Be as gracious as possible. If there is a legitimate reason for the refusal, please specify it (e.g., I have just been dancing up a storm and am taking a break, I promised someone else this dance but maybe we can dance later, I am just about to leave, etc). Don't forget to ask that person to dance later on if it is possible as a show of respect. Try to never reject a person and then go dance with another person immediately after. Dancers, especially beginners, are trying to build, gain and maintain confidence. This can be very hurtful and affect a person's ability to ask others to dance.
If you are on the other side of this scene where you have been rejected for a dance, keep a practical and positive perspective and remember that it is not a rejection of you as a person but potentially the circumstance. There are many other dancers who would be more than happy to accept a dance.
If you are not comfortable in the asking role, there are many tips to use to be more approachable. Always make yourself visible. Stand at the edge of the dance floor. Make eye contact with potential dance partners around you and those coming off the dance floor. Let your interest and eagerness to dance show and never stop smiling. Remember the rules of body language - gestures such as crossing your arms, looking down, looking bored, uninterested or unapproachable and congregating with groups of friends are just a few things to avoid. Dance with anyone who asks as women who dance throughout the night are seen by male dancers as more likely to accept their invitation to dance. A man is more likely to ask a woman as she is walking off the dance floor after completing a dance than one who is standing around. Also, the more partners you accept, the more dancers you get to know, and this opens up new networks and groups of dancers to you, as dancers often introduce you to their friends and fellow dancers.
Every partner you dance with will be at a different level. If you are a male the best process to use is to start slowly and gain momentum according to your partners' skill level. Begin by executing basic footwork, turns and basic cross body variations. If your partner is following with ease then slowly introduce more difficult moves. If you are a beginner female, specify this when you are asked to dance so the male is aware of your position and can work with your skill level.
A crowded dance floor is not the right place to practice new moves so only execute moves that can be followed by your partner. Try to practice new moves in a classroom, a practice session such as an afternoon or evening social or during a slow club night. Dangerous moves such as dips, tricks and lifts are also not appropriate in a busy club as you are endangering yourself, your partner and those around you. Gentleman, consider yourself drivers and please watch where you are leading your partner. Every travelling move should be executed only after checking the direction that you are taking the follower. Be aware of your surroundings and the skill set of the dancers in your immediate vicinity.
The best position to dance in is the slotted position in a linear formation. It is much easier to go into someone else's space when you are dancing in a circular formation. Keep your movements clean and small and ensure your partner is doing the same. Try to keep your heel up when stepping back so as not to step on others. This is especially true for ladies wearing high heels. Please be considerate of other dancers and keep to your space. If you do bump into someone, please do not ignore the situation. Make eye contact and apologize at that moment. Gentlemen, please respect your partner and treat her with care. She is entrusting you with her safety and this needs to be the forefront consideration in every leading decision you make. Ladies, please do not execute moves you are not comfortable with or cannot execute properly as you are endangering your partner and others.
Salsa is a very connected dance. Every leader has different moves to execute, every follower interprets the lead in a different way and every dancer has their own style, strengths and areas of improvement. Communication and forming a connection is the key to ensuring both parties have the best dance experience possible. An introduction is always a great way to build a connection. Eye contact throughout the dance will ensure you are aware of each other's lead and follow and can react/alter your movements appropriately. Gentleman, the women are relying on your lead so please lead. That means having a firm frame, consistency in your pulls and pushes without any surprises and jerky movements and a close lead. The busier the dance floor, the more the closed hand hold should be used to keep the follower closer to you and safer. Keep your elbows in and take small steps. Ladies, please mind you own business and focus on your dancing responsibilities: creating resistance having a strong frame, keeping your core engaged for balance, staying alert and reacting quickly and safely to each lead.
Gentlemen, you have the very difficult task of balancing the rhythm/timing of the music with the types of moves you execute. Some men will compromise proper timing to execute more complicated moves. From a female perspective, most women would rather dance with someone who understands timing and can stay on time and who only executes simple moves as opposed to someone who is constantly skipping from one beat to another while executing complicated moves.
In terms of what timing to keep, the truth is it does not actually matter what beat you begin dancing every set on - depending on what part of the world you are in, who you have learned from and how you interpret the music, a male can lead on any beat (hence the terms "dancing on 1", "dancing on 2", etc). The key is to keep that same beat for the entire song. So if you begin the dance "on 1" which is the first beat of the set of 8 salsa beats, you should start every set on 1.
There will be those times when a dance becomes unsafe or uncomfortable. In these situations it is best to end the dance as soon as possible, even if that means stopping the dance half way through. There are two ways to approach the situation. If you feel the need to let the person know that they are rough in their lead or follow, please do so kindly. Many dancers are just getting started and strong criticism could affect them. Gently let them know that you are having a bit of difficulty following or leading them. Many will be open to advice or feedback but don't give it to them unless they ask for it. If you are not comfortable with this approach, it is always best to let them know you are getting tired/hot/thirsty and need to take a break. Always thank them for the dance and be gracious.
It is always best to dance with as many dancers are possible with a variety of levels and skills. If you are a beginner dancing with other beginners may be more comfortable. However, also consider asking those who are more experienced then you to dance which will offer you a good opportunity to follow a more complicated lead if you are a follower or experience a smoother follower if you are a leader. Remember that everyone was a beginner once so don't be intimidated by others. If you are more experienced please be gracious and dance with beginners if asked as we all had someone help us learn and we need to keep this circle continuous and give back to the salsa community.
You do not want to be the male or female who others do not want to dance with because of hygiene. Knowing that salsa is a close body contact type of sport where you touch others in a hot, sweaty environment, please be considerate and adhere to the following guidelines. Fresh breath is a must. Bring breath mints or gum to any dancing event. Anti-perspirant and/or deodorant are also a must. For excessive sweating, try Deodorant, Some people bring a change of shirts if they know they are going to perspire a lot. Others use talc powder for damp palms. Some bring small towels or handkerchiefs/bandanas Take breaks often and keep yourself hydrated. Avoid heavy cologne, perfumes or oils as they can get musty in that environment and others may be allergic.
Following these tips will allow the salsa experience to remain a positive one for everyone involved. Remember that good manners, respect for others and awareness of the environment you are in will go a long way. Take the time to get to know your dance partners as it is a wonderful networking and social opportunity. But most of all, listen to the music, feel the energy of the crowd and enjoy the dance.