Lent 2021 Salsa

General information from week 0 and 1

Play some practice tracks and concentrate on each aspect of the dance in turn. Eg HTML list with tempos or YouTube playlist.

Timing: 8 beat music with very distinct flat rhythm (like rumba, cha-cha and rock'n'roll); but "on-1" dancers take steps on 1,2,3 and 5,6,7 while "on-2" dancers take steps on 2,3,4 and 6,7,8. Most of Cambridge is currently dancing "on-1", with the gap at the end of each bar or half-bar rather than the start.

Footwork: keep all steps small but deliberate, under your own body, so you don't tread on your own partner or kick anyone else nearby. Small steps will eventually mean you can dance faster and have the proper hip action. Step with the toe/ball of the foot first, there are no heel leads in basic footwork. Commit your weight to be fully over the foot; don't just tap or point the foot.

Step patterns: by convention, leaders start with the left-right-left group of 3 steps while followers start with the right-left-right group. This is typically forwards first for leader and backwards first for follower when facing partner in close or open hold. Then each person dances the other set of 3 steps to fill a complete bar (or pair of bars) of music.

Legs: "soft" knees and mobile hips. Don't be all stiff-legged. Let your weight settle into the hip for each step to gradually get the proper hip action. This won't work if your steps are too large. Don't "twerk".

Torso: move your body with the steps (forwards, backwards or even sideways); don't simply stick a leg out in some random direction. It's a whole body lead for much of salsa, not merely signalling with armography.

Arms: you need an "elastic" connection between you and your partner - ie some tension in both biceps and triceps to allow you to push and pull against each other rather than being all floppy and unable to lead and follow. Elbows are usually bent rather than fully extended. Keep arms relatively close to yourself: to your sides and forwards at waist level like a puppet when not raised and in the pizza-carrier position when raised for a turn. Don't let your elbows go behind your ribcage, as you have less strength there for maintaining your connection with partner and are at risk of hurting the shoulder joint. When your arm is raised, eg for a turn, don't let your elbow point outwards to hit your partner in the face.

Hands: don't grip your partner tightly (especially not the thumbs). You need a flexible connection which can rotate in orientation during the dance. This often means something like a ball and socket joint with one person's fingers cupped by the other person's fingers. For an open hold, leaders should offer hands with opposable thumbs upwards and followers should take the hold with meerkat paws.

Eyes: look at your partner (or your imaginary partner), not at the floor (nor your feet or hands).


Week 1: Wed.20 Jan.2021

Forwards & Backwards Basic

This is the most basic step pattern when facing partner. It works well in close hold or (double-handed) open hold.

countleaderfollower
1
2
3
forwards on left foot,
replace back on right foot,
close left foot (near right)
backwards on right foot,
replace forwards on left foot,
close right foot (near left)
5
6
7
backwards on right foot,
replace forwards on left foot,
close right foot (near left)
forwards on left foot,
replace back on right foot,
close left foot (near right)

There are also sideways basics (to each side like a cucaracha) back breaks (backwards each time) and opening out (on each arm/hand) basics. They each have a function when dancing in a partnership. For Cuban salsa, the leader also needs to be able to reverse the normal direction of the basic (left foot backwards and right foot forwards) when dancing side-by-side with partner instead of facing them.

Simple Right Turn

The footwork for this is not quite the same as a spot turn in rumba or cha-cha. It's a switch-back turn - where you step towards partner first rather than turning away from them first. But as long as your steps are small it doesn't matter.

Step left foot forwards, then turn halfway around to the right so that your right foot step becomes a forwards one approximately where it already was. Continue turning right but let the left foot come with you so that you can take the left foot closing step facing the original direction. If your floor surface and shoes are not slippy, adopt the relaxed Cuban style of making part of the turn with each step instead of trying to spin too much.

You are aiming to make a full turn to the right over just 3 steps.


Week 2: Wed.27 Jan.2021

Left-foot (delayed) Left Turn

This is primarily a footwork option for the leader. It can be followed by a simple left turn with the right foot bar but it's also the lead with a hand-drop into an advanced cross-body pass.

Step left foot forwards as per the basic and then right foot back in place (or slightly off the line) turning half to the left to step forwards on the left (ie only half a turn thus far).

If you are completing a full left turn, step forwards on the right foot, swivel halfway to the left to step forwards on the left foot in place and finish by closing right foot while facing partner again.

If you are performing a shoulder drop to change hands (from left-to-right handhold to right-to-right handhold) then you don't turn left any further because you'll be bringing the follower through instead and you just do the normal right foot back set of steps.

Cross-Body Pass (Dile Que No)

This is a core figure of both cross-body salsa (the clue's in the name!) and Cuban salsa but there are some slight variations in the way they are performed. For the leader: it's essentially a three-point-turn, gradually turning halfway to the left over all 6 steps. For the follower: it's about noticing the open lane and then going forwards all the way to the end before swinging around more abruptly half left.

countleaderfollower
1
2
3
forwards on left foot;
back right foot, off the line, starting L turn;
left foot sideways (near right).
backwards on right foot;
replace forwards on left foot;
close right foot (near left).
5
6
7
sideways on right foot, turning L again;
forwards on left foot, on the line;
close right foot (near left).
forwards on left foot;
fwd right foot then swivel to turn L;
close left foot (near right).


Week 3: Wed.03 Feb.2021

Solo dancing when Centre Stage / Room

You need to be able to control the direction of the basic footwork to display at an audience on either diagonal (stage) or towards all 4 corners of a room by alternating small rotations to right and left or a more consistent rotation left. Combine the footwork with other personal styling elements. Eg shimmying (a chest action), armography such as pointing (like arabesques) and hair "comb" or exaggerated hair flicks.

Cross Overs / Unders

These are ornamented versions of the side basics. For cross-overs the "replacement" step needs to be pulled backwards a little so that the crossing in front of the "closing" step doesn't keep travelling forwards. For cross-unders the "replacement" step needs to be pushed forwards a little so that the crossing behind of the "closing" step doesn't keep travelling backwards.

Sliding Doors

This "shine" (ie fancy footwork) breaks the usual rhythm pattern (eg of 123-567-) with 4 step & tap moves (on 1-3-5-7-). It should remain on the line. Step forwards with left foot and tap right foot closed while turning ¼ right. Step sideways/fwd with right foot for the next ¼ turn R and tap left closed. Repeat the exact same sequence again to complete the full turn to the right.

Dile Que No (Cross-Body Pass)

The Cuban version of the basic cross-body pass has some subtle differences. Firstly the leader and follower might start side-by-side rather than facing, so the leader needs to turn ¼ R to collect the follower. Then the follower might partially reject the leader's advances with a step back (which won't work in the LA/NY tradition of adding travelling turns). The follower might even completely reject the lead by breaking off into a solo right turn for the second half of the figure. Even with the follower completing the cross-over, the leader needs to do some of the work of swapping places by stepping into the space vacated by the follower. Finally, leader and follower might end up side by side instead of facing.

countleaderfollower
1
2
3
(turn R) forwards on left foot;
back right foot, off the line, turning L;
left foot sideways (near right).
backwards on right foot;
replace forwards on left foot;
diagonally back on right foot.
5
6
7
sideways on right foot;
forwards and across on left foot;
close right foot (turning L).
forwards on left foot;
fwd right foot, swivelling to turn L;
close left foot (near right).

The lead is mostly via the act of getting out of the way. Armography then determines which other elements are being combined.


Week 4: Wed.10 Feb.2021

Suzie-Q (or Suzy-Q)

Suzie-Q (or Suzy-Q) steps are tightly twisting ankle locking steps. They can have the same timing as the basic steps or be extended into a longer continuous sequence (like samba voltas) which must then be matched on the other foot in order to align with pairs of bars in the music. You should use the balls of the feet to get a close locking action. Remember to bend knees to enable the hip twists. Only do the heel grind variant if you're on a tough surface not a posh dance floor.

You can start on any half of the salsa pair of bars after any other figure. For the left foot Suzy-Q, cross left foot tightly in front of the right foot on 1, take the right foot step in place (still crossed behind the left) on 2 and repeat the left foot step in place (crossed in front of the right) on 3. Use the gap beat to lift the right foot free ready for the next step. For the right foot Suzy-Q, cross right foot tightly in front of the left foot on 1, left foot behind and right foot in front again.

While the same locking action could theoretically be danced backwards instead of forwards that doesn't usually occur in salsa. But feel free to practise it anyway if you want the extra challenge!

Bouncing Ball

This salsa shine mostly occupies half of the usual footwork pairing but actually needs to start at the end of the previous figure / bar of music and continue into the start of the next. The preceding figure needs to end with the right foot crossing over the left. So the side step cross-overs or Suzie-Qs are ideal.

On the gap beat the left foot is tapped behind (without weight). On the next 3 beats the left foot circles the standing right foot, in a clockwise direction, with more taps. On the 4th count (normally the gap beat) the left foot should be crossed in front of the right foot and weight placed on it ready to complete the shine with the normal right foot backwards basic.

Enchufla

This is a change of places common to several dance styles. There is also the option to reverse and repeat it - enchufla doble is the equivalent of stop & go in jive. It can also be continued as enchufla complicado with leader and follower swapping roles in the middle. In Cuban salsa the enchufla would end with a dile que no move.

The footwork for enchufla is actually the same as for the back-open basics. But, instead of opening out on each arm in turn and facing partner on the small side step or closing step, partners are facing on the rock-replace steps and then swing through past each other on the larger side step. The armography is leader's left to follower's right handhold.

countleaderfollower
1
2
3
(turn L) backwards on left foot;
replace forwards on right foot turning R;
sideways left foot pulling follower in front.
(turn R) backwards on right foot;
replace forwards on left foot turning L;
sideways on right foot with back to leader.
5
6
7
(turn R) backwards on right foot;
replace forwards on left foot;
close right foot (near left).
(turn L) backwards on left foot;
replace forwards on right foot;
close left foot (near right).


Week 5: Wed.17 Feb.2021

This was a quick recap of the types of turns covered thus far and the addition of some important new types.

Small steps can be taken to turn continuously in either direction in Cuban salsa but they should be forwards steps rather than backwards ones.

Spot turns or switch-back turns exploit the ability to swivel halfway on both feet. However, one should still go into them forwards not backwards (and right foot forwards turns left while left foot forwards turns right). A spot turn begins by turning ¼ to step out of the couple's line (allowed in Cuban salsa like rumba and cha-cha) before the ½ swivel component, which leaves just ¼ turn to make on the final step of 3. The switch-back turn used in cross-body salsa remains inline on the first step before the ½ swivel step, leaving a ½ turn spin for the third step.

Hook Turn

This is pretty much exclusively a right turn for the leader on the right foot bar. It applies to both Cuban and cross-body salsa. The left foot left turn could still be used by either leader or follower within a choreographed dance though. The key features are using the toe/ball of one foot and the heel of the other to make about ¾ swivel on the spot. Remember to bend your knees rather than being stiff legged.

The first step is crossing the right foot behind the left to have them overlapping lengthways but leaving a little gap between them sideways. You might be able to sneak in a little bit of early twist to the right here. Then, unlike most steps where you need to commit to one foot or the other, your weight should be split between the ball of the right foot (heel off ground) and heel of the left foot (toes off ground) while you swivel about ¾ R to end with your feet close together side by side for the second "step". You should also have transferred your weight to the left foot (flat on the ground) ready to take the third step with right foot beside left to complete the turn.

Travelling Turn

This is pretty much exclusively a type of turn used by the follower. It's very common in cross-body style but also part of a Coca-Cola move in Cuban. The footwork is very close steps with the feet side by side (to minimise distance) and turning half right or half left between each successive step.

Inside and Outside Turns on a Cross-Body Pass

The travelling turns are used in combination with the cross-body pass. The normal version is a halfway rotation to the left for both partners - with leader splitting it across the bars while follower does it all at the end. A simple underarm turn to the right for follower at the end would be possible but isn't generally used. Instead the commonest amounts of turn are 1½ in total - gradually accelerating the amount of turn across the steps.

The first three steps are always the basic ones, exactly as for a cross-body pass, but the leader will signal high (and in or out) with the left arm on step 3 for the follower to react to in the gap beat (4).

The "inside" turn over the next set of 3 steps is to the left towards leader and is easier because the leader can create a supportive cradle with the right arm. Step straight forwards on the left foot. Turn ¼ left before stepping close sideways on the right foot (facing partner). Turn ½ left before stepping close sideways on the left foot (back to partner). Turn ¾ left during the next gap beat to finish facing partner on the other side ready to step back on the right foot for the start of the next figure.

The "outside" turn over the next set of 3 steps is to the right away from leader and is harder for the leader to control. Turn ¼ right before stepping close sideways on the left foot (back to partner). Turn ½ right before stepping close sideways on the right foot (facing partner). Turn ½ right before stepping close sideways on the left foot and continue into the remaining ¼ turn on that foot during the gap beat ready to step back from partner on the right foot for the start of the next figure.


Week 6: Wed.24 Feb.2021

More on the various turns - this time with the addition of props! Ribbons/scarves can help as a stand-in for a missing partner to show what is happening with the arms during turns. Eg for the follower in the variations on the basic cross-body pass.

figurefollower turnsunderarm
xbody passleft by ½0 (not at all)
(aborted turn)right by ½1 time
inside turnleft by 1½1 time
outside turnright by 1½2 times
advanced turnleft by 2½2 times

The follower doesn't normally turn just half to the right under the arms during a cross-body pass. If they do, then a sensitive leader should take this as a hint that that particular follower is not keen on turning or spinning much and should pick alternative figures to use during the dance instead - perhaps doing more of their own fancy steps to vary things a bit.

The more advanced inside turn requires both leader and follower to be proficient. The leader needs to signal by step/count 3 in order that the follower can start the travelling turn on that right foot and continue through the gap beat 4 in order to be stepping on the left foot with back to partner on count 5. The rest of the steps are exactly the same as the easier inside turn.

Spins

The usual spin for the follower is to the right (under own right arm). The set up for this uses the sideways basic footwork for both partners. The leader would ideally have a double handhold initially and start the swinging motion on counts 1 and 2 with the left arm then raised for the spin on count 3 while letting go with the right hand. The leader shouldn't be actively stirring partner but merely describing a halo over their head with left handhold and let follower choose the number of spins.

The follower spins on the right foot to the right on count 3 (and 4) and finishes with a sideways or back basic for 5,6,7 if it's a single spin. Remember to keep right knee bent for stability and left foot close to right leg. If the follower is capable of making a double spin, they touch down with the left foot on count 5 to spin again on the right foot on count 6 and finish the second spin facing partner with left foot down on count 7.

Enchufla recap

This was a demonstration of the enchufla, enchufla doble and enchufla complicado using the stand-in props, in the absence of a real partner, to show how the arms work during the steps and who has their back to whom and when.


Week 7: Wed.03 Mar.2021

A study, using ribbon props, of the consequences of either partner turning when both arms are joined. This is applicable to both Cuban and cross-body salsa. With a double handhold, any turn will result in a double crossing afterwards. This is doable but quite a tight hold and needs to be undone by turning the other way. With right joined to right and left joined to left, it matters which arm is on top. The right arms on top means someone (either of you) has to turn to the right and you'll then end up with the left arms on top. Similarly, with left arms on top, someone must turn left.

Recapping the Guapea side-by-side basic in Cuban salsa, where leader uses left foot backwards (and left hand holding follower's right hand) while follower dances the usual right foot backwards half and both are facing into the centre of the room in a circle of dancers. They close up to acknowledge each other and tap the free hands on the other half. The leader needs to get follower's attention in order to start some other figure.

In Cuban salsa the footwork tends to be simpler and more of the action is in the armography. So there are different names for figures with essentially the same footwork and how the partners change places but different ways of leading them.

Vuelta

This is a turn to the right for the follower, passing inside the ring to change places with leader (who passes on the outside). The basic version uses a single handhold - leader's left to follower's right. The lead is out and up. None of the steps are fancy but they do need to be small. Follower needs to complete the main turn R under the arm on the first 3 steps. They then have the remaining 3 steps to swap sides & turn a further ½ R and get ready to come back again with the standard Dile Que No move (no underarm turn). The leader can start swapping sides after the first step and only turns about ¼ R overall before leading the Dile Que No to rotate ½ L back again.

Pimienta

This is the same move but with a right-to-right handhold. Leader uses the gap beat to pass follower's right hand from their existing left handhold into their right hand and continue into the swing up and out for the follower's stepped out turn to the right under the linked arms. On the Dile Que No side, follower should put their free left hand on top of leader's right elbow so the leader is reassured that it won't become trapped. Leader can regain normal left-to-right handhold later.

Sombrero

This is the same move yet again but using a crossed handhold with right on top. Leader still uses the gap beat to pass follower's right hand from their existing left handhold into their right hand and continue into the swing up and out lead. But this time they also offer their now free left hand to take follower's left hand as follower starts the turn. Try to get both arms up and over follower's head quite close together. Then, near the end of the second set of steps, leader drops left arms over own head and right arms back over follower's head and lets go of both hands. Follower needs to bring left arm down leader's back through the gap and up again onto leader's right shoulder ready for the Dile Que No finish.

Vacilala

In this variant, there are no joined arms at all during the turn. The leader gives the lead with left hand as per the Vuelta but immediately lets go and "enjoys the view" as the follower passes in front to change places. The couple still regain hold for the Dile Que No finish.


Week 8: Wed.10 Mar.2021

In Cuban salsa there is the additional dimension of inside vs outside the ring of dancers. When partners swap places, the follower is usually the one to pass inside the ring while leader passes on the outside. Partners face into the centre of the ring for a lot of the time instead of facing each other. Most figures or moves start with follower on leader's left hand side, while other components happen when the positions have been swapped and follower is on leader's right hand side before the Dile Que No to cross back.

Sacala & Exhibela

The simple right turn under the arm for follower is one of these things which can be inserted as an extra component between the start of a figure and the DQN ending. With the usual leader's left to follower's right handhold, it's called sacala. With a right-to-right handhold it's called exhibela. For a DQN, the leader would push follower back along the circumference of the ring and then lead forwards across own body at waist level. For the underarm turn, the leader pushes follower back outside the ring radially and then leads forwards and upwards into the ring while doing basic steps.

(Con) Mambo

Con Mambo is a typical interruption of the sombrero move. It's usually included as an extra by the caller of a Rueda ring but the way to lead it is by not dropping the arms for the DQN straight away but keeping them over shoulders. The footwork is then 4 sets of tap steps using all 8 beats. The leader starts with the left foot and the follower starts with the right foot. Then the move continues with the usual arm drop and DQN ending.

Prima

In the same way as the Dile Que No (cross-body pass) is a leftwards rotation for the couple as a unit to change places, Prima is the rightwards rotation. Within the Cuban salsa context, with follower usually passing inside the ring, that means Prima is the start of a group of figures whereas DQN is the end move. To lead it, push apart from partner in the circumferential direction and then come together much more closely with right sides together to walk around each other in a tight circle without need for fancy footwork.

Uno & Dos

These figures use exactly the same back-rock turn footwork as the enchufla family of moves - where the partners turn halfway in different directions to cross over with one in front of the other (both facing into the centre of the ring). The difference is that the linked hands are held low rather than passing overhead and the leader first needs to swap to a right-to-right handhold to enable this.


Week 9: Wed.17 Mar.2021

Hammerlock

This is a position, rather than a figure or set of steps, where one hand is behind the back (back to back with palm facing out). It occurs in both Cuban and cross-body salsa for either leader or follower - although follower is the more frequent version. There's a classic sequence of moves common to both styles (with variable timings for the components).

On 1,2,3: from a double handhold facing partner, leader dances a back basic and raises left handhold to indicate follower's right turn (while keeping R handhold low and loose). On 5,6,7: follower dances simple right turn under own right arm, letting left arm wrap around the back to face partner again. In between this move and the next, the left-to-right handhold is lowered between the couple.

On 1,2,3: leader dances a very small back basic and re-raises left handhold to start an enchufla change of places. Follower turns half left in front of leader (with back to leader) under own right arm again while unwrapping left arm from behind the back. Leader turns half right to face the same way as follower while swapping places. On 5,6,7: the cross-over is completed with another back basic.

Typically there will then be a Dile Que No or cross-body pass to swap back.

Copa (teapot!)

This another position rather than a figure - cross-body only, not Cuban. Both leader and follower adopt the position together, facing the same way with leader behind follower, left hands forming the spout and right arms the handle (hands resting on follower's right hip). There are multiple entries and exits but one particular version is classic.

On 1,2,3: from a standard left-to-right handhold facing partner, leader dances a back basic, passes follower's hand into right-to-right handhold and raises that while offering left hand below to take follower's left. On 5,6,7: follower dances simple right turn under both right arms and left arms to end facing partner again but with the left-to-left handhold now on top.

On 1,2,3: leader dances a back basic and re-raises left handhold to start an enchufla change of places but keeps right-to-right handhold at waist level. Follower turns half left under the left arms to stop in front of leader while leader turns half right to end behind follower in the Copa position. On 5,6,7: the partial crossing of places is reversed using follower's inside travelling turn (ie to the left) under the joined left hands near the end with the right hand linkage having been dropped at the start.

Leader then uses a hair-comb manoeuvre on 1,2,3 at the start of a cross-body pass to drop the left hands over own head and onto R shoulder, ready to offer free left hand for 5,6,7 to regain a more typical handhold with follower's R hand on the other side.


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