Cuban Salsa (Lent 2020)

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 another couple nearby. Leaders start with the left-right-left group of steps while followers start with the right-left-right group. Then each dances the other grouping to fill a complete bar of music.

Legs: "soft" knees and mobile hips. Don't be all stiff-legged.

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 like a puppet when down and in the pizza-carrier position when up. Don't let your elbows go behind your ribcage, as you have less strength there and are at risk of hurting the shoulder joint. When your arm is raised, 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.

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

Holds: can be open or closed/close, single handed or double handed, facing partner or side by side or even linked elbows. In open hold, leaders offer both hands or just one. This might be in the opposable thumbs up position (palm slightly upwards), while followers take the hands in the meerkat position (palm downwards); but hand over hand linkages are also commonly used. In close hold, leader's left hand holds follower's right hand, leader's right hand goes on follower's back just below the shoulder blade (but slightly more central than for ballroom dances) and follower's left hand goes on leader's right shoulder or upper arm.

Don't Panic! The intent of a salsa move is more important than precise footwork or armography. However, if things have definitely gone wrong then it's better to stop, reset and restart cleanly on the beat than to fumble around trying to retrieve the move. Remaining calm and relaxed will also make it much easier for you to dance.

Figures marked ® are only usable in Rueda as they involve changing partners. Other figures can be performed by a single couple.

Figures marked with an asterisk * are optional additions to the basic figures, which get inserted while a couple are in DQN rather than guapea position.


Week 1: 15 January 2020

Controlling your own body, leading and following, plus the core figures of salsa.

We used Tiempo Espana (simple shuffling steps) to practise the rhythm component. When couples are moving together around the room in a ring (Rueda) the normal direction of travel is anticlockwise - like the Line Of Dance in ballroom - with the leader's left hand towards the centre of the room (follower's right). The call for this is "CaminaLa" (walk her) and then "Arriba" is up or forwards (for the leader) while "Abajo" is down or backwards.

While shuffling around the room this way, it is possible to change partners. The call for this is "Un Taro" (slang for cheating on one's partner). The leader raises left arm (follower's right arm) and walks underneath it, inside the circle, letting go and moving onto the next partner around the ring. "Un Taro Sin Soltarla" (without releasing it) is the call to move onto a new partner while still holding on to the previous partner. This can be repeated to move on to a second new partner. The way to escape is either by letting go of the original partner's hand "Se Fue" or for the leaders to drop down low and let the followers unwind the knot again.

We also practised the other basic footwork patterns: forwards and backwards (son step or mambo basic), sideways (rumba basic), backwards each time (back break) and opening out by turning (salsa step).


Week 2: 22 January 2020

There was a recap of the basic concepts and another go at some Tiempo Espana before starting on the core Cuban/Rueda figures where couples dance side-by-side.

Guapea or Casino Step

This is what you do while thinking of something else to lead or while waiting for the next Rueda call when dancing in a group. The hold is leader's left hand to follower's right hand (side by side). The footwork is out of the ring on the first half and into the ring on the second. The unlinked hands touch those of neighbouring couples and then own partner.

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

Dile Que No (DQN)

This is how partners change places via a rotation to the left with the follower passing inside the ring and the leader outside it. It's a core move in salsa (ie it's also the cross-body pass of cross-body salsa). Though Cuban salsa dancers often add some stylistic flourishes. Most called Cuban salsa figures will end with this move to return to guapea position.

countleaderfollower
1
2
3
forwards on left foot (to collect partner from RHS),
replace onto right foot (turning ¼ left out of the way),
close left foot (near right)
backwards on right foot,
replace onto left foot,
close right foot (near left) or reject advances
5
6
7
back or side on right foot (leading partner to pass),
cross or close left foot,
side right foot (to finish changing places)
forwards on left foot to pass,
forwards on right foot turning left,
close left foot (near right) to finish left turn

Prima

This is how partners change places via a rotation to the right from guapea position with the follower passing inside the ring and the leader outside it. The standard figure is then completed with a DQN (as above) to return to guapea position.

countleaderfollower
1
2
3
backwards on left foot (facing partner),
replace onto right foot,
forwards left foot (right sides together)
backwards on right foot (facing partner),
replace onto left foot,
forwards right foot (right sides together)
5
6
7
forwards on right foot to rotate R with partner,
forwards left foot still rotating R,
close right foot (disengaging)
forwards on left foot to rotate R with partner,
forwards right foot still rotating R,
close left foot (disengaging)

Dame ®

This is essentially a DQN move to collect a new partner ("gimme one"), when couples are dancing together in a Rueda ring with a caller, rather than keeping the same partner for the whole of a led and followed dance. The leader looks to their right hand side for the new partner and uses the DQN steps to transfer them over to the left hand side guapea position. Meanwhile the follower has gone with the leader who was previously to their left.

Dame Dos ®

This is a partner swap skipping out the immediately available new partner. The leaders abandon their current partner and step inside the ring to pass in front of the skipped partner and collect the next follower with a DQN. Meanwhile the followers can look to the left for their new leader but shouldn't move into the ring to collide with the leaders! As with Dame, this figure is only applicable when dancing Rueda.


Week 3: 29 January 2020

We had a quick recap of last week's moves before adding some new ones.

Adios ®

This begins like Prima with partners rotating around to the right, ie follower passes into the ring first. But it continues like Un Taro with the leader walking inside the ring under a raised left-to-right handhold and onto a new partner. The move is finished like Dame or DQN, with leader bringing their new follower inside the ring and over to the other side via a leftward rotation.

You only have the first 3 steps for the initial rightward rotation, so the leader needs to make sure it's a tight turn. The second 3 steps are for the leader to be going under the arm, letting go(!) and approaching the new partner forwards rather than backwards under the arm. The next 123-567- count is for the Dame/DQN component.

Enchufla

Unlike the rightward rotation of the couple as a whole in Prima and the overall leftward rotation of the couple in Dile Que No, in an Enchufla the partners turn in different directions to change places.

Using the leader's left to follower's right handhold, the follower turns half left to pass inside the ring (turning back on partner) while the leader turns half right to pass outside the ring (facing partner's back). At the midway point, both leader and follower are facing into the ring. The figure is completed with the customary DQN to change back to original places.

The Enchufla footwork is best described as back-rock-turn, back-rock-catch.

countleaderfollower
1
2
3
backwards on left foot (facing partner),
replace onto right foot, starting to turn R,
sideways left foot (behind partner)
backwards on right foot (facing partner),
replace onto left foot, starting to turn L,
sideways right foot (back to partner)
5
6
7
finish L turn to step back on right foot (facing partner),
replace onto left foot,
close right foot (catching partner)
finish R turn to step back on left foot (facing partner),
replace onto right foot,
close left foot (taking up hold again)

Enchufla Doble

In this variant of the basic Enchufla, the follower crosses inside the ring but recrosses back again before making the final crossing (and the DQN ending). The footwork remains the same back-rock-turn for each part of the enchufla but the leader uses the right hand on the follower's back to push follower to return the way they came rather than settling into the full turn and catch on the other side.

On the recrossing component, the follower will be turning right and the leader left (each using the other footwork half) but the follower still passes inside the ring with their back to leader while the leader passes outside the ring facing inwards.

Obviously it would be possible to do an Enchufla Tres or any higher number of crossings and recrossings but 2 is usually plenty!

Enchufla Complicado

In this variant of the basic Enchufla, the leader and follower swap roles for the recrossing component. So the leader has their back to follower and passes inside the ring while the follower passes outside (facing partner's back). Otherwise the footwork and turning motions are identical. And the finish is still the customary DQN.

However, the complicated part is the swapping of handholds for each crossing. The initial leader's left to follower's right handhold needs to be a right-to-left handhold instead for the gender-bending recross in the middle. This is most quickly accomplished by trailing a hand across partner's back and down their arm into their waiting free hand.

Obviously it would be possible to keep repeating the swaps ad infinitum but in practice (and at speed) the couple would soon lose alignment.


Week 4: 5 February 2020

We covered a set of figures which are all the same in their footwork but have different names for each different type of armography. It's a change of places in which the follower turns to the right nearly twice. The initial lead is out of the circle but the follower actually passes inside the circle while following their own hand to turn around.

We also added some decorations of basic figures where the extra steps come after the main part of the figure but before the Dile-Que-No component return to guapea position - ie while follower is still on leader's right hand side.

Vuelta

The leader has the usual left-to-right handhold throughout, including the DQN end.

Pimienta

The leader has a right-to-right handhold. This persists into the DQN return of partner, where follower puts their spare left hand on leader's right forearm near the elbow. But the leader can change back to left-to-right handhold for the DQN.

Sombrero

The leader has a crossed double handhold with the right-to-right handhold on top. After the follower has turned, the left-to-left handhold will be on top. The linked hands are dropped over the couple's heads (and the follower brings the trapped left hand up again "like a flower"). Then the hold is dropped entirely and reformed for the DQN.

There's an optional decoration of the figure, Sombrero Con Mambo *, where the couple perform tap-steps side by side before finishing with the DQN.

Vacilala

This variant has no handhold at all after the initial hand-tossed lead.

Sacala *

This is a simple right turn for follower under left-to-right handhold from DQN position. The lead is like DQN but out of the ring and into it rather than along the ring. The follower may drop down, with hip action, to pick an imaginary flower.

Exhibela *

This is a simple right turn for follower under right-to-right handhold from DQN position. The lead is like DQN but out of the ring and into it rather than along the ring.

Paseala (Abajo) *

From DQN position, the follower walks rapidly around the leader, passing inside the circle and then behind the leader's back, returning to DQN position. Meanwhile, the leader changes the handhold behind their back (low down) to bring the follower from left hand side to right hand side.

Paseala Arriba *

From DQN position, the follower walks rapidly around the leader, passing inside the circle and then behind the leader's back, returning to DQN position. Meanwhile, the leader raises the linked handhold overhead. With left-to-right handhold, the leader needs to be careful with their left elbow. With right-to-right handhold, the follower will need to release left hand grip.


Week 5: 12 February 2020

We recapped last week's figures and added another of the Paseala figures

Paseala Al Frente *

From DQN position, the follower walks forwards in front of the leader and swivels left to also walk forwards in front of leader when returning, with a swivel right to face the original direction again. The leader walks forwards with the follower for the first half-bar but walks backwards for the next half-bar while controlling the follower's swivels.


Week 6: 19 February 2020

We covered a pair of figures which use enchufla footwork but the armography is kept low behind the back (sometimes called hammerlock position). El Uno has the follower in front of the leader, whereas El Dos has the leader in front of the follower. There is an undefined number of crossovers between the entry to the figure and the exit. The two figures can also be combined together without restarting from scratch.

El Uno

countleaderfollower
1,2,3 LB-RF-LS, switching to low R-to-R handhold,
leading follower to step in front,
then turning R to step behind them
RB-LF-RS, noting hand-swap,
turning L to step in front of leader
with hands behind back
5,6,7 RB-LF-RS, taking low L-to-L handhold too
behind follower's back
while turning R then L again
LB-RF-LS, finishing L turn
then turning R again
still in front of leader
1,2,3 LB-RF-LS crossover RB-LF-RS crossover
5,6,7 RB-LF-RS crossover LB-RF-LS crossover
1,2,3 LB-RF-LS, lifting RRH over follower's head RB-LF-RS, going under linked hands
5,6,7 RB-LF-RC, popping LLH over own head LB-RF-LC, having RRH popped over head
1,2,3 LF-RB-LC, drop handholds to start DQN RB-LF-RC, drop handholds for DQN
5,6,7 RB-LF-RC, finish DQN and regain LRH LF-RF-LC, finish DQN with left turn

El Dos

countleaderfollower
1,2,3 LB-RF-LS, switching to high R-to-R handhold,
leading follower to step in front,
then turning R to step behind them
RB-LF-RS, noting hand-swap,
turning L to step in front of leader
with linked handhold popped overhead
5,6,7 RF-LF-RS, walking in front of follower
and offering low L-to-L handhold too
behind own back
LB-RF-LS, finishing L turn
then turning R again
with leader now in front
1,2,3 LB-RF-LS crossover RB-LF-RS crossover
5,6,7 RB-LF-RS crossover LB-RF-LS crossover
1,2,3 LB-RF-LS crossover RB-LF-RS crossover
5,6,7 RB-LF-RS crossover
lifting RRH over own head
LB-RF-LS crossover
but end facing partner
1,2,3
5,6,7
Sombrero Sombrero
1,2,3
5,6,7
DQN DQN