You’ve probably experienced this scenario:
You lead your partner onto the floor.
You get ready to start your Basic.
And then you realise.
There is no “one”.
In fact there’s no beat at all.
The music is just airy fairy and vague, and if there are percussion instruments playing, there isn’t a clear beat.
I call it “The Wafty Intro”
So you just stand there not knowing what to do, feeling silly.
The first thing to realise is that musicians make music for themselves primarily, not just for dancers.
So some Salsa songs have an intro that fades in and wafts around – no clear structure or melody.
Because that’s what the musicians felt like doing.
This is great for building the mood of a track, but not much help for dancers.
However, even though there may not be a discernible rhythm, the melody still may have phrasing which will give you clues, although this can be subtle.
The next thing to realise is that there are no absolute rules here.
You can do whatever you feel works with the music.
You can bring your partner in close and just sway.
You can shift your body weight from one foot to the other without actually stepping.
You can keep your feet still and use body movement – body rolls and other isolations are good here.
Your partner will see what you’re doing and mirror you.
This is all part of leading the dance.
Taking control so the lady has something to follow.
This is why it’s so important to listen to Salsa music off the dance floor.
You’ll start to develop your ear and appreciate the subtleties more.
You won’t be so easily thrown when the musicians go off at tangents.
In most Salsa songs there is a middle section where the musicians go into there own improvisations.
New York style Salsa music was heavily influenced by Jazz, so there is a tendency for very long, self indulgent piano solos which meander all over the place and sometimes mask the underlying percussion instruments.
It’s easy to get a bit lost when you aren’t used to hearing this type of music, but mostly the rhythms are there – you just have to work a bit harder to hear them and listen carefully to the phrasing of the melody.
If you do lose the plot with the timing, then keep going until the solo finishes – there will usually be a clear cut off point where all the other instruments jump back in and you’ll pick up the beats and bars with no problem.