(Photo taken at I Like It Like That Vinyl Matinee Social, London Irish Centre, Camden)
If you are at a Salsa club and having a break on the edge of the dance floor it’s natural to watch other dancers.
For me it’s really interesting to see how differently people move and interpret the music.
It usually takes about 10 seconds for me to spot the dancers I most want to watch, and usually I don’t need to look above their feet to identify those worth watching.
So I thought I’d write this to explain what I look for and what impresses me when I’m watching social Salsa dancers from the edge of the dance floor.
Obviously I’m not sitting there with a checklist ticking boxes, but these are the qualities which build the overall picture of how our dancing looks.
If you want to learn from watching others, then start looking for some of the qualities on this list and you’ll become more discerning about who you watch and why.
You can learn loads by watching a dancers feet.
Is their timing on point?
Are they just stepping generically to 123 567 or playing with the other rhythms in the music?
Do they have the footspeed to keep up with fast music?
Do they have the discipline to wait for the beat in a slower track?
Is their footwork placed and precise, or is it messy and out of control?
Do they know how to use the floor and pressure through the ball of the foot?
Are they styling their footwork with intention?
Where Is Their Weight?
A key skill for Salsa dancers is managing their weight transfer as this translates into fast turns, good balance and crisp, clean changes of direction.
It also allows for more nuance and musicality when moving between each step. If the weight is too far back, turns will be slow and clunky.
Posture is not a static position – it’s how we carry ourselves through all dance movements and requires a lot of core engagement and muscular endurance.
Slouched or internally rotated shoulders don’t look great, but will also interfere with connection – especially any position where the arms are raised – which is most of our Salsa turns.
I’m looking for someone who is grounded with soft knees, but with a lifted torso, open chest and activated back muscles.
A forward posture with the weight through the balls of their feet is important for balance and speed.
Body Movement: Is there any?
Body movement adds flavour and texture and allows for more expression.
It is an integral part of Salsa technique, although you wouldn’t always know it as many teachers focus only on steps and moves.
Are they fluid and relaxed or are they holding tension?
Are they moving with the dancer or hanging aimlessly?
Is there intention and musicality with their styling?
Is the head up and do they have a clear focus? Or are their eyes more like a rabbit in the headlights?
Are they spotting the turns? Is there any head styling?
Repertoire & Creativity
This applies to followers as well as leads – although followers are more limited, a good follower will still be able to add musicality and expression.
Are they able to execute the same moves in different ways and make adjustments according to the music and level of their partner?
Are they improvising and responding to the music in real time, or regurgitating the same stuff in the same way?
Do they adapt to the space they have and look out for what’s going on around them?
Are they obviously bumping into other couples?
Are they doing “their thing” even when it’s obviously causing issues for others on the dance floor?
Is it a dance or a fight?
Is muscular force being used?
Does the follower look stressed or uncomfortable? Is either partner looking bored or zoned out?
Are they smiling at each other and having fun?
Is there playful, musical conversation and breaks for shines or is it a long monologue of moves?
Overall Aesthetics & Musicality
Sometimes a dancer isn’t particularly technical but you can tell they are really connected to the music and having a great time with their partner..
Some people automatically hold themselves in a way that looks good even when dancing very basic stuff where others struggle – sometimes because they are self-conscious or simply haven’t been taught how to move efficiently..
Or a dancer can have incredible technique but for whatever reason their style or musical interpretation just doesn’t resonate.
And that’s ok!! We are all different and one of the most amazing things about Salsa is how everyone expresses the music differently.
It Can Be Quite Subjective After All…
It’s fine to have opinions and preferences – but it can be a very useful exercise to ask yourself why you think what you think so you become aware of the judgements you are making.
This is where you will find your biases and many clues that will help you develop your own dance floor style and aesthetic.
But I’m always on the lookout for those dances where it all comes together – right song, right partner, and all the ingredients listed above.
I love to watch that magic unfold in front of my eyes as this is what we all want to experience more of!