How to Dance Salsa Like a Mexican

Salsa dancers on a street in Cuba| © Lesinka372/Shutterstock
Salsa dancers on a street in Cuba| © Lesinka372/Shutterstock
Photo of Lauren Cocking
Northern England Writer28 February 2017

Salsa is a quintessentially Mexican dance, despite having murky origins in other Latin countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico and a rich musical background. Even so, it remains a massively popular style in many bars and clubs across Mexico, so you’ll need to know a bit about it before you arrive if you want to avoid feeling like a fresh-off-the-boat newbie. Here’s a brief rundown on the tips and tricks to help you salsa like a Mexican.

The basic steps

Before you arrive in Mexico, it’s worth investing some time to pick up the basic steps that are used across most salsa variations. A six-step movement over eight beats of music – either from side-to-side or backwards and forwards – will serve you well in whatever salsa dance scenario you manage to get yourself into when visiting Mexico.

Having said that it’s worth considering that there are many types of salsa that vary wildly – some being far more difficult for beginners than others. Cuban salsa has a faster, more complex feel and can look daunting at first, whereas in New York salsa the dancers are almost always facing one another, rather than circling around like in other Latin American styles. There are far more variations than those two though, so keep in mind that it’s a very complex dance and difficult to master!

A popular salsa spot in Trinidad, Cuba | © Yoeztudioz/WikiCommons

It’s all about the hips

Once you’ve got the basic step pattern down, it’s important to only apply that movement to the bottom half of your body. Salsa is all about the hips, but it shouldn’t be all about the shoulders! A great trick to help remember this by is imagining the movement of a salsa step as similar to climbing the stairs, or moving your body weight from the ball of one foot to another. The weight change from foot to foot gives that swinging-hips look without relying on the waist and torso to create it. Making sure you understand how to shift your weight correctly will massively help in your quest to look like a salsa professional, but what about when you’re dancing with a partner?

Once you’ve nailed the basics, you can dance salsa anywhere! | © Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Dancing with a partner

If you’re taking the lead, you need to place your right hand on your partner’s shoulder blade and clasp your left hand with their hand. If you’re following, you’ll want to have your left hand placed firmly on their shoulder, and hold their other hand. However, the ‘open’ position of salsa dancing dictates that you simply hold hands, releasing only to carry out twists, turns and spins. The pattern of spins might not make sense at first, but just try and at least stay on beat and you’ll be fine!

Overall, dancing salsa is all about letting yourself get swept up in the music, following both the rhythm as well as your partner (if you’re a woman dancing with a man, that is). If the worst comes to the worst, and you just can’t figure out the footwork then don’t despair because not all Mexicans know how to dance salsa anyway. So, dancing salsa like a Mexican doesn’t necessarily imply dancing well at all! Instead, let the music carry you as you stumble your way through the steps, because as with most things, dancing salsa doesn’t all come down to perfect execution but rather the experience of daring to do it in the first place.

Salsa dancing is all about having fun | © Elvert Barnes/Flickr