…and how to be lead!

SALSA Top Tips from Tip Top Teacher – Tamambo

When you begin…
The first thing to bear in mind is the ability of your partner vs. yours. As you never know just by looking at her, start smoothly by executing relatively simply turns in order for you to assess how to continue for the rest of the song.

How close to hold your partner….

The most important thing to remember is that you each have your own space. Do not invade it! Women have the tendency to feel very intimidated when a man gets too close. In addition, men have the habit of not understanding the concept of personal space on the dance floor; all this becomes a recipe for disaster if not taken into account!

Arm tension…
For women, the tension never comes from the arms but rather from the fingertips and the shoulders by keeping them in a locked position. A good way of illustrating this action is when you place two tennis balls under your armpits; the action automatically locks the shoulders but not your arms, the technique that allows women to follow flawlessly.

For men, it is solely from the fingertips.


Leading a move…the count….
For the not so experienced dancer, he must bear in mind where the woman’s momentum is taking her. On 5, the lady is in a forward moving position, making this the ideal time to lead and execute a move. Always think 5 to lead the lady into the direction you want her to go in and on 6,7 and 1 to execute and complete the move.

And if you start to lead a move too late…
Firstly, you want to avoid leading a move too late, but I guess it’s too late for that!!
Don’t try to complete the move by going faster; instead, stop from an open break into a closed hold position (think of the Tango scene with the rose in the mouth position). It’ll make you look like you did it intentionally, and you might even get your partner to smile and get into character herself! There are many variants but this is as simple as it gets.
The more advanced dancers will usually send their partners off into a free-spin and start doing some shines before coming in to continue the dance together.

Holding your partner’s hand to lead effectively…
There are many ways to hold your partner’s hand to lead effectively. One that I emphasize is to pretend that you’re holding a camcorder with your left hand. Now, the men will bend the two middle fingers facing the ground in a complete vertical line and the women will bend their fingers far enough so as to create that fingertip tension mentioned earlier on.

 Women anticipating moves…
The counteraction of anticipation is done by following the tennis ball technique already described. It is probably the fastest solution to anticipating issues.

When ladies pull on the arms (because they are tired….)….
Ladies should always think to keep their elbows in line with their shoulders and in front of their body at all times. If you are tired and cannot keep to this, just have a rest and sit down for a while…..

Dancing slower to faster tracks…
The easiest way to dance slower to faster tracks is by dancing to the core beats. i.e. 1,3,5,7. You can skip all the beats in between, making it a lot slower on the body and your partner. Do not do this every time though, your partner will get bored of you pretty soon…..

Sometimes men can get stuck in a rut just concentrating on leading and forget to dance themselves….
The reason men forget to dance is simply the lack of practice, making reactive dancing hard to achieve. Reactive dancing is going with the flow of what is happening at that particular moment, and how you are positioned as opposed to planning what your next move is. The only way to counteract this is by practising three or four variations of a turn pattern that you learned that week and play around with it by changing the beginning, middle an end bits. They will see that pretty soon they’ll be improvising on the dance floor like pros!
I once heard how Edie the Salsa Freak mentioned something about practising in confined spaces (how small is your toilet?!). By practising in confined spaces, you are very aware of hitting yourself against objects, thus keeping you more in control of what you are doing. Always use the spotting technique: initiate and complete the turn head-first, then allow your shoulders, then the rest of your body to follow.
Women should never hold onto the man when spinning; a woman should never depend on a man to complete her spins. I’ve seen it go very wrong on the dance floor….The woman should be able to complete her spins even if the man has let go of her hands halfway through!

Don’t just worry about the next move, enjoy….
Relax, it’s not a competition! You’ll have probably realised that some women return to their table after having danced with an advanced dancer thinking that it was the most horrible dance of her life and she’s the worst dancer in the world! The dance is not about you or about her; it’s about the both of you. If you both do not leave with a satisfied feeling, something has gone wrong.
Ladies do not like to be thrown around; all they want is to have a good time. Whilst the rollercoaster ride is having a good time, they would not do it all night!

The challenges men face when learning partner dancing and How To Lead…..
Men get frustrated because they see how fast women are progressing. They need to understand that they are on a tough learning curve because they are essentially being taught not only how to move, but also how to control their partner’s movement. After they have done all this, they then need to learn how to communicate with their partner on the dance floor; i.e. where do I want you to go, what hand do I need, what I need you to do for me, etc. Because talking with the music banging out of the speakers in the background will make you look really stupid, the best way is to use your arms and body language to interact with your partner.
If you can live with the fact that you’ll have a frustrating six to eight weeks, you’ll be on the road to eternal joy and fulfilment!

Copyright Tamambo ©December 2005. Written specifically for Chris Penhall’s website

Tamambo teaches and performs all over the world and throughout the U.K., as well as judging high profile dance competitions. He is co-founder of the Lati2de Dance Company and co-runs the world-famous SOS in London