How to Dance Salsa for Beginners

The Salsa is a sexy and exciting dance performed between two partners. It features a light swaying of the hips and frequent weight shifting that makes the dance feel and look fluid. Salsa is one of the most popular Latin dances and the steps are simple enough for anyone to learn! Learn how to dance Salsa with free video lessons from Howcast!

History of the Salsa

Salsa dancing originated in Cuba during the late 1800s. It was originally a combination of the French Danzon, African Rumba, and Cuban Son dances. This spicy fusion was discovered by American soldiers, which then lead to jazz musicians visiting Cuba and incorporating Latin influences into the music they played back home.

Salsa music originating from Cuba became a quick hit on American radio stations. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that salsa dancing became popular in the states. During this time, immigrants from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic brought their unique dancing style with them. This dancing style was combined with already-present salsa music to create the salsa dance that is widely performed today.

How to Salsa

Performing the salsa is a combination of understanding the steps, knowing how to count, learning how to shift weight, and keeping your hips moving. This can be confusing to mix all at once, so it’s easiest to start by learning the basic steps and incorporating hip-swaying in later. Beginners should start with this free video lesson:

Body Position

Salsa dancing leaves some space between the partners. A man’s left hand will extend up to neck level to meet a woman’s right hand. The man’s right hand should be on a woman’s back under their left shoulder blade and a woman’s left hand will be outside of the man’s right arm, placed just below his right shoulder.

Counting

Counting in salsa is fairly simple, as it’s done in 4/4 time. The catch is that the fourth beat count will have a pause. The salsa is counted in even beats of eight, meaning that the fourth and eighth count will both be pauses. You can count this by saying: 1, 2, 3, break, 5, 6, 7, break, always pausing on a break count.

How to Do the Salsa Basic Steps (Forward and Back)

Now that you know how to count and position yourself, it’s time to add in the basic steps of the salsa. Try to practice performing the steps by themselves, then begin to add hip-swaying once you feel comfortable. Here’s how to perform basic Forward and Back Steps of the Salsa:

  • Leader steps forward with the right foot, follower mirrors by stepping back with the left foot.
  • Leader then steps forward with the left foot, follower does the same by stepping back with the right foot.
  • Leader shifts weight (rock step) onto their right foot, follower will shift weight to their left foot. 
  • A brief pause ensues, then the dance will repeat going backward. 
  • Leader steps back with the left foot, follower will step forward with the right foot. 
  • Leader now steps back with the right foot, follower steps forward with the left foot. 
  • Leader will rock step and place weight on their left foot, follower will do the same and shift weight to their right foot. 
  • Another pause before repeating the dance. Now, try swaying your hips to give the dance some spice!

Start Salsa Dancing Today!

We hope this guide helps you learn how to salsa dance. To learn even more salsa moves, explore the rest of the videos in this series below! 

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Jorday Rivera

Jorday Rivera is not only the first female salsa instructor in N.Y, but she is also the first in Queens. She has a background in mambo, cha-cha, Latin jazz, merengue, bachata, and Afro Cuban and has danced with many a living legend including the Tito Puente Orchestra, Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, Oscar D'Leon, Victor Manuelle, Ismael Miranda, Roberto Roena, and Tony Vega to name a few. Jorday has also participated in two world tours, five European tours, and numerous USA tours where she was sought out to teach master workshops in Latin dance and showcase her dance company Mambo’s Finest. This dance company has graced the stage of Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, the soap opera “All My Children," The Latin Grammys, Lincoln Center, and many music videos. Jorday is proud to be the founder/owner of two dance studios in Queens, New York.