One of the common questions about salsa is: “is it hard to learn?” and on the web, you can find any kind of answers from “you don’t need lessons, just follow your partner” to “salsa is one of the most difficult dances”. So I thought I would bring my own approach to the question, as a guy having danced it on and off for several years now.
1. Learning Salsa as a Guy
If you are a man, then I strongly recommend that you take salsa lessons. You can learn a lot of steps and turns online but one thing you will miss is the ability to lead. As the guy, you are the leader, so you are supposed to know not only the steps but how to lead the lady to do her steps. This is much easier to learn in salsa classes, with some partners. I can even say it would be better for you to experience salsa with several partners (even if you go there with your girlfriend) because the more people you dance with, the better you will realize what you need to do to show your intentions to your partner.
Professional Salsa Dancers, Photo by Hilcias Salazar, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic Licencehttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salsa_en_Cali.jpg
2. Learning Salsa as a Girl
I have had many dancing partners, whether in dancing classes, in clubs, in parties with friends… Some were professional dancers, others had never danced before, and many were in between. I may surprise you, but I think that salsa needs to be learned, even for the girl and even if this person is coming from Latin America.
This forum post is quite typical of what I have experienced: a lady from Mexico is asking for help because she has problems dancing salsa while she can dance other latin dances. Somehow, it surprises her that she may need to take salsa lessons. I have danced with many women from Latin America and some of them were as lost as this person. Yes, they have the dancing rhythm in the skin, yes, they can move their body, but no, this is not enough. Because, they don’t understand what they are supposed to do. The steps are quite random and they are lost very quickly as soon I am starting some routines.
3. Is It Hard to Learn Then?
I wouldn’t say so either. It depends of course of the level you want to reach (professional dancers, going to competitions, etc…) but if your aim is just to have some fun dancing, then I don’t think it is very difficult, especially not for the girl (who follows the lead of the guy).
The main things to remember are:
– smile: you are dancing for the fun of it, aren’t you? So, don’t be so serious all the time
– let the guy lead: sure, if you dance with a beginner, you can be nice and try to guess what he is trying to do, but otherwise, really let us guys lead the dance
– if you are lost, just use back steps. It the guy starts complex things and you get lost, just do your best and use the back steps (back on 1 and back on 5)
Other than that, some practice will help a lot of course. It is better to start with slow pace music to really understand what you are doing and then go for faster songs. I have read in some forums that fast songs are easier to begin with because beginners won’t notice they are off beat. I feel this is as wrong as practicing a foreign language by saying words as fast as you can so that you don’t hear what is wrong with it.
4. The particular case of the “Dile que no”
If there was only one move to learn in salsa, it would probably be the “Dile que no” one. The meaning is “tell him/her no” and is often translated as “cross-body lead” or “cross-body step”. Why is it so important? Because it is very often used to go from a closed position to an open position.
It is also a move where we can easily spot someone who knows salsa and someone who doesn’t as there is quite a lot of freedom in this move for the lady (she can play with her hand, for example) and the hips movement isn’t obvious if you haven’t learned it.
Also, this move, if properly executed, justifies its name, as it looks like the girl is just passing by in front of the guy, telling him that she is not interested (I therefore like the translation “tell him no” better but I have seen “tell her no” more often so I may be over-interpreting it).
5. Are You Too Old to Learn Salsa?
This is a related question and a quite common one. I don’t personally think that you are too old to learn salsa. I have taken classes where not-so-young women were also participating and they did great.
Of course, learning how to move the body properly with the hips, etc… will be more challenging than if you had learned salsa as a kid but you should do fine for the basic steps and turns.
Well, my own conclusion to the original question is that no, salsa is not hard to learn if you don’t intend to reach master levels, go to competition and so on. But, on the other hand, I would still recommend taking lessons to get at least the fundamentals and to practice with people (and not just learning steps online).
Salsa is fun and is a good social activity, so why not go for it?