How to Salsa Dance Beginner’s Guide

Last Updated on Jan 10th 2024
how to salsa dance

Lively, elegant and creative, salsa dancing is one of the past 100 years’ most popular dance creations, inspiring thousands to learn how to salsa dance themselves.

This partner dance has an off-beat pattern and plenty of style, but beginners are just a few basic steps away from salsa dancing like professionals.

You can learn how to salsa dance with the help of our informative beginners' guide, which covers everything from a quick history of the dance to detailed instructions of the basic salsa steps and everything in between!

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Learn How to Dance Salsa

Is it Hard to Learn How to Salsa Dance?

The difficulty of learning how to salsa dance depends on your previous dance experience or natural flair for dance. But even for complete beginners, the salsa is easy enough to learn with just a bit of practice.

Try a Salsa Dance Class

To learn how to salsa dance with the help of a professional instructor, consider signing up for an interactive dance class near you. There are salsa dance classes across the nation from dance classes in Colorado Springs and dance classes in Denver to dance classes in Las Vegas

Taking a dance class is the perfect opportunity to learn how to dance salsa with the help of an expert. Alternatively, learn salsa from the comfort of your home with a live instructor by signing up for online dance classes

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Salsa Dance Music

The History of Salsa Music

Understanding the origin of salsa music is a key aspect of learning how to salsa dance. Salsa music and the dance known as the salsa originated in New York city clubs in the 1950s and grew to the height of its popularity in the 1960s, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Salsa music merges African, Cuban, Puerto Rican and other Latin American musical traditions to create an energetic and syncopated style. 

Salsa Music Instruments

The unique sound of salsa music is based on the clave, a percussion instrument consisting of two sticks made of wood. The clave keeps the off-beat rhythm of the dance and the rest of the band plays with the clave. Salsa music often features trumpet, tres and drums, evidence of salsa’s jazz and big band influences. 

Salsa Dance Styles

New York Style

The dance itself was born in New York City to accompany salsa music. This style of salsa is called the New York style. It is a linear dance where the following dancer leads rather than the lead dancer, and it's a great style for beginners learning how to salsa dance for the first time.

Los Angeles Style

There is a Los Angeles style of salsa that is also a linear dance, but in this style, the lead dancer leads the dance. 

Circular Style

Additionally, there is a circular style of salsa in which dancers circle around one another rather than dance linearly with one another. Cuban and Colombian salsa dances follow this circular style. Learn how to salsa dance to all three styles to become a true salsa-dancing star!

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Five Basic Steps of Salsa

The salsa dance has five main steps founded on the basic front-to-back step pattern. When you first learn how to salsa dance, practicing this front-to-back step pattern is key to mastering the dance. 

When dancing salsa, there is a lead dancer and a follow dancer. The basic salsa steps for the lead dancer are as easy as 1, 2, 3 — front, center, front — and 5, 6, 7 — back, center, back. For the follow dancer, these steps are reversed: back, center, back, then center, front, center. 

But what are the steps to salsa dance, exactly?

1. Basic Salsa Step

  • Begin with your feet together.
  • On beat one, step forward with your left foot.
  • On beat two, shift your weight to your right foot.
  • On beat three, step your left foot to center again.
  • Beat four is a pause.
  • On beat five, step back with your right foot.
  • On beat six, shift your weight to center.
  • On beat seven, step your right foot to center again.
  • Beat eight is another pause.
  • Repeat these steps until you’ve mastered how to do the basic salsa dance steps!

Tip: As you practice how to salsa dance, keep your hips and arms loose. This is a fluid dance that moves with the music — let your body sway with the rhythm. 

2. Basic Salsa Side Step 

The side basic step is similar to the basic step but is done to the side rather than front to back. You will be stepping from side to side in this dance step. 

  • Lead dancers begin with the left foot and follow dancers with the right. 
  • On beat one, step out to the left with the left foot.
  • On beat two, shift weight to your right foot at center.
  • On beat three, step left for back to center.
  • Pause on beat four.
  • On beat five, step out to the right with the right foot.
  • On beat six, shift weight to left foot at center.
  • On beat seven, step right foot back to center.
  • Pause on beat eight. 
  • Repeat these steps and combine the side basic step with the basic step as you practice.
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3. Rotating the Follow Dancer

Rotating the follow dancer in a fun spin will add flair to your basic salsa dance. To do this salsa dance step, the lead dancer spins the follow dancer on count five of the basic dance step. After the spin, the dance continues with the basic salsa dance step.

4. Cross Body Lead

For this salsa dance step, you will need to combine both the basic step and the basic side step.

The lead dancer steps to the side on beat two and rotates their body to be perpendicular to the follow dancer on beat three. The lead dancer then leads the follow dancer across the floor in front of them so that the dancers change positions, all while maintaining the basic step pattern.  

5. Cross Body Lead With Inside Turn

This step combines the cross body lead with a turn. The lead dancer will turn the follow dancer. 

Perform a basic salsa dance step with a cross body lead and then the basic steps with a turn on beat five. Then continue in the basic step.

Tip: Once you have mastered how to salsa dance with the basic salsa dance steps, add personality and flair to the dance with hand and hip movements, or “shines,” when you break free from your partner and perform solo.

Salsa dancing is all about feeling the beat of the music and letting it flow through the body in dance. 

How to Salsa Dance With a Partner

The salsa dance was made to be danced with a partner. To salsa dance with a partner, simply grab a friend and practice the techniques above until you both can dance with ease.

If you’re a beginner salsa dancer, you can learn how to salsa dance with a partner in a dance class or through online videos or articles. 

two dancers in costume dancing the salsa
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How to Salsa Dance Solo

Perhaps your partner is busy or your social circle isn't as interested in learning how to salsa dance, and you’re wondering “How can I practice salsa dancing alone?”

The answer is simple. Just practice the basic salsa steps solo! 

The key to learning salsa is practice, and practicing how to salsa dance alone is a low-pressure way to do so. As you dance solo, you can practice your counting, your combinations and your turn techniques.

This is also a great time to practice your body movements — the extra flair that brings life to your personal salsa dance style!

If you want to learn how to salsa dance like a pro, taking a salsa dance class near you with a world-class instructor is the most straightforward (and fun!) way to do so. You’ll get a live how-to on salsa dance steps and tips for practicing the steps at home, as well as a lively interactive environment.

For even more creative ideas and inspiration, check out other experiences happening on Classpop!