There is no reason you can’t practice Salsa without a partner.
Yes, Salsa is a partner dance, but there are often times when you have to hold your own during a social dance. If your partner lets go, what are you going to do? If the music makes a noticeable change, you need to be able to adjust.
Would you try a new step during a social dance before knowing what you’re doing? Probably not. Not unless you are comfortable fumbling around until you get it right. And even then you might be able to “make it through” the step. But what about your technique, finesse and posture? Were you getting those right? You have no idea. You were too busy looking at your partner’s pretty face.
These are just a few examples of why practicing solo is worth it. So to prove anyone can benefit from it, I present you with…
7 Ways to Practice Salsa Without a Partner
- Use the Camera
- Watch Others
- Master Body Movement
- Get Your Feet Movin’
- Know Your Music
- Memorize Your Steps
- Practice Partner Shadowing
#1 Use the Camera
When practicing alone, the camera is your best friend and you are your biggest critic. Before getting started, try and have at least one video clip of yourself dancing with a partner so you can analyze what you need to work on.
How to approach critiquing your dancing:
- Watch the video all the way through without thinking. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
- Watch the video a second time and identify the parts of the dance that don’t quite look right. Maybe you fumbled your steps, your partner didn’t respond well to your lead, or you had an otherwise awkward moment. Figure out what caused that awkwardness and write it down.
- Keep a list of your “mess ups” and find out what your biggest weakness is. Some examples could be stumbling in your footwork, unclear lead/follow technique, poor timing etc.
- Choose one of the skills from your list of ‘mess ups’ and focus on it during your upcoming practice sessions. Every now and then, re-film yourself and see how you’re improving on your skill of choice.
- Repeat the process of weakness identification, analysis and practice until you are happy with the progress you’ve made.
- Celebrate when you see improvement!
#2 Watch Others
Watching others dance is a great strategy to tie into your camera critique. You already know what skill you want to improve on, so now you need to find someone who’s great at it and study them.
Go out for a night of social dancing and take a break in between dances. Glue your eyes to the dance floor and identify someone who looks like they really know what they’re doing. How does their movement compare to yours? Try to ignore their personal style and focus on the technical movement. Pay close attention to how they connect with their partner, move their body, flow between steps and respond to the music. While watching, focus on the movement that’s related to the skill you are trying to improve. Watching everything they do is fine, but ‘everything’ can be overwhelming to think about. Having a focus will help you find the key takeaways to fast track your improvement.
After your secret spy session, remember one or two takeaways that you can try next time you practice. Rinse and repeat this process for each skill you want to improve. Remember to use your camera to keep tabs on your progress.
#3 Master Body Movement
Mastering your body movement is one of the best things you can do to up your Salsa game. You can think about body movement in two ways: There’s the technique involved in how you move your body while doing certain moves and then there’s your personal flavour you can add in to make the movement your own.
By practicing body rolls, hip circles, chest isolations and so on, you’ll get more comfortable with the body movements associated with latin rhythms. Over time, they will begin to look better and better. When you become comfortable with the movement, the next step is matching that movement to the rhythm and instruments within the music.
Once you can do that, your dancing will take off and you’ll be one of the funkiest people on the dance floor.
#4 Get Your Feet Movin’
Footwork, commonly known as shines, is really fun to do if you’re good at it. On the other hand, if you’ve got two left feet, then shines probably seem a little scary to you. While learning Salsa, everyone experiences that unnerving social dance moment when a partner lets go of their hand and they have no clue what to do. That overwhelming feeling of awkwardness that follows is all apart of the learning experience. It’s normal. But the real question is what are you going to do about it?
The great thing about mastering shines is that it will hugely improve your confidence on the dance floor. If you’re able to hold your own, you’ll be far less intimidated to ask others to dance. You’ll have a hell of a lot more fun playing with the music too.
#5 Know Your Music
Understanding Salsa music will help bring out your true personality while dancing. It will give your movement soul, passion and excitement. Take some time to discover the history behind Salsa music and learn how the different sections of a Salsa song come together to create the whole. Every Salsa song has various sections including an intro, bridge, montuno, solos and ending.
By knowing more about the music and how it’s structured, you’ll start to realize what parts of a song should be danced in a relaxed way, which parts are suitable for advanced moves and which sections are great for letting go of your partner and doing shines.
#6 Memorize Your Steps
Dancing is a language. You have to learn your vocabulary before writing a sentence and perfect your sentence writing before crafting a letter.
In the same way, you have to master Salsa steps before combining them into a pattern and master patterns before social dancing. Everything in dance is modular. Without the vocabulary, you have no building blocks to build your masterpiece.
So what can you do to make this masterpiece more masterful? Memorize your moves! Increase your potential by having as many building blocks as you can. If you forget your moves, your social dance will crumble.
If you’re really keen to try this, create a list of all the steps you know (perhaps categorizing them by skill level or technique will help you remember them). Every once in a while, re-visit the list and see how many of the moves you can perform from memory. If you find yourself forgetting some, then that’s a good time to start jogging your memory.
The moves you have locked in your memory are your home base – your safe place. From there, you can slowly add steps to your arsenal and expand your vocabulary.
#7 Practice Partner Shadowing
Shadowing is basically running through a move or pattern from start to finish while pretending to dance with a partner. It might feel a little lonely, but it’s a great way to drill your technique without the distraction of a partner. Quite often, when you’re learning something new, you’ll pay too much attention to what your partner is doing and forget what you should be concentrating on. When shadowing, you can make sure your posture, movement, lead/follow technique, and footwork are all dialed in before moving on to a partner.
Shadowing is more of an intermediate technique and will get easier and easier the more Salsa experience you have. If you’re a beginner, feel free to give it a try, but don’t get discouraged if you can’t quite visualize the hand holds and (your ghost partner’s) body positioning while starting out.