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How I Add Body Movement Into Salsa Partner Work

Today we’re tackling a question from one of our viewers:

“How do I integrate body movement into my partner work while keeping my frame intact and sending clear signals?”

Let’s break it down…

First: Why Body Movement Matters

When you’re just starting out, dancing can feel robotic, stiff and rigid. But as you advance, you learn to incorporate natural body movements, like bending your knees and moving your hips, torso, arms and shoulders. This progression makes your dancing look and feel more fluid and dynamic.

Good body movement is also good technique. When you move well all your shines and partner work will be easier to execute, and they’ll look and feel better.

Body Movement Basics

Everything starts from the ground, your steps, and the goal is to emphasize the natural movements that exist in the body, like when you walk.

  • Bending and straightening your knees move your hips.
  • This movement travels up the body causing your torso and arms to move.
  • Therefore, all movement is a consequence of your steps and weight shifts.

By practicing these movements, you’ll start to dance with more fluidity. Over time, your basics will include these subtle, natural movements.

Integrating Body Movement in Partner Work

When dancing with a partner, the key is to keep your movements subtle and natural without compromising the clarity of your signals.

1. Avoid over-exaggerating arm movements

  • While exaggerated movements work for performances, they can overwhelm your partner in social dancing.
  • Keep your movements relaxed and controlled.

2. Maintaining Clear Signals

  • Minimizing hand movement during the basic step: This is the most common beginner mistake – literally everyone does it. If your arms are too busy, it can confuse your partner. If your arms are always flailing around trying to make you look “salsa-y,” how is your partner supposed to tell if you’re signaling a move?
  • Frame: Maintain good posture, stand tall, head up and chest up. Keep your hands between you and your partner. Don’t let your elbows go behind your hips/body.

Practical Examples: Leading with Body Movement

Closed Position

  • You’re limited to the moves you can do, but you can enjoy freedom in movement. Your partner will feel your body movement through their frame.
  • A side basic or son basic (lateral step) gives you a lot more room for movement with a partner in closed position.
  • Rotate your torso to lead moves, like a cross body lead or back spot turns.
  • Project with your torso during the start of a cross body lead to emphasize the lead and signal for her to travel. It feels nice.

Open Position

  • Calm your hand movement to keep signals clear.

Example: Crossbody Open Break

Let’s break it down with a crossbody open break:

  1. Project with your torso as you begin the cross body
    • Lead with your torso
    • Rotate your torso in the direction you want the follow to go
  2. On the second half of the cross body lead, use a son basic to enjoy lateral movement
    • Reconnect with your partner by asking for her hand and signaling a right turn

Tips for Follows

Body movement, especially in your hips, enhances your following. When executing moves like a crossbody lead:

Swivel your hips on every step

  • This prepares your body for turns
  • Adds fluidity to your movements

Do this experiment with your partner:

  1. Try a cross body lead + inside turn with the follow keeping their hips totally square (facing forward)
  2. Try it again with the follow swiveling their hips on every step

Which feels better? Which is easier to lead? Yup, number two.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating body movement into partner work without overshadowing your frame and signals requires practice and subtlety. Ultimately, the key to good body movement is to practice it solo. It takes a long time to develop. Once you’re comfortable doing it solo, it will be easy to add it into partner work.

As your body movement gets better you’ll notice everything starts to feel better. Your lead or follow will become smoother, your partner’s will be pleasantly surprised, and everything will look and feel better.

Body movement is technique after all.

Want guidance and progressions for leveling up your body movement? Check out our online salsa program – you can try it here free for a week.