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How Salsa Turn Technique Will Change Your World

kelowna turn technique workshop

Taking 15 minutes to better understand turn technique could change your world.

A month ago, we cruised over to beautiful Kelowna, Canada with Patrick and Scarlet to teach some salsa workshops on turn technique. At the start of class Patrick and Scarlet asked everyone to social dance, using inside and outside turns, to get a sense of where everyone was at. I jumped in and started dancing with Rina (not her real name).

Immediately, I realized there was no way I could lead her through the turns, because of the way she was positioning her feet and not shifting her weight forward. It was impossible to guide her through the turns without using significant force, which I refuse to use because 1) the follow won’t learn anything, 2) it feels like crap to both partners, and most importantly 3) you could injure your partner.

As Patrick and Scarlet revealed the Golden Rules of Salsa technique (more on this to come) and how they applied to turns, Rina made some quick adjustments and within 15 minutes she was cruising through the turns like she’d done them a thousand times. I was floored. Just a few moments ago it felt like I was pulling a dizzy elephant and now here she was balanced, in control and floating across the floor. I wondered, ‘Can this result be duplicated?’ The answer is yes, and we’ve seen it over and over again. Here’s how….

How to Improve your Turn Technique

Follow these simple cues to improve your turns immensely, but remember, not everyone will get the same results, especially without the help of a well-trained coach. That said, if you pay close attention to how you practice the following, you’ll notice a huge jump in your ability to execute smooth and controlled turns.

  • Posture – stand tall with a straight spine and ensure you maintain this stable position the entire time you’re dancing. Our salsa tip on The 8 Benefits of Proper Salsa Posture does a great job at breaking down the key points. We also recommend keeping your posture off of the dance floor to maintain healthy body mechanics. You won’t regret it.
  • Tension – to maintain your balance and straight line while turning, you need to create some tension throughout your entire lower body and core – from your ankles, through your thighs and butt muscles, all the way into your stomach and back. These muscle groups stabilize you as you turn, helping you move more effectively and smoothly. By creating tension, you allow your body to move as a single unit, which makes you more responsive, balanced and controlled. Check out this salsa tip on How to Improve Your Turn Technique 10X Over With This Simple Drill. It’s a perfect test to see if you’re slacking!
  • Turn your feet out and step forward – your feet should always be slightly turned out when you step. Never turn your feet in and pigeon toe. When you turn or pivot, you also always step forward (even when you might think you should step backward). A common mistake a lot of dancers make is to land their foot backwards on the floor as they move through or finish their turns. To correct this, always point your toes and the instep of your foot are facing forward, in the direction you’re going.
  • Shift your weight onto the foot you’re stepping on – this may seem obvious – ‘Dude, I know how to walk!’ – but for some reason, as soon as we start salsa dancing we all forget how to walk! It’s crazy, we know, but so many people forget to shift their weight onto the foot they’re stepping on. Let us remind you. If you’re stepping on your right foot, put all your weight on it right away, stepping from the ball of your foot down to the heel. If you’re stepping on your left foot, put all of your weight on it right away, stepping from the ball of your foot down to the heel. Ensuring you shift your weight immediately keeps your weight on your front foot, moving you forward, so you’re prepared to turn or pivot at any moment. Too many people remain back-weighted, which severely hinders their ability to to pivot or turn, making the lead’s job incredibly tough and eliminating most of his options.
  • Spot forward – in general, to avoid getting dizzy, spot your turns in the direction you’re going. Only spot your partner if he’s changing directions, spinning you on the spot, or giving you an intense dosage of multiple traveling turns.

When You Should Practice Turn Technique and Why It’s So Important

Warning: practicing while you’re fatigued or have poor concentration will give rise to poor technique.

Since practice makes permanent, the best time to focus on turn technique drills, or any technique for that matter, is when you’re fresh. Every time you move, you’re programming your brain, so quality is key. Your habits are everything.

While social dancing, performing or competing a dancer doesn’t have time to think about proper technique. She will do what she has programmed her body to do during practice. The more practiced a dancer is, the sooner and more likely they will execute these skills efficiently and subconsciously. Habits are harder to break than to make, so practice the right stuff and only create the habits you want.

Speed Up your Progress and Learn Turn Technique from Salsa Champions

The cues we gave above are easier said than done, and there are plenty of nuances and common mistakes people make with each, especially with respect to timing.

Having a coach can be a game-changer and that’s why we’ve put together detailed instructional videos to help you along, step-by-step, and cover everything you need to know to improve your turn technique for salsa.