Not a Subscriber?

Join 17,000+ social dancers getting practical tips and resources every week to level up outside of class.

How to Break Down Salsa Patterns (and Steal Moves)

Do you want to be able to watch anyone dance and understand exactly what you see, so you can learn combos faster, remember things better and more easily take inspiration from your favorite dancers?

That’s exactly what I’m going to explain in this video, with examples, and stick around because later in the video I’ve got a fun challenge for you.

This is a part two of a video I did recently on How to Remember Salsa Moves and in that video I mentioned that beginner leads should spend less time focusing on patterns and spend more time focusing on individual moves.

Now I want to show you why this approach works and how, with practice, eventually you’ll be able to walk into any class in the world and pick up whatever combo they’re teaching within 15 minutes.


How to Break Down Salsa Patterns

Let’s start by watching this high intermediate level combo that we call Bouncy Hands from our online salsa course.

Let’s break down Bouncy Hands into the individual moves, the building blocks, that make it.


1. Identify the basic moves the follow does first

Don’t pay attention to the complicated stuff Patrick is doing just watch Scarlet:

  • inside turn
  • right turn
  • inside turn


2. Look at the fancy stuff the lead is adding on top

The fancy extra stuff Patrick is adding on top is:

  • To start the crossbody lead he faces away from Scarlett lifting one arm over his head and then he turns to face Scarlett to initiate the inside turn
  • During the inside turn he locks one arm on her elbow
  • He does a right turn and lifts his arms up over his head
  • He reverses the highs and lows of his arms creating a barrel roll action for Scarlet’s right turn
  • Finishes with two elbow hooks and a head loop on the final inside turn

If you know the building blocks and have the vocabulary to describe them, you can understand what you see and break combos down into pieces. This makes them easy to remember and allows you to use as much or little of the combo as you want in your own dancing.

You need to develop your ability to SEE dance. Just like a visual artist needs to develop their ability to understand color tones, shapes, angles, intensity and balance of a composition as a dancer you need to develop your ability to SEE dance.


The Challenge

Watch the second combo in the video above (Libera La Mariposa) and call out the moves you see to identify how developed your vocabulary is.

How’d you do?

How many moves you were able to name?

Do you have the vocabulary to describe what’s happening? If so, congrats. That’s awesome.

If not, then you probably realized that when you don’t have a word to clearly describe what you’re seeing it’s almost impossible to truly understand it.


Let’s watch the second combination again and break it down

First focus on what the follow is doing:

  • Patrick leads her into an inside turn to a butterfly with a check (that’s a change of directions)
  • Scarlet comes back on his right side
  • Patrick then goes into an outside turn with a little touch-and-go action with his hands
  • Copa variation followed by another check into a hand toss and
  • Finishes with a free-spinning inside turn


Let’s watch one more combination

Watch the third salsa combination (Triple Trouble) by yourself first and call out the moves you see.

Now, let’s break it down:

  • Patrick starts this combo by giving Scarlett a triple turn but you can easily replace this with a double turn or a single turn. All you have to do is drop your hand to neck level on the last turn
  • Scarlet goes into an outside turn
  • Then a 360 degree over turn where the follow pivots over one leg
  • Basic right turn
  • Crossbody lead (don’t let Patrick’s fancy arms confuse you) with a little arm toss
  • Change of place with a check and another check and he goes under her arm. Note: a “check” is just a change of directions.
  • Finishes with a free spinning inside turn

If you want to keep challenging yourself type social dancing into YouTube find a 10 to 20 second section of a clip and see if you can break it down exactly like we just did.


How to add moves you like into your social dancing

Let’s say you really like just one piece of a salsa pattern you see in a class, or one of your favorite dancers doing.

Break that combo into its pieces isolate the part that you like and then add it into your social dancing in between some moves you already know. Watch: Adding Moves Into Your Social Dancing

You can make it as simple or as difficult as you like.

When you break things down into little pieces that have names everything is easier to learn, remember and understand. It doesn’t matter whether your goal is to learn combos faster learn choreography or just get really good at improvising for social dancing the answer is the same: if you want to reach the next level in salsa, bachata or any other partner dance, you must develop your vocabulary your knowledge of those individual moves and concepts that make up everything, so that you can name what you see.

If you can’t describe it and break it down you don’t understand it deep enough.

This is exactly what our online salsa course and online bachata course help with and focus on.

We teach you all the vocabulary and individual building blocks so you can develop into a mature dancer with deep understanding of what you’re doing.

If that interests you check out our online lessons to start learning the individual names of all the moves and let’s take a smarter approach to reaching your dance goals.