How to Remember Salsa Moves (the MISTAKE that holds you back)

(Note: we use salsa as the example, but these techniques apply to any partner dance!)


We hear it all the time: “I can’t remember any of the moves I learned!”

Why is it that SO many leads dancing salsa, bachata and [insert dance here] struggle to remember moves?

Let’s dive in…

One of our salsa students recently reached out in our Facebook group asking:

I’m looking for tips on how to remember salsa moves. I have a partner I practice with and I try to run through the moves by myself at other times, but come social dancing all that practice seems to vanish and I can only remember a small amount.


The Problem

So as a lead how can you more easily remember salsa moves?

Firstly, this is such a common problem so don’t feel bad if you experience it. We’ve all gone through it, myself included.

Not being able to remember moves or forgetting problems is just a symptom.

The actual problem you’re experiencing is a lack of vocabulary and understanding of how everything connects.

Trying to memorize patterns from class isn’t the answer, but unfortunately it’s what most leads do and what most teachers teach.


The Solutions

1. Stop Focusing on Patterns, Focus on Handholds Instead

When you think about a handhold it can end up being a trigger for something that follows. A single handhold can trigger a mini combo you remember or any move that you know from that position


2. Focus on Moves Instead of Patterns

Moves are smaller bits of information.

When you go to social or a party, instead of trying to remember a whole pattern just try and remember one or two moves. By adding moves one at a time to your social dancing you’ll avoid overwhelm and be much more successful.

Once you can identify and remember individual moves you’ll be able to start putting them together without thinking.

Once one move finishes, based on the position you’re in naturally you’ll be able to flow into the next move.

So the question becomes…

How many individual salsa moves do you know? 

Write them down because these are your lego blocks. For example here are the 7 Salsa Moves All Beginners Should Know.

Once you expand the vocabulary you know with new moves, one by one, then you can think of a simple system to think of all the ways you can use them.


3. Instead of Memorizing Combos Think in Concepts

For example, here are 7 different ways to hold hands:

  1. Right hand parallel
  2. Left hand parallel
  3. Both hands parallel
  4. Right hand crossed
  5. Left hand crossed
  6. Two hands crossed, right on top
  7. Two hands crossed, left on top

Ways to turn your partner:

  1. Turn above partner’s head
  2. Turn at neck level
  3. Turn at waist level

Another simple system that’s fool-proof is to think a video game controller: right, left, up down. In any moment you could:

  • turn your partner right
  • turn your partner left
  • keep your hand up while turning (above head or neck level)
  • keep your hand down while turning (waist level)

So, now that you have some simple systems to help you come up with ideas and remember things on the fly when you’re social dancing, let’s get into some of the more of the science-y geeky techniques for improving your memory.


4. Science-Based Memory Techniques

Spaced Repetition

The simple fact is we forget most of the information we acquire so what you want to do is reinforce that information on a regular interval to help you move it from short-term memory to long-term memory.

A simple way to do that is flashcards. You’ve probably all used these when you’re studying for school.

A simple exercise is to make three piles of cards. Each card has a move written on it.

  • Pile 1: very poor recall
  • Pile 2: OK recall
  • Pile 3: easy recall

The idea is to practice moves you can’t recall very well more often. So…

  • Take a card from the “hard” pile.
  • If you can recall it move it to the pile that you can recall OK.
  • Test yourself ten minutes later: if you’re able to remember it move it to the easy pile.

By doing this you’re going to reinforce the things you suck at remembering and practice the moves you can remember just enough to keep them in your memory.

Now if you’re not actually salsa dancing you can use this flashcard technique by itself to test your memory and improve it.

You could also pick up a card and shadow dance with yourself, especially if you’re your lead. Imagine the follow is there and pretend to do the move. If you remember it, move the card over to the next pile.

Likewise if you have a follow with you, dance!


Chunking is the process of grouping information together based on a context that connects it.

For example, if you’re going shopping and you need to make a list of things you need, you can organize the list based on the area of the store the item is found in.

When you’re salsa dancing try and remember the moves you know from a given position or hand hold. As I mentioned before this helps your brain organize things in a nice easy to remember package kind of like a filing cabinet.

Here’s a simple exercise you can do:

  1. Grab a piece of paper and write down two or three hand holds or common position you find yourself
  2. Underneath each of those list as many moves as you can think of that you could do from that position or handhold

This is not only going to help you remember moves, but it’s going to help you stop always repeating the same thing.

I don’t know about you but when I’m social dancing I always have specific habits and I always do certain things from certain places and it’s nice to help switch things up.


Let’s recap everything we just learned:

  • Focus on moves not patterns: you can’t understand something complex until you understand the building blocks it’s made from. Write down all the moves you know!
  • As you get comfortable learning all the individual moves, you’ll naturally find yourself able to combine them together and remembering combos becomes easier.
  • Used space repetition (flashcard exercise) and chunking to remember moves.
  • When you go social dancing add in one move at a time into your repertoire. Don’t overwhelm your brain; you’ll forget everything.
  • Think in simple systems – right, left, up, down – to help you come up with ideas on the fly from any given handhold or position.

Celebrate the small wins and have fun out there!

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