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Salsa for Beginners: Switching Basics With Clear Intention


Learning how to switch between the salsa basics with clear intention is a game-changer for beginner leads.

If you want to ensure your partner has no doubt what you want them to do, watch and listen up.

Why Clear Intention Matters

Follow’s often feel confused as to what the lead wants them to do. It’s as if the lead is asking them to do something in a whisper, instead of a clear confident voice.

The more clear you can make a signal for a follow, the more likely you’ll have a smooth dance.

Frame: A Requirement For Leading & Following

Before you lead or follow anything, you need a frame—a physical structure—which you can use to send and receive signals.

The most important parts of creating a good frame are:

  • Tall posture, head up, chest up, arms relaxed

There are two common holds we use in salsa:

  • Frame in closed position: Imagine giving your partner a hug, creating a frame. In closed position, your hand is on her shoulder blade, and your other hand is holding hers. This frame allows you to communicate movement.
  • Frame in open Position: Stand apart from one another with your hands in the center. Follow’s place their hands palm down on top of the lead hands, which are palm up.

How to Switch Basics Smoothly

Let’s say you have three basic steps:

  • front to back basic
  • side basic
  • back basic or rotational back basic

When can you switch between them?

In general, you want to complete a full set (an eight-count) before switching to a new basic. This ensures clarity and avoids confusion of switching in the middle.

For example:

  1. On-the-Spot Basic:
    • Start with a full set: 1-2-3-, 5-6-7
    • Now switch to…
  2. Side Basic:
    • Dance one 8 count: 1-2-3-, 5-6-7
    • Finish with your feet together underneath you
    • On the pause or “slow count” before 1, start transitioning your backwards into the…
  3. Back Basic:
    • Finish a full set of the back basic
    • Instead of bringing your feet together on 7, transition into the front to back basic by stepping through the middle on 7 so your feet are staggered and you’re stepping forward.
    • The follow can feel your frame moving forward, and will respond.
  4. Front to Back Basic:
    • Finish a full set of the front to back basic
    • In order to change to the rotational back basic bring your feet together on 7, on the spot. We call this “anchoring.”
    • Use the “slow” count, the time before the 1, to start rotating your frame to gently guide your parter into the…
  5. Rotational Back Basic (Cumbia Basic)


Key Technique To Remember

When changing from any basic into a front to back basic,

  • Use the “slow count” or the “pause” at the end of the 8 count to shift your weight forward, before the 1, so the follow feels you moving towards them
  • End up with your feet staggered forward, in a walking position, on the 1.

Letting the follow know what’s coming before the 1 is key. you do this with your weight shift, which is felt through your frame.

When changing to any other basic (except the front to back basic)

  • Anchor on 7 by bringing both your feet together underneath you. This signals a change is coming.
  • Use the “pause” or the “slow count” to shift your weight in the new direction you’re going.

This weight shift helps the follow know where to step on 1.

A Note on Visual Cues:

Follows, you can also visually pay attention to the lead’s chest, which is his center of gravity. Where ever his torso is moving, that’s where you’ll be moving.

Drill These Transitions:

Practice switching between basics with a full set in between. Use good posture, frame and weight shifts before the 1 to guide your partner smoothly:

  • Practice going from front to back basic to any other basic
  • Practice going between any basic that’s not front to back
  • Practicing going from any basic and return to the front to back basic.

Once you’ve nailed those, you’re golden!

Final Thought

Mastering this fundamental technique is the first step in learning how to lead and follow well. There are visual signals and there are physical signals – learn to use both.

Once you start switching between your basic steps smoothly with clear intention, you’ll notice a huge smile on the follows faces. Leading well pays off!

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