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The Difference Between A Turn and Hand Toss in Salsa


These two moves get mixed up all the time, especially by beginner follows, so let’s get clear on how to lead them and when it makes sense to skip a move all together.

I previously explained the difference between a turn and a hairbrush for the follows. Now, let’s break down the how the lead and follow feel for a turn vs. a hand toss.

Understanding the Difference: Turn vs. Hand Toss

The Turn (horizontal plane)

A turn involves guiding your partner’s arm horizontally, across their body, and around their axis. For example:

  • Across the body (Ex: a right turn, lead’s right hand to follow’s left hand): make it clear that the follow’s arm is going across their body and around their head.
  • To the outside: (Ex: a right turn, lead’s left hand to follow’s right hand): lead her right hand on a horizontal plane away from her body and around her head.


The Hand Toss (vertical plane)

A hand toss keeps the movement within a neutral up-and-down territory, avoiding crossing the follow’s center line or axis on a horizontal plane. Here’s how to do it:

  • Downward toss: the intention is down, not to the side. For instance, if you want to switch hands, toss the hand down – the follow will continue the movement, raising their hand and you and ask for it again, wherever you want it.
  • Toss to hammer Lock: This one can often be confused as a turn. The trick is to connect with the follow’s wrist, do a little circle, toss downward and slightly back, so her arm ends up behind her back. If the intention of the toss is too horizontal and not enough downward the follow may interpret it as a turn.


Practical Demonstrations (see video)

Let’s look at some examples to illustrate these differences:

  1. Turn: during a basic step, lead the arm to the outside to signal a turn.
  2. Hand Toss: connect with the wrist, circle, and toss down and back.
  3. Combining Turn and Toss: lead a right turn, toss the hand, then show a target to block and send the follow back the other way, to the left.


Tips for Dancing with Beginners

When dancing with beginner follows, they may not be familiar with hand tosses. Here’s how to adapt:

  • Avoid hand tosses: If the follow turns quickly instead of completing the hand toss, switch to simpler moves. You can’t lead something they don’t know how to do.
  • Use hairbrushes: Instead of a hand toss, try a hairbrush, where you lift the follows hand on a vertical plane up and over her head. Let go and allow her to finish the move, brushing her hair. If the follow doesn’t know what to do, you can avoid these too.
  • Adjust Your Leading: Be ready to modify your moves based on the follow’s experience and responses. That’s the trick to being a good lead. Don’t make the follow feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. Adjust and have fun!


Final Thoughts

Understanding the difference between a turn and a hand toss allows you to lead more effectively and adjust to your partner’s skill level. Remember, clarity is key in leading these moves.

For more detailed guidance on incorporating these concepts into your social dancing, check out our online salsa program – you can try it free for a week here.

It’s a game-changer.