Volle TanzflächeOnline lists of guidelines for dancing are abundant. The trend comes from the US and can be very helpful for beginners.

Recently I found a Spanish list that focuses on six "do's and don'ts" in salsa dancing. At first glance the list may seem legit. But after a closer look it became clear to me, that some of the guidelines are outdated and deserve closer attention. Salsa has changed in the last 10 years, as well as Bachata. But are our "rules of behavior" also changing?

One thing is certain, a lot more young people are dancing today than 10 or 15 years ago. Another factor which makes it complicated to agree on a certain set of rules, is the fact that for a lot of other dance styles, for instance ball room dancing, the focal points are different.

So I thought I'd work on this list, add to it and comment on it. The first rules apply mainly to men, although not exclusively. In the end, there are a few rules for women only. My focus is definitely on Salsa, Bachata and all variations of the Latin dance.


1. No one should get injured!

This rule is valid at any time, in any place and may be considered as the most important rule. It is above all other rules and yet is it often disregarded! In addition to ruthless stepping on toes, you may also experience bleeding noses, bruises on the feet and legs, elbows in the face, twisting of knees and wrists, and even broken bones. I have seen it all in my 15 years of dancing and I have also had my share of personal experiences. It is no fun!

There are many reasons for this. It is almost always the man's fault (but not exclusively!). A common scenario is for example, that a less experienced dancer overestimates his abilities in a movement or a turn and looses control of his partner. What he should do, is pay more attention to his partner and the dancers around him.

I often experience that dancers carelessly invade the space of other dancers, and this is how people get hurt. Here it is often the woman (or the person being led) who is not in control of her arms and end up punching faces and chins with the Ladystyle choreography.

Tips to avoid injuries:

Many injuries are caused by lack of space on the dancefloor and misinterpretation of one's own capabilities:

  • A dancer should only take as much space on a dance floor as he is entitled to. The others deserve the same amount of space! Whoever comes to an already crowded dance floor in the middle of a song may not be allowed to push the others.
  • Before each cross, you should look over the shoulder in the direction where you lead the woman. Just like you do, when you're driving a car.
  • If there is little space, the couple should not dance too far apart. The man must therefore ensure that there is a reasonable and not too great distance from the partner.
  • In Cuban dancing you have to scan always the surroundings! Especially for Cuban dancers it is important to be aware of one's elbows. If these are raised to the head level of the other dancers, put them down. It looks better anyways.
  • When the dance floor is full, renounce all turns or movements that demand more space, or wait for the next dance.
  • Dance slowly, carefully and controlled, not hectic.
  • When doing Ladystyle the woman should make sure that there is enough space available, to avoid hitting other dancers and spectators.
  • A tip for women: When doing shines, it's important always to check the distance to your partner, to avoid elbows in the face.
  • And important: easy on alcohol! That’s for both, ladies and gents!

crowded dancefloor  crowded dancefloor
The same evening: At first, turn-patterns are impossible. Later in the evening there is more space and more turn-patterns are danceable!

What can happen if there is too much enthusiasm or lack of control?

a) Kicking other couples:

You shouldn't kick anyone, ever. Of course mistakes do happen, so if you do end up kicking someone accidentally, apologize immediately and from then on dance much more cautiously. Kicking someone twice is a complete no-go, and it means you haven't learned from your mistake. Maybe you are one of the most unpleasant type of dancers, an egoist?

b) Throwing elbows in the faces of other couples

Put your elbows down! Learn to control your body. A nose breaks very easily and is to be avoided at all costs.

c) Dropping the partner

Beginners often have a tendency to focus on dance moves that look grand and magnificent, like multiple turns or drops and dips. However, if you are not an experienced dancer, and don't know all the little details that are essential when making the grand movements, you should take a break from the such escapades. Practice the dips in class first, otherwise someone could get hurt, or best case scenario: you end up embarrassing yourself and the woman who is now lying on the ground.

d) Kicking one's own partner

Contrary to common belief I find it completely harmless to kick one's own partner. It used to be regarded as a big mishap in dance schools, but to be honest, when you're dealing with beginners, it is almost impossible to avoid a little kicking or stepping on toes. The good news is, that when the kicking is happening between the two people dancing together, the women's heel is at the back of her shoe and is therefore often facing in the other direction, so it doesn't hurt as much :) What you should therefore pay more attention to - especially if you are a woman wearing heels - are the steps you take backwards and the people you may hit.

2. Ask your dance partner what style she prefers

It is not a must. After all, the man decides, but it's a nice gesture, especially if you don't know each other and don't know what the other one likes. Usually the options are Cuban or Salsa on 'one' or 'two'.
There are so many styles today, even more than just mentioned (Colombian, Puerto Rico, Salsaton, Salsa Choke, etc...), so a friendly question can be helpful if you are asking a stranger to dance. If a woman has known her dance partner for a long time, she may ask for a specific style herself.


3. Dance with your partner not with the people around you

In my experience Latin dancers are usually very good at getting 100% involved with their dance partner. This is a good rule of thumb. However, if you are a regular visitor to the salsa clubs, it might be difficult to completely avoid bumping into people you know and who want to greet you. In my opinion, greeting people quickly and afterwards continuing with the dance is completely acceptable. Just make sure is doesn't take too much attention away from your dance partner.

 Volle Aufmerksamkeit und Blickkontakt

4. Can you refuse an invitation?

There is an old norm within the dancing scene which dictates, that a man can never say no to a dance. This is because it was considered rude to refuse a woman, who had finally mustered the courage to ask a man to dance, after hours of lonely waiting.

I find, however, that this is in no way the case any longer. The Middle Ages are over, and women ask men to dance all the time. And so of course, you as a man have the right to say no. One should always be polite about it though. You may have just danced 5 quick salsa dances in a row, and you are simply in need of a break. Here you may offer the lady a polite rejection, saying that you need a little break, but you'd love to dance a bit later.

In addition to the matter of politeness, I'd like to add an observation I've made regarding female beginners. I have seen several times that female beginners prefer to dance with the better dancers, and so they reject the men of their (beginner-)level. Hence, the women take it for granted that the experienced men want to dance with them. This means, that the male beginners have very few opportunities to improve their dancing skills. I'd therefore like to encourage inexperienced women to dance more with inexperienced men, since it is always in the women's best interest, that these men become better. In the end, there'll be more experienced male dancers for everyone - hallelujah! ;-)


5. Say "Thank you" at the end of each dance

It's important to politely thank your partner after each dance. It's all part of the magic of meeting someone for one intense dance and then possibly never seeing them again. Usually people also give each other little kisses on the cheeks, the spanish way.

One time I experienced, that a woman complained about a specific dance partner to a third person. This is not the right way to go about things. Rather you should tell your dance partner that you'd like him to lead you a little more gently next time, or pay more attention to you, etc. But keep in mind, that this requires you to have enough experience of your own. A beginner should not be too quick to correct and criticize another dancer. That being said, even an experienced dancer can always learn something new.

Should you be so unfortunate to begin an 8 min piece with a new person, and in the first 10 seconds you discover that your dance partner was in fact born with two left feet and has no rhythm whatsoever, the important thing is to keep smiling, and make the most of it :) Everyone was a beginner at some point.

More dances in a row?

And speaking of the end of a dance: If you are dancing with someone and the music is over, it is usually a good time to release this person at the end of the dance ; -). Do not try to "occupy" someone who you do not know. It is not a common behaviour, but sometimes dancers try to monopolize somebody. If you get the feeling, taht your dance partner does not really want to continue, do not insist!
If you monopolize your partner, even against his/her will, ist not very professionally.... Don't misuse their politness! Especially when dealing with beginners.

If there is a lot of sympathy, however, it can also be for more dances. No problem at all!



6. Give your partner space - shines, improvisation and freedom of arms

Here is an example of Steps and Shines by Fadi und Bersy:  At 21s and especially at 50s you can see how much fun they have with shines and solo steps!

Here is a nice beginner shines combination for men and women to practice: Turn right, turn left, SuziQ, SuziQ variation and back into the figure.


Other combinations: Noelia Delgado shows a simple step combination for men and women,

For those who like it a bit more complicated: Shines Bersy and Noelia

A combination of Noelia Delgado's rumba and Pachanga elements: without music, with music

And to connect it: Bersy Cortez's rumba combination

If you like the videos, you can find more than 1600 dance videos in my Youtube-Channel.


7. At parties: Do not practice turns at late hours, especially not with strangers.

In dance courses you learn a lot and everything has to be practiced for a long time until you can master it fluently. Avoid explanations on the dance floor like "If I do this, you do this...". Repetition of dance moves is for the class room, not the dance floor. If a turn-pattern is not working, drop it and dance another one. It is not the end of the world. If the two dancers know each other and really wanna get a move right, you may practice it on the side of the dance floor. If you are a very experienced lead you may also be able to lead your partner through a new dance move without explanation. But whoever has to verbally explain moves during a Saturday night's dancing has not practiced enough. This applies to both men and women.

8. Never stop learning

I have met people who think, that after 2 or 3 salsa courses they are practically able to teach salsa themselves. With this attitude you will never dance better than below average. The truth is, that there is always something new to learn. The best dancers are the people who, even after having danced for a decade or more, still take classes with more experienced dancers.
Your partners will also have more fun, if you have a certain repertoire in Salsa and Bachata where you are sure to be able to surprise your partner. This also helps against your own boredom.

The "opinion" that women do not have to attend courses or learn anything is a very tiring and fundamentally wrong attitude. There are a lot of ways in which women can improve their skills in for instance Lady Styling, Shines, Spins - even if they are not the one's leading the dance.
Also: the good dancers often get asked to dance more often. So if you're tired of waiting on the sidelides, it's about time to go back to the dance class.

9. Sweating is allowed - but don't stink!

If you dance a lot, especially in summer, you will sweat. This is a part of dancing Salsa & Bachata. And the alternative would be not to dance at all, which is no fun. So don't worry too much about it. However, to avoid the smell of old sweat, I recommend you to shower before arriving. And if you have a favourite dancing outfit, be aware that this should occasionally be washed at 60°C. Otherwise, no matter how freshly showered you are, your clothes will stink.
You also can bring an extra shirt. So when you are really sweaty, you can change into a dry shirt.

10. When women complain that there are no men

I hear it all the time: "There are hardly any men here, who can dance." And my answer is always: "Well, what are you doing to change it?"
It is true, that there are in some Countries very few men who are dedicated dancers, although this has changed a bit in recent years.

Here are my suggestions for these women:

a) As a women who dances, try to invite a male friend to the dancing scene every evening. If everyone did it, we could solve this problem in no time. When I say this to women, they sometimes reply, that the men in their friend circle are not someone that they would like to lead on or flirt with. I understand this, but it's important to remember, that this is first and foremost about dancing. No one has to get married just because you've shared one dance. Bring him along anyways, and who knows, maybe another woman will fancy your male friend!

b) If you're hoping to get asked to dance, try not to sit in cliques with your friends far away from the dance floor. If you wanna dance, look carefully at the dance floor, maybe take a break from the deep conversation with you friend and in stead move your foot and/or body to the beat of the music. The best chances are of course to stand in the middle of the dance floor or even better: to ask someone yourself.

Well, that was it. This became much longer than I intended, but maybe someone has managed to read till the end :-)

Remember that the most important thing is to have fun dancing!


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