Question by sushiguacamole
I’m a follower and I recently joined a nice small salsa community. The instructor (lead) is about the same level as me so we’re both learning new things — dancing has truly became a conversation with our bodies!
Anyways, one of the things he keeps mentioning is that I take way too big of steps. I learned salsa from the same three leads who take bigger steps so perhaps I’m just used to taking bigger strides. However, I think he just takes way too small of steps.
He told me that my steps should not be more than 1 of my foot lengths away, which I think is extreme, but I get that smaller steps equals faster movement. When doing the basic, I usually take my steps the same distance as when I do a normal stride when walking, but a little smaller. I was told in the past that this will make it look like you’re walking and you look really fluid/natural.
What do you think? Should I retrain my brain and practice with smaller steps? If not, should I take smaller steps to accommodate the lead, or should the lead take bigger steps to accommodate me?
For reference, I have tiny feet and am like a whole twelve inches shorter than the lead lol. So when he says “smaller” and “smaller” and “smaller” it really feels strange to me, like I’m taking baby steps and barely going anywhere.
He told me that my steps should not be more than 1 of my foot lengths away, which I think is extreme.
as in “the heel of the forward leg being at most 1 foot lenghts away from the toe of the other foot”? Yeah, I’d say that’s about right.
I do my basic in a way where the heel of the forward leg is barely in front. As long as I can cross them if I want, the step is long enough.
It’s just good ergonomics. Dancing salsa is not about walking long distances.
Being able to dance in a downsized manner has tons of benefits. What if the dancefloor is packed wall to wall? No biggie. But if all you know is long strides, that’s a disaster in the making right there. Fast songs are absolutely easier to dance with shorter steps. For the guys long steps can make leading much harder, because they might exceed their reach if they step back too far, while leading a pattern – an uncomfortable situation to be in for both sides.
I’d say it’s better and much easier to start/practise small and then expand when circumstances allow (enough room for the spatial component to become a part of the styling/interpretation), than the opposite.
My rule of thumb is that as far as a single cross body lead, you’re basically dancing in a square that’s two-three shoulder widths across (a square because the lead needs to be able to stand either side of the follows line, 2-3 because the follow will usually have narrower shoulders). The square might move around if you intentionally traverse the floor, but it’s my mental model for keeping things relatively compact.
A lead can usually make a follow who takes small steps take larger ones, but they can’t provide you with the skill to take smaller steps.
I dunno, my impression has always been that being *able* to dance small reflects better technique and control of your body. I’ve done classes where the teacher has spent a fair amount of time trying to make us do both shines and partnerwork in relatively confined spaces.
Steps get smaller as the music gets faster or as the space gets tighter. You also want to keep it short enough that your body doesn’t need to move vertically to reach a step. Its a fairly normal mistake for new follows to take too big of steps and be late coming in on the 3/7 (for salsa on1). But there are all kinds of steps in salsa, I don’t think “more than a footlength” makes sense especially since a lead and follow will have different sized feet. Varying step distance and direction is a way to add flavor to the dance (in salsa caleña at least).
Changing to a shorter step that isn’t unreasonable short shouldn’t require retraining your brain though, if its challenging it might be worth practicing just to be a more flexible dancer. Try to put more motion into your hips instead. Maybe try practicing your basic step to fast salsa (caleña) to force yourself to use a shorter step.
Definitely take smaller steps. Obviously it will be different as you follow different leada but to be a good follow my teachers need to spend less energy running after me or trying to catch me. They are always telling me to make mine smaller. When I do, they are able to do more complex moves with me, faster and in more confined spaces.
If it helps, it’s less about making your steps small and more about keeping your core over your feet. You should be on the balls of your feet, and transferring your weight from foot to foot.
If you take a longer step, like you would when walking, then it’s harder to stay on your toes – when walking we step heel first for that reason.
So think less about step length and more about staying on your toes, keeping your steps in a line to give yourself that twist to your core with each step, and transferring your weight so that you’re actually stepping fully instead of just putting a foot out. If you’re doing this, then your steps will be the right length for you.
I hope this helps!
Sure bigger steps can be more fluid especially in really slow salsa. You’re not wrong there. Mambo dancers, in my experience, take a very large travel step but a veeeeery small break step.
But he’s right, one foot length at most is the default. It’s for balance, and for fast salsa. Plus on a social floor you don’t get that much room. Larger steps also impede your hip and body movement, as well as give you too much momentum when you prep your turns and spins.
It’s not the same as ballroom, modern jive, or zouk.
His rule of thumb is correct. You should practice taking smaller steps. The most advanced dancers do anyway. Beginners have a habit of learning to dance in the wrong fashion/being taught too quickly, and end up developing bad habits. Once you realize that Salsa is kind of your passion, and you get more serious about it, the onus is on you to correct the mistakes and “retrain your brain”, so that you are doing it on timing and with musicality.
Follow’s step length should depend on the lead with the exception of the break steps where the step should be small (as in stepping back just past the hell). Overall your dance should look the same regardless of step length but shorter steps do allow more hip movement for example.
But if the lead is sending you far and then complaining about that, they are leading incorrectly.
And in the end, step size is a subjective matter. Some like small steps and some like to move more. You should be able to do both, but your tastes might not match.
Stay compact/small. This allows you to do several things:
1) allows you to stay more grounded/balanced
2) allows you to be more efficient with your movements (less wasted energy)
3) you can react to a lead faster
4) makes the dance look smoother
If you are able to step on the right beat (keep timing) then take as long or short strides as you like.
My instructor told me that each step has a beginning, middle, and ending. Given that you can play around with each of your step, like prolonging the breaking steps then shortening the other steps.
There.are.no.rules. Everything that feels good for the lead/ follow combination and does not overly disturb others on the floor is okay. Esthtics are another thing but are subjective