Salsa 101: How to dance with two left feet

Salsa 101: How to dance with two left feet

Experienced dancers share insights during Red Dog class

Heather Haugland has taught Salsa dancing for nearly 20 years.

For many years, the Bellingham, Washington resident taught the Latin dance in Juneau, and Wednesday she was back in town to teach the dance to old and new faces during a pair of dance classes at the Red Dog Saloon.

With notepad in hand, I tried to participate in the well-attended class, but both of my left feet were completely lost roughly five minutes into the warm-up activity. It was my super human arrhythmia, not a problem with the class.

However, Haugland and a pair of experienced dancers, Eric Oravsky, dance instructor for a regular dance group that meets Sunday nights at the Red Dog; and Kristin Cox, a Salsa dancer of 12 years, dispensed advice for other first-timers thinking of giving the dance a try.

Clear up misconceptions

Haugland said many first-time Salsa dancers have fundamental misunderstandings about the dance.

“They think people dance really close together, and that’s not true,” she said.

Instead, those leading the dance were instructed to provide structure for their partners with arm tension somewhere between “a noodle and a tin man.”

“People are also uncertain about its origins,” Haugland said. “It’s Caribbean.”

Haugland said some may be unsure of the difficulty of Salsa.

“As far as partner dances go, it’s medium,” Haugland said. “It’s easier than tango but more difficult than the waltz and swing.”

Ditch the Xtratufs

Attire isn’t a particular concern for Salsa dancing, Haugland said.

She recommended would-be dancers wear something comfortable, but there was more specific advise for footwear.

“I’d say wear comfortable shoes that slide easily,” Haugland said. “I discourage high heels.”

When the class started, there were stacks of jackets and clusters of neoprene boots on the fringes of the dance floor.

Keep pressure low

Oravsky said a lot of times, someone will start taking dance lessons because they have an upcoming wedding, or think dancing might be a good way to meet a new romantic partner.

He said both motivations aren’t ideal, and the best way to approach dance is for fun without a lot of internal pressure.

“Don’t focus on on doing it right, focus on whether you’re having fun, and dance through your mistakes,” Oravsky said.

Find the beat

Salsa dancing is based on an eight-count beat, and dancers step on beats one, two, three, five six and seven.

“In Latin dances, the break step is what’s most important,” Oravsky said. “It’s when you’re not stepping.”

Haugland provided dancers with some instruction for how to find and respond to the beat.

“It’s about feeling it in the base of your body,” Haugland said during the class.

She specifically mentioned the rib cage and hips rather than the shoulders.

“If you’re not on the beat, the rest of your body can get funky,” Haugland said.

Give it a try

Cox, an experienced dancer who was able to fill both lead and follow roles during Wednesday’s class, had simple advice for anyone who would like to give it a try.

“Just show up,” Cox said. “Everyone’s got to start somewhere.”


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


Heather Haugland teaches a salsa workshop at the Red Dog Saloon on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Heather Haugland teaches a salsa workshop at the Red Dog Saloon on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

More in News

Meals slated for children in Juneau over Thanksgiving weekend are arrayed on tables at Thunder Mountain High School on Nov. 25, 2020. (Courtesy photo / Luke Adams)
Font of plenty: JSD readies meals for Thanksgiving holiday

Nearly three tons of food got distributed for the long weekend.

Travelers arrive at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, made up only about half of what the airport normally sees in the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Centennial Hall, seen here on Tuesday, Nov. 24, is being used by the City and Borough of Juneau as an emergency facility during the coronavirus pandemic and will not host the annual Public Market which has taken place every weekend after Thanksgiving since 1983. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Want to buy Alaskan? Closed by pandemic, Public Market goes virtual

Normally throngs of Juneauites would be lined up around the block…

To capture the unexpected action- the unrepeatable moment- it should be instinctive.  In order to build the story you have to shoot the adjective.  In this photo the bald eagle had waited patiently for the right moment to pounce on an unsuspecting vole… the unexpected.  The best way to accomplish this is to master the art of the most difficult subject to photograph– birds in flight.  In order to do this you must learn your gear; it must become part of your muscle memory so you can concentrate on the story you are witnessing.  Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 150-600mm, shot at 600mm, ISO AUTO (1250), F6.3, 1/3200, Handheld. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)
Focal Point: Great photos are just waiting in the wings

Learn to shoot the verb (and the bird).

Has it always been a police car. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Construction of the new Glory Hall, above, is going smoothly, said executive director Mariya Lovishchuk on Nov. 24, 2020. (Courtesy photo / Thor Lindstam)
Building a brighter future: New Glory Hall reaches skyward

The structure is rapidly progressing, shouldering aside inclement weather.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Tuesday, Nov. 24

The most recent state and local numbers.

Most Read