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 firstname.lastname@example.org.