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

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 29

Eaglecrest Ski Patrol received a report of an avalanche in closed terrain in the East Bowl Chutes at 10:10 a.m. Thursday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)
David Holmes digs through a pile of boardgames during Platypus Gaming’s two-day mini-con over the weekend at Douglas Public Library and Sunday at Mendenhall Public Library. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Good times keep rolling with Platypus Gaming

Two-day mini-con held at Juneau Public Library.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023

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

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Juneau man indicted on child pornography charges

A Juneau man was indicted Thursday on charges of possessing or accessing… Continue reading

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Juneau’s municipal and state legislative members, their staff, and city lobbyists gather in the Assembly chambers Thursday meeting for an overview of how the Alaska State Legislature and politicians in Washington, D.C., are affecting local issues.
Local leaders, lawmakers and lobbyists discuss political plans for coming year

Morning meeting looks at local impact of state, national political climates.

This photo shows pills police say were seized after a suspicious package was searched. (Juneau Police Department)
Police: 1,000 fentanyl pills, 86 grams of meth seized

Juneau man arrested on felony charges.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Jan. 27, 2023

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

Most Read