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

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

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Nanibaa’ Frommherz, a student at Thunder Mountain High School, testifies about a proposal to help the Juneau School District with its financial crisis during a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night at City Hall. The meeting was moved from the Assembly Chambers to a conference room toward the end due to technical errors that disrupted the live online feed.
Little public reaction to city’s bailout of school district this year, but big questions beyond loom

Only two people testify Monday about proposed $4.1M loan and taking over $3.9 in “shared costs.”

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

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

Mauka Grunenberg looks at live oysters for sale on Aug. 29, 2022, at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage. The oysters came from a farm in Juneau. Oysters, blue mussels and sugar, bull and ribbon kelp are the main products of an Alaska mariculture industry that has expanded greatly in recent years. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s mariculture industry expands, with big production increases in recent years, report says

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed… Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (center) walks with Alaska Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, and Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, into the Alaska House of Representatives chambers ahead of her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

Congresswoman says wins for Alaska’s fisheries and state’s economy occurring through collaboration.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of Senate concurrence on a version of an education bill passed by the Alaska House last week during a Senate floor discussion on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

Dunleavy schedules press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation.

A photo by Ben Huff being exhibited as part of his presentation at 6:30 p.m. at the Alaska State Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Museum)
Here’s what’s happening for First Friday in March

Both the state and city museums are celebrating 20 years of artistic… Continue reading

Goose Creek Correctional Center is seen in fall. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Corrections)
Alaska prison failed to provide adequate dental care to inmates, state investigator finds

Goose Creek Correctional Center has gone years without a hygienist, forcing patients to wait

Jirdes Winther Baxter chats with Wayne Bertholl during her 100th birthday celebration Saturday at the Juneau Yacht Club. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Jirdes Winther Baxter, last survivor of 1925 Nome serum run, celebrates 100th birthday in Juneau

Five generations of family, dozens of friends and a coalition of political leaders offer tributes.

Most Read