How to build a solid repertoire of Cuban Salsa moves
Most Leads find it difficult to add new moves to their repertoire. At intermediate level we hardly have enough figures for one dance. At advanced level we have more moves to choose from but most of us more or less still dance the same dance over and over again.
Keeping a solid repertoire of moves alive is not easy. If you dance socially less than once a week, you really need strategies to help you maintain the moves you have once learned in classes and workshops. And we all need strategies and hard work to learn and actually use new moves, and for our repertoire to grow.
In another blog post, Social dancing: the more moves you know the better, I argue that the more figures and variations a dancer has as muscle memory, the easier it is just to dance without thinking about moves. In the following I will list some of the strategies I use in my social dancing for introducing new moves, and strategies for keeping many moves alive.
1 Prepare new moves
Always before I go to a social dance, I prepare for at least one new move to use, and I rehearse it at home to make sure that I remember it. On my way to the social dance I practice the move in my head and almost hypnotize myself to actual use it.
It is not always a new move but could be a move that has become rusty, that I haven’t used for a long time. Or it could be a move that worked in a dance class or at a workshop many, many month ago but which I never got to work in my social dancing.
It is a pleasure to give an abandoned move, being too difficult to lead in social dancing, a second chance, and discover that you have become better, that suddenly the move works with Follows that don’t know it.
2 The practice dance
When we dance socially, most of us prefer always to dance the best dance
possible, tailored to the specific Follow at hand. That is what I call the party dance. But when I dance with some of my regular partners, I often choose what I call the practice dance instead.
I might even announce it: “I want to practice a new move”. In the party dances I also use new moves or reopen moves, I haven’t use for a long time. I don’t announce them, when I am pretty sure that I will manage or that I can recover a failure gracefully without the partner noticing that anything went wrong.
What I call the practice dance is reserved for new advanced and difficult moves, where I have a hunch that I must practice them with several different Follows before I learn to lead them right. Normally I will practice a move 2-3-4 times with the same Follow, and then I will give her my best dance for the rest of the song.
3 At least one new move
Often when I start a new dance, I say to myself: “In this dance I most use at least one move, I didn’t use in the last dance”. On a good day I might say: “In this dance I must use at least one move I have not used before at this social dance. And I have made it Standard Operating Procedure always to give myself that same challenge in the very last dance of the evening.
It happens that I forget to use a new move in the last dance or that I suddenly is out of options for what new move to use. Then I always stay for one more dance, and I first start it, when I am ready for that new move.
4 The theme dance
In order to keep many moves alive and brush up my repertoire or simply to vary my dance, I have a strategy I call the theme dance. The theme could be Setenta, Siete, Sombrero, A Bayamo, etc. If the theme is Setenta, I must use 3-4 moves in the Setenta family and we are not talking about the easy stuff but of some Complicado. Or likewise 3-4 moves starting with Siete or Sombrero.
I like theme dances a lot. And the Follows normally enjoy sensing some structure and system in my dance instead of just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Repetition is always good. Another trick to remember to use certain moves, is to associate them with the dance school where you learned them or with anything easier to remember.
5 Follow specific moves
If you do a lot of social dancing, it becomes natural to give the regulars you dance with a lot special treatment. You no longer need to impress them but can relax and train to do less moves and be more music driven, and especially to go for longer walks and improvise if there is an opening on the dance floor. It is surprising how well one remembers each and every Follow. I like to train my Follows up to do certain combinations with more and more perfection.
6 Moves in Bad Standing
Often I boycott some of my favorite moves for a long period. I declare them in bad standing, simply to force myself to use other moves. If you use great intermediate moves like Montaña, Balsero and Setenta Complicado in almost every dance, it can be a good challenge to forget them for a couple of months to give other moves a chance.
Likewise it can be a good challenge to decide for a while not to do a move in a certain way. E.g.: I must use Vacilala at least once in every dance but I must not start it from Guapea and Dile Que No.
Another “boycot” challenge could be to say: In this dance I must not use Guapea at all. I must immediately, when finishing a figure, continue with another one or use another move than Guapea for threading water and calming down in between moves like going into closed position.
7 The alternative dance
Sometimes when I start a dance, I say to myself: “Here is my alternative dance”, I am not going to use any of the moves from my last dance, everything is new. This is a game I often play when I dance twice with the same partner.
It is a good challenge to sit down and put into writing a list of your typical moves when dancing with a Follow at beginner, intermediate and advanced level. Do you know enough good moves to give all three levels an alternative dance not reusing a single move except basic stuff like Guapea, Enchufla, Sacala and Vacilala?
8 Where to find new moves
Of cause you can always make up new moves yourself but in Cuban Salsa we have several hundred well tested named excellent moves making it almost impossible to come up with anything better. You are more likely to reuse, modify, and combine the best from existing moves than invented something completely new.
Many dance schools and instructors have video archives of excellent moves freely available at YouTube channels and websites. I have listed some of the best with a short introduction under the Cuban Salsa menu item.
We also have many old-fashioned DVD Salsa courses with collections of moves that little by little make it to YouTube. DVD players hardly exist anymore. I can recommend an app like “Salsa Steps”.
9. All Cuban Salsa Moves
To make it all easier, I have set out to catalog and comment as small tutorials all known Cuban Salsa moves if at least three videos of the move can be found on YouTube. Sometimes I make exceptions and include moves even if I only find one video, if the move is excellent or make for and interesting discussion, or I have experienced something similar in e.g. a Rueda de Casino.
As I start using all the moves myself to test if they are good enough to replace or supplement other moves in my repertoire, I reopen the tutorials and add a section about my experience of how to lead them.
I have just started making my archive of “All Cuban Salsa Moves”. I try to update it once a week.