Cuban Salsa: a move’s level seldom makes sense

Most dance schools have at least three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Many have five levels: beginner, improver, two intermediate levels and advanced. Some dance schools just number their levels.

So far it makes sense. But it mostly makes little sense to group Salsa moves, figures, combinations, turn patterns (all four expressions mean the same) into such categories except for very basic steps and turns, and a lot of exceptions.

I have seen collections of moves grouped into seven categories: Basics, Beginner, Improver, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert, Master. This is meaningless. But some grouping like beginner, intermediate and advanced is of cause often a practical necessity.

Most of the more advanced moves are just longer, and for that reason more difficult to remember, but they are not technically more difficult. But we do have some moves with parts that are difficult to lead and follow, or difficult for some technical reason.

Easy is also difficult

In almost all dance schools we learn basic moves like Setenta and Sombrero at beginners-improvers level. But to lead and follow Setenta with a good flow and positioning and as a light Lead and Follow, is actually rather difficult. You first really get it somewhere at advanced level if ever.

Sombrero often takes some practice before you have the mechanics. But it takes much, much longer to really have it. To get in and out of Sombrero at ease, in good balance, as a light Lead and Follow, is very, very difficult. Many dancers never really get it.

When easy is very difficult

Siete Moderno is a classic most often grouped as an intermediate move, and it does look easy. I really like this short elegant move. But in my experience, it is probably the easiest looking move likely to go wrong with very many Follows even at advanced level.

Most Siete figures are not difficult because the Lead does not drop the Follow’s hand. The Lead’s left arm acts as a brake stopping the Follow as she is wrapped in. But in Siete Moderno, the Lead drops the hand and must stop the Follow’s movement by grabbing her left hand at the end of the half turn and at the same time stopping her at the shoulder with his right hand.

The challenge is to find her left hand in time if at all available, and the Follow must have proper tension in the left arm for the brake to work. It is not enough to stop her by the shoulder. Stopping her by the left hand and by the shoulder must be done simultaneously.

Video 1 is from “Son De Habana”, Bogotá, Colombia, 2015, featuring Alexander Barreto and Susana Osorio.

Same Video on YouTube

When doing almost any other Siete figure, the Lead doesn’t need to care about overdoing the pull action. The Follow is always stopped by being wrapped into the Lead’s arm. But in Siete Moderno, there is almost no chance of success if the Lead pulls with too much force. If he pulls too little, the Follow most likely doesn’t turn. Extremely difficult to find the right balance.

When difficult turns out to be easy

I have known the move Dedo, Guarapo y Bota por detrás for a long time, and I liked it instantly. But I have postponed starting to use it again and again. I thought it was too difficult for social dancing, I rated it more than advanced level. Then I decided to give it a try.

Video 2 is from “Son De Habana”, 2015, featuring Alexander Barreto and Susana Osorio.

Same Video on YouTube

First I practiced the move several times at a “Practica” training session to get the timing and the feel for the move exactly right. It really is a move that only works if the Lead leads it well. Then I tried it out with 10 different advanced Follows at my next social dancing.

I announced the move, whispering: watch out, next a new move I am testing. To my astonishment all the Follows got it exactly right. No problem, like the easiest of all moves!

When difficult is difficult

I also liked Lazo instantly but still haven’t succeeded in cracking the code and getting it right at ease every time I use it in social dancing. The move is difficult with a lot of contra turning continuing into the next count, which is not that common in Cuban Salsa. You really need to practice the move to get it into your body memory.

Video 3 is again from excellent “Son De Habana”, 2015, featuring Alexander Barreto and Susana Osorio.

Same Video on YouTube

The move curls the Follow in on 5-6-7, curls her both out again and in again on 1-2-3 in the opposite direction, then a double turn in opposite direction on 5-6-7, and one more turn on 1-2-3 getting into the Gancho (hook). Normally we get into the Gancho at the end of 5-6-7, so this is very confusing for many Leads.

The Lead now needs to walk forward to get the Follow in motion on 5-6-7, because next we have a relatively rare left turn on 1-2-3. Rather tricky because of all the bad dance schools teaching Follows to back rock on 1, unless they are lead forward (always move forward in Cuban Salsa as default).

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