Cuban Salsa: Why a Follow should step forward by default
What does it mean to step forward by default? It means that unless a Follow is led to step back, she should step forward. Whenever a Follow senses she has the choice between stepping forward or back, she should step forward.
In practical terms, stepping forward by default is about step “1” and step “5”. Back steps are common in the start position of open position and in the Caída start position, e.g. at the start of Dile Que No. Back steps in start positions, means a step lost, and since the next step forward only brings the Follow back into the start position, one back step actually means two steps lost for nothing!
Genuine Cuban Salsa
Stepping forward by default is a defining feature of Cuban Salsa except that many dancers, even Cubans, don’t care except for Vacilala steps. In Bachata we step sideways, from one side to the other as the main mode of dancing in a rectangular slot. In American Salsa like LA on One, we step forward and back in a rectangular slut as the main mode of dancing.
In Cuban salsa we step on a “circle”, clock-wise and counter clockwise, as the main mode of dancing. Stepping on a “circle”, the circular motion, makes it possible for both the Lead and the Follow to step forward simultaneously! Wow! Why not make the most of it?
In Cuban Salsa we also like to go on walks, and we have many names for them: Paseo walks, Saloneo walks, Paseala walks, Ola walks, Caminalas, Caminandos. In all those walks the Lead and the Follow walk as in natural walking.
That is, the “partner circle” (metaphor for circular motion) and walks and back to the circle and more walks, make it possible to dance long sections of forward moving flows for both Lead and Follow unheard of in other salsa styles or in other social dances.
This is genuine Cuban Salsa, uniquely Cuban, because only Cuban Salsa makes it possible.
Back-Rocking Cuban Salsa
Unfortunately many dancers even in Cuba are ignorant about the most sensational in their own dance culture or have never understood the uniqueness of genuine Cuban Salsa: that both Lead and Follow can walk forward most of the time.
Instead they dance fusion salsa, tourist salsa, as little Cuban as possible with back-rocking all over the place. They dance how any salsa style would mimic Cuban Salsa by adding the circular motion without unlocking the full potential of the forward walking Cuban dance mode.
What are the benefits of forward stepping?
- It makes long forward moving dance flows possible, giving Cuban Salsa a unique and distinct look and feel completely different from other Salsa styles.
- It makes the Follow more leadable. The more steps the Follow walks forward, the easier it is for the Lead to lead and position the Follow best possible for the next figure.
- It simplifies leading and following because the Follow knows she should almost always step forward. Simplicity in basic steps and positioning facilitates improvisation, creativity and advanced dancing.
- The more steps the Follow walks forward the shorter steps she can take, the better her balance, the more options for positioning, and the more time to be playful to the music.
- Stepping forward by default makes more movement possible even to slow music, and makes it easier to dance to fast music. If the dancers want a very dramatic and dynamic dance using long steps, they benefit from having even more long steps available.
- Having a distinct look and feel for the main section of the dance makes contrast dancing possible: like adding sections of Son, Rumba, Afro Cuban, XBody, Reggaeton, Hip Hop, etc.
Contrast dancing (secondary modes)
Stepping forward all the time on the partner circle and in various types of walks is only the main mode of genuine Cuban Salsa.
The more we create a good walking flow, the more fun it is to suddenly go stationary for a while, or to add a rectangular Son section with “forward and back” and sideways stepping, or a Cross Body Lead section with open breaks in an rectangular slot, or an “Afro” section like Rumba, or a dancing-apart-but together section with Qban Shines, or a Reggaeton section, or a loose free styling section breaking all the rules.
Often we don’t have the time for anything but the main mode of our dance, or the main mode is all we want or need. But for longer songs, we normally have plenty of time to supplement the main mode with one or more secondary dance modes as we please. Often just for short passages of the music.
When should a Follow step back?
- In basic figures and moves if the Lead explicitly leads her into stepping back.
- In dance sections where back steps are part of the game like in certain Son figures.
- Out of necessity in recovery mode, or in order to regain the balance, or to prevent collision with other dancers.
I train “always to step forward by default” with my many dance partners. In the beginning they asked me: What should I do when I dance with other Leads? The same! Always step forward by default. Only step back if you are led to step back, if you feel a clear lead, you can not ignore.
Most Leads are just hanging out on the dance floor, good for them. They might love their own way of dancing but they don’t have a strong opinion about how a Follow should step in order to facilitate the way they dance. They often don’t have a clue about how the Follows step or should step. They just dance and let the Follow decide how to step her part of the figures most of the time with very little explicit leading except when absolutely necessary.
A Follow can greatly improve almost any Lead’s dance:
By always stepping in a way that gives the Lead the most options and time for positioning her.
By always stepping in order to keep the motion and the flow of the dance alive.
In other words:
Don’t put a break on the dance, don’t be a motion stopper, don’t hang in the corners, don’t “back into the garage”, don’t let you be led into blind alleys, don’t back-step or side-crab unless the Lead explicitly demands it!
The Follow should take charge
Steping forward by default only poses one small problem for a Follow. In some dance classes and workshops, she might run into ignorant instructors telling the Follows to step back on “1” and on “5”. Just ignore them.
Most instructors, if asked, are happy to admit, that of cause a Follow can also step forward if the Lead leads her into doing that, or if the Lead is so vague in his leading that he doesn’t really care, or if the Follow feels that it will benefit the dance, if she steps forward in the situation.
Any Follow should take charge of her own dance. Any Follow should decide for herself how best to contribute to the success of a dance with a particular Lead. Any Follow can step exactly as she wants by default and only step otherwise if forced by circumstances like a clear lead.
Most dance schools pay little attention to the unique role of the Follow in Cuban Salsa: How should a Follow step and position herself by default? How can a Follow best facilitate and co-author the dance of any Lead no matter his personal style and preferences?