Cuban Salsa: Short or long steps?
How long or how short steps should we take in a dance like Cuban Salsa? Little is known about this subject, and it is seldom discussed despite the fact that it somehow seems to be an important discussion. The only thing I remember having ever heard from dance teachers in classes and workshops is the mantra that we should take short steps. But is this really the end of this discussion or is there much more to it?
It does make sense, at least as point of departure, that we should take short steps. One of the most common errors at beginner and intermediate level is to take far too long steps. It is quite normal to see beginners stepping almost a meter apart when they actually are much better of stepping a centimetre or an inch apart!
You need small steps in order for your body to be above your feet as much as possible, making it easier to maintain a good balance, when you move around. With long steps the Lead and the Follow easily get to far apart making it more difficult to keep in touch, more difficult to lead and to follow, at least at beginner’s level.
So far so good but what about advanced level?
At advanced level, it probably makes more sense to say the opposite: Longer steps means more movement, a more dynamic dance, at least the potential for a more dynamic dance. Long steps give us a bigger contrast between long, short and stationery. With long steps we can dance with more variation and drama.
That is, at advanced level, short steps are mostly out of necessity, to play it safe, to get our bearing, to go easy when testing new moves and variations, when dancing to unknown or to fast music.
Short, medium and long steps might be equally good as long as they work for us in the situation. Step lengths depend on who we are, our technical level. And it depends on what we want with our dance, on our dance style.
Video # 1 is just the spoken version of this tutorial.
To a given piece of music, we all have a favourite step length that suits us best. But we don’t dance alone, we dance with a partner. That is, step length should always be a compromise between the couple dancing. At the start of a dance, the Lead and the Follow should negotiate a common step length.
If the Lead is tall, and the Follow is short, the Lead should most often step shorter than when dancing with a Follow of the same size. And the Follow should probably step longer than when dancing with another short person. If one of the dancers are more experienced, the Lead or the Follow may adjust the most or do all the adjusting necessary.
Most of us do adjust the step length with a new partner without thinking about it, … or do we? Or do we sometimes forget it? Very often when we experience problems of leading and following, the problem can be found in a mismatch of step length.
I sometimes experience the mismatch when I dance in the opposite role of the Follow with one of my training partners, a Leader that is shorter than me. Suddenly my Leader tells me: “I can’t lead you, you take too long steps!” Or rather: There is a mismatch of step length.
Forward or back-rocking
It is also interesting to note, that forward walking dancers, like me, we have six steps in an 8-count to step forward, that is: We can move a hell of a lot around on the dance floor, if we take long steps. Giving us a lot of options for positioning and for creating good flows with a lot of momentum.
Back-rockers on the other hand, if the Follow steps back on “1” and on “5”, only have two steps in an 8-count to move them around. Only step “3” and step “7” bring them forward from the start position. Even with long steps, back-rockers are almost stationary compared to forward stepping dancers. Back-rocking in Cuban Salsa reduces the potential of the dance to a bare minimum, it reduces the computational options drastically.
Variation is a must
From what we have talked about so far, we can conclude the following: Each dancer should train and get used to different step lengths. It is not enough to learn and practice your own favourite step length. We should be able to dance with short, medium and long steps, even with very long steps.
The most easy step length, is the one we prefer and normally use. It is also no big deal to take shorter steps than normal, we can do that without much training. The challenge is to learn also to dance with long and with very long steps.
Not just in order to be able to dance with partners much taller than yourself, but more importantly because relatively long steps are a most to get more movement, flow, momentum, contrast and variation into our dance.
Practice long steps
To be able to dance with long steps is an important skill to master. It is not easy, we must train it.
In general, many of us would benefit from taking smaller steps than what we actually use. But the opposite is also true. Many of us would benefit from taking longer steps than we normally do, as long as our technical level is up to the task.
Longer steps might even lift our dance and take it to the next level.