Salsa Basic Steps for Beginners

Salsa is a fun, energetic, and sexy Latin dance you perform with a dance partner. It is simple and easy to learn salsa basic steps that you can do at parties. It is a highly social dance, which means that if you know how to dance the basics, you can dance with just about anyone at any time.

If you’re considering starting salsa dancing or any new physical activity, explore our wellness, health, and fitness courses.

History of Salsa

Salsa originated in Cuba, which is where a lot of Latin dances and music came from as well. It is a mixture of different styles and techniques. Its popularity grew exponentially until it became popular even in the US. 

The dance was born out of a combination of music and dances that people from Haitian immigrants, African slaves, and Cuban locals. It was first performed during the last few years of the 19th century.

During the Cuban war, American soldiers were exposed to Salsa, which contributed to its spread to the United States. American jazz musicians started visiting Cuba and incorporated salsa influences into their music. Pretty soon, Cuban salsa music became popular on US radio.

Why Do You Need To Learn Salsa Basic Steps?

There are plenty of dances you can try to learn, but salsa should be one of your top choices. Learning salsa basic steps is a fun and easy way to immerse yourself in Latin music and dance. Here are some solid reasons you need to learn this famous dance.

1. You get to socialize with other dancers

Salsa is considered a social dance. You usually do it with a partner, but you don’t need a permanent or regular partner as you would with other partner dances like tango. That’s because it has basic steps that anyone can lead on and follow.

This is why dancing salsa can help you meet new people. If you have a ballroom dance club near you, salsa is an easy way to get right into dancing and expand your social circle.

2. It is an excellent form of exercise

Just like any other dance, salsa is a great way to get your body moving and stay in shape. What is great about it is that it is easy to learn, so anyone can do it, even kids and older adults. Depending on what moves you choose, you can have a high or low-intensity workout to fit what level of exercise you can tolerate.

3. It helps relieve stress

You’ll have so much fun dancing salsa that you can literally dance your worries away. Physical activity increases happy hormones in the body and lowers stress hormones. Music can also have the same effect. Dancing salsa to salsa music combines these two stress-busters and results in a powerful stress-relief technique.

4. You learn more about Latin culture and music

Exposure to the dance can help people appreciate more about Latin culture through the moves and the music. It is a type of dance that came from immigrants and slaves who tried to find a better life when they moved to Latin America. Why not take a closer look at the history behind the dance to appreciate it even more?

5. You become comfortable with learning other dances

You will find that salsa basic steps can help you get more comfortable with learning other Latin ballroom dances too. It might have something to do with the fact that it originated from a combination of several dances. You may find that some of the moves and steps in salsa are also in other Latin dances.

If you want to learn Latin dance, salsa is a good one to start with. After you learn it, it will be easier to learn other dances since you already have a good feel of a dance that is born out of a mix of many other dances.

Basic Salsa Footwork

Before you get your feet moving, you should know that Salsa music has a 4/4 timing. That means that the music is counted in four beats, followed by another four beats, and so on. However, instead of counting 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4, we count Salsa steps in eights like so: 1,2,3,4; 5,6,7,8.

The most basic salsa steps involve just stepping on one foot, then the other, all the while shifting your weight to the foot you are stepping on. When paired with counting, the steps should look like this:

  • Count 1: Step on your left foot
  • Count 2: Step on your right foot
  • Count 3: Step on your left foot
  • Count 4: Pause. On this fourth beat, you should not take any steps or any weight transfers. You simply pause and hold at this count and wait for the next beat.
  • Count 5: Step on your right foot
  • Count 6: Step on your left foot
  • Count 7: Step on your right foot
  • Count 8: Pause. Just like the fourth beat, the eighth beat is also a pause where you do not take any steps or transfer any weight.

Your partner should mirror your movement so that when you step your left foot forward, they step their right foot back, and so on.

So, your basic salsa step counting should look like this:

One-Two-Three- (Pause), Five-Six-Seven- (Pause)

Types of Salsa Basic Steps You Should Master

Now that you know the basic footwork, here are some basic steps that you need to master to apply what you know on the dance floor.

1. In place

The very basic steps you could do with the footwork is to do it in place. It is a great opportunity to find your rhythm and get a natural flow in transferring your weight from one foot to another. Make sure that you are transferring all of your weight to each foot every time. Nailing whisk salsa basic step is fundamental for mastering the rest of the steps.

2. Forward and back

When you’re comfortable dancing in place, the next step is to move forward and back. Remember to take small and lazy steps, still transferring all of your weight onto each step. Weight transfer is a crucial aspect of doing it right. The most common mistake beginners make is not transferring their weight to every step, and taking steps that are too large.

3. Side break

Now that you’ve learned your natural movement in place and how to move forward and back, it is time to move sideways. The difference with the side break is that the body leads the sideway movement instead of the feet. Let your body sway to the side first, and then let your foot on that side catch it afterwards. Then, do the same thing on the other side.

4. Underarm turn

The underarm turn is unique for both men and women. The men usually go on with the natural rhythm and simply raise the woman’s arm so that she may turn under it. The men don’t really need to start the turn after raising her arm; it is the woman’s role to turn herself. For the ladies, just like the side break, it is the upper body that leads the turn and the feet simply follow.

5. Cross-body lead

Once you’ve become familiar with your rhythm, moving forward and back, moving sideways, and turning, the next crucial thing to learn is to learn the cross-body lead. The cross-body lead will open up new patterns and salsa styles that go beyond the basics and allow you to impress on the dancefloor, making you look like a pro.

The main thing to remember with the cross-body lead is keeping your steps small, focusing on leading if you are the male, and focusing on following if you are the female.

Tips for Learning Salsa

While you are learning this fun social dance, here are a few tips you can keep in mind to keep you going so that you can learn faster.

1. Master the basics first

When you are still starting with salsa, the most important thing is to take it from the top. Many students make the mistake of trying to make complicated dance moves right at the very beginning without first establishing the salsa rhythm or mastering the basic steps. Make sure that you are comfortable doing basic in place, front and back, side break, turns, and the cross-body lead before moving on to more advanced moves.

2. Practice constantly

Repetition is essential when trying to master the rhythm and feeling comfortable enough when dancing. As with any other skill, it is essential to practice all the time when learning salsa. Practicing and repetition build muscle memory and allow you to dance without thinking so much about the steps so you can enjoy it better. On top of that, practicing will make you feel more comfortable, make your steps a lot more refined, and make your performance shine.

3. Be patient

If you have not had any dance experience before and salsa is the first dance you’ll learn, expect that it won’t be easy in the first few tries. It is completely normal as your body is still learning and adapting to the moves. The important thing is that you stay patient, lose interest, and learn regularly. Set aside a specified time for your lessons, stick to them, and never skip them just because you don’t feel motivated.

4. Lead and follow

Out of all the things you must learn with social dances, leading and following is crucial. For some people, this may come naturally. For others, it may take a bit of practice and patience. 

What often happens is that the man pulls at their partners with their arms and hands, and the woman tends to anticipate the next moves instead of allowing herself to be led. Ideally, the man should lead with his entire body instead of just the arms, and the woman needs to be relaxed enough to follow without having to think about the next steps.

It is one of the main reasons cross-body lead is an important move to practice. If you keep on practicing it with your partner, you will find the right formula for leading and following using correct body language in salsa.

Recommended Courses for You

Beginners Salsa Dancing is an online course for those who want to learn basic Salsa the right way. It features beginner-friendly instructions from modules that are easy to follow. You don’t need to have any dance experience to take this class.

The modules include a solid foundation, so you understand the fundamental things like posture, foot placement, rhythm, partner holds, and leading or following. It also includes more advanced lessons to fine-tune your basic technique, such as turning, passes, and formulae.

Whether you’re a newbie dancer or you have previous experience with other dance types, this course makes sure that you nail all the fundamentals of Salsa so you can dance like you’ve never danced before.


“Your Daily Belly Dance Break” is an online course tailored for busy women who want to learn the basics of belly dancing in short, manageable sessions. This beginner-friendly course is designed to inject fun, health, and joy into your daily routine through engaging belly dance choreography that you can use anytime for a quick pick-me-up or an energy reset.

The course covers essential belly dance techniques, emphasizing core and spine movements—key to enhancing feminine strength and agility. You’ll learn not only to perform a fun choreography but also to develop greater body awareness, muscle control, and balance, leading to improved posture, reduced back pain, and increased self-esteem.

Enroll in “Your Daily Belly Dance Break” and transform your daily breaks into an opportunity for joy and health improvement. With flexible learning modules, you can easily integrate dance into your hectic schedule, ensuring a more active, happy, and grounded lifestyle.

Expert Insights 

1. Dr. Deb Geller, Retired Educator, Fitness Instructor

“Before we dance, we clap the rhythm. 1-2-3-and-5-6-7. As LaBlast instructors, we believe that if you can clap it, you can dance it. Next, step in place to the rhythm. Left-right-left-and-right-left-right. Then, add direction. Front-and-together; back-and-together. Also, side and together; side and together. For side salsa, to get the alignment of shoulder over hips, I like to add arms. As you step to the side, grab a doorknob, turn it and pull it closed as you step together. With these easy steps, you’ll be doing salsa in no time.”

2. Karina Newman, Owner,

“These steps go beyond just moving your feet; they’re like having a chat with your dance partner. Each step is a word, and together, you create a lively conversation through dance.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Is salsa dancing difficult to learn for beginners?

Like any dance, salsa can present challenges to beginners, but with patience and practice, most people can learn the basic steps and rhythm.

What shoes should I wear for salsa dancing?

It’s best to wear comfortable, stable shoes with a smooth sole. Many dancers opt for dance shoes with a suede or leather bottom that allows for smooth turns and glides without slipping.

How long does it take to learn the basic steps of salsa?

This varies by individual, but with regular practice, most people can grasp the basics within a few weeks.

What music is suitable for practicing salsa?

Salsa music typically has a fast tempo and a strong beat, often featuring instruments like congas, bongos, trumpets, and trombones. Any music that fits this description is suitable for practicing.

Where can I learn salsa dancing?

Salsa classes are offered at many dance studios, community centers, and online platforms. Look for beginner classes in your area or online tutorials to start learning at home.

Key Takeaways

Learning salsa dancing offers a myriad of benefits beyond just physical activity. It’s a vibrant and engaging way to improve your fitness, coordination, and rhythm. Whether you’re a beginner eager to learn the basic steps or someone looking to refine your skills, salsa dancing invites you into a culturally rich world of music and movement. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet new people, boost your confidence, and discover a new passion. The joyful essence of salsa, combined with its health benefits, makes it an enticing journey for anyone looking to enrich their life through dance.

Embark on your salsa dancing journey with the Skill Success All Access Pass. This pass grants you unlimited access to a wide array of courses, including comprehensive guides on salsa dancing for all levels.  The All Access Pass is your gateway to not just salsa, but a whole world of learning and self-improvement opportunities. 

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for freshness and accuracy.

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