Better Grip, Better Dancing!

Salsa, like any new endeavor, ain’t easy at the beginning. There’s just so many things to remember:

  • Stay on time
  • Elbows up
  • Keep the steps small
  • Don’t grab with your thumbs
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact
  • Smile
  • Be aware of other dancers…

The list goes on and on!

To a beginner it can be pretty intimidating but I promise you, it all comes together eventually and with practice, soon you won’t even need to think of of all these individual components any more.

Leads & Follows

As a lead, most of what I’ve written in the past has either focused on the lead or skills common to both leads and follows.

My ability as a follow leaves a lot to be desired (as any man who has danced with me will tell you…which is more than I care to admit) so I haven’t written much specifically for ladies in the past (I’ll be using “ladies” and “follows” interchangeably throughout this article…get over it).

So, what the heck do you think you can tell us?!
Well, as a lead, I can tell the difference between a good follow and one that needs a little work. Which, let’s be serious, is pretty damn important.

So, how can I improve my following?
I’m almost adverse to the idea of telling people to focus on one thing over others. Truth be told, it’s all essential. That’s the beauty of dance, it’s the harmonization of many different aspects, beautifully orchestrated into one glorious symphony. You can’t have a symphony with just one guy playing the triangle.

Buuuut! If there is one thing that I tend to notice with beginner salseras, it’s what they do with there hands (or in many cases, what they’re not doing).

Whenever I dance with newbie salseras (who have pretty much nailed the basic step) one of my main gripes is with there hand grip: either there’s not enough or there’s waaaaay too much!

The Missing Connection

Let me paint you a picture:

You’re dancing with a good lead for the first time. He’s treating you the way a good lead should treat someone he’s never danced with before; testing the waters so to speak. He leads you through a basic, a cross body lead, a few basic turns… he’s feeling good, he decides to throw in something a little more complicated… he flicks your hand up, turns himself around and places his hand in front of you for you to grab it again and… nothing. You’ve missed a trick. Happens all the time. 

Another example, might be when a guy leads you into a hammerlock (which can be an intimidating move for a newbie salsera) and tries to maintain contact with you through a good old “hook”. Unfortunately, there’s no reciprocating hook back there and he loses you. Again, happens all the time.

These are perfect examples of a lack of good grip in salsa. It can be really frustrating but it’s pretty easily remedied.

Don’t be too clingy either

The opposite end of the spectrum might go a little something like this (from the lead’s perspective):

We’re having a fun dance. We’re getting to know each other’s styles. We’ve gone through the basics so I up the ante a little. I try wrapping one arm around you and then release the grip of my other hand to complete the move. Only problem is, my hand is still attached to yours, caught in a vice like grip of death. Escape is impossible. 

In reality, not only is this problem annoying, but it’s downright dangerous too. It’s probably the easiest way to a sprained wrist when dancing. I’ve even written about this before under the title “The Claw” when I wrote an article on God Awful Dancers. It’s definitely worth mentioning that this is an issue common in men and women and definitely worth nipping in the bud.

Improving Grip in 3 Easy Steps:

1. Keep your eyes on his hands

When a lead releases your hand, you need to locate it as quickly as possible when he presents it to you moments later. Now, it’s vitally important that a lead presents his hand well, in a position where it’s visible and easy to reach but provided he’s done that, you need to be looking for it. Keep your eyes open and even follow the gaze of the lead; it may just lead you to where his hand is.

2. Learn to make a good hook

A hook is one of the most useful holds in salsa. Basically, you curl up and tense your fingers to allow them to “hook” into the reciprocating hook of the lead. If you feel the lead forming a hook with his hand, that means you need to form one too (with out grabbing) and maintain it until he releases his hook. You can practice it simply by forming and releasing hooks with your own hands.

3. Leave your thumbs out of the equation & don’t grab

Pretty self explanatory I think, there are very few situations that call for a firm “grip” in salsa and generally it’s initiated by the lead (who should know better than to use it otherwise). Keep your connection with the lead light and for the love of God, don’t clamp down on their hands with your thumbs. If a guy did it to you I’d say “dig your nails in” to get him to release you… don’t do it yourself. A salsa connection should be light, like a cloudy dancer.

And that’s it
In reality, maintaining a proper grip in salsa isn’t all that difficult. You just need to be aware or what you should and shouldn’t do. Bear these little points in mind the next time you go social dancing and see how much it smooths things out for you.

Keep dancing folks.

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