From Robotic to Suave: How to Improve Your Salsa Basic Step (Part 1)

Everyone knows fundamentals are important, but when’s the last time you checked-in on yours?

Let’s take your forward and back salsa basic for example. Once you learn to step on 1-2-3, 5-6-7 and you practice it for a few sessions, you think “Aha, I’ve got it! Time to move on.” You’re right and you’re wrong.

Yes, move on to continue amassing skills and challenging yourself.

No, don’t forget to return to your basic and continuously improve it.

What Fundamentals Are and What Fundamentals Aren’t

Improving as a dancer is not a linear progression. You can’t expect to learn something, practice it once or twice and then be able to add layers of complexity on top of it successfully.

Fundamentals are not just for beginners. 

Fundaments are not a list of moves you can check-off and learn once.

Fundamentals are skills you must keep returning to, upgrading them as you advance.

Not taking time to upgrade fundamentals is the biggest mistake dancers make. We’ve all been there, so hungry to move forward and learn that next move, that cool looking pattern, or that sexy ladies styling that we miss a key realization: the way to move forward is sometimes to take a step sideways, to build a stronger foundation.

Cool, I got it. Now What?

Let’s take a look at one of the simplest upgrades you can make to your basic step that will have a huge impact on you as a beginner salsa dancer.

How To Improve your Basic Step On1 and On2

You’ve learned to step on 1,2,3 – 5,6,7. Check!

You’ve learned not to step on the 4 and 8 and “pause” on those counts instead. Check!

You’re starting to find that “1” beat, count salsa music, and mostly dance on time. Amazing!

Everything is going great, but after awhile you notice your basic isn’t quite like the dancers you drool over. It’s on time, but it looks robotic.

So how do you get from being a choppy looking robot to having smooth connection, beautiful body movement, crazy moves and amazing musicality like your favourite dancers? The first step is adding perpetual motion into your dancing.

Here’s an explanation from three-time Canadian Salsa Champions Patrick and Scarlet on exactly how to do it:

Pass Over the Middle to Add Perpetual Motion into your Basic Step

When doing your salsa basics you should always be in continuous motion. Salsa music is a ‘quick-quick-slow’ rhythm, NOT a ‘quick-quick-stop’ rhythm.

To maintain perpetual motion, instead of bringing your feet together on the third and sixth steps of your basic, pass over the middle and stagger your feet, as you would do walking down the street. Passing over the middle ensures your body is always moving, which makes your basic smoother. And it’s much easier to follow a lead with a smooth basic.

You’re probably thinking “Hold on, if I should be staggering my feet, then why did my instructors teach me to put my feet together and “pause” on 4 and 8?”

Your instructor taught you to pause because it’s easier for a beginner to learn right off the bat. That’s why upgrading your fundamental techniques is so important. There’s no way you can digest an advanced level of information on day one, at one time. It needs to be layered on as you progress.

Kick your ‘Quick-Quick-Stop’ Habit and Honour Salsa’s ‘Quick-Quick-Slow’ Rhythm

Passing over the middle, or “rolling through that stop sign at the intersection”, helps your body stay in tune with salsa’s quick-quick-slow rhythm.

What you typically learn first:

Step in threes, stop on the third step, each step takes one beat and you hold the 4 & 8.

Quick (1) – Quick (2) – Stop (3),

Quick (5) – Quick (6) – Stop (7).

What you want to switch to as soon as you can manage (as seen in the video above):

Step in threes, maintain motion on your third step by milking counts 4 & 8, and pass over the middle.

Quick (1) – Quick (2) – Slow (3,4) <– it’s one step, but takes two beats to complete

Quick (5) – Quick (6) – Slow (7,8) <– it’s one step, but takes two beats to complete

Benefits of Passing Over the Middle During Your Basic

Once you get in the habit of passing over the middle of your basic step and maintaining perpetual motion, you’ll start to notice some good things happening:

  • Having a staggered stance in your basic makes it easier for you to maintain perpetual motion throughout all your movements (necessary for learning body movement)
  • Your basic step will take far less energy to complete
  • You’ll be able to stay on time with faster music
  • Perpetual motion creates a smoother connection with your partner
  • A smoother connection with your partner allows you to execute more difficult moves
  • Having the capacity to execute more moves allows you to dance with more partners and have more fun!

What Do You Think?

That’s a wrap on how to improve your Salsa basic by passing over the middle and using perpetual motion. If you have any tips to add or a story to tell on how you improved your basic, share a comment below!

And, if you want, you can read Part 2 of this article here.

Enjoy this post? Looking for online salsa lessons? Try our progressive On1 and On2 salsa curriculum taught by Canadian Salsa Champs at

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