STYLING AND EMBELLISHMENTS
IN SALSA AND RUEDA

Here are some things you can try if you are looking for styling components. But there is one note of caution. It is important that anything you add into your dancing not adversely affect your partner. Your embellishments should not interfere with his/her dancing.

Also, people are best off first becoming competent dancers before styling is worked on.

But that said, below are some components that you can play with over time.  Think of these as styling ideas to get you started in developing your own "signature" style.

1. Throwing the Hip for Ladies

In the video clip below, if you watch closely, you can see Rita, a short, slender Hispanic woman, throw her hip out to the side and bring her left foot to meet the right one on beat 4. Then she does her CBL.  You have to watch closely as it goes by very quickly.
Click here.
This can be done very fast or it interferes with the rhythm of your subsequent Cross Body Lead.

2.  Embellishments on the Basic Step

There are many forms of the basic step both in Salsa and in Rueda, and many ways to embellish them. 
Here is a fun one. Try doing a Suzie Q on beats 1, 2, and 3.  Ladies cross their right foot in front of their left on beat 1, then the left foot in front of the right on 2 and the right in front of the left on beat 3.  Guys do the reverse, so they start by crossing their left foot in front of their right, etc. 

If you are the leader, you can also do a Suzie Q on beats 5, 6, and 7 and then again on beats 1, 2, and 3 of the next 8 beat phrase.  If you are a follower, you should only Suzie Q on 1, 2, and 3 because you don't know what the leader is going to do at the end of the 8 beat phrase, so you have to be ready to begin a move. 

Another embellishment on the basic step is to flair on beat 3.  So for ladies, they step on the right on 1, the left on 2, and then step on the right on the "and" of 2 (the second half of beat 2).  Then on beat 3, the left leg flairs out to the left, making a tap.  Your weight is still mostly on the right foot. Then on beat 5, ladies step on their left foot as usual. The men do this move, but it is the opposite as always.  So men step on the left on 1, the right on 2, and the left on the "and" of 2, and then tap with the right foot flared out to the right on beat 3.  Because you step on the "2 and," you are adding some rhythm and syncopation to the pattern which looks and feels nice.

The following description is basically a different version of the basic move. It is often called the "Cuban Basic" and could be thought of as an embellishment of the basic step.  Ladies start by stepping forward on the right on beat 1.  As she steps on 2 and 3, she turns ninety degrees to her right. She taps with the left foot flaired out to the left on beat 4.  Then on 5 her left foot crosses over the right (she is facing her partner) and on 6 and 7 she turns back the ninety degrees to her left so she faces the center of the circle. She taps on her right foot into the center of the circle on beat 8.  Then repeat the pattern. It has a nice swing to it! 

As usual, guys do the opposite.  So they start stepping forward on their left on beat 1. On beats 2 and 3 they turn ninety degrees to their left so they are facing their partners.  Guys tap on their right with the foot flaired out to the right on beat 4. Then guys cross the right foot over the left and on 6 and 7 they turn back the ninety degrees to their right so they face the center. They tap on 8 with their left foot into the center, and repeat the pattern.

3.  Shoulder rolls

Shoulder rolls make a very effective embellishment as well. To do a shoulder roll, you simply roll one shoulder in a backwards circle (going from front to back and top to bottom) and then the other. The rolls are done in time to music. This can be added in many places and looks very nice.  For example, you can do this on beats 5, 6, and 7 of the first 8 beat phrase in vacila; you can do this anywhere in the basic step---and it always looks nice.

4. Slides and Glides

a. A nice slide-like move that can be done while dancing Salsa was shown to me once by Edie the Salsa Freak at a Miami Salsa Congress.  Basically, you make the shape of a 4 with your legs.  And it is often done on beat 4.  Here is an example: When doing Enchufla for ladies, after the first 8 beats of the pattern, they step back on their right on 1, step forward on their left on 2 and then step back on their right on beat 3. The lady's left leg then swings backwards, first gliding along the floor and then coming up with the knee bent to create the "4" shape. The ladies keep their knees together as the leg swings back..  The lady finishes her CBL to complete the step. 

Here is another way to do the "4" step that is even fancier.  In the same part of Enchufla for ladies, women remain weighted on their left foot and let the right foot swing around in a semi-circle going clockwise around them (from 12:00 to 6:00) during beats 1 and 2.  Then the lady does the same thing on beats 3 and 4 as described above. She steps back on 3 with her right foot and makes the "4" with her left. Women can do a "4" on the opposite foot on beat 8 in some places as well.

Guys can also do this "4", in some places where it is appropriate.  For instance, guys can do this in the first 8 beats of both vacila or enchufla. But this time the move is done on beats 5, 6, 7 and 8.  On beat 5 the guy's right foot goes behind his left. Then on 6 he steps forward onto the left, and then steps back on the right foot on beat 7.  On beat 8 he drags the left foot back along the floor and when it's directly under his body, he bends the knee so the left leg comes up until it's horizontal, again making the shape of a "4" with his two legs. Note that in this case, the guy is doing "4" on beat 8---a bit confusing!!

Also, be aware that on all these examples of the move I'm calling "4," if the leg isn't raised that high, it can stay in contact with the floor and just tap instead.  That has a similar look but is less elaborate. You still get the slide which itself makes a nice embellishment.

5.  My favorite slide--the leaders' slide while moving into dame dos

This is a totally awesome slide. I watched Glen do this many times before figuring out, with his help, what he was doing.  But here, analyzed neatly for you, is one of Glen's famous trademark moves! 

Let's say that dame/dame dos/dame dos is called. The leader turns to the center on the 5, 6, and 7 of the 8 beat phrase in which dame is called.  Then he travels to his partner on beats 1, 2, and 3.  On the next 5, 6, and 7 beats (the second half of the 8 beat phrase) is when the slide occurs.   The movement around the lady on those beats is done to position himself to be ready to travel to his next partner.  So the guy steps back on his right on beat 5. Then on beat 6 he takes a big step forward with his left foot, moving to the right diagonally in front of the right foot. Then he slides the right foot forward so it "hooks" behind the left foot on beat 7. Then the cool part is that he shifts his weight back so he steps back on the heel of his right foot on beat 8. This makes his body move in what looks like a slight undulation that adds a great deal of style. 

This can be done each time you do dame dos, as long as it was preceded by either a dame or another dame dos. If a bunch of leaders all did this while doing dame/dame dos/dame dos, it would look totally awesome. 

6. Hops/vertical level changes and footwork

In this clip from a show at the Health Dept's Wellness Fair, watch how I add some hops on the second half of beat two, and the second half of beat six. Cick here.

 People also sometimes bend down slightly for styling.  The bend is from the knees. In this video, Glen is doing the move Dedo and he bends down very noticeably with his arms crossed, which looks really nice.
Click here.

7. Flares/Taps/Footwork

Another other thing that is very evident in the videos in item #2 above is the leader's (Glen's) fancy footwork. In addition to flares, the extra taps and other foot movements you can see there add a great deal of style. Glen does this in so many ways, it's hard to pick them out and describe them individually. It's probably most effective for viewers to watch and find particular things they like. My personal favorite is when he swings his leg in a circle. Because it's broad, graceful, and eye-catching.

Also check out the leg flare at the very end of this video clip for a Cinco de Mayo performance.
Click here.

8. More on Extra Taps

Watch Glen's feet in the enchufla al medio con dos move in this Casino Rueda video from a show at the National Zoo.
Click here

He does a few different things. At one point he just taps one foot in the same place to mark a few of the beats.  In another place he also taps but moves his foot so the tap is in different places which is more dynamic.

The move enchufla al medio con dos, has 4 beats when leads are moving and 4 beats when followers are moving. So the 4 beats when someone is more or less in place is a nice spot to add some taps. I have seen many things done along this line, and you can get some ideas from the footwork in this clip.

9. Body rolls/ripples

This is a clip from a show at the Health Department. Watch my body ripple near the end of the clip.
Click here

That kind of ripple infuses a lot of life into a dance move and can added in many places. To learn this ripple, you bend the knees (keeping the body vertical), and then bring first the hips then mid-body and then chin and head forward slightly as though you were pressing against a wall in front of you. You just sequentially move your body forward as though you were leaning against a wall a few inches in front of you. It takes a lot of practice to do smoothly.  Keep the movement small so it's subtle.

Here is something very similar to a ripple--it's a body roll. Watch the body rolls in this clip on "Flashy Rueda" from a United Nations Benefit show that was done jointly by DanceInTime and SalsaWild. (Click here) You can see some rolls in various places throughout the clip.

One of the things we did in that Rueda circle is for the ladies to do a ripple on beats 1, 2, and 3 as the guys move to their next partner.  They are done with the ripple for the CBL that starts on beat 5.  Note that this ripple begins with the knees bending on beat 1 and by beat 3 it's done.

10. More on taps and kicks

You may note that in a tap, the dancer's foot touches the ground lightly, without a lot of weight. In a kick the foot never touches the ground but it's actually fairly similar to a tap in terms of where the foot is moving. So taps and kicks are closely related to each other.

In the video below (from DanceDCFestival 9/06), watch the very beginning. The step and tap/kick pattern of the guy near the front of the circle (Rodrigo) is altered as he does the basic step.  It's right at the start of the video below. Rodrigo is stepping here the same way the Rueda dancers do in the popular instructional Rueda videos out of Miami. (They tap on 3 and 8.)  Click here for a mixed gender rueda

The step pattern for basic Rueda dancing is Quick Quick Slow (stepping on beats 1, 2, 3, and 5, 6, and 7). Many dancers add taps on 4 and 8 and other embellishments. However, the top studios out of Miami have the dancers step on 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 when they do guapea---which is what Rodrigo is doing in the video,  

11. Step Alterations

This is something else that you can do which is like an embellishment, but to some extent it is like making a new step.  You can change part of a move so that it has the same number of beats as the original move (and is thus compatible with it) and yet is fancier, or more to your taste.  Here is an example. The move Dedo consists of four 8-beat phrases.  Suppose you wanted to change the third set of 8 beats to make the move flashier.   You could back rock the lady on 1, lead her forward on 2, and check her on 3 and 4. Then you can spin her on beats 5 through 8 by leading her at the shoulders into a strong spin. You can let her free spin (i.e. no hand is held so there is no lead during the spin). 

Then the last 8 beats is done the same as usual.  This sort of alteration in the step is essentially like a cross between an embellishment and a new move.  There are many examples, and you have the liberty of making up any alteration you like!

12.  Fancy Footwork and Body Action

The video shown in this link (Click Here) has an interesting twist.  The only man in the video is following---it was part of a Women's History Month program titled "Women Take the Lead."  We did some flipping of lead and follow in the presentations in keeping with the theme.

When the Dame is done, watch the footwork and the body action that the guy does just before the Cross Body Lead. This shows some very nice styling for followers.

 

 

Copyright Barbara Bernstein of DanceInTime.com, 2005