When learning to dance Salsa, most people have the hardest time with the music.
The steps themselves are not that complicated...step forward, step back, do some turns. BUT what makes Salsa dancing (and music) so complicated, and so invigorating, is the complexity of the music.
Salsa music incorporates a variety of rhythms and instruments to create a unique sound...that's why it's so hard to dance Salsa to music that is not Salsa music.
So when you're practicing and you don't have an instructor shouting off "1,2,3..5,6,7," how do you find that "one" to get you started?
What helps most for me is to train my ear and body at the same time.
So, count while you're dancing. When you're in a class, count along with the instructor. Or practice with pre-recorded counts, really listening to the count while feeling what's happening in your body. Music and movement synched together is dancing. It can be hard to feel as a brand new beginner, but you may surprise yourself. Muscle memory is a powerful thing.
Here's a track pre-recorded with the 1,2,3,5,6,7. It's a little obnoxious, but if you practice with it, you'll hear and feel where and how you're supposed to me moving. Here's one with just the 1..as you get more comfortable, try just practicing with the 1 and filling in the rest of the counts on your own.
Listen to the different instruments and follow one with a strong down beat.
The easiest instrument to pick out is usually the piano playing it's riff, called a montuno or tumbao. The down beat/one is very heavy in the montuno, and it repeats. Often. It's part of the rhythm backbone of a Salsa song.
This video does a great job showing you the montuno and explaining how to hear it. This video also teaches you to listen out for the congas and the clave.
The congas have a heavy emphasis on the "2" and the "6" during the song, so you can use those strong beats to mark where you are in the eight count.
The video above also discusses the clave.
Clave means "key" in Spanish...it's that distinctive sound of two little sticks being hit together that you may or may not have picked out in Salsa songs. Itcan be in a 2/3 pattern (with the hits going 1-2..1-2-3) or 3/2 (with the hits going 1-2-3...1-2). Personally, I think trying to find the one based on the clave is very difficult for a beginner because you have to be able to differentiate between the 2/3 or the 3/2 clave to find your one, so if you're new, try listening to another piece of the puzzle first.
We all need more cowbell, right?
When songs have a strong cowbell in them, that's one of the easiest ways to find the one. The cowbell usually hits on 1, 3, 5, and 7, and feels like the "heartbeat" of the song.
Salsa music and Salsa dancing are endlessly complex and fascinating. This is just the tip of the ice burg discussing the different instruments and rhythms that make up Salsa.
Listen to Salsa music. Lots of it. Practice as much as you can and find which method works for you to find the one.
What works best for you? How do you find the one beat? Is musicality the hardest part of Salsa dancing for you?
BIG THANKS TO JASON TORRES FOR HIS INPUT FOR THIS ARTICLE...he shared some great videos and articles that I used as resources to put together this post.