LA Style Salsa Dance: The Essential Guide For Beginners [PDF Guide]

A short guide to LA Style Salsa Dance for Beginners.

The Dance Guru Presenting LA Style Salsa Dance The Essential Guide for Beginners


The purpose of this guide is to give the Beginner LA Style Salsa dancer a brief over view of the first 30 moves or techniques that should be learnt in a clear and logical order which ensure progression from absolute novice to competent beginner.

This guide should be used in conjunction with Salsa lessons from your Instructor, mainly as an aide-memoir or checklist.

We have categorised the Beginners into 4 Levels. Make sure you work through in the correct order.

You will find included:

1) Beginners Checklist of 30 figures (moves)

2) Beginners Checklist of 9 Footwork figures (shines)

3) Beginners Checklist of 6 practice combinations (turn patterns)

We hope you enjoy this guide. If you would prefer to download this post as a handy PDF you can do so from our FREE Social Dancer Membership Area here:

DOWNLOAD: LA Style Salsa Dance: The Essential Guide For Beginners [PDF Guide]

Don’t forget to download your ultimate guide to Salsa Dance. With everything you need to know about The History of Salsa, Types of Salsa Dance, Salsa Music, How to Learn to Salsa Dance, Salsa Dance Steps, What to wear for Salsa Dancing, information on Salsa Dance shoes and the etiquette of Salsa Dance. You cab download from our FREE Social Dancer Membership Area here:

DOWNLOAD: Salsa Dance: A Guide to Almost Everything You Need to Know about Salsa Dancing [PDF Guide]

And if you enjoy our guides, don’t forget to share!

The Dance Guru


Essential Salsa Terms

1. CLH – Closed Hold

2. DBLHH – Double Hand Hold

3. OH – Open Hold

4. L to R OH – Leader’s Left hand to Follower’s Right hand Open Hold

5. R to L OH – Leader’s Right to Follower’s Left Open Hold

6. Pointed Gun – Salsa hand connection with Leader’s index finger lightly over Follower’s hooked finger tips

7. CBL – Cross Body Lead

8. COHBTB – Change of Hands behind the back

9. [EXERCISE] – This means practice this particular item

10. [RECAP] – This means it’s something that was mentioned earlier, recap over that item before moving on – this enforces your knowledge and aims to help muscle memory

Beginners Salsa Music Playlists

The Dance Guru has compiled Beginners’ salsa Music playlists to aid with your learning:

Salsa Timing Tracks by The Dance Guru

Beginners Salsa Level 1

Beginners Salsa Level 2

Beginners Salsa Level 3

Beginner Salsa Level 4

100 Top Salsa Dance Tracks by The Dance Guru

Before You Start

1. Understand the origins of Salsa – Read the Guide:

Salsa Dance: The Guide to Almost Everything You Need to Know About Salsa Dancing

2. Understand about Salsa Music & the explanation of Salsa timing

Checkout excellent article on Salsa Music on Wikipedia

Beginners Level 1

Step 1:

1. Check you know the following basics:

a. Back basic

b. Side Basic

c. Cumbia basic

d. Mambo

2. [EXERCISE] Lead / Follow of all 4 basics in closed and double hand hold, transitioning between the 2

Points to note:

a. Weight transfer and moving through the basic step (Mambo)

b. Double Hand hold – point gun hold, Follower’s curved hook, follower’s waist height – L shape connection

c. Closed Hold – connection points, leading from the Follower’s left shoulder (not the joined hands)

Step 2:

1. [RECAP] – Back, Side, Cumbia & Mambo Basics with CLH & DBLHH

2. (DBLHH to L to R OH) - Right Turn for Follower using Leader’s LH to Lead

3. (DBLHH to L to R OH) - Right Turn for Leader

4. (DBLHH) - Right Turn for Leader changing hand behind the back

5. [EXERCISE] – Mambo’s in CLH to R Turns for Follower & Leader

Points to note:

a. Staying in front of the partner

b. Stepping off the line on 1st step of Right Turn (5 for Follower / 1 for Leader)

c. When executing a turn, the Leader should use the opposite hand to the way they are turning to enable to stay closer to the line

Step 3:

1. [RECAP] - Back, Side, Cumbia & Mambo Basics with CLH & DBLHH

2. [RECAP] – Right Turns for Leader & Follower

3. (R to L OH) - Left Turn for Follower

4. (R to L OH) - Left Turn for Leader

5. (DBLHH) - Left Turn for Leader with change of hand behind back

6. [EXERCISE] - Mambo’s in DBLHH to Left Turns for Follower & Leader

7. [EXERCISE] – Left & Right Turns in CLH / DBLHH with Mambos

Points to note:

a. Leader to focus on Follower to keep position

b. In the Left turn the Follower walks around through the 6, 7,8,1 and it flows into the next Mambo

Step 4:

1. [RECAP] – CLH & DBLHH Left & Right Turns for Leader & Follower

2. (R to R OH) – Follower’s Right Turn

3. (L to L OH) – Follower’s Left Turn

4. [EXERCISE] – Leader & follower’s Left and Right Turns with all single hand hold connections

Step 5:

1. [RECAP] – Left & Right Turns for Leader & Follower with all single hand connections & change of hands behind back

2. (DBLHH) – Right turn for Follower

3. (DBLHH) – Left turn for Leader

4. (DBLHH) – Left turn for Follower

5. (DBLHH) – Right turn for Leader

6. [EXERCISE] – Left & Right Turns for Leader & Follower in DBLHH

Points to note:

a. Loose finger tip connection

b. Watch elbows

c. Joined hands remain over the centre of the partnership, so when the Leader turns they make a conscious effort to hold hand higher behind crown of head

d. After turning the Follower with DBLHH the joined hands will be crossed over, the Leader can look at which arm is on top and should turn that direction to unwind the hands

Step 6:

1. [RECAP] – Left & Right Turns for Leader & Follower in OH, CLH, DBLHH

2. (CLH) - Cross Body Lead (CBL)

3. (DBLHH) – CBL

4. (L to R OHH) - CBL

5. (DBLHH to CLH) – Pizza bridge transition & release to DBLHH

6. [EXERCISE] – Mambos into and out of CBL in CLH

7. [EXERCISE] – CBL in CLH to DBLHH on exit, Pizza bridge transition to CLH

8. [EXERCISE] – Any Left or Right Turn before & after a CBL

Beginners Level 2

Step 1:

1. [RECAP] – All Left & Right Turns for Leader & Follower in OH and DBLHH and CBL in CLH

2. (L to R OH) - Leader’s R Turn on 1,2,3 with immediate ladies R Turn on 5,6,7

Points to note:

a. Leader aiming to stay on line in front of Follower whilst turning, although their first step with LF is at 2 o’clock off the line

b. Leader keeps LH high at end of turn, adjusts finger tips into palm of ladies hands and pushes straight away on 5

c. Aiming to draw halo around the Follower’s head

3. (CLH) - Reverse CBL

Points to note:

a. Leader brings follower down his Right side

b. Leader Mambos forward on 1, then comes backwards 2,3,5,6 and turns 180° to Right on 7

Step 2:

1. (L to R OH) - CBL walkthrough to right

Points to note:

a. Leader keeps LH down low at the below waist height (choice of Overhead (TOP), Shoulder (MIDDLE), below waist (BOTTOM))

b. Leader keeps his LH extended in front of him (once in the CBL Open position) so that Follower’s R arm is extended straight out in front of R should, not giving any rotation at first

c. On 7,8 the Leader is extending rotating finger tips to R to cause rotation on the Follower’s arm and they should turn 180° to R to face Leader again

2. (DBLHH) – CBL Walkthrough to right

Points to note:

a. As teaching point in (1) but with RH Leader must rotate finger tips in palm of Follower’s hand on 3 to ‘look at his watch’

b. Demonstrate that not ‘looking at his watch’ with RH causes arms to be elevated and pushed back in awkward position

c. Leader must follow the Follower down the line and sweep hands up and over with wrists quite close together

d. Leader’s arms will be quite outstretched throughout, although not locked straight

Step 3:

1. (CLH releasing to L to R OH) - CBL with outside / 1.5 right turn for Follower

Points to note:

a. Leader releasing from closed hold early enough to Follower’s L arm does not get stuck in hold

b. Leader can use R hand on Follower’s L shoulder to assist direction of turn, give a little nudge

c. Follower keeps stepping forward down the line until LF steps on 5, although at this point there will start to be rotation to the R and they are pivoting on the balls of the feet

d. The Follower’s hardest step is the 6 which requires 1 full 360° rotation, and then 7 requires 180° rotation to face the Leader

e. We end in Open hold

f. Follower must keep Left arm in neutral position and not let it drop down by the side

Step 4:

1. (CLH to DBLHH to COHBTB) - CBL with right step turn for Leader

Points to note:

a. COHBTB means ‘change of hands behind the back’

b. Leader starts in CLH, by 3 is in the CBL Open position with a DBLHH

c. Leader pulls Follower down the line on 5 with both hands

d. On 5 Leader puts RF behind back and slightly to R, turning R should about 45°

e. Leader continues to lower his LH and turn Right, Follower should not need any more leading at this point and is just completing a normal CBL on 6,7

f. On 6, the leader places his LH completely behind his back and continues his turn to right

g. On 7 they change the Follower’s RH (which is currently in the Leader’s LH) to his RH whilst it’s behind his back

h. On completion of turn the Leader can end in the R to R open position OR switch the Follower’s RH back to his LH

2. [EXERCISE] – Right Hook turns

Points to note:

a. Explain the Right hook turn

b. Men should try to do a Mambo on 1,2,3 and then a hook turn in place on 5,6,7

3. (CLH to DBLHH) - CBL with right turn Hook Turn for Leader

Points to note:

a. Recap the Right hook turn

b. As with (1) all Points to note the same but Leader changes footwork on 5 to be a hook turn

Step 5:

1. (DBLHH) - CBL with inside / left 1.5 turn for Follower

Points to note:

a. [EXERCISE] Without breaking down the CBL inside turn ask the Leader’s to try to turn the Followers Left with a CBL and just ‘have a go’. Having learnt the CBL Right turn previously, students can intuitively apply the same theory to the CBL inside turn

b. We practice first with a DBLHH because this is an easier hand position for the Follower to complete the CBL inside turn

c. [INFO] – Breakdown the Follower’s footwork – making sure they continue to step straight forward until 5, on 6 they place RF forward but pivot 180°, 7 is the most difficult step because they need to complete 360° turn with the one step on 7

d. Arms end crossed over and the Leader will need to complete a Right turn to uncross arms

2. (CLH) – CBL with inside / left 1.5 turn for Follower

Points to note:

a. Footwork as in (1) above

b. Feels different because is being started from a Closed Hold so Follower can’t be tempted to turn too early

c. Feels different because Leader is going to lead the turn with LH only. Leader breaks contact with his RH and traces his R arm around the Follower’s body in the air about 6 inches from their waist in case of any loss of balance

d. Follower will feel that this is the fastest of all the CBL Inside and Outside turns learnt so far as it is the most unaided by the Leader

3. [EXERCISE] – Lead / Follow CBL inside turn from DBLHH and exit with Leader’s R Turn

4. [EXERCISE] – Lead / Follow CBL inside turn from CLH and exit with CLH CBL

Step 6:

1. (DBLHH to a L to R OH) - CBL with left turn for Leader – LH high

Points to note:

a. Leader cross RF over LF on 5- they do not step the 5 in place

b. 6,7 are small rotational steps on the spot for the Leader as they do not want to come too far forward and land on top of the Follower

2. (DBLHH to a L to R OH) - CBL with left turn for Leader – hand tracing around waist

Points to note:

a. As with (1) for footwork

b. For arm position, Leader disconnects RH on 4 and places R arm over the joined hands on 5 so that the Follower’s R arm is wrapped around the Leader waist

c. The Leader releases his LH on 6 and the Follower traces their RH around the Leader’s back maintaining contact on his torso throughout

d. Leader reconnects his LH once his turn is complete

Beginners Level 3

Step 1:

[EXERCISE] Recap all figures from Beginners Level 1 and Beginners Level 2

Step 2:

1. (R to R OH) - CBL into check – Right Turn lead out

Points to note:

a. Follower rocks forward at 12 o’ Clock position with RF on 1, replaces weight on LF on

2, on 3 makes a 90° turn to R in preparation of R turn lead out

2. (L to L OH) – CBL into check – Right Turn lead out

Points to note:

a. As with (1) for footwork

b. The lead out feels different because the Leader is using his LH and the Follower’s LH. This means when completing the R turn the arm is coming from the other side of the body and has further to travel. Particular attention is needed to timing to make sure arm is brought over in time

Step 3:

1. (R to R OH) CBL into check – Walkthrough down Leader’s R side to Lead out

Step 4:

1. (L to L over R to R Crossed hands) - CBL into Crucifix check – Right Turn to lead out