The Importance of Awareness

Posted by Jake on 10th February 2015

After a really great session at Smokestack last night, I wanted to follow up with some of the material we covered. The key to improving your dancing and taking it to the next level is awareness.  It's also the most difficult thing to develop.

In a relatively short space of time you'll be whizzing around the dance floor throwing out shapes left, right and centre.  But to become a truly proficient dancer, there are three things you need to be aware of.


  • Awareness of Yourself
  • Awareness of Your Partner
  • Awareness of The Space


This is an awareness of what you are doing with your body, as either a lead or a follow.

As a lead it means asking questions like:  What are the parts of my body doing?  Arms, feet, etc.  Am I dancing in time?  Where am I looking?  How strong is my lead?

For follows:  Do I have the correct tension?  Have I 'given' my arms to my lead?  Am I keeping my elbows in front of my rib cage?  And this is an important one - am I trying to anticipate the moves, or reacting to the lead that I feel?  Try not to guess, don't finish the leads sentences for them!

The important thing about awareness, is not cracking these items overnight - but being consciously aware of these things, and making an effort to think about them.  Once you are consciously aware, the rest will follow!

I’m far from happy with my own awareness, and constantly trying to improve it.


Awareness of your partner is even more difficult to achieve.  This is about noticing the subtle differences between each partner, and adjusting to their way of dancing.  Everyone should try to meet halfway with their partner, because every dancer is different.

For leads it's particularly important to work out how you partner likes to dance, how they respond to turns and moves - and refraining from leading moves that your partner is obviously not comfortable with.  Some follows like musicality and body movement, not spins and crazy hand flicks.  Some partners don't like to dance on their own, some absolutely love it!

Follows, you need to adjust to each person's style of leading.  This is particularly important when you're dancing with someone with a different style to you, like you'll find at the upcoming Calle Ocho.  Also, you need to trust your partner so they can keep you safe - if they betray that trust, politely decline from dancing with them in the future.  But if you are going to dance with a person, try and let go so that he can prevent the crashes!


This one Nicky covered quite nicely last week, about how to stay safe in the space.  This one really comes down to the lead, as you are signalling the moves and in control to some extent.

So leads, remember to mark out your space on a busy dancefloor - or any dance floor for that matter.  Don't launch into crazy moves right away.  Use a mambo and a few cross bodies to assess the dance floor and choose your space.  This will help your partner to understand the line you are dancing on.

Then try out fundamental moves to see how your partner responds to your lead and how they like to dance.  Try a static turn, try a cross body turn and try an open break.  Once you've run through these moves you'll have a much better idea of the space you and your partner require, and how other dancers are moving.  This one is particularly important when you have Cuban dancers nearby, they'll be using the space in a completely different way!


The key to all this can be summarised with one word - listening.  And I don't mean with just your ears!  Listen to your partner, listen to your own body, and listen to what is happening on the floor.  Most of all, listen in classes to your teachers - they have experience that you don't and are aware of things that you are not.

Now I mean listen in the metaphorical sense - open yourself up to what is happening around you - be aware of yourself, your partner and the space!

Any questions?

By Jake

Nearly a decade ago, I resolved to run a salsa night the way I thought it should be run and the idea for StreetSalsa was born.  The rest as they say is history..

I've made some of the best friends you could wish for through dancing, and want to share what a life-changing experience dance can be.

By Nicky on 10th February 2015 at 11:48

Great article  - I would like to add another 'awareness' though - which is crucial to helping understand everything else: 

  • Awareness of the music

As obvious as this might sound - I have come across so many students who check in with the music at the beginning - but then seem to forget it is there.  The benefits of keeping that awareness are many - here are just a few:

  •   The follower, in addition to following the leader will & should also be following the music to help her keep in time.  If there is a conflict here then with the best intention in the world, it won't work - and accidents & injuries will happen.  If however you both stay connected to the music - it re-enforces the connection between both dances - and thats when the magic happens :-)
  • Whilst Salsa is a freestyle dance, it has a foundation, it has basic steps for a reason - so the follower knows where to go back to between moves.  The followers role is to constantly try to carry out those basics in time to the music - if she is unable to then it is unlikely if not impossible for her to progress to following your more complicated moves.  Get this right and you can lead anyone into pretty much anything - even if they have not done the same classes as you.
  • Finally - great timing and awareness provides you with the ability to play and interpret the music - which injects even more fun and enjoyment into the dance - who wouldn't want that??

See you all on the dance floor :-)

PS  I might pop down next Monday to see how you are all getting on. x

By Jake on 10th February 2015 at 11:57

Nice comment Nicky!  I did toy with adding that item, and on further reflection and after considering your comment - I think awareness of the music should definitely be in there too.  Haha, the four cornerstones of awareness - yourself, your partner, the space and the music :)

Has a nice ring to it!  I'm sure everyone would love to see you Monday.  Think musical awareness sounds like a great topic too.  I'll put my thinking cap on...

By Nicky on 10th February 2015 at 12:06

Having thought some more it actually helps you become more spacial aware too - as if you know when the others on the dance floor are likely to step (or indeed if you know the song you might even get to the point where you know people are more likely to emphasise or do a big dramatic movement) - all of this of course is often dictated by the music. :-)

Happy to work on something together with you if that helps?

By Jake on 10th February 2015 at 15:07

Sounds good!  I was thinking something similar to the musicality class I did that time you visited Smokestack a while ago.  Not sure if you remember?

By Richard on 10th February 2015 at 19:05

Like this post - something I definitely need to get better at. I often do the three moves thing. I nearly always start a dance with a cross body to get the line, quickly fall into a lazy turn to understand how my follow reacts to the break (and the turn itself), followed by a couple of flicks so I can see where the hands are going (and their awareness of that).

Still, got a while to go before I achieve true Unagi...