STYLING AND EMBELLISHMENTS
Below are some techniques you can try if you are looking for ways to embellish your Salsa steps. 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 lead or follow. So for example, if you have a hard time adding in a body roll or shoulder roll and staying right on time with the music so you are ready for the next step, then executing the move with correct timing takes priority!
But that said, below are some components that you can play with and practice over time. Think of these as 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, “sitting into it” and bring her left foot to meet the right one on beat 4. Then she does her CBL. This must be done quickly on beat 4` 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 step left then right for the Suzie Q. 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 diagonally 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.
Another common embellishment on the Rueda basic step is to tap on beats 3 and 8. The tap never takes much weight and then you always step on the same foot you tapped on, on the next beat. So if you tap with the left foot, the next step is also with the left foot—for example.
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. Slide & Glide: The Legs make a “four"
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.
It is important when doing this that the knees stay together. So the legs are making a shape that is similar but not exactly like the number four. The knees staying in contact makes it look a little like a cool Tango 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. 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.
6. Hops/vertical level changes and footwork
Dancers can add some hops--often done on the second half of beat two, and the second half of beat six. People also sometimes bend down slightly for styling. The bend is from the knees so the upper body stays vertical.
Leaders and followers can do a variety of interesting embellishments with their feet. A tap is done when the foot touches the floor but essentially no weight is put on it. Adding taps on beats 4 and 8 can style moves nicely and it is a simple thing to do. You can tap not straight in front but to one side or diagonally to add flair.
The step pattern for basic Rueda dancing is Quick Quick Slow (stepping on beats 1, 2, 3, and 5, 6, and 7). Some top studios out of Miami have the dancers step on 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 when they do guapea and they tap on beats 3 and 8. This has a really cool look and feel!
Sometimes dancers actually add step patterns or short shines into other steps which gives a dynamic and often syncopated look to the step. You can make up a pattern that suits you and feels natural to you. Here is an extremely simple example of that. If you are dancing to a slow Salsa, instead of one step on the "slow," you can step three times, essentially make the dance a fast Cha cha. That can look sharp.
A flare is when a foot slides across the floor often at a diagonal and flares out to the side. This can also add a dynamic look to your dancing!
8. Body rolls/ripples
Body ripples and rolls add a lot to a dance as well. Note that sometimes a ripple means a roll up and a body roll is a roll down. But sometimes body roll refers to a roll in either direction. In any case, this kind of movement infuses a lot of life into a dance move and can be added in many places.
To learn this ripple/roll, 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.
9. 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 (to her right) on beats 5 through 8 by leading her at the shoulders into the spin. If she is a wonderful spinner, she may do a two or three spins in those 4 beats! The last 8 beats would be done the same as usual. This sort of alteration in the step is essentially like a cross between an embellishment and a new move. You have the liberty of being creative and making up any alteration you like!