Tips to Improve your Salsa Dance Timing Fast!

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  • Author Esteban Conde
  • Published November 15, 2020
  • Word count 1,017

It is amazing how inspiring it is when you see people salsa dancing at a dance studio or club. No matter where you look, everyone is having a great time. Because they are all smiling and the atmosphere is so inviting, you decide to take salsa dance classes at a local dance studio.


You find a place that is welcoming, friendly and the instructors are very knowledgeable. You start coming regularly and feel like you are enjoying the lessons more and more because you are learning, meeting new people and feel like you are making great progress. However, after a few weeks you feel that something is missing and you don't seem to feel the music. You feel very mechanical as you go through the motions while you lead/follow during the class.


This is something that most beginner salsa dance students go through. Listening to the music and understanding musical timing is something that doesn't come naturally for most people. It takes practice for you to hear the timing and feel the music beat. Be patient and you will soon hear the music and beat naturally without even thinking about it.


Here are a few tips to help you feel the salsa let's get started!


1.     Salsa music is very structural. Have you ever had someone, whether be a friend or experienced dancer tell you that all you have to do is feel the music and you look at them not understanding what that really means? There is a little more to it than that. When musicians in a salsa band play together they don't all say to each other, hey guys let’s feel what we play, and start all together coordinating from beginning to the end of the song. No, they follow a set of rules and structure that allows them to be synchronized with each what is the structure of salsa music?

2.     Salsa is a set of rhythmical repetitions. When new dance students hear salsa music, they usually hear everything all mixed together, but if they listen carefully, they will be able to recognize a rhythmical pattern that repeats itself over and over. Start with slow salsa songs, and try to recognize these rhythmical repetitions.

3.     Recognize the 1st beat. When you listen to a salsa song, there is a point where all musicians coordinate to start a new rhythmical sequence together. That is the first beat, and the beginning of a new sequence! That is the moment when you start dancing to the music and match your steps to the music’s rhythm. When you are in class and hear the instructor counting 1-2-3 (hold 4)) 5, 6, 7 (hold 8), know that what they are doing is counting to the music beat.

4.     Salsa music is like a sentence. When you read a sentence, visually you know where the beginning of a sentence is because of the capital letter. The next sentence starts the same way with a capital letter and so on. Music is the same way as the first beat is usually stronger and more accentuated than the rest. Imagine the first beat as the capital letter and do your best to recognize it.

5.     Practice listening to music when not dancing. When you are dancing, you don't want to be counting or stressing out about whether you are on time or not. You are there to have fun and so is everyone else. My suggestion is to play salsa music in your car and try tapping on the steering wheel to the beat. Also, listen to music at home or at the gym. It takes practice, but the more you do this, the more you will hear the sequence and recognize where the first beat is throughout the song.

6.     Using tempo as a tool to recognize the count. Have you ever seen a baby clapping to music? Or have you found yourself nodding to music, or tapping the floor with your feet to a tune you enjoy? Well, that is the tempo or speed of the music. In salsa, the tempo marks the 1, 3, 5 and 7 of the count, so when you listen to the music and you mark it (tapping with your feet, nodding), you have to know that 1 of every 4 beats will be the 1, the first beat of the sequence. The key is to recognize it and then fill in the gaps (1, 3, 5 ,7 then count 1, 2, 3 5, 6, 7). 

7.     Salsa timing apps. Checkout the app store on your phone and search for Salsa Timing or Salsa Rhythm. You can also search on YouTube as there are many great instructional timing videos that contain visual tools to help you see the count and listen at the same time.

8.     Place your hand on a speaker. This is a something I learned from a few students of mine over the years. Though they are deaf, they were able to feel the music and keep the timing right. How is that possible? It is because the music has string vibrations that lets your body feel the structural music and count. Place your hand over a speaker and try to feel the music in your body and you will know what I am talking about. This is something that may help you. 

9.     Once you begin to hear and feel the music, take some body movement classes. Learn how to move your hips, torso and shoulders while you dance. You will then begin to translate what you hear and feel into great looking body movements as you dance. You will not only look good, but you will feel good too.  


Over the years of learning how to dance and becoming an instructor, I discovered there is no shortcut to feel the music. It took me a long time to get it and understand it. Once you become familiar with the music and beat, everything changes! You will be able to feel the music and dance to it in a new way! Make sure you practice and make it a point to have a great time, whether you are out salsa dancing or at your local salsa class. See you on the dance floor!

Check out our Salsa Dance Studio Classes and Lessons in Orange County, California. Visit us at

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