It’s not just on the dance floor. Any time you’re in an uncomfortable position, you become hyper aware of your hands. What do you do with them? Should you use them to help express yourself, or are you expressing too much? If you’ve ever found yourself in a school play, being interviewed on the news, or having to give a big presentation at work, you know how suddenly awkward your hands can be. Luckily, in salsa dancing, there are many established “go-to options” for hand placement.
When dancing with a partner, there are pre-determined places to put your hands. For both men and women, it’s important to remember to stay in your “safety zone.” When touching a follow, who’s almost always a woman, keep hands either between the rib cage and hips or along the arms, shoulders and no lower than the collar bone. In other words, steer clear of places you know your hands shouldn’t be! Except in some more extreme moves that might involve flips, there’s no reason to place your hands below a woman’s waist.
For women, you have a little more wiggle room. Generally speaking, anything above a man’s waist is “your zone.” This is pretty obvious, and many of the moves you’ll be taught will dictate exact hand placement. Keeping “your frame,” especially in a closed position, requires proper hand placement or else you risk looking sloppy. Directing a follow to turn or change positions also requires correct hand placement. This isn’t just for comfort and safety, but also to best let your follow know what’s coming next.
When It’s Time to Shine
“Shine” happens when two partners break apart to show off solo moves. There are entire congresses dedicated to this kind of solitary dance. It can either be very freeing and exciting for some dancers—or absolutely terrifying. Without the crutch of a partner, you’re completely on your own. There are no hands to hold, waists to direct or shoulders to rely on. For many who aren’t initially comfortable with shine work, the big question is:
“What do I do with my hands?”
Women can lean heavily on their natural femininity and grace. Choosing a go-to hand shape is easy and will make all your moves look flawless. For many women, this means keeping fingers elongated and slightly bent while tucking in a single finger on each hand. Any finger will do, although the ring finger is especially popular. Keep elbows slightly bent and, depending on the move, some women like to raise both arms up in the air accentuate the look.
For men, hand shape is also critical. You don’t want to mimic a woman’s hand shape, as it can look too feminine. Instead, keep the hands very loosely clenched (you don’t want to look like your knuckles are about to go white!). Not seeing your fingers lends to a cleaner look and takes away the risk of too much flair. It’s also a more masculine look and will complement your female partner’s moves well.
However, this is where the differences end. Men should also maintain slightly bent elbows and a loose, comfortable arm shape. Like women, you can also punctuate moves with the occasional straight arm(s) into the air. When it’s time to move back into partner dancing, holding out a closed, cup hand (palm upward) toward your partner tells her it’s time to get back into couple dancing.
Grasps and Clasps
When you are partner dancing, it’s important for both partner to have a solid grasp with one another. Except in turns, the woman’s/follow’s hand is almost always on top. The man’s/lead’s hand holds the follow from below, gently cupping it. The tension is in the fingertips, and there should be just the right amount of slack to let the lead intuit upcoming turns and moves. With so much hand holding and touching, you can guess that hygiene and keeping sweat under control is important.
Regularly wash your hands before, during and after dancing. Everybody sweats differently, and if you think your hands are sweatier than others, you have some options. Washing them regularly helps, as does using talcum powder. There are a number of products on the market just for stopping sweaty hands, and a little trial and error may be in order.
However, the most important factor is to have fun! Don’t worry too much about hand placement and shape unless you’re gearing up for a competition. Salsa itself is intuitive, and your hands will naturally find their stride.