I have been working in Salsa for close to 5 years now and had many interesting discussions with Salsa teachers around the globe. One topic that often comes up and is the current buzz word among aspiring Salsa dancers is musicality. But what is musicality? What does becoming more musical mean? When having my conversations it appears that everyone has a different definition of what this is and more interesting how to teach it to students.

What I want to write about in this article is what I believe musicality to be and the steps to become more musical.

DISCLAIMER: There is no right and wrong when it comes to dancing and art, but hopefully by providing my personal opinions I might be able to tickle your imagination.

My Definition

I have heard alot of people describe what musicality means in great depth. Here I present my personal, concise, but somewhat vague definition of what musicality is for Salsa dancers:

“Dancing with an appreciation of the music”

With the remainder of this article I will break down what this means for me.


The first step is to listen to the music and understand what you are listening to. One of my first articles was written a few years ago and covers a brief dissection of how I personally listen to Salsa music. You can find the article HERE.

The first step in my mind to becoming more musical is to listen to as much of the music as you can but also varying the specific sub-genres as well. Do not stick to Salsa dura, timba, or romantica but play the field and develop breadth.

I see this as being equivalent to developing your taste buds for different flavours. I was lucky enough to have a chef for a parent so I was exposured to many different flavours as a child. As an adult, I can taste and appreciate a lot while also having my favourites. With regards to music, taste as much as you can at the start while trying to pick out the subtlety.

TIP: Most dancers and instructors will say the same in that developing a good ear for the music is the first step to becoming more musical. Start listening. In the car, at home or while commuting.

CAUTION: If you want to become more musical in Salsa then obviously you have to listen to Salsa music. There are a lot of clubs out there who play hip hop or RnB at Salsa nights. While it may be loads of fun dancing to these tracks they will not develop your Salsa musicality as you will be dancing to non-Salsa music.


Appreciating music is where definitions start to vary a lot. The truth is that there is no right or wrong here. There are opinions and massive differences of opinions. But for me I will take the literal sense of what the word appreciation means and use wine tasting for my analogy.

When I occassionally attend a nice and fancy restuarant I will order a meal and ask the waiter to recommend a wine for me. Most adults know the obvious i.e. red wine for red meat, white wine for fish. But what about how sweet or dry, or how fruity or oaky? Given the food before you (the situation) what is the most appropriate wine?

Experience and practise with trying different wines with different foods will give you a good starting point but after that it is instinct and personality. Spending more time applying different things to different styles of music is the next step.

TIP: For me I feel that certain genres of music fit better with different styles of the dance. Salsa dura for me fits Crossbody, whereas Timba fits Cuban style. But this is based on my ear for the music and how I appreciate music. Try out things and see what fits for you.

CAUTION: I have heard alot of very great sounding statements about how to become musical. One which I will point out here is “become an instrument in the band” or the like. I have seen statements like these send students on a quest through musical theory to musical history and god knows what else. When they return to the dance floor they are not one bit more musical but now have a whole encyclopia of knowledge and ego to boot. Bottom line is that to become a member of the band takes years and years of musical training and most of which do not apply to the dance form. For example being able to make good wine does not necessarily make you a better wine taster. The top food tasters are generally not chefs. The point being is that to make and appreciate are different skills.

Your Dancing

The music that we listen to is generally speaking very rich and therefore to express yourself to this musical form requires an equally rich vocabulary. I previously wrote an article called “System of Measurement” which covers several different areas of Salsa, you can find the article.

Within the music there is also a richer set of rhythmic patterns that we can appreciate and apply our bodies to. Practising this is extremely personal but continued application will help you develop your personal interpretation of the music. The more fine tuned and well trained your body is will give you the ability to do more in your dancing.

TIP: Listening to more, picking out and appreciating different rhythmic patterns and finally applying your body to it is how you will develop your musicality. You can do this with just a basic step. Learning new steps will not make you more musical but how you apply and attack each step.

CAUTION: A lot of dancers get too hooked up in instrumentation. A mentioned in my article “Music Dissection for Salsa Dancers” each song has a mood, structure and instrumentation. The hard part is to appreciate all the above.


After getting a grip of the whole of Salsa most students then want to become more musical. The simple truth is that there is no silver bullet and no magic one size fit all solution.

In my opinion the main thing to do is 1) listen to as much music as you can, apply yourself to the music, 2) learning to appreciate different aspects of the music, and 3) using your body to appreciate the music your are listening to.

Toan Hoang

Written by Toan Hoang

Toan Hoang has been dancing Salsa for more than 10 years and was the co-founder and managing director of TNT Dance in London; A dedicated and holistic Mambo school, that thrives on innovation, and hopes to develop and inspire the next generation of instructors and performers. www.tntdance.info

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