Having recently retired from Salsa I decided to try my hand at West Coast Swing. After going to classes I realised that there are some elements of Salsa that really helped me. After thinking about this more I realised that it has nothing to do with Salsa but life attributes that have been heightened through Salsa, among other things.

In this article, I will go through what I consider to be the three main elements of transferable dance skills.

Musical Ear

My first musical relationship was with Hip Hop, R&B and Rap but throughout my life, my musical taste has changed and included Rock, Classical, Jazz and Country. All music genres have their instruments, nuances and rhythmic patterns; the Salsa music umbrella is extremely rich and diverse and provides plenty of things that you can learn.

When I say that through Salsa I have strengthened my sense of music it is not because I understand the clave or the conga tumbao rhythm. My ear can now listen to a 13 piece band and rip out the sounds and rhythms that each instrument is playing, understand how these instruments complement each other and isolate and groove with the rhythm of choice.

Tip: Once you become a hardcore Salsa dancer you will no doubt listen to Salsa music all the time and, unless you are unlucky, you will dance to Salsa music for hours on end. Why not take an opportunity to develop your ear, listen for sounds and start to pick up underlying rhythms. Do not learn Salsa Music, but use Salsa music to build up your understanding of music.

Personal Movement

As I played a lot of football, basketball and badminton growing up I used to think that this gave me a big advantage in Salsa as each of these sports has different movement properties. When going into West Coast Swing I found my ability to mimic movement remarkably easy and though I thought that Salsa had given me an advantage I noticed many other Salsa dancers in class struggling.

I think this advantage has come because I thought about movement and not just moves. I spent the last 5 years in Salsa training my body to move in whichever way I chose as opposed to spending endless hours drilling exact patterns or shines. The moves you learn in Salsa will not completely transfer to other dances, but your movement and ability to move will.

Tip: Spend time understanding your own personal body mechanics. How you move, how much energy you need to move, how you grip onto the floor, how you balance yourself and find a true understanding of how your own body works. Do not focus on learning Salsa moves but use Salsa dancing as a way to improve your personal movement.

Understanding Connection

The connection in West Coast Swing is actually opposite to that of Salsa. I find this rather fascinating and exciting. In Salsa we generally apply energy when we are leading a movement, the other times we have a nice and soft connection. In West Coast Swing we seem to have the concept of resistance and tension and we start the lead on the first count and then guide momentum.

I did not find this a problem as I have spent years understanding how to work with each other’s bodies as opposed to the typical leading and following that is regimented in Salsa i.e. if I lead this impulse you will do this. I was more a fan of how can I control my partner’s body, use her momentum and co-create movements.

Tip: Think beyond leading and following in Salsa. Start thinking about how you are controlling momentum and how you are responding to your partner. Too often our understanding of connection is put into this little box of Salsa partner work vocabulary. Do not focus on learning to lead and following cues but on learning and understanding connections between you and your partner.


I do not think that we have many boxes in life which are self-contained and separate but everything we do will overlap everything else in our life and further enrich the things we do. As such take this opportunity in your Salsa to go beyond syllabuses and fixed vocabulary but distill the essence and put that into the other things you do.

I hope that you find this article interesting and that you will take a moment of pause and think about how Salsa can grow other aspects of your life and what transferable skills you can truly take from it. We do not try to memorise Shakespeare but study his work to get a broader and better understanding of English literature.

What are your thoughts? Please share them with me below.

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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