| bjj resources

 BJJ FAQ  Academy

This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

14 October 2008

14/10/2008 - Salsa

Class #1
Warwick Salsa (Salsa), Alyssa Davison, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK - 14/10/2008

Bit of a change from the usual martial artsing, as tonight I went down with my girlfriend to the salsa dancing class here at Warwick Uni (seemed a fair exchange, as she was willing to go along to judo). If you couldn't give a flying armbar for anything non-BJJ and find it annoying having to scroll past the unrelated stuff, click the 'BJJ' category at the top of my blog (presuming you're reading this on the main blog – if not, go here). That will filter posts to just Brazilian jiu jitsu.

If you're still with me: took my gf and I a while to find where the Westwood Dance Studio was, given that despite both of us having spent years at Warwick, almost none of that has involved the Westwood campus. Eventually flagged down a passing cello case, the carrier of which said he was heading to the Music Centre (which apparently houses the Dance Studio). Turned out it didn't matter if we were slightly late, as things were still being set up.

There was a huge turn-out: so many that the instructors had to keep whistling in order to be heard above the loud murmuring horde of beginners. After a brief warm-up going through the basic steps (naturally most of us had no idea what they were, as the majority were new people), class was split in three: beginner, post-beginner and intermediate.

That still left a pretty massive group of beginners, but fortunately we did all (just about) fit into the 'Reinvention Centre' room (quite what the name refers to I don't know). After a quick introduction by Alyssa, who is both the president of Warwick Salsa and teacher for the beginners, the men were arranged in a big circle. Men are supposed to lead, so the steps are different depending on gender. I wonder how that works for gay couples? I'd guess they have to decide who is going to be the 'guy' and who is the 'girl', but would be interesting to know how many lesbian and gay salsa couples there are.

As I'd assume tends to be the case with dancing societies, there were significantly more women than men, so that meant that there was a queuing system in place for everyone to get a chance to dance. Well, by 'everyone' I mean the women: the blokes didn't have that problem. Hopefully the men won't drop off as the year progresses, or its going to be frustrating for the female dancers.

The first step was a mambo (is that capitalised?), which breaks down like this on a seven-beat rhythm (the fourth beat is a pause, if I understood correctly). This is from the male perspective, who always acts as the leader:

• Step forward on your left
• Lift your right heel and move your weight forward
• Bring your left foot back in line with your right
• Step back with your right
• Shift your weight back
• Bring your right foot back in line with your left

Once we'd gone through that and switched partners a few times (very regular, which made it nice and sociable), Alyssa added in sidestepping, which is the same as the mambo, just sideways. That was the simple part.

Things got more complicated with the turns. After the lady's turn (easy for the man, as we just stand there with our arm in the air, mamboing back while the woman spins), the blokes then had to do some work with the man's turn. I'm not quite sure I got this one down properly, but if I remember correctly:

• Step your left forward and twist your left foot inwards, also turning your torso
• Continue the turn by angling your right foot and leg back
• Spin and return to the previous position
• Then mambo back as normal (step back, shift weight, bring feet back in line)

The cross-body turn was even more confusing, particularly as I couldn't quite see the people demonstrating. However, I had a chance to practice it lots more later on, as there is an hour of 'freestyle' after class finishes, which proved very useful. The steps are:

• Cross your left foot past your right
• Bring your right foot around, so you're now turning towards your left
• Complete the turn to your left by bringing your feet back into line. At this point, you'll be perpendicular to your partner, your arm forming a 'gate' for her to walk through
• Step back with your right
• Step across with your left
• Bring your right foot into line: you should now be facing the opposite direction to when you started

It was a relief to get an hour to practice all that with my girlfriend, which helped a lot in getting the moves ingrained. It also meant I could get her to record my feet on my phone, in an effort to better remember the steps. If I manage to do that every session, the videos will also form a handy record of my progress, which should be fun to look back on. So, here's me after one lesson:

We were told that everyone would be meeting up at the Varsity bar for drinks at 21:00, so heading off for some boozing. Unfortunately, despite the enormous amount of dancers, only six of us actually showed up. I'm hoping next week there will be a better turnout, but it was nice to at least get to know those four others (Danni, Alex, Johnny and Matt). Looking forward to next week, where I should have more of a chance to apply Georgette's great advice, or possibly the week after when things get more advanced.


  1. Hooray salsa! It's so much like jiu jitsu, except there's only one leader. (Yes, gay couples need to pick who leads and who follows. However-- the best salsa dancers are capable of leading and following no matter their gender, so when you're watching the pros, you'll sometimes see men following men or ladies leading ladies, and it indicates nothing about their sexual lifestyle :))

    Can't wait to read about your future salsa adventures!

  2. Good luck with the salsa. Don't be a hero. If it gets too intense, just tap out. You don't want to get injured. :)

  3. You reckon that's an option? I think that 'man's turn' thingy definitely had some kind of footlock set up, judging by my stumbling attempts to get the steps...

  4. The "man's turn" was exactly what I was thinking about. That sounds dangerous! My knees shrieked and ran out of the room when I read that.