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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

12 January 2016

12/01/2016 - Salsa Souls at Riproar in Bristol | Mambo & other basic steps

Class #008
Salsa Souls (Salsa), Riproar Club, Bristol, UK - 12/01/2016

It has been almost eight years since I went to my first salsa class, back during my gf's MA at Warwick. I only lasted two months, going once a week. We decided to check out another salsa class today, over at the Riproar club in the centre of town (which handily has bike racks right outside). Head upstairs (past an almost 100% male wall of comics - exactly why we need people like Jane from What the Frock) and pay your £7.50 on the door (fairly reasonable for two hours of class and extra dancing time), then you sit around waiting until the class starts at 8pm. Good thing too as we thought it started at 19:45 and were late: that cushion of time was very useful! Map with street view embedded below, but be aware if you move that around, it might revert to May 2014 pictures. Back then, the building that now houses Riproar was Bella Pizza, in case you get confused. ;)

The guy who runs Salsa Souls is called Stellan. He led us through a warm-up which also functioned as an advert for another dance class he teaches, something called 'bachata'. I've got no interest in learning bachata, but it's a good idea to use the warm-up for marketing. Still, I'd rather warm-up with salsa moves, as it's confusing enough to try and learn techniques from one style without adding in others. But then I'm biased, as I use warm-ups in my BJJ class to intro the movements that will be used in the lesson. Also, I almost always only teach one BJJ technique and then drill it loads: that probably wouldn't work too well in a salsa setting.

Just like at Warwick in 2008, the group (and it was a massive group, most likely because it's January) was split into beginners and improvers. We stuck with the beginners, as I could most definitely do with a refresher (proved to be a wise decision, I've forgotten almost everything). I can't remember the teacher's name, but she seemed friendly and enthusiastic. Looking at the About Us page on the Salsa Souls website, I don't think it was the one female currently listed, Annabel. Then again, she did say she'd only started teaching recently, so perhaps she hasn't been added yet. She was very keen on her 'kiwis, beach ball, smile' metaphor, by which she meant imagine you have two kiwis under your arms (which you want to keep there, but not squash), while holding a beach ball and grinning. That's meant to teach you to hold a frame, seems like a good metaphor. I'm not keen on enforced smiling, but on the other hand, it makes perfect sense why that is encouraged so much. If your partner is glowering at you, especially as most of the beginners won't have met each other before, it's going to put you off. ;)

Looking back through my old salsa notes, I think I have done most of the steps before, though I only remembered a few of them. Having those notes also means I can copy and paste, though some of the steps I may have forgotten to add. E.g., the sideways one, where you step to the side, sway, then step back and sway. I think? Similarly there was a backstep, where as you'd expect you step back, shift your weight onto your heel, step your feet back in line, then same again on the other side.

The first step I clearly remembered was a mambo, which I can copy over from my old notes. In those I talked about a seven-beat rhythm, not something that came up in this class, but meh:

• 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

I also remembered the turning one, which I think the instructor called a 't step'. You step one leg out to the side and back, meaning that you've now turned your torso. Step back to feet in line, then repeat on the other side. Things got more complicated with the 'mans turn'. I remember having trouble with this back in 2008. The lady's turn doesn't involve much movement from the man, as you just drop your hand then raise it, waiting for your partner to spin around. The man's turn...meh, still not getting it this time round, but here's what I wrote at Warwick:

• 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)

I didn't get the flare or Suzie Q either, though I think I have been shown them before. But meh, should be plenty of time to work those out over the next few lessons. I plan to give it another go next week, when hopefully it won't be quite as busy. As at Warwick, I still really dislike the gender split inherent in salsa, partly out of my feminist principles, partly from sheer laziness (I hate having to be the one making the decisions! Much rather be led). Then again, like Georgette said back in her 2008 comment:

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. :)

So, if I could just convince my girlfriend to do the leading, I think I'd enjoy salsa a whole lot more. Oh, and if I didn't have to partner with anybody else, I'm not keen on that either (though I can understand the social side is important to salsa, I'd rather my gf was my only dance partner). A more general downside is that class finishes quite late, at 22:00, when the social dancing bit continues on for a while (optional, as class is over). Then again, in my case I don't have to get up early the next day and my gf doesn't mind, so no biggy. I'm being quite negative, but the class was well taught, the teacher was friendly and engaging and everybody seemed nice. Well worth another go, especially as it gets good reviews (which is why my gf picked it). They've got a Facebook page I need to remember to join too, given I do everything through Facebook these days.


  1. Me and my fiancé have considered a few dance classes before and might well do something when we get all moved, settled and the little one isn't so little or could be put to bed by a parent one evening.

    The thing that puts me off the most, is as you mention, being partnered with someone else....I want to dance with Jen, but we are so different in height we certainly won't ever be partnered for long for close dancing, salsa could possibly be different though.

    I'm not sure I could watch a guy close dance with Jen and handle it, haha!

    Didn't even know you had done some salsa dancing, a man of many talents Can!

    1. Ha - I've got no issues with my gf dancing with somebody else in a salsa class, I just don't like dancing with strangers myself. Or indeed anybody other than my gf. As you know, I hate being touched, which is why BJJ was such a weird choice of hobby for me. :)

      Having said that, the dancing isn't all that close, at least not so far: only contact was hands. Let me know if you ever fancy it, we're planning to go again on Tuesday.