Why you can’t learn salsa without speaking a little Spanish

You may think that there is no relationship between salsa and Spanish. Most dance teachers know how to speak enough English to teach you the basics…but you would be wrong!

Spanish and Latin dance are so intertwined that it is hard to imagine one without the other and by learning a little bit of Spanish you can supercharge the fun you have whilst learning salsa.

A starting point is something as simple as the names of the some of the salsa moves, particularly Rueda moves. Ever wondered why everyone starts laughing when the caller shouts a specific move? It is normally because it has a funny double meaning in Cuban Spanish, for instance the Peluqueria (“Hairdresser”) = Enchufla + “fix” the woman’s hair on the way past or Principe Bueno (“Good Prince”) = Enchufla + kiss the woman’s hand dramatically on the way past. Then of course there is the most common command in Rueda, “dame”, which literally means “give me”, perhaps not very politically correct but a sign of light-hearted nature of dancing Rueda.

But knowing some Spanish is not just important for Rueda calls, it is an essential element for developing your musicality when dancing to Latin music. That is, phases not only tell you not only where you are in a song but also what its mood is and what might happen next in melody.

It may be that there are phrases in a song that indicate how to react while the piece is being played. What would you do if you got to dance to the famous song of Bamboleo –  Ya no hace falta? It would be very helpful for you to understand the lyrics of the chorus and what each of the expressions mean.

For example:

Déjame vivir en paz, ¡paʼ allá!                       Let me live in peace, go there!

Vete, que no quiero verte.                             Go away, I do not want to see you.

No hay vuelta. ¡Salta paʼ atrás!                   There is no return. Jump back!

In this specific song, the expressions “vete” (go), “paʼ allá” (go there) and “salta paʼ atrás” (jump back) invite the lady to make gestures that push away her partner, who must stand a little away from the lady, once she jumps backwards, because in the rest of the song she lets him know that she wants the relationship to end definitively.

Learning to dance is much more than marking perfectly the steps and making colorful movements and twists. It is part of a process of assimilating a new culture, for which it is very helpful to understand the different ways in which it expresses itself. And, like all art forms (cinema, literature, theater …), dance and language are mixed, like the ingredients of drinks, in a surprising way.

In summary, knowing Spanish will not turn you into a great salsa dancer overnight, but it will allow you to better express the music that you are feeling.