What can Salsa dancing teach us about relationship issues?

I’ve been Salsa dancing for the last 5 months. In that time, it’s become very clear that the structure and dynamics of the dance can teach us all a hell of a lot about our intimate relationships. 


How? I hear you ask...

How can Salsa dancing teach us about relationships?

Well, firstly we need to look at the two main roles in Salsa. The masculine lead and the feminine follow. For the purposes of this article, I am referring to a man (the lead) and woman (the follower) as this is both the role couples play in Salsa and my own experience. So let’s explore these roles further:

Presence on the dance floor

The first thing to start with is presence. For a man and a woman to dance they must both be present together on the dance floor ready to begin. The fact that they are both on the dance floor shows a willingness to share an experience together. There is an immediate physical connection in the hold and a mutual acknowledgement of one another through eye contact. There is a willingness to dance.

Presence in a relationship

When I see a couple for therapy, it’s often the case that either one or both aren’t present with each other. They’ve checked out. If one or both people aren’t showing up then how can they have a relationship together? Without presence, there is zero communication, and without this, the relationship is dead. 

To build an intimate relationship there must be close physical proximity. This doesn’t mean being in each other's pockets, but it does mean showing up to dance with each other. If one person is always at work, and then continues to work from home when they return from work, it’s difficult for them to maintain a connection with their partner.

Worse still, imagine that both people live in the same house without being present with one another. She’s reading a book, and he’s on the iPad or scrolling through stuff on his phone, but they are still strangers when they finish what they’re doing. This is a recipe for disaster and paves the way for both physical and emotional distancing.

Structure in Salsa dancing

As flamboyant as Salsa is, there is a defined structure within the frame of both lead and follower. In the hold, the lead steps forward with his left foot whilst the follower steps back with her right. As the fundamental footwork and holds develop, the dance develops flamboyantly, with the male leading the female in a variety of enigmatic flowing moves, whilst the female follower positions herself correctly to allow the dance to flow smoothly and bring creativity and artistry to the dance through elegant physical styling.

Structure in a relationship

It’s critical that you are on the same page in a relationship. You can both have a unique style, and that’s important to build attraction and keep things interesting. However, if your values and principles are completely opposing one another you’re dancing a completely different dance, that doesn’t mix well, and this is when problems occur. Equally, there must be an acknowledgement of an overall lead within the relationship. For example, If both people are followers the relationship can't move develop. Imagine one partner saying "what shall we do tonight?" whilst the other partner says "I don’t know, what shall we do tonight?"

A key ingredient for a working relationship must be respect for one another’s frame of perspective. That means acknowledging that your partner is different and unique to you. In Salsa dancing, the male and female lead have different steps and can differ greatly in style, however, they complement each other. In a relationship, each person has different opinions, perspectives, behaviours and idiosyncrasies. This difference gives flavour and excitement to the partnership which, if appreciated and valued, deepens connection and trust.

Communication in Salsa dancing

For a great dance, there must be ongoing communication between both partners. Communication is non-verbal, so this is shown in a variety of ways from direct or subtle indicators from the lead and follower. To give some examples, the lead communicates by applying gentle pressure to the follower’s arms and by positioning his body in such a way that informs her which way he wants her to turn. Equally, the follower responds to the pressure through tension and body posture, communicating to him whether his lead is favourable or not. In my experience strong eye contact, laughter and a beaming smile give away a great dance. The communication is incredibly subtle, yet effective. As in relationships, actions speak louder than words!

Communication in relationships

Communication is everything in intimate relationships. To my mind, there must be both direct and indirect communication shown both verbally and non-verbally. The key is building a positive emotional association with your partner. Too much emotional expression and chatter leaves nothing to the imagination. Too little, and the connection wanes. Too much direct, opinionated communication leaves the other feeling a lack of space and validation, whereas having no voice fosters resentment and frustration.

The key here is to value each other's communication methods and build sensual acuity (awareness of your partner’s body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, for example). If someone squints their eyes as if they’re sucking a lemon when you communicate it’s likely they’ve not received what you were saying as palatable. Equally, if a partner turns their body posture away from you defensively, it's likely something has been negatively triggered. This doesn’t mean always communicating safely around your partner, that's boring. But it does mean responding to what you see, feel and hear. You want your partner to feel great around you, and, whilst this isn’t possible all of the time (that’s impossible), working on listening, checking in with one another and having light-hearted, flirtatious, communication builds connection and trust. 

Growth on the dance floor

In salsa dancing, you start by learning the basic steps. These steps are the fundamental building blocks needed to develop more exciting, and flamboyant moves, but moves without presence and connection are simply extra moves. The growth in new steps and routines makes for a much more interesting dance between partners and, coupled with a deeper connection and understanding of how each other moves, leads to a dynamic, ever-changing flow. Usually, within Salsa, the dance partners separate from each other temporarily to ‘shine’. This is their own time to dance alone freestyle, within their own space before they once again connect as a dance couple together.

Growth in relationships

There are 2 main areas a couple must continually develop for the relationship to be at its optimum: 

Growth as an individual (to ‘shine’)

Couples start off as unique individuals but often lose themselves over time as they begin to fuse into a set of joint patterns and behaviours. This is when a partnership becomes stale. The reason they were attracted to each other was not just due to common interests, but unique differences.

When each person stops doing what made them happy, unique and interesting, attraction levels for one another tend to drop. Not only must each person maintain their own hobbies, passions and interests, but they must also develop in these and try out new challenges independently. 

Growth as a couple

Without growth, a relationship dies. It becomes static, boring, predictable and complacent. It’s easy for couples to get into fixed patterns with each other. Healthy couples build trust from a base of emotional and physical security, but for a relationship to thrive, there must be light-hearted, flirtatious, communication and continued romance. That means that the playful courtship they had in the honeymoon period of the relationship must continue. Lots of couples give up on this and wonder why the relationship dies a death. Doing new things together and continuing to romance each other keeps things alive!

Want to work on your relationship? 

Connect with me to book a Salsa therapy package. You will learn how to rebuild trust and security through individual and couples counselling, alongside re-connecting with each other through salsa dancing lessons directed by a professional Salsa dancing teacher.

See you soon!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Romford RM3 & Brentwood CM15
Written by Adam Day, Counsellor/Psychotherapist/Coach
Romford RM3 & Brentwood CM15

Adam Day is trained in various approaches as an integrative therapist; these include humanistic (person-centred/existential), cognitive behavioural, transpersonal and psychodynamic. He is available for therapy throughout the week from 10am to 8pm.

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