Salsa Hell

I would like to talk about a concept that is fairly well-known within the salsa community called “salsa hell”. This term is used to describe the period at the beginning of most men’s salsa lessons, and is a way to explain why men seem to have a harder time starting out than the ladies.

Simply put, salsa hell describes the painfully frustrating period during which guys are trying to understand important fundamental concepts of dancing such as leading, timing, and musicality. Compared to the ladies, guys have a more difficult learning curve at the start, due to having to learn to lead on top of the already daunting footwork, leading to a noticeable gap between their progression and the ladies’ progression.

This gap is so universal, there are even graphs to describe it. Here’s one:

Learning curve chart by

Learning curve chart by

As you can see from this graph, the ladies’ learning curve is fairly smooth; ladies have footwork to memorize and styling to perfect, and once these are committed to memory, it is relatively easy to test them out on the dance floor. Guys on the other hand may take longer to perfect the art of leading and communicating with their partner, which can mean fewer people to dance with, and can kneecap their confidence. However, once they reach that “light bulb moment”, the guys’ skill level will increase exponentially in a relatively short period, rewarding them for all their earlier frustrations.

So how long does it take to get out of salsa hell? It is different from person to person, and depends on a number of factors; how often do you practice what you’ve learned? Do you go out social dancing? Are you inherently athletic? Do you have any music training?

So what can we learn from all this? I can think of a couple of things:

  1. Guys, we have to put in that extra effort in the front, so be diligent about practicing! The more you put in, the faster you will get out of “hell”.
  2. Ladies, be understanding of the guys in your class if you see them struggling. Who knows, maybe the guy next to you will be one of your favorite dancers in a couple of years. Be nice, they will thank you for it later!

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