Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Turn, Spin, or Just Dizzy?

"I want to be a great spinner!" That’s the battle cry of many dancers, both men and women. Tight, quick, flashy turns and spins mark the more advanced dancers, and it’s a much-coveted skill in the clubs.

Turns and Spins: What’s the Difference?
I call turns anything where both feet are momentarily on the ground once (or more) each revolution. However, spins are a little different. In a spin, you turn on one foot from the time the spin starts until you finish (AKA “landing”).

Just as a square is a type of rectangle, “turns” are considered a subset of spins. If you are doing singles (going around once), they are similar and sometimes identical.

Once you get to doubles and beyond, then the differences become more obvious.
This video teaches some interesting men’s turns, and you’ll see his feet hit the floor once or more each time as he goes around. Ironically, in the first example he does a triple free spin, but then in the rest of the video he breaks down turns, showing you the footwork as he goes around. Those are fun turns to master, they look good, and most salseros would be in great shape with just those moves. There is NOTHING wrong with turns, and if done with finesse, they look polished and flashy.

Spins require more technique and fast controlled spins are one mark of the advanced dancer. In this example, the first time Brandon spins, it’s all on one foot, with the other almost dragging the floor (ironically called a “pencil turn”, even though it’s in the spin family.) This spin is ~24 seconds into the clip. A pencil turn is technically a variation of a jazz pirouette.

Jazz and ballet dancers have been spinning for years, and most salsa spins are variations on classic jazz and ballet techniques.

Luis Vasquez uses both techniques; here’s an example of him club-dancing.

In this video, you can see him spinning his doubles and triples on one leg within the first 20 seconds of the cut. His other leg never touches the floor from the time he starts to spin until he lands. I haven’t found any examples of him using the turns techniques, but I’ve taken privates from him and seen him do it in the past.

The stronger dancers can do both, but if they start anything more than a double, they can do it on one leg and don’t put their other foot down until they finish the spin. They can make it look like both legs are on the floor, as in the pencil turn, or they can lift one foot higher.

The two techniques are complimentary but create a different feel, and the best dancers can do both. Many start with the turns, graduate to the spins over time and then combine them to create different looks depending on the feel that’s right for the moment.

Check out a guy called “Jazzy” in this turns demonstration.

All the turns Jazzy is doing have French names and there are a set of exercises to build up the different components of those spins. Dancers with a classic dance background recognize salsa spins are variations on standard exercises you do in jazz/ballet classes. He has great balance, spots well and he puts them into a salsa context. He can look like a jazz dancer or vary the feel to look more "street."

The example where he does 10 or so (and then takes a bow) is called "Fuettes". I can’t see anybody really doing these on the salsa floor, but many of the advanced spinners have classic training, including spins outside the salsa norm. That gives them depth, balance, and the ability to combine techniques to get the look they want. Just to see those in another context, here is a quick example of Fuettes from a ballet perspective.

Jazzy doesn't do them with the strict ballet form since that would look inappropriate for salsa (he really doesn't have the legs she does!). But it's clear he has some classic dance training in his background, and he integrates that into his salsa. He also does some hip-hop and that shows through as well.

Classic spin techniques are not required to be a great salsa dancer. If you want to wow them on the floor, check out jazz classes in addition to your salsa favorites. The accomplished dancers tend to have experience across a range of dances and they integrate techniques that have been around for years, long before salsa was popular.

Turning and spinning are vast subjects and I’ll have more to say in the future. Let me know what you are doing to master your turns and spins. How are you preparing to be a great spinner?


  1. Do you have any idea how Francisco Vasquez does his spins in the No Critiques vid? It looks like a hook turn but not quite. It looks like a usual multiple spin but it's not. I can't quite figure out how he gets his prep to do the triples and quadruples.

    Hope you can provide some insight!

  2. Hi Don,
    I've been taught that the key difference between a turn and a spin is that in a turn, the dancer continues to change their weight on time with the basic rhythm as they rotate - that is, it is stepped, whereas in a spin, the dancer plants the foot and keeps rotating on one foot without respecting the basic step. It may look similar but the result is very different. In my experience all salsa dancers should learn accurate turning technique before trying to spin - if at all. The problem with spinning is that there is a real danger that the dancer looses connection with the music and the rhythm. It looks good on the stage but in social dancing it can totally break the flow of the dance.

    I guess there are different styles and if you want to go for a lot of free spinning, that's your own choice - but I know which I prefer.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero