You might think that being light on your feet means your feet are off the ground a lot. But that's not true. In fact, being light on your feet goes hand in hand with being grounded. You need to actually spend MORE time with your feet on the ground to be light on your feet.
Huh? How is that possible? Doesn't being grounded mean you are stable on the ground like a strong foundation? Yes, but you aren't immovable. Being grounded actually gives you the ability to switch your weight from one foot to the next with very little effort and time. And that is what being light on your feet really means. Being able to change your weight in an instant.
Well, there is more to it than that. You also have to be able to check your momentum in an instant. You are in control of your balance, your weight and your momentum. That is what makes you light on your feet.
How do you get light on your feet? Well, first off, you have to forget your feet. LOL. Seriously. Too many beginning dancers think everything about dance centers on the feet. While we do use our feet to dance, the feet can't do anything if our bodies aren't moving. Beginning dancers have difficulty turning because their bodies turn so slowly.
So the first thing you have to do to become light on your feet is to conquer this inevitable difficulty: make your body lead your feet. You learned how to do that when you learned to walk at 2 years old. Everyone on the planet moves not by moving their feet but by moving their body. Don't believe me? Watch yourself walk in a mirror.
Still not convinced? Record yourself and play the video in slow motion. You will notice that you actually move your body first, not your feet. One foot pushes your body forward and the other foot keeps you from falling down. That foot catches up to your body, then the momentum/inertia of your body moving allows the first foot (the one that originally pushed the body forward) to catch up to the next step. Meanwhile the second foot pushes your body forward. Well, it can't very well push you forward if it's moving, can it? See? Your feet move last! In fact the foot that starts the pushing motion is the foot that moves at the very end!
So, when you dance don't forget how to walk. Move your body. When you turn or spin, get your body around first. Your feet will follow. Consequently, you'll be lighter on your feet.
Now when I say get your body around, I don't mean push yourself off. I don't mean wind up like a spring and explode yourself into a spin. Forget that. That is BAAAD technique. Turns and spins don't happen that way. I'll cover spinning later but certainly turns are done slowly, changing your weight fully with each step, as your body TURNS, not spins.
(Read the article on the difference between turning and spinning.)
So, turn properly. Change your weight with every step. Now you can't be in control if you are doing this while taking large steps. So the simple answer is to take small steps. Well, teachers have been trying to drill that mantra into students noggins forever, but it doesn't change things but only slowly. The students still take big steps. So how do you make yourself take smaller steps? Clearly there is something causing you to take big steps. What could it be? Your momentum. You aren't in control. So you have to put less energy into your movement. Make each step deliberate, the same as when you walk. So, don't just take smaller steps. Move slower. Yep, moving slower can actually help you to get around your turns FASTER!!!! HAHAHAH!!!
It seems so illogical doesn't it! But not if you think about it this way. If you push yourself off, you're more likely to be off balance more often. You are more likely to step wrong. You are more likely to get off time. And you are more likely to tire. But if you make your movements more relaxed, then you will be in more control. And THAT is where speed comes from. Speed doesn't come from energy. It comes from control. You need to be in control of your body and your feet. YOU. Not the other way around.
So, how do you know how big of a step to take? Well, if you move your body instead of your feet, the answer becomes very simple. Keep your feet under your body. Just move your feet to where your body is. Easy. Keep the time. In LA Style salsa the guy's steps are Left, Right, Left; Right, Left, Right. And the girls steps are opposite. Maintain that rhythm. You might need to count. Keep your feet under your body, and move your body first. It's that simple. Do that and you'll be grounded and light on your feet too.