Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's the difference between a spin and a turn?

We get so confused. And it's our (teacher's) fault. We'll tell beginning students that they are going to learn how to spin. We teach students to do a "cross body spin." We teach more advanced students how to execute a "free spin." But those aren't spins. They are in fact turns. And it's not just a question of using a different word. Sometimes teachers do teach a spin when they should be teaching a turn, and vice versa. So let's examine this just a moment.

So what IS the difference between a spin and a turn? Think of your car. If you turn your car, the car is in control. It's moving forward. But if your car is spinning, it's out of control. The wheels aren't locked onto the pavement. Which one can you stop your momentum easier? The turn.

So is turning the more stable? Not necessarily. One of the most stable instruments known to science is an object that spins: a gyroscope. The Segway uses gyroscopes to stay balanced. NASA uses gyroscopes to keep orientation. And remember toy gyroscopes? Once they get spinning you can't knock them over! And they are spinning on a point! And what happens when they start turning? THAT is when they fall over. They are designed to spin!

See? When you are supposed to be spinning, turning knocks you over. When you are supposed to be turning, spinning knocks you over. So it's important to understand the difference between turning and spinning and it's important to understand when you should be executing the one instead of the other.

The big difference between a spin and a turn is the pivot point, the center of that arc you are rotating around. A spin's pivot point is contained within the mass of the object. A turn's pivot point is outside the mass of the object. This is true for a car and it's true for a dancer.

Ok? Now you know the difference between a turn and a spin. So recognize which one you are trying to do in a movement and execute that movement properly. If you are turning, turn. Don't spin. If you are spinning, spin. Don't turn. Kay?

Here are a few rough rules of thumb. If you are doing a 180 or more, you are probably spinning. But if your movement is 180 or less, you are probably turning.

Also, if you are traveling, you are turning. None of your steps should be greater than 180 degrees. And finally, if you are staying in place, then you are spinning.

Is this just a question of semantics? Absolutely not. You can see how utterly important it is because people execute spins when they should be turning and vice versa. Let's examine the cross body spin... er... turn. How do you know that you are supposed to be turning and not spinning? Well, are you traveling? Yup. Then you should be turning. Remember the rule of thumb? 180° and less is a turn. A cross body turn does include a 180° movement, but you are traveling so it is in fact a turn. When you execute your cross body spin turn, move your feet down the slot. Change your weight with each step and make sure you keep moving down the slot. If at any point one of your feet starts to move back up the slot, you just executed a spin. Correct that and you'll find your cross body turns improving dramatically.

How about the other way: people doing turns when they should be spinning? How do you know if you should be spinning? Are you staying in the same place? Yes? It's a spin. So don't change your weight until the spin is complete. You may peddle to check your balance or even provide a smidge of momentum, but do not change your weight from the leg you are spinning on, and DEFINITELY keep both feet completely under your body.

Now, how about the special case of a single right or left turn. Aren't they spins? You're in place, right? These appear to be executed in place, but if you pay attention they are not. You return to your point of departure but make no mistake, you do depart from the home position. That means it is not a spin. A spin is when you remain in place and spin like a top. Stop executing your turns like a spin!

Ok? Got that? Once you recognize how important this question is, and make the adjustments to your dancing (and teaching) technique you will see yourself improve dramatically. DRAMATICALLY!


  1. I am not a salsa dancer, but I think this explanation is one of the best found online. Thanks a lot.

  2. I have been trying to spin for the past year. I spot but I can't get my head to win around fast enough. As a result my left arm hangs back. Then I end up fumbling my double turns when I do them solo. I can turn with a partner. It's leading to depression. Any suggestions?