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The Importance of Shines & Footwork

Solo dancing holds a multitude of benefits within partner dance styles. The term 'shines' or 'shines position' typically encompasses solo patterns, intricate steps, body movement and footwork that extend beyond the basic dance steps. On the other hand, 'footwork' encompasses various foot movements, encompassing both the foundational steps and shines.

While mastering the basics is a crucial starting point, delving into footwork and shines surprisingly holds tremendous significance in advancing your partner-work skills and enhancing your overall dance proficiency. This principle applies universally to all partner dance styles, with a primary focus on Salsa, Afro Cuban, Mambo, Cha Cha, and Bachata

Salsa Shines Bachata Shines

Regrettably, many beginners and inexperienced or inadequately trained dancers tend to underestimate the importance of shines, viewing them as a frivolous pursuit. Some believe that shines are solely reserved for performances and have no practical use in social dancing. Additionally, they may place disproportionate emphasis on learning partner-work as the primary focus of their dance education. However, this perspective reflects a misunderstanding of these dance styles. In reality, both shines and partner-work are indispensable.

In dances like Salsa, Cha Cha, Mambo, and Bachata, solo dancing or shines play an integral role in social dancing. It's a significant component of the dance that one shouldn't overlook, as certain musical moments practically demand it. Dancing solo offers a distinct opportunity to express oneself and connect with the music in a way that differs from dancing with a partner.

The saying goes, “if you can’t love yourself, how can you love another.” This directly applies to partner dancing, any great dancer will say the same. “If you can't dance by yourself, how can you dance with another?”

Benefits from Shines & Footwork:

- Timing

- Musicality

- Control

- Expression

- Foot speed

- Weight shifting & Transfer

- Foot placement

- Styling

- Style

- Fluidity

- Posture

- Mastering basic steps

- Body position & angles

- Acceleration & deceleration

- Directions Changes

- Sharp vs Smooth movements

- Move more easily

- Body Movement

- Muscle memory

- Grounding & Floor Pressure

- Solo dance technique

- Turns, Pivots & Spins

- Balance

- Confidence

- Learning Routines Faster

- The more you learn the faster you learn

- Help Dance Memory

- Finally having fun!

Where did shines come from?

Salsa/Mambo dancers took notice of the step-dance icons like Fred Astaire and started doing a lot of similar footwork. " Shine " Position, to give it its correct name, dates way before mambo was invented.. it simply means " Solo", dancing in the Spotlight.. to " shine " it also potentially came from shining your shoes.

Dance is a language

Learning and understanding the components of dance styles is kind of like learning to write words, you can put these words together and make sentences. You need to master all the components also known as fundamentals. You get fundamentals in footwork & shines and also partner-work, which have their own components & fundamentals too.

Once you make these building blocks muscle memory, through practice and repetition, your dancing will grow massively to the point you can express in a way that relates to the music, known as musicality. You do need a good chunk of above such as body movement, style, styling, flavour etc.

Learning in Classes

Some individuals believe that certain processes should unfold organically, almost as if by osmosis. While it's true that you can acquire some fundamental knowledge through informal learning, it's akin to the distinction between acquiring a language like English at home without formal schooling versus pursuing it through structured education at high school and university. The more comprehensive your education, the more varied and proficient you become in that language. The same principle applies to dance!

Proficient dance instructors typically invest a considerable amount of effort in teaching both shines and footwork, providing thorough explanations of each step. This dedication contrasts sharply with instructors who lack the necessary knowledge, often due to gaps in their training or a lack thereof. A prime example can be found in the top Salsa Mambo Schools of New York, where an equal or even greater emphasis is placed on shines compared to partner-work. This approach has consistently yielded exceptional dancers over several decades.


Dancers who dedicate a significant amount of time to shines or footwork enjoy several advantages. They can enhance their social dancing experience by expanding their repertoire of skills, providing them with a broader range of tools to use on the dance floor. This versatility allows them to break away from their dance partner and engage in freestyle shines they've mastered or even create spontaneous ones on the fly, enabling them to express themselves in unique ways that set them apart. Moreover, their overall dance performance benefits as their body movement becomes more refined, enabling them to execute turn patterns with greater agility, regardless of gender. Their appearance is also enhanced by their distinctive personal style, fluidity of movement, body control, styling, musical interpretation, and their precise technique, timing, and speed. Additionally, during social dancing, their ability to incorporate solo dancing adds variety to the dance experience, particularly in sections of the music that call for individual expression.

Shines in Social dancing

While social dancing or social dance practice, try disconnecting and try dancing solo for a while, but do allow a little space 1-3 metres perhaps depending on the space available, so you can both try some new shines. You do need to allow at least 1 metre so you have space to move and no more than 4 metres because you are still dancing together. Don't make the mistake of forgetting your dance partner! If you take quite allot of classes you will start to learn the best times to do shines, but its really open to interpretation. We recommend having your go-to shines, as a backup incase your mind goes blank. This is likely to happen when you first start trying. But it will get easier and more fun!

Tips for the Men / Leads

When you go out social dancing and trying some shines, please pay special attention to your dance partner. If she is freaking-out or just sticks to basics, offer your hands to get back to partner-work pretty fast! Because your current dance partner maybe a beginner or hasn't learnt enough about shines yet. Please don't spend more than half the dance dancing solo either, remember this is a partner dance too!

Tips for the Ladies / Followers

Generally wait for the lead to let you go, because this is still a lead and follow dance. Rules can be broken here too, we suggest learning about these. While social dancing, your partner might let you go to do shines! Hopefully now you now won't panic because you have learnt enough shines. You can then solo dance with you dance partner and interact in a new and fun way. If you want to get back to partner-work you could offer your hands or just do basic steps.

In a Nutshell

If your goal is to excel as a partner-work dancer or to become a well-rounded dancer, then embracing shines and footwork is essential. We strongly advise that if you ever feel stuck in your dance journey, it's beneficial to redirect your focus onto yourself, delve into shines, and refine the finer aspects of your technique. This approach can yield substantial rewards. It's important to remember that partner-work is also crucial; however, this article is primarily aimed at those who may not fully grasp the advantages of shines. Regardless of your skill level, there's always room for growth and new discoveries. So, let's step out onto the dance floor, continue learning, evolving, and most importantly, have fun!

Written by Reuben W 2020 & rewritten 2023

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We also have some Shine videos to enhance your dancing, for the video series see the Dance TV section on this website. :-)

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