You’re spinning, once, twice, and—oh dear, the room is spinning faster than you are. Your partner’s face is blurred, you can’t focus, and you desperately hope the next move isn’t too fast or you might fall over. You’ve gone dizzy.
Whether it’s a spin- or turn-heavy routine in a class or the combination of an enthusiastic spinner and a fast song in a social, we’ve all gone dizzy from dancing too many spins before. It’s practically a rite of passage for beginner dancers.
But there are ways to reduce the likelihood of going dizzy when spinning in salsa, bachata, and other partner dances.
1. Refine Your Spin and Turn Technique
Bad technique will increase the likelihood of you going dizzy or losing your balance. Your teacher has probably drilled turn preparation, frame, posture, and spotting in class with you, and there are plenty of ways to practise this at home.
Spotting is one of the trickier parts of turn technique. It comes from ballet and will help you to not get disorientated while turning and spinning. It’s the act of focusing on a specific spot, even as you spin multiple times. In salsa and bachata, the spot should be at your eye level.
You can see the ballerina Nina Kaptsova spotting during this performance of the Nutcracker:
While challenging, spotting is a powerful technique. Researchers at Imperial College London have even studied the impact of spotting to find solutions to chronic dizziness. According to them, regularly spotting reduces the size of the part of the brain that is responsible for perceiving dizziness. In other words, it has a long-term effect as well as an immediate one.
Some people believe the reason spotting prevents dizziness is psychological rather than physical. Others argue that the technique does have a physical basis. Yet regardless of why it works, it will help you do sharp, controlled turns with good finishes—and this will reduce the likelihood of the room spinning long after you’ve come to standstill.
How to Practise Spotting
We often say that your head should be the last body part to leave and the first to arrive when you spin. Or, to put it another way, your body and your head turn at different rhythms. While your body should rotate at an even speed, your head should stay focused on your spot or your focus point for as long as possible. When you finally cannot keep looking at it, you need to quickly turn your head to find the spot again. So, during a double spin, your head will actual rotate rhythm to this rhythm: still—fast—still—fast—still.
Spotting is difficult to do well at first. It isn’t a body isolation that comes naturally to us. However, mastering it is worth the effort. Try these practice techniques (and remember to do them in both directions!):
- Stretch your neck beforehand. Spotting can be an intense body movement, especially during fast spins.
- At the beginning, pick something that’s easy to spot, such as a door frame or a vase, rather than an imaginary point on a blank wall.
- Rather than jumping straight into spins, start by practising spotting while slowly rotating. Walk the rotation; inch your way around if you want. The slower and steadier, the better.
- Make sure you’re spotting on a flat plane. If you accidentally whip your head up or down while spotting, you will pull your entire body off balance.
- Practise spotting with half-turns and walked turns before you upgrade to spins.
- When you’re comfortable spotting during multiple spins, try alternating spin directions. So: one to the left, one to the right, and one to the left again.
Spin Technique: Some Extra Pointers
Don’t forget the rest of your turn and spin technique: good posture, a tense core, bent knees, thighs together, and upper-body-led momentum will help you spin in a more controlled and balanced way. Avoid the temptation to “kick off” with your feet as it will propel you off balance. Make sure you are completely over your foot when turning: it is your axis. No matter how hard you’re concentrating, remember to breathe.
When practising led turns as a follow, keep up with your turn arm, the arm with which the lead is signalling the turn—don’t let it rotate faster than you. Watch how Carine of Carine y Rafael always stays with her turn arm in this video, even as she changes her focus point and her leg position:
2. Spin Every Day
A few turns a day keeps the dizziness away—yes, seriously. The more you get used to spinning and turning, the more your body will adjust to it.
Have you ever gone several months without making a car journey, only to get in a car again and find yourself suddenly suffering from motion sickness? If so, you’re not the only one. This is a common occurrence that happens because your body is no longer used to this type of movement. It needs to adapt to it once again, and until it does, you’ll suffer from wooziness.
The same thing happens with spins and turns. If you do them often, your body will get used to them and you won’t get as dizzy. However, if you only do them every now and again, your body will struggle. This is particularly likely to happen if you regularly lead but occasionally follow, if you avoid spins on the dance floor and only do them in classes, or if you normally dance less spin-filled styles but sometimes venture into the cross-body salsa room.
So, if you’re suffering from severe dizziness when spinning and turning, try doing a couple every day. Keep your practice short enough that you don’t go dizzy, but frequent enough that your body can gradually get used to it.
Different Ways to Drill Turns and Spins at Home
Depending on how comfortable you are with spins and turns, you might prefer different drills. Some are slightly easier, some are harder, and some will test different skills. Whichever techniques you do, make sure to do them in both directions.
Here are some suggestions:
- A walked, basic turn with spotting.
- The clock technique: start with a quarter-turn and then gradually increase your turn one quarter at a time, i.e. go from a quarter-turn to a half-turn to a three-quarter turn to a full turn and so on. This is great for improving your control, especially during the stop. Don’t forget to spot!
- Travelling half-turns: lock your legs, one knee tucked behind the other, and do half-turns across the dance floor. As well as focusing on your spotting, you can place an object between your legs to make sure your thighs are touching. Don’t forget to stay on your line, too.
- On-the-spot spin preparation followed by a single spin. This can be upgraded to a double or triple spin later.
- Travelling spins: step, spin, and repeat. If you alternate spin direction, you can skip the steps. This exercise will also drill your weight changes and controlled finishes.
- Spinning with one leg raised, even when you stop; this is a tricky drill that will help you practise your control over your speed and finish.
- Spinning at different speeds; again, this will help you improve your control.
3. Look After Your Body
Dancing isn’t the only thing that will leave you lightheaded. Especially on weeknights, it’s easy to rush straight from work or university to a salsa class, gulping down a sandwich on the way. Yet this is only going to leave you more likely to feel dizzy when you attempt to that double spin.
Make sure to eat enough (but not too much!) before classes. You might find it’s a good idea to pack some small snacks in your dance bag. Skip the rich chocolate and go for energising food like bananas or nuts. Drink plenty of water, too.
Environmental issues can also be a problem. If it’s too hot and stuffy, step outside for some fresh air. It doesn’t matter if you miss a couple of songs. You’ll enjoy them more if you’re feeling refreshed, anyway.
While drinking alcohol at dance parties can be fun, remember that it will increase the likelihood of you getting dizzy. If you think you’re too tipsy for fast turns, tell your partner beforehand.
Sometimes, the issue is off the dance floor. If you’re overworked, not sleeping enough, stressed out, or anxious, this can also make dizziness more likely. And if you’re regularly feeling dizzy during everyday activities, make an appointment with the doctor.
In most cases, though, the reason you’re dizzy is simple: you’re not used to doing so many turns. And fixing it just takes a little practice. So, keep persevering! Don’t let your dizziness put you off. The hard work will be worth it when you can confidently spin your way across the dance floor.
Feature photo credit: Alex Goncharov / Shutterstock.com
Ella Baila is the alias of a bachata teacher. She dabbles in most Afro-Latin dances and is blues-curious.