Salsa refers to a fusion of informal dance styles having roots in the Caribbean (especially in Cuba and Puerto Rico), Latin and North America. The dance originated through the mixture of Mambo, Danzón, Guaguancó, Cuban Son, and other typical Cuban dance forms. Salsa is danced to Salsa music. There is a strong African influence in the music as well as the dance.
Salsa is usually a partner dance, although there are recognized solo steps and some forms are danced in groups of couples, with frequent exchanges of partner (Rueda de Casino). Improvisation and social dancing are important elements of Salsa but it appears as a performance dance too.
The name "Salsa" is the Spanish word for sauce, connoting (in American Spanish) a spicy flavor. The Salsa aesthetic is more flirtatious and sensuous than its ancestor, Cuban Son. Salsa also suggests a "mixture" of ingredients, though this meaning is not found in most stories of the term's origin. (See Salsa music for more information.)
Rhythm and steps
The basic step typically uses three steps each measure. This pattern might be quick-quick-slow, taking two beats to gradually transfer the weight, or quick-quick-quick allowing a tap or other embellishment on the vacant beat. It is conventional in salsa for the two musical measures to be considered as one, so the count goes from 1 to 8 over two musical bars.
Typically the music involves complex African percussion rhythms based around the Son clave or Rumba clave. Music suitable for dancing ranges from slow at about 70 beats per minute (bpm) to its fastest at around 140 bpm, although most dancing is done to music somewhere between 80-120 bpm. While Salsa incorporates many instruments in music, the key instrument that provides the timing and rhythm of a salsa song is the conga drum. The conga drum is specifically hit to mark the counts 2 and 6 in the music regardless dance style (On1 or On2). (See salsa music).
Use of space
Salsa is a slot or spot dance
, i.e. the partners do not need to travel over the dance floor but usually occupy a fixed area of the dance floor, rotating around one another and exchanging places. Traveling is not ruled out but is more used in a staged salsa performance. In a social setting it is bad etiquette to occupy too much floor by traveling.
The history of "Salsa" dance is peppered with hearsay and contradiction. Although few would disagree that the music and dance forms originate largely in Cuban Son
, most agree that Salsa as we know it today is a North American interpretation of the older forms. New York's Latino community had a vibrant musical and dancing scene throughout the '50s but found limited success with the 'Anglo' mainstream. In the 1970s, adoption of the term "Salsa" reduced the linguistic and cultural barriers to mainstream adoption of Latin music and dance.
The modernization of the Mambo in the 1950s was influential in shaping what would become salsa. There is debate as to whether the dance we call Salsa today originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico. Cuba's influence in North America was diminished after Castro's revolution and the ensuing trade embargo. New York's Latino community was largely Puerto-Rican. Salsa is one of the main dances in both Cuba and Puerto Rico and is known world-wide.
Origin of the salsa steps
The dance steps currently being danced to salsa music come from the son
, but were influenced by many other Cuban dances such as Mambo
, Cha cha cha
, Palo Monte
and some times even Mozambique
. Solo salsa steps are called "Shines", a term taken from Tap dancing
. It also integrates swing dances. Salsa can be a heavily improvised dance, taking any form the interpreter wishes. Modern Salsa has elements of Jazz, funk reggae, hip-hop samba and even mambo.
The basic movement
common across most salsa styles is to step quick-quick-slow 2 times over two 4-beat measures (or 1 8-beat measure). Typically the quick steps are on beats one and two, and the slow step is actually a quick on beat three followed by pause or tap on beat four. That is you step left-right-left-pause/tap then right-left-right-pause/tap. Notable exceptions to this timing are Mambo, Power On2 and Colombian styles, which begin the three step sequence on beat 2; and Cuban styles, which may start the sequence on any count. New York Mambo is unique in starting on one and breaking on two - that is, instead of stepping forward on the first beat with your left, stepping in place with your right and then returning your left to where it started, you step in place with the left on the first beat, step back with your right and then return your weight to your left.
The Break Step
is important in most styles of salsa. It serves two functions. First, the break step occurs on the same beat each measure and allows the partners to establish a connection
and a common ground regarding the timing and size of steps. Secondly the break step is used in an open break to build arm tension and allow certain steps to be led. On which beat
the break step occurs is what distinguishes different Salsa styles. Many moves are quick and fast which include the girl spinning repetitiously.
Basic Step On One
On counts 1, 2, and 3, the leader steps forward, replaces, and steps backward. On count 5, 6, and 7, they step backwards, replace, and step forward again. The follower does the same, but with forward and backward reversed, so that the couple goes back and forth as a unit. This basic step is part of many other patterns. For example, the leader may dance the basic step while leading the follower to do an underarm turn.
The following variants of the Basic step may be used, often called breaks.
- Forward break: Starting from either foot, step Forward, Replace, In-place, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7
- Back break: Starting from either foot, step Backward, Replace, In-place, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7
- Side break: Starting from either foot, step Sideways, Replace, In-place, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7
Basic Step On Two
Many ballroom chain schools' "mambo basic" has the leader commencing with a side left on 1 and a break backwards on 2, on the first bar.
If the break steps occurs on count 2 and 6, it is called "On Two". There are two main ways in North America of dancing On Two:
- Power-On2 breaks on 2 and 6, and holds on 1 and 5.
- Eddie-Torres-On2 breaks on beats 2 and 6, but holds on 4 and 8.
The lead steps slightly back on the left foot on 1, then takes a break step backwards on the right foot on 2. On 3 the left foot steps in-place and over 3 and 4 the weight is transferred to the left foot. On 5 the leader steps slightly forward on the right foot, and breaks forward with the left foot on 6. On 7 the leader steps in place with the right foot and over 7 and 8 the weight is transferred onto the right foot, ready to repeat on 1.
Eddie Torres Style is so called because it was widely formalized and popularized by Eddie Torres whose clear teaching style and production of instructional videos opened up access to Salsa for many New Yorkers. It is not claimed that he invented the style. In those videos, Eddie Torres himself calls this "Night Club Style.
On2 steps analyzed
Also note that most "Torres" On 2 dancers slightly rush the one and the five count. This means that they are stepping a moment before the one and the five are played by the music. It can be clearly seen when they dance and heard when they count
While this might seem strange at first it really makes sense if you analyze the steps. The counted "one" falls between the musical eight and the musical one, while the counted "five" falls between the musical four and the musical five. This means that the distance between the (early) one and the two is the same as the one between the three and the (early) five, and it is a dotted quarter note. Because of this the quick-quick-slow "On 1" pattern becomes a slow-quick-slow one for "On 2" dancers, and the reduced difference between the quicks (one quarter note) and the slows (one and half quarter note) gives the "On 2" dance its typical flowing quality.
If we turn our attention to the steps we see how, in the basic step pattern, every step that requires a foot movement will fall on a "slow" count, while a simple weight transfer will be on a "quick", making this "On 2" feeling more natural and comfortable.
Dancing On1 and On2 compared
While in closed frame, two partnered dancers can not be simultaneously dancing On1 and On2 respectively without causing injury to one another since the break steps are taken at different times.
Dancing On2 means that the break step synchronizes with the accented slap of the tumbao, the pattern played on the conga drum(s), while the On1 break step synchronizes with the first beat of the measure. For this reason it is said On2 is more rhythmically oriented, whereas On1 is more melodically oriented.
Note that commonly On2 starts the basic pattern with the lead moving back and the follow moving forward, while On1 the lead starts the basic step forward and follow steps back.
The following turns are used in almost all salsa dancing regardless of the basic used or style employed.
- Spot Turn – either, or often both, partners turn 360° remaining in the same spot
- Extension – partners break in opposing directions to build arm tension between them. Often leads into a spot turn or an in-and-out.
- In-and-Out (Copa) - From a cross-hand hold (left over right), leader creates an extension, then pulls the woman in with the right hand while leading the left hand over her head to the other side of her, causing her to turn 180° to her left. The follower is then pushed back out, and will do at least another half left turn to return her to facing the lead.
- Cross Body Lead – follower is led to opposite side of lead, causing them to swap positions in a counter-clockwise fashion. Exists in other Latin dances such as Cha-cha-cha.
- Reverse Cross Body Lead – same as Cross Body Lead, but couple exchanges positions in a clockwise fashion.
- Basket – A type of extension where the leader is behind the follower and holds the follower's arms wrapped around her shoulders while she breaks forward and the leader breaks backward.
There are many characteristics that may identify a style. There may be different step patterns, different timing of steps, particular movement on the dance floor (ex: slot, circular), dancer preference of turns and moves, attitude, dress code, and others. The presence of one or more of particular elements does not necessarily define a particular style. For example, many styles can be danced "On One" or one style may be danced "On One" or "On Two". The following are brief descriptions of major "recognizable" styles.
Cuban-style salsa (also called Casino) can be danced either on the down beat ("a tiempo") or the upbeat ("a contratiempo"). Beats 1,3,5 and 7 are downbeats and 2,4,6 and 8 are upbeats.
An essential element is the "Cuba step" (also known as Guapea), where the leader does a backward basic on 1-2-3 and a forward basic on 5-6-7. Usually the fourth beat is not counted. The follower does the same, thereby mirroring the leader's movement. Another characteristic of this style is that in many patterns the leader and follower circle around each other.
The cross body lead is an essential step in this style too and is referred to as Salida Cubana or as Dile que no in Rueda de Casino Dancing. This move becomes essential in the more complex derivative of Cuban Casino leading to the many moves of Rueda, or wheel dance. Here multiple couples exchange partners and carry out moves synchronized by a caller.
Los Angeles style
In Cuban based rhythms, the strong beats are on 1 and 3. L.A. style is danced on 1, in a slot. It is highly influenced by both the Mambo and Swing style of dancing. L.A. style emphasizes sensuousness, theatricality, aerobics, and most importantly, musicality. The two essential elements of this dance are the forward/backward basic as described above, and the cross-body lead. In this pattern, the leader steps forward on 1, steps to the right on 2-3 while turning 90 degrees counter-clockwise (facing to the left). The follower then steps forward on 5-6, and turns on 7-8, while the leader makes another 90 degrees counter-clockwise. After these 8 counts, the leader and follower have exchanged their positions.
The L.A. style as it is known today was pioneered by what many consider some of the most famous and successful people in Dance. Albert Torres, Laura Canellias and Joe Cassini rightfully deserve much of the credit for the early development and growth of L.A. Style Salsa. Later, such dancers as Alex Da Silva, Edie Lewis, Joby Martinez, Thomas Montero, Rogelio Moreno, Josie Neglia, Francisco Vazquez (along with his two brothers, Luis and Johnny), Liz Rojas and Janette Valenzuela are often credited with developing the LA style of Salsa Dancing as we know it today. With many of the aforementioned still living and teaching in the L.A. area today.
New York style
New York style emphasizes efficiency of movement, elegance, and body isolations. By focusing on control, timing, and precision of technique, dancers aim for smooth execution of tightly woven complex patterns. In New York City this style is danced strictly On 2, although dancers around the world often integrate elements and repertoire from New York into their dancing On 1.
On 2 timing emphasizes the conga drum's tumbao pattern, and encourages the dancer to listen to percussive elements of the music. Advocate of New York Style consider this to more accurately reflect the Afro-Caribbean ancestry of the music.
Many also refer to this style as "Mambo" since it breaks on beat 2 of the measure, though there are other dance forms with a more legitimate claim to that name. (See Mambo.)
The etiquette of New York style is strict about remaining in the "slot" and avoiding traveling.
New York style tends to place a greater emphasis on performing "shines" where dancers separate and dance solo for a time.
New York style dancers are typically very serious about the musicality and timing of their dancing. To satisfy their tastes, "socials" are often held that cater to almost exclusively playing "salsa dura" (lit. "Hard Salsa"). This is mid-to-up-tempo salsa with an emphasis on percussion and band orchestration rather than the vocals.
The longest-running social in New York is the Jimmy Anton social, which is held every first, third and fifth (if there is a fifth) Sunday of the month.
While the New York style is the predominant style found in the eastern United States, the style finds favor with professional salsa dancers and salsa teachers the world over. Thus, it can be seen at salsa congresses all around the world.
Famous On2 dancers
New York Style's first and most famous champion is popularly held to be Eddie Torres
. Eddie Torres has been dancing since 1962 and has been teaching since 1970. Countless figures in the salsa scene have performed with the Eddie Torres dancers, such as Seaon Bristol, Amanda Estilo, Eric Baez, April Genovese de la Rosa, Jai Catalano and many more.
Other important figures in the On2 style are Frankie Martinez, Moshe Rasier, John Navarro, Liz Rojas, Gabriel Romero, Ismael Otero, Tomas Guererro, Osmar Perrones, Griselle Ponce, Milo, Ana and Joel Masacote, Jimmy Anton, Jesse Yip, Joe Burgos and many others.
Venezolana (Dominicana) style
Venezolana Style Salsa is the style danced in Venezuela and Dominicana.
This style is characterised by:
- The basic step is the Cumbia step
- It is danced On 2 (1+2+3+pause)
- Style has expressed impulse
- Movement as turns and all dance are carried out on a circular trajectory
- Movements are sharp (in comparison with Salsa Casino)
- There is tap with 1 and 5 steps
- The majority of movements and turns are carried out by "scrolling", instead of step-by-step (unlike Salsa Casino)
- The quantity of turns is far less than with Casino or LA styles
- One challenge with this style is that if even one of partners does the slightest mistake at turn is very strongly noticeably
Colombian Style Salsa is the style danced in South and Central America. In the Colombian style basic-step, partners dance side-to-side and mirror each other's movements. In Colombian style, the break is on the three and the "spare beat" is always used for a tap or other embellishment.
Colombian Style can be danced not only to Salsa music, but also to Cumbia music which is frequently played in Latin nightclubs.
In advanced Colombian style, danced for example in Cali, the upper body is kept still, poised, and relaxed while executing endless intricacies in the feet.
This style is especially appropriate on packed nightclub dance floors where space is limited. Most of the steps danced during the Merengue, another Latin dance which is popular in Salsa clubs, have been carried over from Colombian style Salsa.
It is said that Colombian salsa evolved during the big band swing era, when swing dance steps were danced to Cumbia music. Cumbia was traditionally danced in folkloric ensembles without holding one's partner.
Dancing style (also called Palladium
) popular at the Palladium Ballroom
in 1950 which eventually spread across the United States during the mambo craze.
This style is similar to Los-Angeles style, but it instead begins on the second beat of the measure, rather than the first. The basic step timing is 2-3-4,6-7-8 with the breaks on 2 and 6. This style is taught by Razz M'Tazz dance company of New York, whose director, Angel Rodriguez, coined the term "Power 2."
It is important to note that although this style is also known as dancing "En Clave", the name is not implying that the step timing should follow the rhythm of the Clave as in 2-3 or 3-2. It only means that you take the first step (and break) on the second beat of the measure, where a clave beat in 2-3 starts.
Puerto Rican style
This style can be danced as "On One" or "On Two". When danced "On Two", the leader steps forward with the left foot on count 2. The basic continues like the New York basic with the timing rotated 4 beats.
There is a Salsa Congress in Puerto Rico where salsa groups all around the world attend and perform. The first Salsa Congress in Puerto Rico was in 1997.
In the 1950s Salsa Rueda (Rueda de Casino) was developed in Havana
. Pairs of dancers form a circle (Rueda in Spanish), with dance moves called out by one person. Many of the moves involve rapidly swapping partners. In the Philippines 2005, a growing interest among young Filipinos led to a fusion of salsa and community dance, later called Ronda de Salsa
, a dance similar to Rueda but with salsa dance moves that were choreographed locally and in Filipino names. Among the popular calls in Ronda were: Gising, Pule, Patria, Dolorosa, Lakambini and La Antonio.
There two main types of Rueda de Casino:
- Cuban-style - "Rueda de Cuba" (Original type of Rueda, not so formal)
- Miami-style - "Rueda de Miami" (Formal style, many rules, based on a mix, hybridization of Rueda de Cuba and Salsa Los Angeles-style )
This is a version of salsa which actually is a discotheque-version of social dancing. The difference from other versions is that it is, as they say, "a rattling mix". In Salsa Disco there are moves from Salsa Los Angeles-style, Puerto-Rico style, Casino etc. It often includes the expressed tap which is characteristic of the Venezuela style and also tricks and acrobatic elements of rock-and-roll.
Incorporating styling techniques into any style of salsa has become very common. For both men and women shines, leg work, arm work, body movement, spins, body isolations, shoulder shimmies and rolls, and even hand styling have become a huge trend in the salsa scene. There are lessons dedicated to the art of salsa styling. Hip hop, jazz, flamenco, belly dancing, ballroom, break-dancing/pop and rock, Afro Cuban styles, and Bhangra have all been infused into the art of styling.
Normally Salsa is a partner dance
, danced in a handhold. However sometimes dancers include shines
, which are basically "show-offs" and involve fancy footwork and body actions, danced in separation. They are supposed to be improvisational breaks, but there are a huge number of "standard" shines. Also, they fit best during the mambo sections
of the tune, but they may be danced whenever the dancers feel appropriate. They are a good recovery trick when the connection or beat is lost during a complicated move, or simply to catch the breath. One possible origin of the name shine is attributed to the period when non-Latin tap-dancers would frequent Latin clubs in New York in the 1950s. In tap, when an individual dancer would perform a solo freestyle move, it was considered their "moment to shine". On seeing Salsa dancers perform similar moves the name was transposed and eventually stuck, leading to these moves being called 'shines'.