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, Danzn, Guaguanc, 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 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.
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, Guaracha, Changu, Palo Monte, Rumba, Abaku, Comparsa 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
The New York style’s basic step “on 1”. This basic step can be used with slight adaptations in all stylesOn 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.
Casino (salsa dance)
A salsa instructor trains youngsters in Camagey, Cuba.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 or Power-2) 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, Cuba. 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’.
The movements of salsa have its origins in Cuban Son, Cha cha cha, Mambo and other dance forms, and the dance, along with the music, originated in the mid-1970s in New York.
It is commonly danced to salsa music, although the steps can be danced to any type of music with an 8-count rhythm.
Salsa dancing originated in New York in the mid-1970s. It evolved from earlier dance forms such as Cha cha cha and Mambo which were popular in New York, and incorporated elements of Swing dancing and Hustle, as well as elements of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean dances such as Guaguanco and Pachanga.
There is some controversy surrounding the origins of the word salsa. Some claim that it was based on a cry shouted by musicians while they were playing their music. Other believe that the term was created by record labels to better market their music, who chose the word “salsa” because of its spicy and hot connotations. Still others believe the term came about because salsa dancing and music is a mixture of different styles, just like salsa or “sauce” in Latin American countries is a mixture of different ingredients. The exact origin is unknown.
In many styles of salsa dancing, as a dancer changes weight by stepping, the upper body remains level and nearly unaffected by the weight changes. Weight shifts cause the hips to move. Arm and shoulder movements are also incorporated. The Cuban Casino style of salsa dancing involves significant movement above the waist, with up-and-down shoulder movements and shifting of the ribcage.
The arms are used by the “lead” dancer to communicate or signal the “follower,” either in “open” or “closed” position. The open position requires the two dancers to hold one or both hands, especially for moves that involve turns, putting arms behind the back, or moving around each other, to name a few examples. In the closed position, the leader puts the right hand on the follower’s back, while the follower puts the left hand on the leader’s shoulder.
In the original Latin America form, the forward/backward motion of salsa is done in diagonal or sideways with the 3-step weight change intact.
In some styles of salsa, such as LA and New York style, the dancers remain in a slot or line (switching places), while in some Latin American styles, such as Cuban style, the dancers circle around each other, sometimes in 3 points. This circular style is inspired by Cuban Son, specifically to the beat of Son Montuno in the 1920s. However, as it is a popular music, it is open to improvisation and thus it is continuously evolving.
New modern salsa styles are associated and named to the original geographic areas that developed them. There are often devotees of each of these styles outside of their home territory. Characteristics that may identify a style include: timing, basic steps, foot patterns, body rolls and movements, turns and figures, attitude, dance influences and the way that partners hold each other. The point in a musical bar music where a slightly larger step is taken (the break step) and the direction the step moves can often be used to identify a style.
Incorporating other dance styling techniques into salsa dancing has become very common, for both men and women: shimmies, leg work, arm work, body movement, spins, body isolations, shoulder shimmies, rolls, even hand styling, acrobatics and lifts.
Latin American styles originate from Cuba and surrounding Caribbean islands.
Salsa Dancing Locations
Salsa dance socials are commonly held in night clubs, bars, ballrooms, restaurants, and outside, especially if part of an outdoor festival. Salsa dancing is an international dance that can be found in most metropolitan cities in the world. Festivals are held annually, often called a Salsa Congress, in various host cities aimed to attract variety of salsa dancers from other cities and countries. The events bring dancers together to share their passion for the dance, build community, and to share moves and tips with each other. These events usually include salsa dance performers, live salsa music, workshops, open dancing, and contests.
Music suitable for dancing ranges from about 150 bpm (beats per minute) to around 250 bpm, although most dancing is done to music somewhere between 160-220 bpm. Every salsa composition involves complex Afro-Cuban percussion based around the Clave Rhythm (which has four types), though there can be moments when the clave is hidden for a while, often when quoting Charanga, Changui and Bomba.
The key instrument that provides the core groove of a salsa song is the clave. It is often played with two wooden sticks (called clave) that are hit together. Every instrument in a salsa band is either playing with the clave (generally: congas, timbales, piano, tres guitar, bongos, claves (instrument), strings) or playing independent of the clave rhythm (generally: bass, maracas, guiro, cowbell).
Melodic components of the music and dancers can choose to be in clave or out of clave at any point. However it is taboo to play or dance to the wrong type of clave rhythm. While dancers can mark the clave rhythm directly, it is more common to do so indirectly (with, for example, a shoulder movement). This allows the dancing itself to look very fluent as if the rest of the body is just moving untouched with the legs.
For salsa, there are four types of clave rhythms, the 3-2 and 2-3 Son claves being the most important, and the 3-2 and 2-3 Rumba claves. Most salsa music is played with one of the Son claves, though a Rumba clave is occasionally used, especially during Rumba sections of some songs. As an example of how a clave fits within the 8 beats of a salsa dance, the beats of the 2-3 Son clave are played on the counts of 2, 3, 5, the “and” of 6, and 8.
There are other aspects outside of the Clave that help define salsa rhythm: the cowbell, the Montuno rhythm and the Tumbao rhythm.
The cowbell is played on the core beats of salsa, 1, 3, 5 and 7. The basic Salsa rhythm is quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow, in other words, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7, which are very similar to the beats of the cowbell. Recognizing the rhythm of the cowbell helps one stay on Salsa rhythm.
The Montuno rhythm is a rhythm that is often played with a piano. The Montuno rhythm loops over the 8 counts and is useful for finding the direction of the music. By listening to the same rhythm, that loops back to the beginning after eight counts, one can recognize which count is the first beat of the music.
Tumbao is a rhythm in salsa that is played with the conga drums. It sounds like: “cu, cum.. pa… cu, cum… pa”. Its most basic pattern is played on the beats 2,3,4,6,7, and 8. Tumbao rhythm is helpful for learning to dance contra-tiempo (“On2”). The beats 2 and 6 are emphasized when dancing On2, and the Tumbao rhythm heavily emphasizes those beats as well.
Salsa’s roots are based on Cuban Son, specifically to the beat of Son Montuno in the 1920s. However, as it is a popular music, it is open to improvisation and thus it is continuously evolving. New modern salsa styles are associated and named to the original geographic areas that developed them. There are often devotees of each of these styles outside of their home territory.
Characteristics that may identify a style include: timing, basic steps, foot patterns, body rolls and movements, turns and figures, attitude, dance influences and the way that partners hold each other. The point in a musical bar music where a slightly larger step is taken (the break step) and the direction the step moves can often be used to identify a style.
Incorporating other dance styling techniques into salsa dancing has become very common, for both men and women: shimmies, leg work, arm work, body movement, spins, body isolations, shoulder shimmies, rolls, even hand styling, acrobatics and lifts.
Latin American styles originate from Cuba and surrounding Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic and then expanding to Venezuela, Colombia, and the rest of Latin America; also heavily influence “Miami” style which is a fusion of Cuban style and North American version. The styles include “Casino”, Miami-Style, Cali-style and Venezuelan Style.
North American styles have different characteristics: Los Angeles style breaks on the first beat “On 1” while New York style breaks on the second beat “On 2”. Both have different origins and evolutionary path, as the New York Salsa is heavily influenced by Jazz instruments in its early growth stage.
Colombian / Cali Style
Cali-Style Salsa, also known as Colombian Salsa, is based on geographical location of the Colombian City of Cali. Cali is also known as the “Capital de la Salsa” (World’s Salsa Capital); due to salsa music being the main genre in parties, nightclubs and festivals in the 21st century.
The elements of Cali-Style Salsa were strongly influenced by dances to Caribbean rhythms which preceded salsa, such as Pachanga and Boogaloo.
The basic steles is the footwork which has quick rapid steps and skipping motions. They do not execute Cross-body Leads or the “Dile Que No” as seen in LA/New York-style and Cuban-style salsa, respectively. Their footwork is intricate and precise, helping several Colombian Style dancers win major world championships. Cali hosts many annual salsa events such as the World Salsa Cali Festival and the Encuentro de Melomanos y Coleccionistas.
Cuban “Casino” Style
Cuban-style salsa, also known as Casino, is popular in many places around the world, including in Europe, Latin America, North America, and even in some countries in the Middle East. Dancing Casino is an expression of popular social culture; Cubans consider casino as part of social and cultural activities centering around their popular music. The name Casino is derived from the Spanish term for the dance halls, “Casinos Deportivos” where a lot of social dancing was done among the better off, white Cubans during the mid-20th century and onward.
Historically, Casino traces its origin as a partner dance from Cuban Son, fused with partner figures and turns. As with the Son, Danzon and Cha Cha Cha, it is traditionally, though less often today, danced “a contratiempo”. This means that, distinct from subsequent forms of salsa, no step is taken on the first and fifth beats in each clave pattern and the fourth and eighth beat are emphasised. In this way, rather than following a beat, the dancers themselves contribute in their movement, to the polyrythmic pattern of the music.
What gives the dance its life, however, is not its mechanical technique, but understanding and spontaneous use of the rich Afro-Cuban dance vocabulary within a “Casino” dance. In the same way that a “sonero” (lead singer in Son and salsa bands) will “quote” other, older songs in their own, a “casino” dancer will frequently improvise references to other dances, integrating movements, gestures and extended passages from the folkloric and popular heritage. This is particularly true of African descended Cubans. Such improvisations might include extracts of rumba, dances for African deities, the older popular dances such as Cha Cha Cha and Danzon as well as anything the dancer may feel.
Developed by Cuban migrants to Florida and centered around Miami, this form of Cuban Salsa fused with American culture and LA Style. The major difference of Miami-style from other North American styles is the “Atras” or “Diagonal”; breaking backwards diagonally instead of moving forwards and backwards as seen in the New York and L.A. Style. Dancers do not shift their body weight greatly as seen in other styles. Instead, dancers keep their upper body still, poised and relaxed while the feet execute endless intricacies. The dancer breaks mostly On1 (sometimes On3), with short measures of “4” instead of full “8” counts.
A major difference of Cali Style and Miami-style Casino is that the latter is exclusively danced on the downbeat (On1) and has elements of shines and show-style added to it, following repertoires of North American Styles.
Miami-style has many adherents, particularly Cuban-Americans and other Latinos based in South Florida.
Rueda de Casino
In the 1950s Salsa Rueda or more accurately Rueda de Casino was developed in Havana, Cuba. Pairs of dancers form a circle (“Rueda” in Spanish means “Wheel”), with dance moves called out by one person. Many of the moves involve rapidly swapping partners.
“Rueda de Cuba” is original type of Rueda, originating from Cuba. It is not as formal as Rueda de Miami and consists of about 30 calls. It was codified in the 1970s.
“Rueda de Miami” originated in the 1980s from Miami, is a formal style with many rules based on a mix, and is a hybridization of Rueda de Cuba & Los Angeles-style salsa and dance routines that reflect American culture (e.g. Coca-cola, Dedo, Adios) which is not found in the traditional Cuban-style Rueda.
Los Angeles Style
L.A. style is danced on 1, in a slot, with a measure of easiness and adaptability to it. It is strongly influenced by the Mambo, Swing, Argentine Tango and Latin Ballroom dancing styles. L.A. style places strong emphasis on sensuousness, theatricality, aerobics and musicality. The lifts, stunts and aerial works of today’s salsa shows are derived mostly from L.A. Style forms with origins in Latin Ballroom and Ballet lifts.
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), leaving the slot open. The follower then steps straight forward on 5-6 and turns on 7-8, while the leader makes another 90 degrees counter-clockwise and slightly forward, coming back into the slot. After these 8 counts, the leader and follower have exchanged their positions.
Albert Torres, Laura Canellias and Joe Cassini are credited for the early development and growth of L.A. Style Salsa. Later, such dancers as Alex Da Silva, Edie Lewis, Joby Martinez, Josie Neglia, Liz Lira, Johnny and Francisco Vazquez and Janette Valenzuela are often credited with developing the L.A. style of salsa dancing as we know it today.
New York Style
New York style is danced in a line similar to LA Style salsa. However, unlike LA style, it is danced on the second beat of the music (“on 2”), and the follower steps forward on the first measure of the music, not the leader. The etiquette of New York Style is strict about remaining in the “slot” and avoiding traveling dancing in a sandbox area with a lot of spins, turns and styling. There is greater emphasis on performing “shines” in which dancers separate themselves and dance solo with intricate footwork and styling for a time–suspected origins from Swing and New York Tap.
Though he did not create New York style salsa, Eddie Torres is credited with popularizing it, and for having the follower step forward on the second beat of the first measure.
There are two distinct developments of New York salsa as a music and dance genre:
Primary original evolution
from Mambo era when Cuban music was introduced to New York due to influx of migrating Cuban dissidents and Latin migrants during Pre/Post Cuban Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s. This era is known as the “Palladium Era”. At this time, the music and dance was called “Mambo” or “Rhumba”–connoting the general term without being specific. The most famous dancer during this era was Puerto-Rican descendant Pedro “Cuban Pete” Aguilar, also known “The King of Latin Beat”.
during the late 1970s, Latin migrants, particularly Puerto Ricans, contributed to the New York salsa development during the “NuYorican” era of H�ctor Lavoe which greatly popularized salsa as a term and modern Latin music throughout the world. Salsa superstars were “discovered” during the era, such as Ray Baretto (“The Godfather”) and Celia Cruz (“The Queen of Salsa”). There are also salsa artists that transcend both periods, notably the legendary Puerto Rican Tito Puente (“The Mambo King”).
These two developments create a fusion of a new salsa music and dance genre, different than its Latin American and L.A. Style counterparts.
New York style salsa emphasizes harmony with the percussive instruments in salsa music, such as the congas, timbales, and clave, since many or all of those instruments often mark the second beat in the music.