Salsa dance is a partner dance that is performed on salsa music. Sometimes it is danced solo. The name in Spanish means sauce, or in this case flavor or style. It is really a ‘salsa’ – it is a mix of many styles, sounds and instruments.
The song is in the style of son and is entitled “Échale salsita”. The chorus says “Salsaaaaa! Échale salsita, échale salsita”.
In the early 1950s DJ “Bigote” Escalona announces the dance songs he is about to play with the words “the following rhythm contains salsa”. Later the Spanish-speaking population of New York names Celia Cruz “Queen of Salsa”.
Salsa is danced on music with a recurring eight-beat pattern, i.e two bars of four beats. Salsa patterns typically use three steps in each four beats as one is omitted. The skipped beat is often marked by a tap, kick etc. Usually the music involves complicated percussion rhythms; it is fast with around 180 beats per minute.
Salsa is danced in a limited space, i.e unlike samba or foxtrot the salsa couple does not move much around the dance floor, it takes only a limited part of it. In some cases dancers perform separate steps. In these cases it is said they dance ‘solo’.
Salsa music is a mixture of African, Cuban and other Latin American rhythms that reached New York during the migration sometime between 1940 and 1970, depending on where one takes the boundary between “real” salsa and its predecessors. The dance steps that are now danced to salsa music originate from the Cuban son music, but they are influenced by many other Cuban dances such as mambo, cha, guaracha, changui, lukumi, palo monte, rumba, yambu, abakua, comparsa and even music from Mozambique. The dance includes swing elements too. There are no strict rules how to dance salsa and there are many different styles of salsa – LA (on 1), NY (on 2),Colombian / Cali style, Casino style.
The basic movement patterns of various salsa dance styles is stepping in sync with the music beats. Salsa is grouped in two bars of 4 beats counted as follows “1-2-3 5-6-7”. In all styles the leader begins with the left foot, and the lady starts with the right foot.
The term ‘basic step’ generally refers to a back and forth movement. On 1, 2 and 3 the leader steps: forward (left foot), in place (shifts – right foot) and back (left foot). On 5, 6 and 7 he steps back (right foot), in place (shifts – left foot) and forward (right foot). The lady does the same only with exchanged feet on the counts so that the pair moves as one. The basic step is part of many other figures. For example, the man may dance basic, while the lady is spinning.
On One and on Two
Salsa danced as described above is called “salsa on one” or in short “on one” because it starts on the first beat. If the first step is made on 2 or on 6 it is called “on two.” The scheme of the basic step is also known as style “Power 2”, “Palladium 2” or “Ballroom Mambo”. This is different from another scheme known as the “New York style 2” (NY Style 2) or “Eddie Torres Style”.
According to some dancing “on two” corresponds more closely to the rhythm of the clave (percussion instrument), the most important rhythm of salsa music. However, dancing “on one” has equal beats of the clave and coincides with the first beat if the music uses son key clave 3-2. In short, it is a matter of personal preference what counts to use; most people prefer counting on the style that they were taught when they started to dance salsa.
Salsa Dance Styles
Below is a brief description of the main “recognizable” styles.
Cuban-style salsa is “on one”. Key element is the “Cuba step”, also called “Guapea”, where the leader does a backward basic on 1-2-3 and a forward basic on 5-6-7. The lady does the same mirroring the movements of the leader. Another characteristic of this style is that in many patterns the leader and the follower move in a circle around each other.
“Cross Body Lead” is also a basic step in this style and is called “Dile que no”. LA style is a later version, the difference being that the dancers rotate by a quarter around each other. This move becomes basic in the more complex version “Cuban casino”, led to many of the figures of “Rueda” or ‘ wheel dance’. In rueda multiple couples swich partners and carry out moves coordinated by a caller.
Colombian style is common for the Latin American countries. The leader and the follower do most movements while standing in one place. It is derived from the Cuban style that is why in many of the figures the leader and the follower revolve around each other.
The two basic elements of Los Angeles style (LA style) are a basic step forward / backward as described above, and “Cross Body Lead. Unlike Cuban style where the couple dances in a circle LA style salsa is danced in a straight line.
LA salsa is said to be the most vivid of the popular salsa styles. The Vazquez brothers are considered to be the inventors of the LA style.
New York style
New York style or Eddie Torres style is a combination of the “on one” and “on two” systems. It is counted again 1-2-3, 5-6-7 as in “on one” but the break is on 2 and 6 as in “on two”. NY instructor Eddie Torres develops this scheme in the late 1970s and 1980s; its definition is quite clear as it is still alive and his followers are keen to keep the style intact.
Power 2 / Palladium 2 / Ballroom Mambo
This style (Power 2 / Palladium 2 / Ballroom Mambo) is similar to the LA style but is danced “on two.” The timing of the basic step is 2-3-4, 6-7-8 with breaks on 2 and on 6.
It is important to note that although this style is known as dancing on clave (En Clave), the name does not suggest that the timing should follow the rhythm of the clave as 2-3 or 3-2. It only means that the first step (or break) is made on the second beat.
This style – on clave follows the beats of the clave 2-3 or 3-2. This is a traditional form and is less known / used except in some Latin American countries.
Puerto Rico style
Puerto Rican style can be danced “on one” or “on two”. If danced “on two” it is always stepped on 2 instead of on 6 as in Ladies-style NY.
Rueda de Casino was developed in 1950 in Havana, Cuba. Pairs of dancers form a circle (rueda in Spanish), with dance moves called by one of the dancers. Many of the moves involve quick change of partners.
Salsa is usually a partner dance and there is a hands contact. Advanced dancers, however, always include solo performances (shines), which are a kind of bravado and include effective steps and figures danced separately / on their own. It is assumed that these are the improvised interruptions, but there are numerous “standard” solo performances. Moreover, they are best suited to the mambo section of the song, but can be performed whenever the dancers choose. This is a good way to go back to the rhythm or to just take a breath.