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Salsa: A Dance That's Saucy, Sexy and Sensational

Salsa: A Dance That's Saucy, Sexy and Sensational
on March, 31 2014
Salsa! It's hot, it's spicy. And just like the salsa sauce which is a combination of several ingredients, Salsa, the dance, is an exotic mix of different dance moves borrowed from several Afro-Caribbean and Latin dances. Its roots are Cuban but it became highly popular in the United States, particularly in the Miami area. It is a combination of mambo, son, danzon, chachachá, merengue and rumba, blended with Cuban Hispanic, African, American and Latin influences. Salsa, without a doubt is a lively and absolutely infectious dance.

Salsa is deemed the same as Mambo in that its basic pattern has six steps danced on music with eight counts. Most of the move are quite similar. However Mambo's moves are more forward and backward whereas Salsa moves from side to side and turns are one of its most important and stunning feature.

Looking at Salsa's origin: Music

Salsa definitely is not just Cuban, but the country must be credited for its creation. Cuba is where contra-danze of England and France was born and given the name Danzón. It stemmed from the dance brought by the French who escaped from Haiti, which intermixed with African Rhumbas, including Yambú, Colombia and Guaguanco. Its evolution did not stop there as the Cuban Són and its Spanish troubadour or sonero flavor became incorporated in the dance. The drumbeats of African music and the clave provided the heart-thumping, highly frenetic and rhythmically seductive music of Salsa.

About 800,000 additional Puerto Ricans arrived on the shores of New York between 1940 and 1969. It was also during this time that the worldwide interest in Latin music has significantly increased. Dominating the dance floor at that time were Boogaloo, Bomba, Rock 'n Roll, Cha Cha and Mambo. With Puerto Rico being a U.S. protectorate, Puerto Ricans were able to freely introduce their culture in the mainland. They refused to get Americanized and instead clung to their link to their homeland through Salsa. The transition from living in Puerto Rico to America, particularly in New York was not plain sailing. They were often living in the ghettos and had to struggle daily. Their only escape was through their music, the Bomba y Plena. Plena is likened to sung newspaper because the lyrics usually dealt with current events. The Puerto Ricans living in New York started to create a musical from they called musica caliente (hot music), which told of their daily struggles in trying to make it in New York. Other topics such as romance, loyalty to Puerto Rico, dreams for the future and various emotional feelings soon find their way into the lyrics of this musical form. Bomba on the other hand dealt with their frustrations. Eventually, they mixed the musical forms with Mambo to create the foundations of Salsa.

Late in the 1970s, the demand for Salsa Caliente waned, as new artists and listeners favored lyrics that dealt with sentimental love, which came to be known as Salsa Romantica. This was the time when Lalo Rodriguez, Luis Enrique and Eddie Santiago started the transition. This type of Salsa music is still popular today, popularized by a new breed of artists including Victor Manuelle, Jerry Rivera, La India and Marc Anthony.

Coining the term

Salsa was not created in New York but the city coined its name. It became the popular term for music of different varieties influenced by several Hispanic countries. Think of the assemblage of Merengue, Festejo, Bomba, Plena, Cumbia, Charanga, Guajira, Cubop, Guguanco, Són, Danzón, Cha Cha, Mambo, Guaracha, Són Montuno, and Rhumba and you have Salsa. Even today's Salsa music still retains Són, which forms its base but you will definitely still hear Guaracha and Cumbia and Merengue, mixed with different rhythms.


Rumba was the latest dance craze after Mambo, started by Don (Justo Angel) Áspiazú in the 1930s. It was fascinating. It was daring. While Anglo-Americans protested initially to its fiery tempo and melody that borders on the barbaric, they soon took to it.

In between, Salsa almost remained obscure, escaping notice from dance enthusiasts and lovers of Latin music. Its music, patterned after Mambo, was created by a Cuban blind drummer, Arsenio Rodríguez in the 1940s. Until the 1950s, he reshuffled the arrangement of son conjunto to develop son montuno, which became the base of the salsa music of today.

New York's Fania Records

Johnny Pacheco, a bandleader from the Dominican Republic and Jerry Masucci, an Italian American lawyer founded Fania Records in 1964. They borrowed the name from an old song from Cuba sung by Reinaldo Bolaño. Salsa music was the focus of Fania Records. Cañonazo created by Pacheco was the signature song of the recording studio, which immediately led to the success of a very small venture. Pretty soon they have built a roster of their signature Salsa stars including Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades, Bobby Valentín, Ralfi Pagan, Ray Barretto, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, and Larry Harlow. One must not forget other Salsa greats like Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. Salsa was hot since back then, and other countries got caught in its fire, spreading the craze from the United States to South America, to Central America, Europe, Japan and Africa. Colombian and Venezuelan artists became part of the growing Salsa family, and gave rise to Grupo Niche and Jose Arroyo from Colombia and Venezuela's Oscar D'León.

Fania Records is now under Emusica, a record company based in Miami. It has been reissuing Fania Record's back catalog, some of which were never released before.

From the 1980s, Salsa music started to diversify, creating new rhythms such as Salsa erotica and Salsa romantico. There are Latin houses that cater to different rhythms of Salsa, and Salsa-based house music are now created and more popular with teenagers. While Salsa music and dance are interrelated, each one has its own story.



Salsa music and dance clearly developed almost at the same time in New York, where two distinct development phases occurred. The first one was during the era of Mambo, when the city had an influx of Latin and Cuban migrants, dubbed as the Palladium Era around the 1950s and 1960s and the dance and the music was called Rhumba or Mambo.

At that time, the most famous dancer was Puerto Rican Pedro 'Cuban Pete' Aguilar. Because of his popularity, The King of Latin Beat was the tag attached to his name.

The second phase came late in the 1970s when more Puerto Ricans exerted their influence in the development of the New York Salsa. This was the time that the most popular Salsa sonero was Héctor Lavoe and his era was called NuYorican. Lavoe did not only popularize Salsa as music and dance in the U.S. but around the world. This was also the period when other Salsa stars were discovered and given their own nicknames. "The Godfather" was Ray Barreto and Celia Cruz was "The Queen of Salsa." Transcending both periods of Salsa's evolution in New York was the legendary "The Mambo King" Tito Puente, who was also from Puerto Rico. Their brand of Salsa music and dance was very much different from what developed in Los Angeles and in Latin America.

Not every Salsa singer earns the right to be bestowed the title of a sonero. The singer must possess the three elements that are required from a Salsa singer: the ability to accommodate improvisation and voice over any type of melody, very good skills in improvisation and a unique voice. A sonero must be able to make the most out of the stage during every performance. There are several outstanding soneros during the heydays of Salsa and here are some of them.

Sale el Sol, Las Caras Lindas and Mi Negrita Me Espera are just some of the best songs of the man considered as El Sonero Mayor, a Puerto Rican by the name of Ismael Rivera. He was considered in Salsa's history as one of the best soneros. He became the model for numerous Salsa artists due to his style and unique voice.

Next to Rivera is Hector Lavoe, whom many regard as the best Salsa artist in this particular music's history. Lavoe is known as El Cantante or The Singer and at times also called La Voz or The Voice. His voice is described as nasal and he has the innate ability to come up with the right lyrics to jibe with different notes.

Lavoe EnEn Cheetah

Lavoe EnEn Cheetah

The name Celia Cruz carries such a high regard among Salsa enthusiasts. She definitely earned the title of a sonera. She would not be called The Queen of Salsa for nothing. The legendary Salsa singer from Cuba has such a powerful voice. She was quite unique, able to improvise lyrics and has the charisma that made her own the stage and the listeners totally mesmerized. Sopita En Botella, Burundanga and Tu Voz are just some of her popular Salsa songs. Celia Cruz was a four-time Latin Grammy winner and three-time (American) Grammy winner as a singer of Cuban-American salsa.

Celia Cruz started her career as a radio singer in Cuba before she became the lead singer of La Sonora Matancera, a Cuban big band in 1950. She was with the band, doing tours and recordings up to the year 1965. The following year, she was with the Tito Puente Orchestra and recorded eight albums with the band. The prolific singer recorded more than 50 albums during her career that extended well into her 60s. Twenty of her albums reached the gold level.

Venezuelan Oscar D'Leon is often referred to as The Lion of Salsa. He started his career as a Salsa singer in the 1970s and his popularity as a sonero was due to his wide music repertoire. He possesses an incredible voice and when playing his bass, he is in his best element. He is also a great improviser on stage.

Cheo Feliciano hails from Puerto Rico. He was a member of the Fania All Stars but his career started in the 1960s when he was still with the Joe Cuba Sextet as a singer. You can still dance to some of his hits, such as Amada Mia, El Raton and Anacaona. Cheo Feliciano, according to Salsa music aficionados, possesses one of the most romantic and sweetest voices in the Salsa music genre.

For sure you have danced to Pedro Navaja, Te Estan Buscando, Decisiones and Plastico. These are just some of the Salsa music popularized by Rubén Blades from Panama. This popular sonero has produced some of Salsa music's very meaningful lyrics. Part of his earlier successes involved his collaboration with Willie Colón.

Pete Rodriguez, also called El Conde was another salsa musician from Puerto Rico. He has a powerful voice that was suited for Bolero and Descarga. Like most of the famous salsa musicians of Fania Records, he was a member of the Fania All Stars and gained worldwide popularity with Johnny Pacheco. His version of Convergencia, a Bolero song is considered one of the best in the genre. Other top hits of Rodriguez include Sonero, Micaela, La Escencia del Guaguanco and Catalina La O.

Cuba gave the Salsa world Benny Moré. A member of Trio Matamoros of Cuba, Benny Moré lent his voice to several music genres, including Guaracha, Bolero, Mambo and Cuban Son, all of which are rhythms from Cuba. He was one of the few singers who was able to adapt his voice to the slow boleros and the fast rhythms of guaracha. He was always the leader of a Cuban big band. His Banda Gigante had performed extensively in Mexico City, and toured the United States, Panama, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica and Venezuela. It was just his fear of flying that prevented him and his band from touring Europe.

Johnny Pacheco is the co-founder of Fania Records. He was born in the Dominican Republic. One of the most influential figures in Latin music, Pacheco is first and foremost a bandleader, producer, arranger and musician. He created the Fania All Stars band and was responsible for coining the term Salsa to describe the particular music genre. He wore many hats when he was with the Fania All Stars and discovered and promoted quite a number of Salsa artists. Some of the names in the early version of the band included Ray Barretto, Adalberto Santiago, Willie Colón and Roberto Rodríguez. The latter band included Salsa stars such as Ismael Miranda, Pete (El Conde) Rodriguez, Héctor Lavoe and José Cheo Feliciano. In the 1970s, the band's roster included top artists, Jorge Santana, Papo Lucca, Celia Cruz and Rubén Blades.


Bailarines is the Spanish term for dancers. And Salsa has produced so many dancers that made it to the top. Salsa is a sensuous and exciting dance that is known for its smooth hip movements, its exciting music and its intricate footwork. It is a dance form that has a worldwide following. It can be danced by a solo dancer or with a partner and there are line and circle formations as well. Professional Salsa dancers around the world continuously create variations of the very popular dance, and for the past decade, there are names that are always included whenever Salsa is mentioned.

Felipe Polanco is known worldwide as a proponent of the Puerto Rican Salsa. He has been dancing the Salsa in the clubs and streets of Puerto Rico since he was 14 years of age. With the Papito Jala Jala dancers, Polanco had extensively toured South America and the United States. His exhilarating choreography combines swiftness, precision and elegance. He is well known for his highly explosive solo footwork.

Choreographer, dance instructor and professional dancer Cristian Oviedo hails from El Salvador. He is a world champion in Freestyle, Bachata and Salsa On1. He currently teaches International Latin Dance, Casino Rueda, New York-style Salsa and L.A.-style Salsa. He has a dance studio in California but has taught in more than 300 studios, imparting his knowledge to over 20,000 students since 2005. His resume includes involvement in several shows. He was a guest performer in Dancing with the Stars in 2009. He's had the opportunities to work with Usher, Tito Puente, El Gran Combo and Celia Cruz. Oviedo had choreographed dance scenes in Hollywood movies, including Miami Vice in 2006 with Colin Farrell, Meet Dave with Eddie Murphy in 2008 and Public Enemies with Johnny Depp in 2009. He and Los Diablos, his professional dance team have performed in several events, including several Las Vegas Salsa Congress, L.A.'s Mayan Nightclub and Paramount Pictures.

Aside from being the wife of the King of New York-style Salsa, Eddie Torres, Maria Torres is tagged as the Queen of Salsa. She has started dancing Salsa way before Eddie even thought of teaching Salsa. Maria is one of the most experienced instructors of Mambo in New York and has extensively traveled across the United States and overseas for teaching and dancing gigs.

Magna Gopal is of Indian heritage. She was raised in Canada but was born in India. She is known for her precision while dancing. Gopal did not receive professional training in Salsa. She acquired her dancing skills by teaching herself, learning from the best leaders in Salsa dancing in Canada by going to local clubs nightly. She frequently travels to different parts of the world as a Salsa instructor and performer. Her popularity spans locales in North America, Africa, Asia, Middle East, Europe and South America.

Leon Rose began his career as an actor before he was lured by the spell of Salsa dancing. Today he is a leading Salsa choreographer, instructor and dancer. Leon Rose has won several competitions, including the UK Bacardi Salsa (2000), Salsa Club (2001) and the Aji Con Mango (2003). He had appeared in the British TV show, Top of the Pops with Enrique Iglesias and joins Salsa congresses around the world.

In Los Angeles, California, one of the names that stand out when you mention Salsa is Seaon Bristol who hails from Georgetown, Guyana. He is quite distinct as he got famous for being a male follower instead of a leader. That was how he got started because that was the position that he learned prior to learning how to be the leader. He was a student of Eddie Torres and was invited to join Torres's company later. He now works as a Salsa dance instructor, choreographer and dancer in Los Angeles.

Frankie Martinez is a world renowned choreographer and dancer. He is also the founder of ABAKUA Afro-Latin Dance Company. The dance company was founded in 2000 and is described as a proponent of the Afro Latin-Funk style. His life as a dancer started when he attended The Dance Club, a ballroom dance school in New York. Seeing dancers performing Salsa in New York clubs, he soon found himself drawn to it. He later went on solo dance tours in Europe before becoming a dancer of the Manhattan Center in New York City.

Juan Matos learned Salsa after being inspired by his hustle-dancing parents. He started on his own in 1996 and three years later formed the Magic Combination Dancers. Later he started taking lessons from the Santo Rico Dance Company. His training with this dance company allowed him to develop his own dance style that he calls Pechanga. This innovative style focuses on very fast foot movements combined with the smooth classic Salsa style. Matos performs and gives dance instructions in many parts of the globe.

Mexico native Johnny Vazquez came to Los Angeles in 1993 at age 14 and almost immediately started Salsa dancing. Four years later he was already part of the Team Bacardi De La Salsa, which brought him to several parts of the world for team performances. He was one of the most dominant figures in world Salsa championships and had taught in several European cities. Today Vasquez is considered as the greatest dancer of L.A.-style Salsa and still continues to win the top spot in international and national competitions. He had relocated to Valencia, Spain in 2002. He established his own dance group in Spain.

There is no doubt that Eddie Torres is one of the world's greatest Salsa instructors. He began dancing when he was only 12 years old, following and imitating the movements of dancers in the clubs where he used to hang out. Torres learned the foundations of Salsa that way. When he was 30 years old he became the partner of Tito Puente who was already famous as a composer and songwriter of Salsa music. Together with Puente, Eddie and Maria, his wife, performed in different shows and later trained hordes of dancers that today are equally famous New York instructors and dancers. He will always be remembered as the person that popularized the New York-style Salsa, which he taught to thousands of dancers.

Looking at Salsa's origin: Dance

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where Salsa originated. Many believed that it came from Cuba. Maybe it was because of the political and cultural restraints imposed in Puerto Rico and Cuba in the 1930s. Maybe it was because the emigrants from these countries came to the United States, specifically in New York and brought with them their own Caribbean music that was a blend of various music styles. That is why the name Salsa is very fitting to the dance, with its mix of different flavors from the African Rumba and the Cuban Son, with Mambo, Cha Cha, Rumba, Comparsa, Changüí and Guaracha thrown in for good measure. It may have so many influences but the Salsa dance was bred in New York, stemming from the city's Latino community. There is no reason to be confused when discussing the music and the dance, because the dance was created to be accompanied by the music, hence the terms are the same.

The Dawning of Salsa

Rumba and Mambo were the earlier dance craze, which also created an avenue for Cuban musicians to become such as hit in America. Perez Prado became known as the King of Mambo and created music that combines American jazz with the beat of Cuban-African music, later becoming the staple in dance halls in Miami, San Francisco and New York. Towards the end of the 20th century, Mambo has lost its appeal as people wanted something new. Dance instructors began looking for a dance that would appeal to all people who love to dance. It was an opportune time for Salsa, and it quickly caught on, and different groups created different interpretations of the new dance craze.

It became a movement, the creation of different techniques for dancing the Salsa. Dancers freely created different movements involving the body, the arms and legs. There were turns, frenetic footwork, shimmies and movements that involve the middle part of the body. Different styles of holding hands, lifts and acrobatics were also incorporated into the basic Salsa steps, which made for the free-wheeling structure of the dance. It became a dance that can be interpreted in different ways, with enough room for improvisations. It has its own music brand yet can also be danced using other styles of music. Pretty soon, Salsa became a household word, in the Hispanic nations and throughout the United States and the Caribbean.

Salsa Styles

The popularity of Salsa could never be doubted. There are just too many variations of it, which attest to its popularity. It can also be performed solo or in groups and usually danced by a pair. There is a leader that initiates the steps while the follower has to balance the beat and steps in order for the dance to be smooth and fluid.

Nationality, cultural background and dancer preference have great impact on the dancing style of Salsa. Just take for example the difference between Rueda de Casino and New York Salsa.

Rueda de Casino

Prior to Salsa becoming a mainstream dance, the craze during the 1950s was Casino Rueda or Rueda de Casino. Rueda is Spanish for wheel while casino means the breaks and turns employed by the dancers, which became very prominent in Salsa. Rueda, which was once only danced in casinos deportivos (exclusive clubs) used cha cha for its music. It became an underground dance style when Castro forbade Cuban cultural activities and resurfaced in Miami around the early part of the 1990s.

Rueda de Casino is quite rowdy, not for anything else but because you can hear a leader giving instructions, such as "swing your partner round and round," or "dame una" that translates to give me one, while give me two with a turn is "dame dos con vuelta." You might also hear the leader saying "show her off" by shouting exhibela! The calls and signals can get complicated as intricate footwork is called, so you can also hear different "dame" terms, as well as "enchufa" and "adios." You cannot help but compare it, in essence, to a country and western square dancing in the U.S. Initially Rueda was mostly danced in groups, using the cha cha beat, and was a staple in exclusive clubs called casino deportivos. When cultural activities in Cuba were suppressed, the clubs and the members went underground before the dancers gained the temerity to perform Salsa in homes, private parties, streets and clubs. By the early part of the 1990s, Salsa was introduced to Miami and made its way across the U.S.

Dancers should be quick and alert when dancing the Rueda, since it involves communication, where the shouted instructions command dancers to make combinations of intricate steps or change partners. For true-blue Salsa enthusiasts, they know that there are about 150 to 200 moves in Rueda and each one has an accompanying hand gesture or signal. Watching a performance of Casino de Rueda is an incredible experience.

Swapping of partners is one of the main characteristics of Rueda, which is highly popular in Miami and Cuba. The difference is that the Casino Rueda in Miami involves more complicated styles. Aside from memorizing all the moves, it is also important that when dancing this Salsa style, the circle that has been formed must not be broken, therefore accuracy and speed from the dancers are also very crucial.

New York Salsa

Technically, the New York Salsa is more advanced and it starts on the second beat or "on 2", just like Mambo. This means that the followers break forward only on the second beat, starting with the left foot. On the sixth beat, the leaders break forward. In terms of style, New York Salsa is more elegant and graceful compared to the L.A. style. It has a controlled and smooth flow, and employs a linear style that use different variations of cross body leads when turns are executed. The momentum of the dancers becomes the leverage to impel the creation of intricate yet flowing series of spins and turns. The footwork though is more complicated, and there are more spins, Afro-Cuban moves as well as Shines, which are given more emphasis in the New York style. "Shines" are the periods when the dancers separate and perform the dance solo. The focus is on the styling and complex footwork during a shine. It is believed that the origin of shines were New York Tap and Swing.

Likewise the spins are controlled as the style puts more focus on technique, precision and timing rather than on showmanship where acrobatics and flashy movements are given emphasis.

Eddie Torres, although not the creator of the New York Salsa, is the one that made the style variation highly popular. He is also the creator of Salsa On2, which has gained a wide popularity especially today. Salsa On2 requires the follower to step forward during the second beat of the first measure of music. This is the style in which the New York Salsa builds upon, based on the Salsa music that gives focus on the beat of the clave and the tumbao rhythm on the conga drum.

It is difficult to separate Eddie Torres, dubbed the "Mambo King" from New York Salsa and Salsa On2. Both are almost synonymous with him. He started dancing in 1962 and has been a dance teacher since 1970. Many of the top Salsa dancers that emerged later came from the dancers of Eddie Torres. Names such as April Genovese de la Rosa, Eric Baez, Amanda Estilo and Seaon Bristol, also known as Seaon Stylist are top of the line. Other Salsa leaders, popularizing the Salsa On2 style are Griselle Ponce, Osmar Perrones, Tomas Guererro, Ismael Otero and Frankie Martinez.

Difference between Salsa On1 and Salsa On2

The difference between these two styles is on the technicalities of the dance, with the main difference found in the timing. To quickly understand it, you need to learn the fundamentals.

With Salsa On1, the leader, or if you are still learning the dance, the teacher will be counting one-two-three, five-six-seven. This means you step on the first three counts of the first and second bars of salsa music. You pause on the fourth and eighth counts or beat. However, since stopping the dance does not look natural, dancers usually continue to move in a rhythm that is described as quick-quick-slow. As mentioned these styles are technical in nature. With On1, you do the quick-quick steps on 1 and 2 as well as 5 and 6 beats. The slow steps are done during the 3 and 4 and the 7 and 8 counts. This is similar to the Mambo and with Salsa On1, the leader steps forward on the first count with the left foot, with the follower stepping back with the right foot.

The step timing is the core technical difference in Salsa On2. In this style, the lead takes the forward step on the sixth count. Here, the quick steps are on counts 2 and 3 as well as on 6 and 7. The slow steps are executed on the 4th, 5th, 8th and 1st counts.

If you are asking which one is better, it actually boils down to personal preference, as both styles are good. The most important thing is the feeling you get when you dance Salsa On1 or Salsa On2. With the quick slow steps falling on different parts of the music, the emphasis of the styles differs, which in turn gives off a different connection between the dancers and the music. It should be noted as well that the L.A. Salsa, which involves exuberant dips, spins and tricks is usually danced using the On1 style, whereas the New York Salsa, which emphasizes musicality and technique is danced on Salsa On2, which is becoming more popular these days.

Although the New York Salsa is hugely popular in the East Coast of the United States, it is still danced all over the U.S. and has gained strong following in several countries, including Curacao, United Kingdom, Romania, Poland, Hawaii, Canada, Holland, Germany, Israel, India, Korea, and Japan.

Getting back to the other Salsa variations and styles, here are the rest:

Cuban Style Salsa

This one can be danced using Salsa On1 or the contratiempo or the Salsa On2. One distinguishing characteristic of the Cuban style is the "Guapea" or the Cuba step. This involves the leader doing the basic backward step on counts 1, 2 and 3 and the basic forward steps on counts 5, 6 and 7. The follower in this style mirrors what the leader is doing.

This style of Cuban Salsa is more energetic, lively and showy, with the partners often circling each other. With its Afro-Cuban influence, this is the closest to the original Salsa from Cuba. There are no fast spins involved in this style, although there are isolated hip and body movements, with the knee actions pushing the hips to move exaggeratedly. Compared to others, the footwork in Cuban Salsa is simpler, moving the complexity to the various arm movements. Moreover, there are up and down shoulder movements as well as ribcage shifts. The leader here is very dominant and instigates the push and pull. There are also taps on the 4th and 8th counts.

Cuban Solo Dancing

This is different from a shine as this type of Salsa does not require the dancer to have a partner. Another name for this is suelta and had its origin from live performances of orchestras playing Salsa music, which evolved during the heyday of the dance and the music, when routine acts by band singers and dancers are common. Highlights of the suelta's intricate steps are the zippy footwork and movements of the body. Another unique feature of the Cuban solo dance is that the dancers can either dance in time with the music or dance against it.

Cuban Salsa Partner Dance

This Cuban Salsa style is called Casino or Parejas. This is derived from the Son Montuno-based traditional dance. For the Latinos, this is a component of their heritage and is often included in their social and cultural activities. The tempo is upbeat and the dance is almost devoid of external influences. In the Casino Salsa, the difference in genders is emphasized, with the women being feminine and sexy while the men show off their macho image, albeit the dance also show how the male and female complement each other. The male dancer usually does the elaborate movements involving the arms and the body. It also allows the dancers to move away from the regular steps when the music's percussion solo beat occurs. There is also a despelote, which is an advanced styling form wherein the male and female tease each other by coming very close together without actually touching. A lot of swaying and gyrating of the hips and shoulders happen during the despelote.

The circular style is used in Casino Salsa, which involves several instances when the partners hold hands that is a reflection of the rumba with a mix of mambo. The middle torso and the footwork must be always in sync with the music's beat while the turns involve a lot of twists. The follower must be completely in tune with every step the leader makes. It takes strict discipline to precisely execute the steps of this Salsa.

Colombian Salsa

Salsa is danced differently in Santiago de Cali in Colombia, the sports capital of the department of Valle del Cauca. Salsa in Cali is very showy, as if the couples dancing it are participating in dance contests and festivals. The beat is flawless; the moves perfect. The dance tradition is such because Salsa is the main dance during festivals and parties and can be seen in most nightclubs or salsotecas. No wonder Cali has earned the nickname Capital of Salsa. The department even sponsors the World Salsa Cali Festival and the Encuentro de Melomanos y Coleccionistas annually.

Cumbian music provides the beat for Salsa Cali. Although it is almost similar to the regular salsa rhythm, longer pauses are incorporated in the first and last three beats of the Cumbia. Instead of the clave and conga, deep-sounding drums, guitars, brass instruments and accordions are used for playing Cumbia. The music comes from Colombia's Caribbean coast and heavily influenced by indigenous, African and Moorish music.

The music is very popular in certain parts of Latin and South America. It is a dance that is handed down from family and friends and is not taught in school. Salsa Cali is marked by the circular style of open or side breaks. It also incorporates a tap when the music pauses on the 4th and 8th beats. Mambo's footwork is basically forward and backward. For Salsa Cali the footwork is side to center or back to center,

The Colombia Salsa is a calmer form of salsa and turns are almost non-existent. If ever there is a turn, it is a simple one that is initiated by the follower. The steps are slower and the dancers are more intimate as they hold each other closer, their heads down and tips of their feet touching. However, in the Colombian style fancy footwork is involved while the dancers keep their upper bodies stiff. It is danced on the Salsa On1 style.

Miami Salsa

Miami-style Salsa has the Cuban Salsa style to thank for its origin. However the Miami style is technically advanced and considered more difficult than its predecessor. The circular formation and the execution of the moves by the follower are reminiscent of Casino Rueda, and incorporates movements that resemble pretzels. It also adds a tap and basic Guapea moves in the open breaks. Rueda de Miami is an offshoot of the Miami-style Salsa, which shows the way of life of Americans, and called as the Coca-Cola routine by dancers.

L.A. Salsa

The Salsa style popular in Los Angeles, California is a spectator dance. It is flashier, characterized by drops, dips, tricks and flips, as well as the linear position of dancers. L.A. style Salsa is a Salsa On1 style, with the first beat given the most focus and accentuation. The accent on the first count creates the fast and powerful movement of L.A. Salsa, which also mixes hip hop, jazz and ballroom dancing and includes fast and complicated footwork as well as cross body leads and shines.

Puerto Rican Salsa

The Salsa version from Puerto Rico can be danced as Salsa On1 or Salsa On2. The leader is the one that breaks on the 2nd count rather than the 6th count. Like New York and Miami styles, the Puerto Rican Salsa includes Shines and plenty of shoulder shimmies. The timing uses the 2/3 clave beat. Felipe Polanco is credited with creating the uneven 5-beat time of the music used in dancing Puerto Rican Salsa and the accents produced by the clave signals the timing for the forward and backward sliding movements.


In many styles of Salsa, shines are incorporated as this showcases the skills, limberness and dexterity of the dancer, whether it is a follower or a leader. A shine is a freestyle part of the whole routine wherein very fast, fancy and complicated footwork is the main focus. It shows the inventiveness, individuality and creativity of the dancer. Challenges are usually held among dancers during shines.

Salsa is a dance form that will never go away. It is one of those enduring dances that has already gained an immortal status in the streets, restaurants, nightclubs and ballrooms. Numerous annual festivals are held in different parts of the globe for the dance and the interest in Salsa does not seem to wane. Several types of tropical and salsa music can be used as accompaniment to this lively dance that is suitable for youngsters and adults.

Salsa from the point of view of a passionate dancer

We got the rare chance to interview a man who is so passionate about Salsa that he really takes time from his very hectic schedule as a young entrepreneur to research and learn more about the Latin dance that he truly loves. Let us welcome Sean Hopwood.

Salsa is a social dance that continues to improve as it evolves. It is one of the ballroom and club dances that is very infectious and seems difficult to learn. We'd like to know more about it. We understand that you are passionate about salsa, so as an expert we would like you to give us a deeper insight into this beautiful dance.

We have seen Salsa performed on TV shows, such as in Dancing with the Stars. Can you tell use more about the Salsa, its origin, its music and everything else about it?

SH: Thank you, and yes, I will try my best to answer all your questions.

What do you think differentiates Salsa from other dances? Why did you choose salsa when there are several other Latin dances?

SH: It’s true, that there are other dances such as Bachata, Rumba, Merengue, Cha Cha Chá, Tango and more. However, Salsa, or Mambo, in my opinion, is the king of all dances. It combines complicated moves with passion, plus good music and rhythmic beats. The beats in salsa are extremely detailed, profound and intricate. I have been studying the different beats and those are also complicated. The more you know about them, you learn that they are to be danced differently. They go back to the Afro-Cuban roots.

Salsa is a term that was originally coined to combine some of the dances that I mentioned before and more that came from Africa originally. For example, there are beats such as the Guaguanco that has been incorporated into modern Salsa in many songs. If you understand the roots of Guaguanco, you will understand that it’s a more flirtatious dance and should be danced as such. There are similar different ways of dancing to a Charanga beat or a Son Montuno. I have traveled to Puerto Rico and Colombia and I have seen the amazing African influence into the Latin culture. I think it’s a beautiful thing and the more we know about the roots of Salsa (or Mambo), the better we can dance to it.

We understand that there are different Salsa styles. Can you tell us what they are?

SH: There are different styles for sure. For example, when I started learning salsa, I started learning Casino Style. This is a mainly-Cuban style of Salsa that was made popular in Cuba in the Casinos. This is where people would dance in a large Rueda (wheel) and there would be a main person calling the spins. Everyone would be with a partner and when the person called the spins, we would all do it together. I danced this Cuban Rueda style for about four years.

Then, in my experiences and travels to Colombia, specifically Cali, I learned about Colombian style. Colombian style is characterized by fast footwork and more side to side movements. Colombian salsa dancers are known for their extreme athleticism and they have won many international Salsa competitions lately. There are two more main styles that are danced and this is Salsa On1 and Salsa On2. Salsa On1 is very popular, but, internationally and in the USA, Salsa On2 is more popular and even becoming increasingly more popular today. Without getting into too much detail, there are a few differences between Salsa On1 and On2. The main thing, though, is the beat. There are 8 counts in any Salsa song. These counts are most easily identified by counting the beats of the Clave.

African Clave

An African clave (Photo courtesy of Sean Hopwood, used with permission)

By the way, this instrument also has African roots. For Salsa on1, the foot goes forward on the 1 and back on 5. For Salsa On2, your foot goes back on the 2nd count and forward on the 6th count. There are many more complexities than just this, but this is the basic thing that you need to understand when dancing on1 or on2.

So the main styles of dancing Mambo are Casino, Colombian, On1, and On2. On2 is also called New York style and Mambo.

(Diego & Lorena, Spain & Uruguay, Salsa On1, Final Round, WLDC)

(Eddy Torres short instructional video on how to dance On2)

Where does Salsa dance and its music come from?

SH: Today, most of the Salsa music is created right here in the U.S., mostly in New York and Miami, and in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Colombia. However, Salsa dance originated in Cuba and New York. As you know, salsa is Spanish for sauce, and when describing both the music and the dance (as it will be impossible to separate the two), they are a mix of several music genres and dance styles, with a liberal dose of "spiciness" and "hotness" in its frenzied movements and beats, its fast spins, dips and frenetic footwork, as well as the balance of hips sways and arms movements. For want of a simple explanation, Salsa music is based on Cuba son montuno, mambo, bolero, guaracha as well as chachachá. It also came about from the Puerto Rican rhythms of plena and bomba, the Colombian cumbia and the Dominican merengue. It even has shades of Latin Jazz that was also created in New York. So you see, Salsa music embodies all of its various influences.

Considering the variety of music genres in Miami and New York City where Salsa is very popular, some musicians even inject a bit of funk, R&B as well as rock elements into the music, which allows this pulsating music to continuously evolve. It was in New York where you could say Salsa was officially born, with the first salsa bands composed of New Yorkers of Puerto Rican heritage, fondly called Nuyorican. Just look at the musical artists that made Salsa famous, Héctor Lavoe, Johnny Pacheco, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, Bobby Valentín, Larry Harlow, and Roberto Roena. From New York it spread to other American states and ultimately, it gained worldwide following.

There seems to be more to Salsa than what many people think. Are there things about Salsa that are important and people should know about them? Would you like to expound on roots and musicality?

SH: Well, this is what I think. Salsa is a dance that is suitable for all ages and dancing skills. It is great to see young children take to the dance floor to show their abilities in dancing Salsa. All I can say is that Salsa's history is intriguing. It can be said that is came from Cuba originally, although it is not actually a traditional Cuban dance, but more a combination of Caribbean and African dances. It surfaced around the 1920s and has been transported to the U.S. early in the 1930s. I believe that we can see a bit of our cultural heritage as well as ourselves in Salsa. It is a partner dance but improvisations make Salsa a fun dance. It can be a line dance (Salsa Suelta) or in groups without male and female partnering, such as in Salsa Rueda de Casino.

As I said earlier, Salsa is often improvised. But one thing it does is bring out the sexy in you, even if you feel that you do not have even an ounce of sex appeal. Moreover, there are several styles of Salsa. The major ones are New York Style or the Mambo On2, the Los Angeles Style or On1, Cuban Salsa or Casino Salsa, the Cali-Style or Colombian Salsa, as well as the Salsa Miami-Style.

I think I have already talked about Salsa's roots. Regarding musicality, I believe it is very important, as well as timing. It will not matter how good a dancer you are, how flexible you can be, how many turns and spins you can execute while dancing, if you do not have musicality and timing. You have to have a relationship with the music so you can automatically react to the music. When dancing, you have to feel the music; it is making music with your body movements. This is what will make you a great dancer.

It seems that Salsa is really quite popular. What do you see as the future of Salsa in Tampa, Florida, the USA, and the world?

SH: Oh, I believe Salsa will have a very bright and long future in Tampa. There are some many Salsa clubs right now and more are being established. As Marc Anthony said, when his current Salsa album, 3.0, was launched, the reception for Salsa music anywhere he performs was always overwhelming. So he predicts that it is here to stay.

Outside of the United States where numerous clubs and communities are dedicated to Salsa, it is very popular in Latin America, South America, Paris, London and other countries is Europe, in the Middle East and parts of Asia.

Thank you so much for answering our questions. You are indeed an expert on Salsa and we learned a lot. Your enthusiasm for the dance is also infectious. It's a pity that we have two left feet.

SH: Thank you as well and you are very welcome. I fully appreciate you allowing me to share my passion for Salsa with you and the greater audience. I do hope that I was able to impart more insights into this beautiful dance and encourage people to take up Salsa, even for leisure and exercise.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

  • Carolyn

    Great article! I started dancing salsa recently and I'm hunting my first latin dress now. What is your opinion on these? Any suggestion would be appreciated, thanks.

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