What is Salsa Dance?
Salsa as we know it in United States is a very popular form of social dance that originated in New York City in the mid-1970s with significant influences from Latin America, specifically Puerto Rico, and Cuba. The steps and movements of salsa dance have origins in such dances as Cuban Son, Cha-cha-cha, Mambo and others.
Origin of Salsa
The name "salsa" (mixture) has been described as a dance since the mid-1970s. The use of this word for the dance started in New York. It evolved from prior Cuban dance forms such as Son, Son Montuno, Cha cha cha and Mambo which were quite popular in the Caribbean, Latin American and the Latino communities in New York since the 1940s. Salsa, like most music genres went through a many variations through the years and included elements of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean dances such as Guaguanco and Pachanga. Different countries of the Caribbean and Latin America have unique salsa dance styles of their own, such as Cuban, Colombian, Puerto Rican, L.A. and New York styles.
There is a lot of controversy regarding the origins of the word "salsa". Some people claim that it was based on a cry shouted by musicians while they were playing their music. Others think that the term was created by music record labels to better market their music, who chose the word "salsa" because of its spicy and hot connotations. Still, many dancers believe that the term came about because salsa dancing and music is a mixture of different styles, just like salsa sauce in is a mixture of different ingredients.
Description of Dance Salsa
In various styles of salsa dancing, as a dancer shifts his weight by stepping, the upper body remains level and nearly unaffected by the weight changes. Weight shifts result in hip movement. Significant arm and shoulder movements are also incorporated. The Cuban Casino style of salsa dancing involves 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 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 of dance, 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 the New York style, the dancers remain dominantly in front of each other (simply switching places), while in Latin American styles, such as Cuban style, the dancers circle around each other, sometimes in 3 points. This circular style was developed from Cuban Son, specifically to the beat of Son Montuno in the 1920s. However, being a popular music, salsa is open to improvisation and thus is evolves continuously. 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 movement, 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.
Incorporation of other dance styling techniques into salsa dancing became 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.
Venues where people dance Salsa
Salsa dance socials are normally held in night clubs, bars, ballrooms, restaurants, and outside, especially as a part of an outdoor festival. Salsa dancing is a globally known dance that can be found in many metropolitan cities in the world. Festivals are held regularly, often called Salsa Congress, in multiple host cities aimed to attract variety of salsa dancers from other cities and countries. Those events unite dancers 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 band salsa music, workshops by renowned instructors, open social dancing, and contests.
Rhythm of Salsa Dance
In general, most 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 song 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, Changüí 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, güiro, 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 (see salsa music). 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
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 dance rhythm: the cowbell, the Montuno rhythm and the Tumbao rhythm.
The cowbell rhythm emphasizes the "on-beats" of salsa: 1, 3, 5 and 7 while the conga rhythm emphasizes the "off-beats" of the music: 2, 4, 6, and 8. Some dancers like to use the strong sound of the cowbell to stay on the Salsa rhythm. Alternatively, others like to use the conga rhythm to create a jazzier feel to their dance since strong "off-beats" are a jazz element.
Tumbao is the name of the rhythm 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.
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.
The basic Salsa dance rhythm consists of taking three steps for every four beats of music. The odd number of steps creates the inherent syncopation to the Salsa dancing and ensures that it takes 8 beats of music to loop back to a new sequence of steps. Different styles employ this syncopation differently. For "On1" dancers this rhythm is described as "quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow." For "On2" dancers this rhythm is "quick, quick, quick, pause, quick, quick, quick, pause." In all cases, only three steps are taken in each 4-beat measure (or 6 total over 8 beats.)
Different Styles of Salsa
Colombian / Cali style
Cali-Style Salsa, also known as Colombian Salsa, was developed in the Colombian City of Cali. Cali is also known as the "Capital de la Salsa" (Salsa's Capital); due to salsa dance 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 central feature is the footwork which has quick rapid steps and skipping motions. Colombian style does not execute Cross-body Leads or the "Dile Que No" as seen in other styles, but rather step in place and displace in closed position. 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 style / Casino
In Cuba, a popular local dance known as Casino was presented as Cuban-style salsa or Salsa Cubana in other countries to distinguish it from other salsa styles when it was initially popularized in the 70's. 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 such as Israel. Dancing Casino is an expression of popular social culture; Cubans consider this dance as part of social and cultural activities centering on 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 more affluent, white Cubans during the mid-20th century .
Originally, Casino traces its origin as a partner dance from Cuban Son, Cha Cha Cha, Danzon and Guaracha. Traditionally, Casino is 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. At the same time, it is often danced "a tiempo", although both "on3" (originally) and "on1" (nowadays).
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 immigrants in Florida and centered on Miami, this dance style is a fusion of some elements from Casino with lots of elements from American culture and dances. The main distinction of Miami-style from other North American styles is the "Atras" or "Diagonal", back breaking steps executed backwards diagonally instead of moving forwards and backwards as normally used in the New York style. Dancers do not shift their body weight 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 on count 1.
A major difference of Cali Style and Miami-style 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 & North American dance styles, with some routines reflecting American culture (e.g. Coca-cola, Dedo, Adios) which is not found in the traditional Cuban-style Rueda.
Los Angeles style
The Los Angeles dance style (LA style) is danced strictly on 1, in a slot \ line, using elements of different North American and stage dances. It is strongly influenced by the Latin Hustle, Swing, Argentine Tango and Latin Ballroom dancing styles. LA style strongly emphasises sensuousness, theatricality and acrobatics. Lifts, stunts and aerial works of today's salsa shows are derived mostly from LA style forms with origins in Latin Ballroom and Ballet lifts.
The two essential elements of this dance are the forward–backward basic step 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.
New York style
New York style is danced in an ellipse or a "flat figure 8" on the floor, with the partners facing each other most of the time. Unlike other styles of salsa, New York style 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 close dance space, 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:
1. Primary evolution from Mambo era was introduced to New York due to influx of migrating dissidents from all the Caribbean and other 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" — 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".
2. Secondary evolution during the late 1970s, Latin Puerto Ricans migrants, contributed a lot to the New York salsa development during the "NuYorican" era of Héctor Lavoe which greatly popularized salsa and modern Latin music throughout the world. Puerto Rican salsa superstars were the most important musicians during the era, such as Ray Baretto ("The Godfather") and many others. 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 dance music and dance genre, different from its Latin American and Caribbean 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.