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Salsa

General Info > The Dances

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Salsa is a partner dance form that corresponds to salsa music.

According to testimonials from historians of music, the name
salsa was gradually accepted among dancers throughout various decades. During the early 1950s, commentator and DJ "bigote" Escalona announced danceables with the title: "the following rhythm contains Salsa". Finally, the Spanish-speaking population of the New York area baptized Celia Cruz as the "Queen of Salsa".

Salsa is danced on music with two bars of four beats. Salsa patterns typically use three steps during each four beats, one beat being skipped. However, this skipped beat is often marked by a shifting of weight from one foot to the other. Typically the music involves complicated percussion rhythms, ranging from slow at about 140 beats per minute to its fastest at around 240 beats per minute. Salsa is a slot or spot dance, i.e., unlike Foxtrot or Samba, in Salsa a couple does not need to travel over the dance floor much (although they could, if there was space and the lead decided to do so), but rather occupies a fixed area on the dance floor.

There is debate as to whether Salsa originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico. Salsa is one of the main dances in both Cuba and Puerto Rico and is known world-wide. The dance steps currently being danced to salsa music come from the Cuban , but were influenced by many other Cuban dances such as mambo, cha cha, bolero, rumba, etc. It also integrates swing dances. There are no strict rules of how salsa should be danced, although one can distinguish a number of styles, which are discussed below.

Also, the reason there are no strict rules as to how you dance salsa is because it is a made up dance, an improvised dance to music which is often misunderstood. Salsa can be whatever the interpreter wishes it to be. The choreographer may listen to some music which is defined as salsa and will improvise the steps that come to mind. Salsa has elements of Jazz, funk, reggae, hip-hop and even samba. If it didn't exist someone would have to invent it.

Salsa styles
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 and others. The presence of one or more of particular elements does not necessarily define a particular style. For example, many styles can be danced "On One" or one style may be danced "On One" or "On Two". The following are brief descriptions of major "recognizable" styles.

Cuban style
Cuban-style salsa can be danced either "on one" or "a contratiempo" the latter is often referred to as "on two". 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. 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 Dile que no. 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
Developed in recent years, this is a style of salsa much influenced by Hollywood and by the swing & mambo dances, thus being the most flashy style, which is considered "more show than dance" by some. 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 reasons why L.A. Style of salsa is so well-known around the world are widely disputed. But what has helped largely has been the competition dances which so aften use L.A. or New York styles for their flashy performances, as well as programs like Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance. It is also extremely popular in most parts of the UK.

New York style or Eddie Torres style
The "NY Style" is a combination of the "On 1" and "On 2" systems. The timing of the steps are on the 1-2-3,5-6-7 as in "On 1" but the breaks (where the body changes direction) occur on the 2 and 6 as in "On 2". NY instructor Eddie Torres developed this step pattern around the late '70s and the '80s, and its definition is quite clear as he is still alive and his followers are keen to keep the style intact. This is their description of the step: There are many "socials" in NYC or nightclubs that dedicate on playing only mambo or salsa.

The style has proliferated around the world to places like Japan, Korea, India, Israel, Germany, Holland, Canada, Hawaii, Poland, Romania, UK, Curacao, and more.

Power 2 / Palladium 2 / Ballroom Mambo
This style is similar to Los-Angeles style, but it is danced "On Two". The basic step timing is 2-3-4,6-7-8 with the breaks on 2 and 6.

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.

On Clave
This does indeed follow the 2-3 or 3-2 pattern of the clave, e.g. for the 2-3 clave the leader steps forward with the left on 2 and with the right on 3, then does the other 4 steps of the basic on 5-8 (syncronizing with the clave on 5 and 8). It's a traditional form and it's less known/used outside some countries.

Puerto Rican style
This style can be danced as "On One" or "On Two". If danced as "On Two", it is always danced on count 2, and not on count 6 as in Ladies-style NY. There is a Salsa Congress in Puerto Rico where salsa groups all around the world attend and perform.

Rueda style
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.

Salsa Styling
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 stylin'. Hip hop, jazz, flamenco, belly dancing, ballroom, breakdancing/pop and rock, Afro Cuban styles, and bhangra have all be infused into the art of styling. You can take dance lessons to learn all these different types of dances.

Shines
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 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'.


Above & below are two short sample tracks. Please use the controls to pause and play each track individually to get a feel for this type of music.

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