Salsa is usually a partner dance form that corresponds to salsa music. In some forms, it can also appear as a performance dance. The word is the same as the Spanish word salsa meaning sauce, or in this case flavour or style.
According to testimonials from musicologists and historians of music, the name salsa was gradually accepted among dancers throughout various decades. The very first time the word appeared on the radio was a composition by Ignacio Piñeiro, dedicated to an old African man who sold butifarras (a sausage-like product) in Central Road in Matanzas. It is a song titled Échale salsita, wherein the major refrain and chorus goes "Salsaaaaa! échale salsita, échale salsita." 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 a recurring eight-beat pattern, i.e. 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 tap, a kick, a flick, etc. Typically the music involves complicated percussion rhythms and is fast with around 180 beats per minute (see salsa music for more).
Salsa is a slot or spot dance, i.e., unlike Foxtrot or Samba, in Salsa a couple does not travel over the dance floor much, but rather occupies a fixed area on the dance floor. In some cases people do Salsa alone.
Salsa music is a fusion of traditional African and Cuban and other Latin-American rhythms that traveled from the islands (Cuba and Puerto Rico) to New York during the migration, somewhere between the 1940s and the 1970s, depending on where one puts the boundary between "real" salsa and its predecessors. 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 son, but were influenced by many other Cuban dances such as Mambo, Chá, Guaracha, Changuí, Lukumí, Palo Montel, Rumba, Yambú, Abakuá, Comparsa and some times even Mozambique. 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.
The basic movement occurring in the dance patterns of the various salsa styles is the stepping on the beat of the music. Salsa is best grouped in pairs of 4-beat patterns counted "1-2-3-...-5-6-7-...". The leader starts on count 1 by stepping with the left foot. On count 2 and 3, they step with right and left, respectively. On count 4, the lead pauses or makes an optional tap with the right foot. On counts 5, 6, and 7, they step with right, left, and right, respectively, again followed by a pause on count 8. As a standard, every step must be taken with full weight transfer. The follower part is identical, but shifted by 4 beats, so that as the leader's left foot steps forward, the follower's right foot steps back. In most styles, the leader starts with the left foot and the follower starts with the right foot regardless of the pattern about to be danced.
The term "basic step" normally refers to a forward-backward motion. On 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.
Other Common Steps
* Underarm Turn (or Outside Turn) - similar to the "arch turn" in swing and many other dances. follower turns clockwise
* Inside Turn - follower turns counterclockwise ( to her left )
* Leader Turn - lead turns right, often the partners separate
* Spot Turn - either, or often both, partners turn 360° CCW remaining in the same spot
* Open Break - a variant of the "side break" basic. similar to "promenade breaks" in rhumba, etc.
* Cross Body Lead - follower is led to opposite side of lead. exists in other Latin dances such as cha-cha
* Cross Body Lead (Casino Rueda) - couple in embrace essentially rotates 180° CCW as a whole, swapping positions
* Enchufla - a kind of arch turn where the couple rotates CW as a whole, often followed by a cross-body lead
On One? One Two
Salsa danced according to the above description is called Salsa on One, or briefly, "On One", because the break step is on beat 1 of the 8-beat pattern. This is by far the most common count used in Europe and North America.
If the break step occurs on count 2 or 6, it is called "On Two". There are two main variants of this:
1. The "Power 2", "Palladium 2" or "Ballroom Mambo" style. The Power 2 basic is simply the On One basic danced one beat later.
2. "New York Style 2" or "Eddie Torres Style". The ET2 basic step starts on beat 6 with the leader breaking forward on the left foot, replacing on 7, and pausing on 8. Then on 1 the left foot steps slightly back, ready for the break step back on the right on 2, and the left replacing on 3. 4 is a pause and 5 is the right foot stepping slightly forwards ready to begin again at 6.
3. "Puerto-Rican 2". This is exactly as the Eddie Torres 2 except the leader breaks forward on 2 not 6.
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.
Some consider dancing "On Two" to work more closely to the clave rhythm, the fundamental rhythm of salsa music.
Dancing on 2 means that the break step synchronises with the accented slap of the tumbao pattern played on the conga drum. For this reason it is said to be more punchy and rhythmically oriented, whereas on 1 is more melodically oriented.
Styles of Salsa
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 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 syncronized by a caller.
This style is common in Latin-American countries and parts of Canada. The leader and follower do most of the movements in a tight box step, breaking back in each bar. It normally starts with a side step on beat one, then a tap on beat two, break back on three, and replace on four; the next bar is like the first but starting with a side step going to the opposite side. A switch to the normal basic is possible, but it looks like one is dancing "on 3" and keeping the tap on 2. This style is sometimes called "Cumbia Style" and in fact it fits very well with modern salsa-inflected cumbias (the pause in the bass line is the same as the pause in the basic step) included in the sets of bands and DJs that play for this style. Besides cumbia, this style is also influenced by swing and Cuban style. As such, in many patterns the leader and follower turn around each other, although not as much as in the Cuban style. A unique step is a side break by the leader after the follower has already been led to break back to the opposite side, creating a little accented "tug" on 3. In several parts of Colombia, salsa is danced with very limited or no turns, often nearly chest to chest and the legs of the leader almost interlaced with the legs of the follower in a more sensual fashion, being this the "Coast" style opposite to the "Cali" style described before. This difference is named basically because the two main "centers" of Salsa in Colombia.
Los Angeles (LA) Style
Developed in recent years (some say between 1999 and 2002), 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 many. 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.
Francisco Vazquez, along with his two brothers, Luis and Johnny, are often credited with developing the LA style of salsa. Francisco taught both of his brothers how to dance and all of them went on to become famous worldwide through their unique style of dancing. Francisco Vazquez, along with his brother Johnny, founded "Los Rumberos" Dance Company at the start of their career, which is still the leading dance company in Los Angeles. Luis Vazquez, along with then Joby Vazquez (now Joby Martinez) founded Salsa Brava Dance Company, which was another leading dance company in Los Angeles for many years.
Other people who also helped create L.A. Style as we know it are, Rogelio Moreno, Alex Da Silva, Joby Martinez, Liz Lira, Josie Neglia, and many others. Tony Cordero and Alex D'Amato helped spread the influence of the LA style to Long Beach and Orange County.
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 broadcast of competition video clips from the Mayan World Salsa Championships on the Club Mayan website. Every year, competitors from many parts of the United States and the world come together to challenge each other in this competition. Before moving to Europe, Johnny Vazquez was the reigning king of the Mayan competitions; he was practically unbeatable as he surpassed all other competitors with his skilled dancing and precise spins. Since then, however, the results of the competition have not been endorsed by many and the competition has lost validity, but it remains, nonetheless, one of the biggest competitions in the world.
New York 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. Click HERE for a 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.
Leaders in the On2 style are Magna Gopal, Shaka G. Brown, Ismael Otero, among others.
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.
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.
Pierto 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.
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.
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 lock, and Afro Cuban styles have all be 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'.
Information Source: Wikipedia
Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias
A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.
Quoted from the movie Strictly Ballroom