Hot, spicy and full of flavor, salsa will have you sweating and shaking with the best of them.
And no I’m not referring to the salsa you can eat (hold the chips please)! I’m talking about the caliente salsa dancing and music that has been heating up dance floors and the international music scene around the world for decades.
Although the exact origin of salsa is still often debated, there is evidence which shows that its roots traveled along the African Diaspora via Cuba and Puerto Rico in the early 20th Century. Due to the political climate in the Caribbean, particularly Cuba’s isolation from the US due to the Embargo, salsa made its way to New York and Miami along with the wave of immigrants that fled to the US.
Most music and cultural historians define salsa as a convergence of musical styles from Cuban son to Afro-Cuban rumba, mambo, guaracha, guajira, cha cha, danzon, guarancho, charanga, and bomba and plena from Puerto Rico. Some of these genres are still performed today as unique music and dance styles, however it is their culmination along with the varied cultural influences from Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas that came together to create salsa as we know it today.
In part, due to the variety of cultural influences, there are now about 7 distinct styles of salsa that have been popularized and are danced all over the world. Cuban style (considered the birthplace of salsa by many), is rotational with the couples moving around an imaginary axis (or each other) in a circular motion. There isn’t much spinning, styling or elaborate dips and tricks. Rather, there tends to be more intricate, intertwining of the arms when partners are connected and strong Afro-Cuban rumba or despelote movements with shimmy’s and hip shaking when pairs separate. Cuban style is often described as having more of an urban or street feel that styles developed in other countries with greater influences of jazz, ballet and ballroom dancing.
LA Style vs New York Style
Following the mass emigration from the Caribbean to New York, a new style of salsa emerged onto the local scene. New York style (similarly to LA style) incorporates a lot of flashy arm styling, ‘shines’ (complicated or fancy footwork when partners separate for individual solos), and elaborate dips tricks and acrobatics. Despite dancers on either coast arguing over the differences that make one style more supreme over the other, they actually share some similarities (like those listed above), as well as the fact that they’re both danced in a linear slot.
A major difference is that the LA style is danced ‘on 1’, meaning that the break steps are taken on the ‘1’ and ‘5’ beats of the music. Whereas the slightly more relaxed New York style (also called ‘mambo’), is danced ‘on 2’ with the break steps being danced on the ‘2’ and ‘6’ beats of the music. Or in other words, the first count on which the leader steps forward and the follower steps back is initiated on either a ‘1’ or ‘2’ count of the music. Many who dance ‘on 2’ sometimes criticize those who don’t as lacking ‘sabor’ or flavor for being off clave (not on the 2 beat).
Colombian style salsa, also called Cali style (in reference to the Colombian city where it originated and is primarily danced), is truly a style unto itself. With origins in folkloric Colombian dance like cumbia as well as swing, the emphasis is on fast, precise footwork, usually danced to music that has been sped up to a lighting pace. The fancy, fast footwork is typically accented with exciting, eye-popping lifts and tricks.
Casino Rueda Style
Salsa Rueda, also called Rueda de Casino, hails straight from Cuba and is unlike any other form of salsa in that it is danced in a group. Pairs of couples from as few as four dancers up to whatever number can be wrangled together do the same movements simultaneously as they travel around a circle changing partners as they go. There is generally one participant called a lider or caller who calls out each step seconds before it is executed simultaneously by the group. Casino Rueda is a highly communal activity that requires a certain level of focus and teamwork not needed in other dances.
Miami style is often described as a blend of Cuban Style with LA and New York style technicalities. Developed by Cuban immigrants in Miami, it evolved from the traditional Cuban style and is similar in that it is danced in a circular casino form with the open breaks or the Guapea basic (leader and follower break back and then push off eachother) with a tap as the most common basic step. It also has intricate, pretzel-like arm movements that are considered more complex and technically advanced than the traditional Cuban style, yet it employs a lot of the flashy arm styling and footwork famous on both coasts.
Puerto Rican Style
Although you won’t find this style offered in as many studios as some of the others, it is a distinctly unique style unto itself. Unusual in that it can be danced ‘On 1’ or ‘On 2’, it is also unique in that the leader breaks forward ‘On 2’ instead of the follower, which is opposite from New York style and is sometimes called dancing ‘On 6’. There is an emphasis on dancing on the clave, primarily the 2/3 clave with a lot of shoulder shimmies. While many credit Puerto Rico as being the birthplace of shines, it is easy to see how when this style of dancing is famous for the elaborate footwork that individuals do when they break away from their partners to show off their solo freestyle movements.
Regardless of which style of salsa you prefer, they are all a lot of fun, great exercise and a great way to connect with people from all walks of life all around the world. So if you haven’t already done so, add a little spice to your life and head to the nearest salsa dance club or studio to join the movement that’s uniting people across the globe!