Salsa dance is one of the most iconic Latin dances that have managed to attract significant popularity worldwide. Its earliest origins can be traced to the first few decades of the 20th-century, where dance and music communities of several Caribbean countries managed to take the essences of several Latin dances such as cha-cha-cha, Mambo, Cuban Son, and others, and morph them into new and attractive music and dance style. With the emergence of the "original" or "traditional" salsa music in Cuba during the mid-20th century, the Salsa dance movement received a tremendous boost of popularity with the advances in its dance routines from 1960-the 70s where Puerto Rican communities in New York City managed to popularize several forms of Latin music. Their unique fusion of Spanish Son, other Latin styles, and modern forms of Jazz, R&B, funk, and rock gave birth to Salsa music and Salsa dance's contemporary style. From that point on, Salsa dance became an international phenomenon, developing into several distinct regional forms. Danced all around the world, Salsa dance can today be practiced in a wide array of venues, ranging from nightclubs to outdoor festivals.
Even though the Salsa dance has evolved into several distinct styles, it always demands from its dancers to hold their upper body level and almost unaffected by the weight changes caused by the fast and energetic stepping. Additionally, the shoulder and arm movements are also energetic, often being used in wild direction changes and shifts of the dancer positions. This irregular stepping sequence creates the famous syncopation and enables dancers to loop back to a new sequence of steps after every eight beats of music. The accompanying salsa music can range anywhere from 150 bpm (beats per minute) to around 250 bpm, but the majority of Salsa dancers enjoy a slightly narrower range of 160–220 bpm.
Like all modern Latin dances, Salsa dance and music were developed in the ** early 1900s** as a mix of various musical styles that were popular in Central and South America. In the case of Salsa, it was born due to the influences of famous Latin dances such as Mambo, Tango, Cha Cha Cha, Puerto Rican Bomba, Son, Son Montuno, Guaracha, Palo Monte, Rumba, Comparsa, Mozambique, and Spanish Flamenco. When the basics of this new dance and music style were solidified during the 1920s, local music studios from Cuba decided to promote it heavily. They chose the name " Salsa" and tried to stay at the forefront of the promotion of what they believed will become a new musical sensation. Very quickly after that point, Salsa became a phenomenon in Cuba, and in a few short years, it reached nearby shores of both Central America and the United States. In the USA, Salsa was first introduced in the nightclubs of Miami , but very quickly, it managed to spread across the entire continent, especially to places with high concentrations of Latin immigrants such as New York and California. In Latin America, Salsa was also welcomed with open hands, managing to morph into several distinct styles of dance, most notably in Columbia, where Cali-Style is still danced to this day.
American soldiers become first introduced to Salsa during the Cuban War of 1898.
A very important phase of the history of Salsa happened in the United States between the 1930s and 1960s. During that time, various performers from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, and several other Latin American countries managed to successfully promote Salsa in New York , enabling this dance to morph with the addition of both Latin and United States influences. While this mixture of influence helped musicians to create a brand-new form of Latin dance Mabo in the 1950s, the inherent improvisation element helped Salsa to go through the transformation that led to the adoption of several forms of Salsa both in the US and outside of it.
Even though the word "salsa" can be traced back to the mid-1800s, it did not represent a particular dance or music style. That word was instead used by dances as sort of a dance cry or a yell during their dance routine.
US record label Fania Records reshaped Cuban music to better match the tastes of Latin New Yorkers. They actively started promoting this sound as "Salsa."
The term "Salsa" was popularized worldwide only during the 1960s and 70s when Salsa dance and Salsa music became one of the few dances that gained international attention after their promotion in the New York dance scene. However, the exact origins of the use of the term Salsa were never discovered, many believing it was appropriated by the record labels or promoters so that they could distinguish this particular style of dance and music from other Latin dances.
Salsa can be most commonly found in various dancing venues all around the world. Salsa social dances are commonly organized in ballrooms, restaurants, nightclubs, schools, and other indoor venues. Since it has such popularity, salsa is also practiced outdoors, both recreationally and competitively. Various salsa-themed outdoor festivals are organized all around the world, and international dance competitions are also common. Professional dancers of Salsa have managed to establish their training facilities and dance schools in almost every larger metropolitan city in the world.
Male salsa dancers follow the tradition in which their clothing is not competing with the flashy and sensual dresses of the female dancers.
Professional dancers of Salsa are best represented in the World Salsa Championships, a large set of Salsa competitions that are held throughout the world. Some of the locations for these competitive dance events are Miami (WSF World Salsa Championships), Los Angeles (Mayan World Salsa Championships), Puerto Rico (World Salsa Open), and Miami (World Salsa Summit).
The largest of the open sky festivals that are focused on Salsa dance and salsa music is called Salsa Congress. They are hosted annually and attract international dancers and musicians that are involved in live performances, music events, open dancing events, contests, and workshops.
Salsa music has evolved over the decades , but its core has always followed a Latin heritage of its early years. To this day, the Salsa ensembles are almost exclusively based around string-based charanga or horn-based son conjunto , two famous instruments from Cuba. Of course, many Salsa ensembles tried to change this formula, but instead of switching some of these core instruments, they elected to enlarge the band and introduce new secondary sounds. Traditional Salsa ensemble (often called "Son Conjunto" ensemble) consists of congas, bongos, piano, tres, bass, a horn section of trumpets of trombones, and at least one of the handheld percussion instruments such as maracas, guiro, or calves. Salsa music can also be played by string charanga ensemble format or with the percussion-based band that was popularized in the New York music scene.
The rhythm of salsa music is energetic and fast. It follows the basic 1-2-3, 1-2 rhythm.
Salsa music is based around the traditional montuno model of a verse section, with a montuno chorus that consists of coro-pregón (call-and-response) elements. Montuno section is usually present toward the end of the song, and its tempo often increases as the ensemble is building the excitement at the end of the song is approaching. The verses of salsa music songs are usually short and are often enhanced with the vocalist's performances of melodies created by rhythmic devices. The traditional themes of early Salsa songs are repeated even today, with the instruments and even singers managing to mimic the call-and-response patterns of some traditional African songs. The modern salsa songs are enhanced with several types of modern instruments, including even electronic instruments and effects.
Many musicians and music historians have noted that Salsa and other Latin dances are tremendously adaptive and receptive to change, with the ability to morph styles not only according to modern dance fashion but also with influences of economic, social, and political changes.
Since the early days of salsa in the 1920s, this music and dance style was predominantly influenced by the genres of music that were popular in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and especially the rhythm of the Son Montuno. The popularization of the dance outside of the shores of Cuba and Puerto Rico enabled it to morph with great speed, with major styles evolving in several music hubs of the United States and South America.
The most popular Salsa style that is danced today is LA Style. This style is, for example practiced on the popular TV show Dancing with the Stars.
All the new styles that were developed after the 1920s are named by the geographical area they originated from. While the core of the Salsa dance is still preserved in them, they all feature differences in their basic steps, the ways of holding the partner, foot patterns, timings, turns and figures, body movement and rolls, overall attitude, and other dance and music elements.
Here are some of the most popular styles of Salsa music that are danced today not only in the regions they were originally developed but also all around the world:
Latin America and especially Caribbean countries are known for preferring a loose style of Samba dance that incorporates many local variations that enable dances to customize the dance toward their preferences. This includes changes in the way dancers control their legwork, arms, shimmies, spins, body movement, rolls, body and hand styling, lifts, isolations, and acrobatics.
The identity of this dance is closely connected with the Afro-Latino origins of the dance, giving it a unique identity. This dance style is often accompanied by traditional African instruments or African language , giving the salsa performances a unique personality that is not present in many other styles of this dance.
Afro-Latino style of Salsa is most often practiced in countries of Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, many of the surrounding Caribbean islands (such as the Dominican Republic), and several Latin countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, and others. Miami dance scene has also accepted a variation of Afro-Latino style that has appropriated some elements of other US dances.
Columbian style of Salsa dance (also known internationally under the names Cali-Style Salsa and Salsa Caleña) was developed in the region of the large Colombian city of Cali. After the arrival of the Salsa dance from Puerto Rico and Cuba before the Second World War, the music scene of this city has managed to morph several elements of the dance and very quickly promoting it into one of the most popular dances in the region. Even after several decades of strong competition from other music and dance styles, the famous Cali style of Salsa had managed even in the 21st century to remain as one of the most popular dance genres that are practiced in nightclubs, festivals, and parties.
The core feature of the Colombian Salsa style is its focus on skipping motions, quick rapid steps, and lack of some moves that are present in other salsa styles (such as cross-body leads). Cali style demands from dancers precision, intricate footwork , and the ability to perform step routines while standing in one place and displacing in a closed position.
Due to the high popularity of this dance, it is often promoted as the default Salsa style in many dancing schools all around the world. Professional and amateur Columbian salsa-style competitions are commonly held in Columbia, while some professional Cali dancers have also managed to win major world championships.
Cuban salsa dance , often also called Casino Salsa has was developed in Cuba before the 1950s and popularized across the island under a new name during the 1970s ("Casino" is a Spanish-derived term for "dance hall"). Outside of Cuba, this dance is often marketed under the names of Salsa Cubana or Cuban-style Salsa. Even though Casino salsa remains one of the most popular dances of Cuba, it is regularly danced all around the Americas and Europe.
Since its development in Cuba, which happened by mixing the original salsa themes of Puerto Rico with the traditional Cuban dance style of Cuban Son, Guaracha, Danzon, and Cha Cha Cha, this country managed to completely incorporate this salsa style into their national culture , making it a part of the commonplace social and cultural activities and one of the most popular music genres.
The core feature of the Cuban (Casino) style that distinguishes it from all the other styles of Salsa is its focus on different step structures. In it, no steps are taken on the first and fifth beats in each clave pattern, and additionally, the fourth and eighth beats are emphasized, thus enabling dancers to become more invested in the polyrhythmic pattern of the music. Additionally, the Cuban style also heavily promotes improvisation which is not so much present in any other Salsa style. Here, dancers are encouraged to frequently introduce references to other dances into their Salsa routine. These references can be changes in foot patterns, new movements, gestures, and others.
Two variations of the Cuban style of salsa were also developed and are actively practiced today:
Los Angles style of Salsa is famous all around the world because of the lack of movement options for the dancers. To comply with the "linear" rules of this style, dancers are required to stay in the single line of movement, slowly shifting forwards and backward and never rotating and changing directions. This is done so that many pairs of dancers could safely dance and perform their routines on a crowded dance floor, with a greatly reduced risk of touching nearby dancer pairs.
Like all other types of Salsa dance, Los Angeles style is also heavily influenced and has taken characteristics from other popular dances, such as Argentine Tango, Swing, Latin Hustle, Ballet, and Latin Ballroom dance, which all contributed the infusion of the sense of theatricality, acrobatics, and sensuousness. LA Style is often visually spectacular and eye-catching , allowing dancers to experiment with various acrobatic moves, lifts, stunts, and aerial works.
The New York style of Salsa is closely connected not only with the popular Latin dance Mambo but also older United States dances such as Swing and New York Tap. The influence of Mambo enabled dancers of this style of Salsa to showcase their skills in dance that promotes very visually attractive dancing that promotes the moves such as body waves, ribcage movements, shimmying, shines (where dancers separate and dance solo before returning one to another) and freestyle footwork.
The history of the New York style of Salsa featured two distinct periods where this dance evolved at a rapid pace. In the Palladium Era during the 1950s and 1960s, migrants from the Caribbean and Latin countries started mixing their dance and music styles of Mambo (which also encompassed what we today call Salsa) with US influences. Later during the 1970s, the NuYorican Era managed to popularize the dance and music style of Salsa worldwide greatly. Some artists also managed to remain active and influential in both of these eras. The most famous New York Salsa artist was Puerto Rican Tito Puente and Salsa dance instructor Eddie Torres. Both of them had nicknames "The Mambo King."
The core feature of the New York-style of Salsa was dancing on the second beat of the music (also known as "dancing on 2"), with the follower being out of the sync with the leader by performing the step forward motion on the first measure of the music. Thus, the non-weight changing counts are made on "4" and "8".
In the late 20th century, many Latin dances have managed to achieve worldwide fame. While Salsa remains one of the most popular ones, it did not manage to evolve and become what it is without the influences made by other Latin dances.
Bruce Lee was a great Latin dancer, managing even to become Hong Kong's "Cha Cha Champion" at the age of 18.
Here are some of the differences between Samba and other Latin dances :