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      about salsa
      about salsa
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Salsa (Spanish for "sauce") is a music of Afro-Cuban origin, intended primarily for dancing.

Whilst Cuba is the origin of the music's underlying Son clave rhythm, other cultures have contributed to the development of various sub-genres, including Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela and New York City, and many musicians and singers have played a part in popularising the music.  There are therefore also different styles of Salsa dance, known by regional names such as Cuban, LA (Los Angeles), "New York on 2", Miami, Puerto Rico and London, and there is of course regional disagreement over which is "the real thing".  New Yorkers, for example, say that LA is just New York on 1 with stylistic differences. 

Style is infinitely variable regarding what you do with your arms and body, syncopations on half beats, solo footwork "shines"  etc, but partners must agree on the basic step sequence and timing.  When dancing three steps, one of which is a direction-changing "break" step, to each bar of music in four-time, there are (theoretically) twelve possible combinations.  However, only three of these are widely seen, commonly known by the names LA, New York On 2 and Palladium Mambo, plus a fourth, "On Clave", in which two steps are danced in one bar and four in the next, breaking on 2 in both.  Cuban style uses the same basic step sequence and timing as LA but with different step placement and styling.

LA style has been influenced by Cuban and New York style, jazz, swing and ballroom dancing, and most of its moves are based on the cross body lead, where, in its basic form, the leader leads the follower in a straight line from right to left across in front of him, so that the follower is much of the time dancing "in the slot" (or "on the line").

Salsa music has call & response two-bar sub-phrases and the dance step sequences match this, so the dance timing is counted in eight, and the LA step sequence is: [break-replace-step-glide-|break-replace-step-glide-] with the break steps on beats 1 and 5, the leader breaking forward on 1, back on 5.  LA style does not have the complicated arm movements of the Cuban style, and is danced with a more upright posture; it is regarded by many as the show Salsa, because of its dips, drops, spins and other spectacular moves.

New York On 2 style, popularised by Eddie Torres, has the linear movements of LA style danced with a flowing elegance which comes from its different step sequence, in which the glides over the beats with no step (4 and 8) are taken after the replace step rather than before the break step thus: [step-break-replace-glide-|step-break-replace-glide-], giving a continuation of motion in the same direction through the next step and on to the break.  It is called "On 2" because it is danced with the break steps on beats 2 and 6, the leader breaking back on 2, forward on 6. 

New York On 1 however, is not the "On 2" step sequence shifted to break on beat 1; it has the LA step sequence and timing, but with a more compact use of space, tricky footwork shines and stylistic elements rooted in Broadway shows.

Palladium Mambo is a 1940's New York precursor to Salsa (revived by Razz M' Tazz and also known as Power 2) which also breaks on 2 and 6, but with the LA (or NY1 if you prefer) step sequence, thus: [glide-break-replace-step-|glide-break-replace-step-], the man breaking forward on 2, back on 6.

On Clave style is rarely seen, but also breaks on beats 2 and 6, and hits four, rather than three, of the five clave accents in each two-bar sub-phrase. 

The Son clave rhythm is always present in Salsa music, sometimes played explicitly with a pair of resonant wooden sticks, otherwise implicit in the ensemble of other percussion.  Son clave is either 2-3 or 3-2 relative to the melody, and this can change within the same song when a melody phrase is truncated to seven bars from the usual eight (the absolute clave direction never changes within a song). 

A 2-3 Son clave accents beats 2 and 3 in the first bar, and beats 5, 6& and 8 in the second bar, 6& being the syncopated beat half way between 6 and 7, thus:
[1 - 2 - 3 - 4 -|5 - 6 & 7 - 8-]
A 3-2 Son clave is the the other way round:
[1 - 2 & 3 - 4 -|5 - 6 - 7 - 8-]
(There are others, for example Rumba clave delays the third accent half a beat, producing a different rhythm:
[1 - 2 & 3 - 4 &|5 - 6 - 7 - 8-])

So, dancing On Clave in a 2-3 section of the music is:
[glide-break-replace-glide-|step-break-replace-step], and in a 3-2 section:
[step-break-replace-step-|glide-break-replace-glide-], the leader breaking forward on 2 and back on 6, in both cases.  The 6& (or 2&) clave accent in the middle of the 3-bar is heard as a syncopation between steps.

Cuban style is also known as Casino Salsa.  The basic step is characterised by break steps back on both left and right feet, rather than forward on one and back on the other, usually on beats 1 and 5 thus: [break-replace-close-pause-|break-replace-close-pause-], so that the partners move in mirror image with respect to each other, rather than in natural opposite as in LA and NY styles.  It is generally more rotational than linear, and is danced with a softer posture and some complicated arm movements. 

Casino Rueda, the Cuban Wheel, is for many dancers together, one of whom calls out the named moves.  Timing is as LA, but the "break" steps are more in-place than direction-changing.

For more on this see here, here, here, here, here and here.

John Clapperton 2003

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