This page is designed to offer a free lesson to anyone interested in learning how to dance the salsa. You’ll learn about the history of the dance, various styles, and see a basic salsa performance. If you make it all the way through the lesson, there is a special offer for you at the end!
The History of Salsa
Salsa is a Latin dance form with origins in the Cuban Son and Afro-Cuban dance styles. The style originated in the 1940’s with the beat of the Son Montuno, and evolved into various styles of Salsa. These styles include Cali-, Cuban-, New York, and Los Angeles Salsa. Below are some videos with examples of the musical styles.
Although popular in Latin American countries, Salsa has become internationally known and recognized. Salsa is typically danced with a partner, but there are styles for a single dancer (“Salsa Suelta”) or a group dancing in a circle (“Rueda de Casino”).
Cali-Style Salsa, also known as Colombian Salsa, is based on geographical location of the Colombian City of Cali. Cali is also known as the “Capital de la Salsa” (World’s Salsa Capital); due to salsa music being the main genre in parties, nightclubs and festivals in the 21st century.
The basic step of Colombian Salsa is the “Atras” or “Diagonal”; breaking backwards diagonally instead of moving forwards and backwards as seen in the New York and L.A. Style. Dancers do not shift their body weight greatly as seen in other styles. Instead, dancers keep their upper body still, poised and relaxed while the feet execute endless intricacies. The dancer breaks mostly On1 (sometimes On3), with short measures of “4” instead of full “8” counts.
A major difference of Cali Style and the other styles is the footwork which has quick rapid steps and skipping motions. They do not execute Cross-body Leads or the “Dile Que No” as seen in LA/New York-style and Cuban-style salsa, respectively. Their footwork is intricate and precise, helping several Colombian Style dancers win major world championships. Cali hosts many annual salsa events such as the World Salsa Cali Festival and Encuentro de Melomanos y Coleccionistas.
Cuban “Casino” Style
Cuban-style salsa, also known as Casino, is popular in many places around the world, including in Europe, Latin America, North America, and even in some countries in the Middle East. Dancing Casino is an expression of popular social culture; Latin Americans consider casino as part of social and cultural activities centering around their popular music. The origins of the name Casino are derived from the Spanish term for the dance halls where a lot of social Salsa dancing was done in Cuba during the mid-20th century and onward.
Historically, Casino traces its origin as a partner dance from Cuban Son dancing, and its rhythmic body motions from Afro-Cuban Rumba heritage. Son is considered an older version and ancestor to Salsa. Son is danced on delay measure upbeat (contra-tiempo) following the 2-3 clave (Son Clave) whereas Casino is usually danced on the downbeat break of 1 or 3 (a-tiempo). Musically, the beats 1, 3, 5 and 7 are considered downbeats; whereas 2, 4, 6 and 8 are considered upbeats. Casino was popularized in the late 1950s as the Cuban Son received upbeat and quicker arrangements by musicians. Casino has a very independent development, free from external influences such as Puerto Rican and North American dances.
Los Angeles Style
L.A. style is danced on 1, in a slot, with a measure of easiness and adaptability to it. It is strongly influenced by the Mambo, Swing, Argentine Tango and Latin Ballroom dancing styles. L.A. style places strong emphasis on sensuousness, theatricality, aerobics and musicality. The lifts, stunts and aerial works of today’s salsa shows are derived mostly from L.A. Style forms with origins in Latin Ballroom and Ballet lifts.
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), leaving the slot open. The follower then steps straight forward on 5-6 and turns on 7-8, while the leader makes another 90 degrees counter-clockwise and slightly forward, coming back into the slot. After these 8 counts, the leader and follower have exchanged their positions.
Albert Torres, Laura Canellias and Joe Cassini are credited for the early development and growth of L.A. Style Salsa. Later, such dancers as Alex Da Silva, Edie Lewis, Joby Martinez, Josie Neglia, Liz Rojas, Johnny and Francisco Vazquez and Janette Valenzuela are often credited with developing the L.A. style of Salsa Dancing as we know it today.
New York Style
Like LA-style salsa, New York style is danced in a line. However, unlike LA style, it is danced on the second beat of the music (“on 2”), and the follower steps forward on the first measure of the music, not the leader.
Though he did not create New York style salsa, Eddie Torres is credited with popularizing it, and for having the follower step forward on the first beat.
New York style salsa emphasizes harmony with the percussive instruments in salsa music, such as the congas, timbales, and clave, since many or all of those instruments often mark the second beat in the music.
There are a few basic steps of Salsa. The most common is the three weight changes (or steps) in each four-beat measure. The beat on which one does not step might contain a tap or kick, or weight transfer may simply continue with the actual step not occurring until the next beat. The option chosen depends upon individual choice and upon the specific style being danced. One of the steps is called a “break,” which involves a change in direction. Different styles of Salsa are often differentiated by the timing of the break step (On Beat “Downbreak on 1” or Off Beat “Up beat on 2”). After 6 weight changes in 8 beats, the basic step cycle is complete. While dancing, the basic step can be modified significantly as part of the improvisation and stylings of the people dancing.
In many styles of Salsa dancing, as a dancer changes weight by stepping, the upper body remains level and nearly unaffected by the weight changes. Caught in the middle are the hips which end up moving quite a bit —- famously known as the “Cuban hip movement.” Perhaps ironically, the Cuban Casino style of Salsa dancing actually has significant amounts of movement above the waist, with up-and-down shoulder movements and shifting of the ribcage.
The arms are used by the “lead” dancer, to communicate or signal the “follower,” either in “open ” or “closed” position. The open position requires the two dancers to hold one or both hands, especially for moves that involve turns, putting arms behind the back, or moving around each other, to name a few examples. In the closed position, the leader puts the right hand on the follower’s back, while the follower puts the left hand on the leader’s shoulder.
In the original Latin America form, the forward/backward motion of Salsa is done in diagonal or sideways with the 3-step weight change intact.
In some styles of salsa, such as LA and New York style, the dancers remain in a slot or line (switching places), while in some Latin American styles, such as Cuban style, the dancers circle around each other, sometimes in 3 points. This circular style is especially true for casino rueda dancing.
Since you’ve made it this far through the Free Salsa Dance Lesson, Interclub Academy of Dance would like to give you an opportunity to try out a dance class in our studios. We invite you to click on the link to download a copy of a coupon good for one free dance class at our studios. You can use the coupon for a real life Salsa Dance class, or you can use it for the other styles of dance we offer instruction in. We ask that you fill out your name and e-mail so we can keep in touch with you, and that you call ahead of time to schedule your free salsa dance class.