8 Types of Salsa Dance – The Comprehensive Guide
There are many Salsa dance styles.
In fact, there is a lot of heated debate about which style of Salsa is the best and most authentic.
To be honest, it shouldn’t be so complicated.
If you are already dancing Salsa, just keep dancing!
If the research behind the styles beckons you, then read on.
What are the different types of salsa?
Let’s start out with the short answer first.
There are different camps based on the logistics of the footwork, and then there are different camps based on timing.
Here is one way of explaining it concisely:
There is linear salsa and circular salsa.
(1) Linear Salsa: Los Angeles, New York, Puerto Rico
Partners dance and stay exactly on an imaginary straight line.
(2) Circular Salsa: Cuban (Casino), Venezuelan (Dominican) and Colombian
Partners dance around each other, and there is no fixed line.
And then there is another way of explaining it:
There is “Salsa on 1” and “Salsa on 2”.
(1) Salsa on 1: “Los Angeles Style”
Dancers break forward or back on the 1st beat.
(2) Salsa on 2: “New York Style”
Dancers break forward or back on the 2nd beat.
Why are There So Many Ways to Dance Salsa?
That’s a good question.
Many types of dance have multiple variations, usually because geography and culture have affected the dance.
Salsa became so popular at its peak of marketing in the 1970’s, that new styles emerged in different parts of the world.
Nonetheless, it all comes from same place:
Salsa has its origins in Cuba.
However, based on different cultural influences, the dance of Salsa molded itself around musical environment.
Salsa has shaped its expression of movement based on the music played in a particular place and time.
For this reason, as music evolved, so did the dance, creating many tentacles steming from the same octopus head of Salsa.
Brief History of Salsa
Like a language with different accents and dialects, Salsa comes in a variety of styles.
Originally inspired by movement from Cuba like Cuban Son, Cha Cha Cha and Mambo, Salsa also became popular in parts of the Carribean like Puerto Rico and other Columbian coastal cities by mid century.
However, Salsa made its mark in North America a bit later, when Cubans and Puerto Ricans immigrated into the states in the 1950’s.
By the 70’s, the dance became popular and on the rise.
As it spread globally, Salsa evolved over the decades through a variation of technicalities.
Technicalities that Set the Salsa Styles Apart
- Musical Variation
Here is an informative Salsa Styles Video by Eddie Torres, founder of the dancing “on 2” style.
He explains the differences between the dances rather clearly:
The 8 Different Styles of Salsa
1.) L.A Style – aka Salsa “On 1”
This is one of the most demanding of the Salsas, with more structure and mechanics.
There is also more emphasis on styling and fast spins.
It’s flashy, snappy and at times can be acrobatic.
The leader steps forward on the first beat of music with the left foot.
The LA style (Los Angeles Style) is “danced on 1”, to the dominating beat of the music (most accented beat within a set of 8 counts).
The dance focuses on the sharp hits of the music (it is more staccato than NY Style), and for that reason, beginners favor this style because it is easy to connect to and hear.
Salsa “On 1” Timing
L.A. Style / “On 1” Timing is: 1,2,3 – 5,6,7 – (pause on 4 and 8 count)
The music loops every 8 counts, making it easier to hone in on the pattern starting “on 1” and ending on 8.
Every 8 counts of a loop is called a phrase, and it repeats itself.
Thus, dancing “on 1” connects to the phrasing of the music and its melody, within sets of 8 counts.
Why People Like Salsa “On1”
- People like to dance “On 1” because the melody and vocals use phrasing, which helps dancers feel connected to what’s going on.
- The “On 1” Style is designed to dazzle onlookers, making it exciting. There are lots of dips, drops, spins and shines.
- Women use arm styling to strike a pose and add hip movements.
- Men use tricky footwork, which is both fun and impressive to do.
Salsa “On 1” Characteristics
The Salsa “On 1” style has a complexity that is exciting and contagious.
It has a big Swing influence incorporated into its styling, with a powerful look and fast movement.
Other types of dance are also influencers of this style, including jazz, hip hop and ballroom, becoming challenging for the dancers, but entertaining to the observer.
This style is similar to the NY “On 2” style in the sense that many of the moves are created from cross body lead variations.
It is also danced in a slot at high speeds and has great musicality.
Salsa on 1’s main difference lies in its flashiness; patterns use lots of turns for ladies, with emphasis on complicated footwork and shine steps. Dancers use tricks to make a show out of this style as well.
For this reason, it is convenient to use the “On 1” LA Style for performances, plus its linear quality is perfect for shows.
How to Salsa “On 1”
The “On 1” style basic is a back and forth “Mambo basic” with linear motion.
The leader “breaks” forward “On 1” (rock steps on the first beat). Followers break back “On 1”.
Rock steps are taken forward and back on count 1 and 5 in an 8 beat phrase.
Here is a video clip of the Salsa “On 1”/ LA Style basics.
As you can see, the steps are danced linearly.
Where did Salsa “On 1” Originate?
Salsa “On 1” is the most modern of all the Salsa styles and originated in the 1990’s in L.A..
Francisco Vazquez with his two brothers are credited with developing this style.
2.) New York Style – aka Salsa “On 2”/ Mambo Style/ Eddie Torres Style
This style is less popular worldwide than Cuban or LA styles.
The first step is danced on the second beat of the rhythm instead of the first beat.
To a beginner it looks exactly like the LA Style.
This style aims to emphasize the percussive instruments, which usually mark the second beat, focusing on sounds of the conga and clave in Salsa.
The Salsa “On 2” style puts emphasis on the harmony of percussion instruments such as the congo, timpani and clave, since these instruments typically emphasize the second beat of the music.
This type of Salsa music is very specific, and dancing in the beat is what it is all about.
Salsa “On 2” Timing
The “On 2” basic is danced to beats 1-2-3, 5-6-7, same beats as “on 1” but breaks on 2.
Tempo is medium to fast, and dancers use that to their advantage demonstrating intricate footwork and complex body movements.
Rock steps are taken on the 6 and 2 counts (also called “breaking” forward and back).
The slow counts are after the rock steps, which make the dance more laid back, smooth, and slower than dancing “On 1”.
Followers have more time to execute their turns, which creates a different visual contrast from the other style.
Why People Like Salsa “On 2”
- Salsa “On 2” is smooth and controlled with a suave feel. Movements flow without rush, showing elegance and grace even when highly technical.
- For those that connect deeply to the music, due to the varieties of dancing “on 2”, music lovers enjoy using the “on 2” style to bring the musical instruments to life in their dancing.
- Those who dance “On 2”, believe that this style is richer, more rhythmical, musical and more complex.
Salsa “On 2” Characteristics
Dancing “On 2” is rhythmically more difficult than dancing “On 1” because hearing the 1 beat is easier.
The “On 2” timing emphasizes the conga drum’s tumbao pattern and encourages the dancer to hear and play to the percussive elements of the music.
“On 2” is linear with many of the turn patterns evolving from cross body lead variations.
There is an emphasis on efficiency of movement, body isolations, timing and precision of technique.
Dancers of the Salsa on 2 style aim for a smooth execution of tightly woven complex patterns.
Due to the high concentration of Puerto Ricans in New York, their influence on this style was strong.
How to Salsa “On 2”
Whichever style you dance, the common denominator is to break forward and back on the 2nd or 6th count to match the conga.
“On 2” refers to the beat that dancers break on.
In this case, Leaders will break forward with the left foot on beat 6, and followers will break forward with the left foot on the 2nd beat.
The breaks are on the second beat, reflecting New York Salsa’s Mambo heritage.
For this reason, “On 2” is commonly referred to as Mambo, however it is not accurate to call it so.
Although Mambo follows the “On 2” Pattern, it doesn’t have the same beat.
Salsa “On 2” is danced to beats 1-2-3, 5-6-7.
Mambo, on the other hand, is danced to beats 2-3-4, 6-7-8.
Where Did Salsa “On 2” Originate?
Salsa “On 2” was first introduced in the 1960’s in New York by Eddie Torres.
Here is a video clip of Eddie Torres demonstrating NY Style Salsa at a Salsa Festival. Notice how they break on the 2 count:
Salsa “On 2” Music
Salsa “On 2” has a Puerto Rican sound.
It is smooth, classic and polished sounding, with instrumental breaks showcasing musicians and their talent.
Some examples of New York Salsa musicians: Celia Cruz, Willie Colon, The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Eddie Palmeiri, Jimmy Bosch.
3.) Colombian Style Salsa – aka Cali Style
The Salsa of Columbia is Salsa Dura, or Hard Salsa.
It has a fast rhythm with a brass sound reminiscent of the Cuban mambo.
This style is characterized by extremely fast footwork including kicks, skipping motion, toe-heel swivels and spectacular acrobatics.
It is not internationally wide spread, and has its own style and feel.
Colombian Salsa is influenced by Caribbean rhythms as well as Salsa’s predecessors such as Pachanga and Boogaloo (without the Boogaloo bounce).
Colombian Salsa Characteristics
Colombian Salsa hold their partners incredibly close when dancing, touching from head to toe.
The reason for this is due to crowded dance floors, fast music and preference.
Leg and hip movements are similar to the other Salsa styles, however the top part of the body is more rigid. In addition, tight spins and extremely fast footwork are danced in simple, circular patterns.
This style is usually not showy, as it is commonly danced between family and friends in rural areas.
How to Dance Colombian Salsa?
The Colombian Salsa basic does not go forward and back as in the Mambo step that influenced the Salsa.
Rather, it utilizes a back and side step, alternating feet.
The movement consists of a series of “back to center” or “side to center” foot steps.
If turns are performed, they are simple rock step left turns.
Not many instructional classes teach Colombian Salsa, as it is mostly learned from family and friends.
However, it is distinguished by a circular style of open/ side breaks with a tap on the pauses (4 and 8 counts).
It also has a longer pause between first three and last three beats.
The following clip demonstrates the Cali Style Salsa:
Where Did Colombian Style Originate?
Colombian Style Salsa originated in Cali, Colombia, and thus got its name from its geographical location. It is also popular in South and Latin America.
Cali boasts itself be the World Capital of Salsa, since there is no other place in the world that offers as many Salsa classes or competitions than Cali.
Salsa in Colombia is an activity of the masses. Music is heard everywhere you go, and everyone dances Salsa (usually limited to its basic form).
Side Note: There is a subgenre of the Colombian Style called Cumbia, which is danced to authentic Cumbia music from Colombia.
4.) Puerto Rican Salsa
It depends on who you ask when asking what Puerto Rican Salsa really is. For starters, it closely resembles the NY Style.
However, Puerto Rican Salsa has compact movements and can be danced on 1, 2 or 3. If breaking on 3, a tap on the 2nd beat of every bar is common.
The leader’s left foot steps forward on 2 in a phrase of 8 beats, as opposed to 6 in a phrase of 8 beats in NY Style.
Puerto Rican Salsa Characteristics
There is more freedom of movement and steps in the Puerto Rican Salsa.
In addition, the slot is not absolutely fixed. Rather, the style incorporates a minimized slot, which changes directions diagonally with Cuban circular action.
Puerto Rican Salsa Lines are clean, shoulder shimmies abound and arm movements are circular. There is also an emphasis on dancing to Clave rhythm (2/3 clave).
As dancers break away from their partners, they execute complicated and fast solo footwork called “shines” for the audience, as soloists.
It is believed that these “shines” originated in Puerto Rico .
How to Dance Puerto Rican Salsa
As mentioned previously, you can dance this style “On 1”, “On 2” or on 3.
If you dance this style “On 2”, it is opposite from NY Style, meaning the leader breaks forward on 2 instead of 6.
The leader’s left foot steps forward on the second beat in a phrase of 8 beats, as opposed to the sixth beat in a phrase of 8 beats in the NY Style.
Where Did Puerto Rican Salsa Style Originate?
Felipe Polanco is one of the pioneers of Puerto Rican Salsa.
He created a unique basic to compliment the uneven 5 beats in the dance.
5.) Cuban Style Salsa – aka Casino
This type of salsa is more relaxed and casual, exuding a cool attitude.
It is danced “on 1”, but it is not linear, rather, rounded.
This Salsa is danced to traditional Cuban music.
In Cuban Salsa, dancers go with the feeling of the movement, sometimes even forgetting the 1st beat.
This style is the most similar to the original form of Salsa (which is rooted in Cuba), and it is a circular dance, with partners traveling around each other instead of linearly. Patterns rotate frequently.
Cuban Salsa Timing
Casino is danced on the 1 or 3 downbeat break a-tiempo.
Dancers tap on the 4th and 8th beats.
They also stray from the 1st beat depending on where the music takes them.
Son is the predecessor of Salsa, and is danced to upbeat contra tiempo which follows the 2-3 clave.
Why People Like Cuban Salsa
- Cuban Salsa (also called Salsa Casino) is a popular style and is based on popular music.
- Cubans consider it to be a part of their social culture, as it often makes an appearance at simple gatherings and special events.
Cuban Salsa Characteristics
Cuban Salsa is a male dominated dance, meaning that the leader tends to be more showy, creating greater push/ pull feel for the follower than any of the other styles.
Cuban Salsa is defined by its body isolations and hip movements from the pumping of the knees. These rhythmical body actions are inspired by Afro-Cuban Rumba heritage.
The arms may be complex, however, the footwork of Cuban Salsa is simple with few turns.
This requires the follower to be flexible with arm movements in order to work with the leader.
How to Dance Cuban Salsa
Dancers of Cuban Salsa break on the 1st Beat, which is the strong beat.
The Guapea or “Cuba Step” is one of the most used basics.
Both leader and follower dance a back basic away from each other on the first three beats (1-2-3) and then towards each other, rocking forward on 5,6,7 (the following 3 beats).
The Cuban style is circular, rather than linear in movement (like North American Salsa).
The leader dances and moves around the follower, both paying attention to her and showing her off.
Where Did Cuban Style Salsa Originate?
Cuban Salsa was popularized in late 1950’s.
Big name bands of the era were brought in by the Casinos in Havana, bringing locals into the dancing scene.
The name “Casino” comes from “Casinos Deportivos”, which means Dance Halls, where wealthy Cubans would partake in social dancing in the mid 20th Century.
6.) Salsa Rueda de Casino – aka Casino Rueda/ Salsa Rueda
“Rueda” literally means circle or wheel. Casino Rueda is a Cuban group dance where several couples join to form a circle to dance salsa.
“Rueda” literally means circle or wheel. Casino Rueda is a group dance where several couples join to form a circle to dance salsa.
A caller dictates the sequence of steps and partner exchanges.
Couples end up switching partners and performing on command, which creates an energetic dynamic within the dance.
Unique and social, Rueda is captivating as the flow goes so smoothly. Memory, speed and accuracy is key to make sure the circle is not broken.
Salsa Rueda Timing
Rueda can be danced to any Salsa music.
However, the best music for Rueda has a driving beat without breaks.
Why do People Like Salsa Rueda
- Casino Rueda is a playful dance and mesmerizing to watch, as it’s fluid and ever changing.
- It is high energy and requires full attention to get in the zone.
- Easy to follow “fun” moves, many of which have humor in their names.
- All moves learned within circle can be danced one on one.
Salsa Rueda Characteristics
Casino Rueda features complicated moves and is danced in the Cuban style.
Many of these moves include swapping partners, making it quite tricky and at the same time spectacular to observe.
Salsa Rueda dancers move in synchrony. They must open up their sphere of awareness as this dance requires a group consciousness to be developed between the dancers to make Rueda work.
The circle of dancers is commanded by a “caller” who is the designated leader of the pack.
This caller uses hand signals and calls out key words in order to dictate when it is time to pass around partners (followers) and change patterns.
All partners must execute Rueda moves simultaneously, and therefore must pay attention to the instructions meticulously, maintaining the unbroken intergrity of the circle.
How to Dance Salsa Rueda
There are many variations of moves in Rueda.
However, the circle usually starts from “al Medio” or “Guapea”, where couples step forward on their inside foot and back on their outside foot, in relation to the circle.
In addition, the cross body lead is an essential step in this style, and it’s called “Dile que no”.
Salsa Rueda is danced in the Cuban Style and is danced in a circular pattern.
Leaders execute the moves after being instructed by the caller, passing their followers around to the next leader in the circle.
The caller can know up to 150- 300 moves, and as many as 100 or more couples can take part in this experience.
A rueda circle is limited only by the available space.
Where did Salsa Rueda Originate?
Salsa Rueda started in 1950’s and originated in Havana, Cuba.
It became so popular that it was danced everywhere, including the streets, homes, and clubs.
Rueda has roots in the Son of Afro-Cuban dances and “Danz’n”, and many of its moves reflect the culture.
The group that originated the style was Guaracherosde Regla.
7.) Miami Style Salsa – aka Miami Style Salsa/ Miami Casino Salsa
Similar to Cuban Style Rueda but more intricate.
Miami Salsa ties back to the Cuban Style, however it is technically more advanced and showy.
It follows the same circular travel patterns as in Cuban Salsa and is known by other common titles such as Cubano, Classico and Casino.
Miami Salsa Timing
Miami Salsa is exclusively danced on the 1 beat (Strong Beat).
It has many complicated turn patterns and require much more memorization and skill set.
Miami Salsa Characteristics
Instead of the use of limber arms like in the Cuban style, Miami Salsa requires a more complete body flexibility.
Moves are Pretzel-like and more complicated, requiring this type of flexibility.
The upper body is more relaxed, but footwork is more intricate. While the New York style is influenced by Jazz and Swing, the Miami Style is more true to the Cuban roots of Salsa.
How to Dance Miami Salsa
Many Miami Style moves are the same as Casino Rueda and therefore more circular than linear.
Cross body lead variations are common, as well as the Guapea.
Here is an example of Miami Casino Style:
Where did Miami Salsa Originate?
Miami Salsa is a substyle of Salsa.
It was created by Cuban migrants in Miami area.
Differences between the styles include the use of diagonal movement instead of forward and back movement like LA and NY styles do on the back breaks.
8.) Competitive and Performance Style Salsa/ Cabaret
This is not a social type of Salsa dancing.
Performance routines differ greatly from the other “social” Salsa Dance Styles.
Dance Teams get together regularly to practice routines with the sole intention of performance.
Performance Salsa routines include excessive flair, which incorporate tricks, lifts, dips, and many other flashy elements.
Here is an example of a Salsa Team performing their routine at the World Latin Dance Cup (WLDC):
Other Latin Dances NOT to be Confused with Salsa
The following dances are not Salsa, however, you will see them out at Salsa Clubs, so it might be a good idea to get to know what they are.
Some people mistake any Latin dance to be Salsa, however, this is just not the case!
Bachata – is not a Salsa dance but it is often played at Salsa clubs, roughly about 25% of the playlist.
It has a different rhythm from Salsa and its music is characterized by its iconic and melodic guitar riffs.
Kizomba – is a sexy dance and danced very close.
It has elements of Tango and is usually danced to modern Portuguese music.
Its origins are from Africa.
Merengue – is one of the easiest dances, with weight changes on every beat.
You can’t go wrong with this dance.
Cha Cha Cha – is similar to Salsa with 3 sets of extra fast steps.
These 3 steps / weight changes happen on 4-and-1 (cha-cha-cha).
Which Salsa Style Should You Learn?
We must take into consideration that all of these Salsa styles ARE Salsa and therefore not THAT different, as they stem from the same origin and same Salsa basic.
The Salsa style you end up learning will probably be the one that is taught at your local dance studio.
This is a good thing, because dance studios will usually teach what is more popular in the area, and therefore more practical and useful.
In a Salsa club you may see a variety of styles danced to one song, although some dances are more suited to particular regions and types of music played.
Here is a video of Frankie Martinez explaining the different styles of Salsa Dancing:
Each style is unique and beautiful to watch and dance, so any style will work.
However, it is better to learn what is popular in your area.
How Much Time Does it Take to Learn Salsa?
There are many levels of how good you can get at dance.
In reality, there is no limit to the improvement you can make in your dancing.
Even professionals take lessons to further their expertise and technique.
The time it will take you to feel competent depends on your commitment to dance and how much you practice.
There is a lot to learn, and we all start as beginners.
Anyone can learn to dance, no matter your coordination.
Dancers often say that 1-2 years gives them an adequate amount of time to develop the muscle memory they need to feel confident.
However, it doesn’t usually end there.
Where Can You Learn to Dance Salsa / How to Find Places to Dance?
Latin Music Venues – Sometimes Clubs have Latin nights with a dance lesson at the start of the night.
Latin Restaurants – Restaurants may have live music with a nice atmosphere and dance floor.
Latin Dance Festivals – Usually Festivals are held over the weekend, all over the world.
Dance Studios – Dance Studios have Latin Dance Classes and Dance Parties on their schedule.
Look up your local dance studio options to see what’s available.
If you’re in the Vegas area or are coming in for the weekend, we have a dance boot camp that will have you dancing salsa in no time.
As you can see, there is so much flair and fun to be had by learning to dance Salsa.
Salsa gives us positive emotion, and the movements are natural and comfortable for the body.
As two partners dance together, there is a sense of harmony. Steps are rather simple and technique universal.
So get out there and start Dancing Salsa!
There is absolutely no reason not to!
Now I want to hear from you.
Leave a comment below and let me know your favorite style of salsa and any questions you have.
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