couple dance salsa cuban style

How to Master Salsa Cuban Style in FIVE Steps

Coupe dance salsa cuban style

There is something magical and mystical about salsa cuban style. Unless you experience it yourself, it will be difficult for you to understand. Not only is the dance strongly rooted into Afro-Cuban movements, it also incorporates a wide variety of other musical genres. When you dance Cuban salsa, you realise it’s a language with many dimensions and layers, from physical presence to seduction.

1. Different types of salsa

There are few different types of salsa. The most popular are salsa Cuban style and salsa from New York. Cuban style salsa is strongly helped by the popularity of their musicians (such as Mayito Rivera or Elito Rivera ) and the variety of dances it originated from. New York style salsa, came to light with dancers such as Eddie Torres in the 70/80’s and was strongly supported by musical groups such as the Fania all stars. A third popular type of salsa is Los Angeles which is danced on 1. New York style is danced on 2. As for salsa Cuban style, it’s danced on rhythm.

2. How is salsa Cuban style different?

Cuban salsa style is more physical, playful and rooted in Afro-Cuban dances than the other forms of salsa. Indeed it draws it’s origins from many dances/music styles such as Rumba, Chango, Son, Cha-cha, Casino de Rueda. If we were to embody a Cuban salsa dancer versus a New York one, the former would be barefoot using circular and -playful motions and be very strong with his tights and legs; when the later would be wearing heel shoes and be more linear in his motion. Secondly, the grip is also another difference. When Cuban style salsa dancers use their full hand to dance with their partners, New York dancers like to use their two middle fingers. Finally, New York’s salsa is more studio based while Cuban is more street based. That’s why some of the moves the Cuban salsa dancers make is unique to them. For example dancers such as Yoannis Tamayo and Maykel Fonts have moves that are unique to them.

3. How do you dance salsa Cuban style?

To dance effectively salsa Cuban style, you need to master good hearing of the music, body movement and steps. In order to hear the beats well, you should use the clave as an instrument to help you out. I have developed a 5-level program to train your ears to recognise the clave, which is one of the key instruments of Cuban salsa. In order to dance salsa Cuban style, you must identify the different rhythm and patterns in a song and understand how these patterns translate in your body. That’s why along with ear training you also want to work on your body movements. Once you cover these two areas, dancing Cuban salsa becomes very easy. I have introduced 5 steps along with some of the ear training programs I developed, to help you have a great experience.

3.1.  Small Recap

In my post, How to Hear the Clave Salsa, I remind how the beats are counted in Cuban salsa. A basic Cuban salsa step is made of 2 measures of 4 beats each. You will hear the clave 5 times on these measures. Typically for beginners, you step on the first beat and make six steps within the time covering these 2 measures. No matter the steps you do, it is important that you put your whole body into it. You should therefore use your shoulders, hips and arms.

Clave rhythm to dance salsa cuban style

5 Cuban Style Salsa moves you can do NOW

Anybody can do the steps we will cover on this post. Even professionals should train and perfect them because they are the basis of many salsa moves.

5.1. First Cuban salsa step: A rumba step

This step is simple yet one of the most important one if you want to dance salsa Cuban style well. I mentioned earlier that you should do 6 steps on a basic cycle. In this one we will only do 4. In reality, we do the six steps, but two of them are in position. The important factor here is to use your hip and shoulder to create a proper balance on this move. That’s where most students get it wrong. They just step and shift all their weight in one direction, and find it impossible to follow the rhythm.

– Process

We will play a simple rumba song that uses the clave extensively to help you with this step.  Remember, at the beginning you want to find the beat more than doing steps. The best way to do that is by listening to music styles that are heavy with the instrument you are trying to identify. In our case it’s the clave. Therefore, listen to rumba songs and make your basic salsa steps on them.
Once you learn how to isolate the clave, dancing salsa and listening to salsa music will be easy.

This step is a side to side one, where you shift your weight in one direction then come back to centre. Then you go to the other direction and come again back to the starting position. 

5.2. Second salsa dance step

In salsa Cuban style, you will see this step often. It borrows from Son, but experienced dancers like to use it, especially when they are close to their partners and the music dictates it. It’s one of the most effective way for you to learn to be on beat, because you basically cover all the clave steps since you walk on the 8 count beats. As the man moves forward the lady goes backward. Then, when she moves forward, the man in turn moves back. Additionally, you can add the first step we just saw at the end of this move. 

This particular step tends to be repeated twice in a row. Then as the male dancer holds the female arms high, he finishes with the first set of steps I just showed.

5.3. Third Cuban salsa style step

Very similar to the second step we just saw, this one is done in a lateral way. As we move our feet on each note, we use our shoulders and hips to create a gentle tension with our partner.  Here again, it’s not your feet that do not do the work, but more the other parts of the body aforementioned. 

traditional salsa cuban style steps. Lateral moves

To go to the left the man starts with the right foot while the lady uses the right. After one or two basic steps have been executed, the partners do the same motion but in the opposite direction.

5.4. Fourth salsa step

basic salsa cuban style step for man

On this move, the first step is done behind the supporting leg (1) with the left leg behind the right for man (and the opposite for woman). On the beat number 5, we do the same movement with the opposite leg.  Very good exercise to learn to isolate parts of your body, so that you feel confident when you dance.

basic salsa cuban style step for woman

5.5. The elementary of salsa Cuban style moves

This move is what you are likely to encounter in most salsa dance classes. This basic salsa move request that you take a move forward as your partner moves backward. Then as she moves forward you move backward. For ladies, the motion is the opposite. Indeed, you move backward as the man moves forward, then advance forward as he moves backward.

Elementary salsa cuban style step for men

Elementary salsa cuban style step for men

6. Putting all the moves together

We can now start to play with the moves and put them in order as we see fit and how logic dictates. For example, we can start with move1 and 5 followed by 2 and 3 then 4. 
The benefit of this exercise is that it trains you to coordinate moves that you learn in a dance pattern. One of the key problems with students, is they tend to forget the steps they learned in the studio once they go out dancing. It is normal as you need to practice often. With this exercise, you also learn to organise moves together, since you are unlikely to learn every move at once. It’s also a great way to remember them.

Discover new, untapped materials

Be the first one to check-out all the exciting info I put out on Salsa, Zumba, Bachata and other afro-Cuban dances. I have many thrilling programs that will transform and challenge you. These life-changing and great VIP programs can take you from novice to master in less than 3 months. They are badass and will definitely introduce new muscles to your body.

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