Cuban Salsa couple in china

The Best Guide to Salsa Cuban Style

1. Origins

Salsa Cuban style is kind of a misnomer in that the appellation was made to categorise the dance style so that it could be identified outside of Cuba. In fact, the dance is really called casino and originated in the mid 1950’s before salsa. Futhermore, It involved groups of couples who danced together in circle, forming an everlasting “roulette”, like in a casino. It also descended from Son dancing. Finally, what we would call salsa Cuban style today, involves different types of dances such as son, rumba, chango and many others. That’s why it is hard to find two professional dancers doing “Cuban salsa” the same way.  

1.1. Part of the country’s identity

Another aspect of “Cuban salsa” is that it’s part of the country’s culture. Unlike other types of salsa (even if casino is not really salsa), they do not pervade every aspects of one’s life, while Cuban salsa, like other forms of dances in that country, are integral parts of what define the people. For that reason, passionate people should learn more about Cuban dance and not just one type. In doing so, you will discover that race, migration, tragedy or social classes ; are very well represented by the different cuban dances and their own origins. 

1.2. Type of dances that define Salsa Cuban Style?

Cuban salsa takes from a wide variety of dances. Some of them are listed below.

– Son:

This dance is relatively slow, follow the clave strongly and involves couples. The circular motion of this dance is strongly present in Cuban salsa. It relies heavily on the clave as one of its key instruments.

– Rumba:

This is the Afro-Cuban style of dance that has become the flagship of Cuba. Originally, it was confined to lower class citizen of the country and dark skin people. It can de danced alone (Columbia) or with a couple (Guaguanco, Yambu), depending on the form. When practiced solo, it’s all about showing your dance skills. The point is to display your talents and quick wit. If it involves a partner, like guaguanco or Yambu, the male try by all means to “steal” the lady with constant attacks disguised by dance moves.

– Other types:

      🔵 Chachacha: a syncopated style of dance

     🔵 Danzon: thought to be the originators of son and later on salsa

2. Difference with NY style

The key difference with other types of salsa lies in the fact that it’s not really salsa. That’s why many students who are not verse in the Afro-Cuban culture tend to brush it aside for the stylishly New York or LA styles. However, what these students fail to understand is that Cuban salsa is way richer because, unlike the other ones, it does not try to trim down on movements, but rather incorporate as much of them as possible. That’s why dancers of salsa Cuban style have a a wide array of skills to play with. Which ultimately means they have more answers to the ever-changing tempo of Cuban music. 

2.1. Other differences

Cuban Salsa also differs in the fact that it is danced in circular and spacious fashion rather than in line. It involves a lot of body variation, like going down on your leg muscles or using big arms and head movements. In some way, dancers of other forms of salsa tend to kick the spirit out of a move and only keep or extend the aesthetic part. As a result, that can lead to dancers not really developing a real sense of rhythm for any kind of dances. and that’s a reason why many dancers of other types of salsa tend to repeat endlessly the same moves no matter the song they dance to. 

3. Why salsa Cuban style is unique

The key reason why this style is different is because it integrates so many different cultures, origins and dance forms together. As such it’s almost impossible to characterise a Cuban salsa dancer. Each one of them has his own unique way of expressing him/herself. Some might delve more into African roots with dance patterns that goes back to centuries. For example, a dancer will display moves that are typical to Chango or Abakua which have their origins directly in Africa. Others might be more inclined to use dance forms that are closer to Son, Mambo etc… Even inside a lyric, a band can change from a pure salsa form and enter a traditional African rhythm. Check-out this song from Timba live for example.

4. Rhythm of salsa Cuban style

The rhythm of Cuban salsa follows the drum and clave.
This instrument is very important for many Cuban music categories such as rumba, salsa or son. Therefore, dancers are instructed at a young age to follow the clave in order to match their movements with the beats of the song. However, there are few types of clave rhythm such as Son and Rumba clave, so a bit of training is needed. The dancer can adapt his dance style as the music commands it. So, it pays to know all these different rhythm of that instrument. Still; the most important clave beat to know is the Rumba 3/2. Generally speaking, on a basic Cuban salsa step there are 2 measures of 4 beats each. The clave will be heard 5 times on these 8 beats. The dancer must pay special attention to the first beat of the clave as it allows to identify the looping patterns of a song. Once you have identified where these strokes happen, you can then dance accurately to the song you listen to. 

Clave rhythm to dance salsa cuban style

5. Important steps of Cuban salsa dance

5.1. Train your ears

As we just saw, practicioners need to know how to recognise the clave when they dance. Once you are very confident identifying this instrument, you can incorporate the other ones, and dance the way you like. For example, I like to completely forget this clave rule and choose other instruments when I get into a trance. The reason I can do that is because I know I can find the clave back whenever I want. It happens almost subconsciously. However, to achieve this state you must develop a good hearing for the clave, since it is connected to our feet and steps. Therefore, you should train endlessly for many months in order to achieve a good level. I help you out with this with my 5level of clave hearing program that is completely free

– Listen to music incrementally

Another key aspect to get good hearing is to know what music you should listen to. In my post, I go over the best types of songs to listen to, according to the level where you are at. For example, if you are a beginner and watch my level 1 earing video, I suggest to listen to rumba because it uses the clave and only a few other instruments. This is great because you can train you ears, start doing some great salsa steps and sink body movements into your dance skills (see paragraph below).

5.2. Educate your body

Another aspect of salsa Cuban style is body movement. I mentioned that afro-Cuban dances are really essential in casino dance (or Cuban salsa to make it easy). Afro-Cuban movements are very powerful, with dances such as Chango, Abakua or Rumba. They express many things such as tribute to gods, prayer etc. When you execute these movements, your body can feel this power, and that’s why many people just stick to the “plastic” side of the dance, rather than try a full immersion. 
In order to master Cuban Salsa, you must therefore develop body movements. By the way, what I define as body movements, is a set of motions where you have total control over what you ask your body to execute. 

– Assess your level

You might think “I already have control over my body”. I will then ask you to do the following: Stand straight in front of a mirror and try to move your right shoulder in one direction, while making sure your left one and other parts of your body do not move (or move as little as possible). Not that easy. 
I have developed a free video that can help you with that first stage. This video not only teaches you how to isolate parts of your body, it can serve as a great warm-up for many physical activities.

5 Essential steps of salsa Cuban style

In order to learn Cuban Salsa properly, you should learn the very basic steps very well. From then, you can add-up more complicated movements. If you fail to learn the strong foundation (and how to be on beat with the music), you will suffer tremendous amount of frustration in the future. Indeed, you will always be lost when a song is played. In order to avoid this, use the steps and repeat them until you get the pattern right. I have developed a 5-level ear training program that not only helps you with the clave, but also introduce these very steps in a functional way. First, I introduce you to this instrument on rumba music, then on more salsa songs to finish on a lyrics where you will not hear the clave but have to guess where it should be. Along with these instructions I also demonstrates the basic salsa steps so you can apply them yourself. 

6.1. Cuban Rumba step

Move number 1

– How to

Simultaneously you need to use your hips to:
–       shift your weight on one leg
–       bend
–       use your opposite arm and shoulder blade to create a perfect balance
Then come back to centre. On the second measure of the basic step you do the same motion with the opposite leg.

6.2. 1st Cuban salsa move that borrows from Son

This is a very effective step to train your ears and feet to match the rhythm of the clave. I absolutely love it, and beginners and professionals alike use this step often. Actually, only dancers with a certain knowledge of rhythm know how to use it. Sometimes a salsa song can take a turn that is similar to son. In that case the dancer adapts his dance form to the music. It’s a very simple step, but many people struggle with it. One the the key reason is because they are too attached to common forward and backward salsa steps and their brains tend to shut down at the prospect of something different. Therefore, it’s better to learn it earlier rather than later.
As the man moves forward, the woman goes back. At the end of the steps she can move forward and the man goes back.  

Move number 2

6.3. Third Cuban salsa style step

In order to train our feet and ear coordination, we will still use another popular son move. In fact it’s the same as the one mentioned above. Only that this time we use lateral moves. Men and woman move in the same direction.  The man starts with his left leg while the lady uses her right one. There is therefore a perfect mirror match in the movement. The partners need to be close to each other as your hips and shoulders do most of the coordination.

Move number 3

Cuban Salsa moves that borrow from Son

6.4. A classic of Salsa Cuban style

On the first beat both partners move backward; then go to the centre on (3). On the 5th beat, standing mainly on the opposite leg, they use the palm of their hands to gently push their partner away from each other.

Move number 4

A classic of salsa Cuban style

This move is generally use to initiate turn patterns.

6.5. Salsa Cuban style can be simple:

Move number 5

basic standing in place movement that follow the rumba clave. Excellent for salsa cuban style.

This step is similar to the rumba move we described earlier. It uses less efforts and is really about enjoying the music while on beat. You do not move much, but use the pressure on the balls of your feet to gently shift weight on the counts of 1 and 5. The hips and shoulders do most of the work. This move is better if both partners are close to each other; as it’s really about enjoying your time when you dance. 

7. 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.

8. I have more to offer

Don’t forget to check-out all the info I put out on salsa and other afro-Cuban dances. I have many programs that will make your gym seems useless. From dancing with salsa, Zumba, bachata to strength and conditioning and flexibility; my programs cover all areas. They have been created with dance as their core and I added programs that fit the purpose of becoming a strong and flexible dancer. Some of these programs will definitely introduce you to new muscles in your body.

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