couple dancing with clock ticking

The Best Way To Develop Amazing Salsa Timing

couple dance salsa using rumba moves

Good salsa timing is THE key aspect of salsa dancing. It implies that you have developed strong hearing ability for the music and are able to match this skill with the corresponding steps.

How easy does it sound written like this? But how difficult it is in practice. So difficult in fact that you might just give up and dance however you can. Somehow, you know, or rather your body knows, that you are offbeat; but you feel like you have no choice. It does not need to be that way. If you follow my proposed steps I guarantee that within a matter of weeks you will be able to develop strong salsa timing.  

1. How do you count in salsa music?

Any beginners in salsa must have heard the “acronym” “1,2,3-5,6,7”. It’s so often repeated that many people don’t really know what it means. In essence a salsa song is a continuation of patterns. These patterns are what people call “basic salsa steps”; and they are made of two measures of 4 beats each. Therefore, in one basic salsa steps you will have 2 measures and 8 beats. The reason for such patterns can be traced back to the music styles that made salsa (Son, mambo, chachacha, rumba).

1.1. Illustration

The picture below illustrates the patterns of a salsa song in terms of measures, beats and looping cycles. You will also observe that some of these beats are marked in brown. They represent the rhythm of the clave, which is one of the most important musical instruments for salsa dancers. The sound of that instrument appears 5 times on a basic salsa step cycle. And you want to be able to hear these clave notes since they will guide your dance.

Salsa timing

1.2. Why is clave important to salsa timing?

You might wonder why the clave as a leading instrument for dancers, why not the piano etc.. The reason is that the clave is directly linked with the dancers footsteps. That’s what it was created for. Indeed, in dances like rumba (one of the precursors of salsa) you can see how dancers make sure their steps are aligned with the patterns of the clave. That’s why I recommend anyone who want to develop perfect salsa timing to ditch regular salsa songs for a little while and focus exclusively on rumba. Most salsa songs are polluted with distracting musical instruments which can make you lose your salsa timing. However, in rumba you can focus on the clave since it’s one of the few musical tools of this dance. Then, once you become confident, you can transition to salsa songs. Great salsa dancers have understood and apply that principle.

Clave patterns for salsa timing
Clave for cuban rumba dance

2. How do I count in salsa?

We just saw that the clave was an important instrument of salsa music for dancers and therefore their salsa timing. Although there are different clave timings such as Clave for Son (3/2 and 2/3), we will focus exclusively on the pattern 3/2 for rumba, since this is one of the most common patterns of salsa music.  What these numbers mean is how many times you will hear the clave on a measure unit. For example, 3/2 means that the clave resonates 3 times on the 1st measure and twice on the 2nd measure. Check out the video below I made, that goes into details and illustrate perfectly how you should practice your salsa timing.

3. How do I count salsa on 1?

Salsa timing

Salsa on 1 refers to the salsa dance style that originated from Los Angeles. It just means that the dancer uses the first beat (of the basic salsa step) as his/her rhythmic pattern. Therefore, if we take the illustration we saw on the clave cycles, the dancer would start his basic dance step on the very first beat. Men usually step with their left foot while ladies use their right one. The picture across illustrates one of the most basic salsa steps practiced by Salsa On 1 dancers. You can also check-out my video that shows you the very basic steps to learn salsa on1 (both for ladies and gents).

4. What steps can help me improve my salsa timing

4.1. Basic rumba step

side step for salsa timing

This is in my opinion the best step to help adjust your salsa timing. It’s simple yet many people miss the beats. If you refer to the video that will follow, you can see in practice how it is done. In essence you do only two steps on a full basic salsa step. But you must do these steps on beat. 

4.2. Son move

Son move used in salsa

This is another great dance move to help with your salsa timing. Unlike the previous one, you will do 8 steps during this basic salsa step. It’s a walk forward, backward and sideways move. I love it because you become “notes” when you execute this salsa step. It is also a great training tool for salsa timing.

4.3. Back-steps move

basic salsa dance shuffle backward

With this back move you trick your mind with motions it might not be used to. Therefore, it you can help adjust your timing with your movements.

5. 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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