Couple dancing salsa

What Is The Best Salsa Style For You

1. What are the most common salsa styles?

3 salsa styles are very popular across the world. There is Los Angeles salsa style which is called salsa on1. The other one is New York salsa, referred to as Salsa on 2. Finally, you have Cuban salsa which is more of a brainchild of Son, chachacha, rumba and many other dance styles from Cuba. But before we go into the different salsa styles, we need to review how to find the rhythm in a salsa song. Indeed, that will dictate the way you dance that song, and therefore if your style is close to, say, NY or LA or Cuban. One of the key instruments which allow a dancer to find the beat in a salsa song is the clave (the conga being another one). 

1.1. How to recognise the clave

A salsa song is a succession of “loops” that keep repeating itself. Each loop is made of two measures. And each measure has 4 beats. When you hear a salsa teacher say 1,2,3-5,6,7 he/she is referring to the beats in this loop.
There are 2 ways to play the clave. Either the 2/3 or 3/2. The clave 3/2 is one of the most popular one in salsa. Therefore, we will study this one. The numbers 3/2 mean the number of times you will hear the clave on these two measure units we just talked about. Therefore, you will hear the clave 5 times. 3 times on the first measure and twice on the second. Check out this video below to learn how to recognise the clave.

Salsa timing

Clave patterns for salsa timing
Clave for cuban rumba dance

2. New York Salsa

Timing for New York Salsa style

Salsa as we know it originated from New York following the migration of Latin American people in the 50’s and the advent of popular Latin groups such as Fania All Stars. The roots of New York salsa go back to the many Latina American dance styles such as Mambo. While transferring to US this mambo changed to fit the American audience. At the beginning the dance style was confusing for dancers since they would have different ways of dancing therefore sowing misunderstanding. That was until dancers like Eddie Torres came on the scene and took this street dance into the studio and created a system. That system is what is refered to as Salsa on 2.   

2.1. Why is it called Salsa on 2?

The reason New York salsa is referred to as salsa on 2 is because the second beat of a basic salsa steps is where the dancer breaks. For a dancer, a typical “pattern” of a salsa song is made out of 2 measures of 4 beats each. This is what I referred to as a typical basic salsa step. As you can see on the picture, for a man, he will “break” with his right foot on the back, while for a lady it will be on her left forward. 

Basic steps of New York style salsa. For men and women.

3. Los Angeles Salsa Style on 1

Tempo of Los Angeles salsa style

The salsa style known as salsa on1 originated from Los Angeles and is a linear dance (as opposed to Cuban salsa). There is a cleaner feel to this dance style as partner evolves in regulated patterns. As you can see from the picture, the dancer breaks on the first beat. For the man it will be the left leg, for lady the right one. In both New York and Los Angeles salsa, the rhythm is more like a see-saw motion, where the lady goes back when the man moves forward and vice versa. Of course, the more skilled a dancer becomes the more varied the motions. Still the principle of these styles of salsa is anchored into the basic steps described. It therefore pays to understand the patterns.

3.1. Why is it called Salsa on 1?

As you can guess the name stems from the fact the dancer steps his lead leg on the 1st beat of the basic salsa step pattern. The image across illustrates perfectly how it is danced. This basic step is fundamental in understanding the whole system of salsa on1. It’s from this basic step that you initiate turns, change of rhythm etc…

Los Angeles salsa style: basic dance steps for men and women

4. Cuban Salsa Style

Cuban Salsa danced in groups

The salsa style known as Cuban salsa, is really the extension of a traditional Cuban dance style called Casino Rueda. This dance style is performed with many couples who form a circle and create moves according to what the maestro/caller would ask for. For example, if he asks for couples to change partners in one or the other direction, these couples would need to be swift enough to execute the moves. As for what is called Cuban salsa (casino), it’s just the transfer from multi-couple dance to single one. 

4.1. Difference between U.S. salsa styles and Cuban salsa

The key difference between Cuban salsa and the other two enumerated above is its circular motions, use of strong Afro-Cuban dances (such as Rumba or Chango), and its spontaneous nature. While L.A. and N.Y. salsa could be called “studio” salsa, Cuban salsa is more ‘outdoor” salsa. That’s why you might see two Cuban salsa couples executing moves that seems dissimilar from one another. They draw their inspirations from so many dance styles that one dancer might be more keen on “Son” for example, while the other might be stronger in “Rumba”.

4.2. Why is it called Casino?

The name comes from the fact that groups of couples would gather in big dancing halls in Cuba and form a circle. Just like the motion of a roulette wheels they kept this circle moving by executing dance steps a leader would ask them to execute. The key point was to keep the circle moving (clockwise or anticlockwise) while they created beautiful choreographies. As I mentioned previously, casino (Cuban salsa) draws from many dance styles such as Son, Rumba, chachacha etc… Below are some of the most popular basic dance steps of casino. 

Los Angeles salsa style: basic dance steps for men and women

🔵 Basic dance step: Rueda

This dance step is typical of casino and is one of the basis of casino rueda. As couples face each other in circle, they execute some basic steps (on 1 in that case), by breaking back. They use their arms to pull land push each other. They typically execute this move as they await the signal from the leader. 

🔵 Move from Son

Cuban Son dance moves used in Cuban Salsa

This is a couple of other popular basic steps in Cuban salsa (casino). These moves are connected to Son dancing where couples “travel” from one side or the other on a full 8 count (unlike the basic salsa steps of LA and NY where people move in one direction for half of the 8 count).  This is a great move to learn synchronise your feet to the music.

🔵 Another Son move

basic salsa move from Cuban Salsa

This move characterises the whole spirit of Cuban salsa. It’s a rotative move where a couple execute a 360° together. 

You can check the video below for a description of all these salsa moves.

5. Which style to choose from?

When you want to know which salsa style to learn you should keep the following in mind:

▪️ Does any studio provides the salsa style I want to learn?

That might sound obvious but if you have to travel miles to get to a dance studio, you will definitely give-up after a while. That’s what happened to me when I first started to learn salsa. I had to drive about 30 miles from my work to this dance studio and the worse part was all the crazy traffic. At first, I did not realise but this whole thing took a toll on my body. 

▪️ Are there any events where I can meet practitioners?

Since salsa is a social dance, you want to make sure you can practice with enough partners to increase your level. However, if you learn Cuban salsa for example, but the social events are only focused on New York salsa, you might want to learn NY salsa. That salsa style might not be your cup of tea (which is the third point), but you could still benefits from the skills you would gain such as interacting with other dance partners.

▪️ What do I do if I don’t like a salsa style?

Another obvious question, but you’ll be surprised by the number of people who stick to one category and never explore other styles. I started with New York salsa but somehow it did not appeal to me. Therefore, I tried other kinds until I found Cuban salsa. I am grateful for that change because Cuban salsa, in turn, introduced me to the dance types I really like: Contemporary, Chango, Rumba, Abakua, Son etc… all these afro-Cuban dances that my body absolutely answer positively to.

6. Checklist of 7 KEY points to be a great salsa dancer?

Believe or not, for every topic there is a system. Even for salsa. There are things you need to be good at, if you want to dance salsa well. And by well, I don’t just mean show-off your dance skills; but be able to truly feel like you are in another place whenever you dance. I reach that state often; so I know it exists and you can reach it too.

🔵 Understand the beat

You must understand the patterns of instruments such as the clave. Can you at any point in time say where is the 1st beat in a salsa song? Or do you need to listen to it from the very beginning, then count it in your head? Or even worse, you have no clues what are these beats and how to count them? If you want to learn check-out my free 5 level training. I explain why you should start with rumba if you want to understand the beat. Then I show you how you progress in every level.

🔵 Practice regularly

Do you only practice once a week, yet want to perform as well as those you see on the dance floor? With a limited amount of time you will not be able to see much improvements in your salsa game. I suggest at least 3 times a week, with 2 hours for each sessions if you want to see progress. Just think about it: you need to work on listening, body movement, salsa steps, speed and coordination… So once a week won’t cut it for you.

🔵 Do you pay attention to body movement?

In order to be limitless, you must train your body to be “receptive”. That means have a body that is supple enough and use to move according to different rhythm. body movement is one aspect that many people neglect in salsa. Yet some of the same people wonder why they seem to be so stiff even after many years of salsa dancing. Check-out this free body isolation video I made. This is not the body movement I am referring to, but without this part you cannot make your body accept new forms. Therefore, it is part of body movement.

🔵 Do you have a partner in crime?

It might seem obvious that a style of dance for couples requires a dance partner; however, it is not always easy to find the right person. Your partner should be someone that allows for dual work (i.e. you guys work together), as well as independent work. These two parts are important because you might spend a lot of time with your partner, have a good synchronisation with him/her, yet not progress as a dancer. This happens more often than one think. 

🔵 Have you got the right pair of shoes?

Another point that seems obvious…until you start thinking about it seriously. Your office shoes will not do for long. If they are of good quality, dancing often with them will wear them down quickly. On the other hand, if you use your sport shoes you might feel uncomfortable, especially when doing turns. Fortunately, I have listed my top shoes I recommend with an explanation of why and when you need them. For example, the flat shoes might be great for training. But high heels might be more stylish and convenient when you go out or when you perform.

🔵 Choose the style that fits you

I have already mentioned that one previously, but if you are in synch with a salsa style you are more likely to devote efforts and stick to it longer than if that style does not appeal to you. I spend countless of hours dancing Cuban salsa and other afro-Cuban dances because my whole system finds its happiness in these dances.

🔵 Embrace the fact that you will suck at it

Whenever you start learning a new skill you go through a few phases. The first one is excitement. Then comes active participation. Followed by frustration (you put in the time but everything seems clumsy). Then there is the plateau where nothing seems to happen. Finally, there is the spike, where; out of nowhere; the whole thing seems to click and you just leapfrog to another level. The most dangerous phases are the frustrating and plateau phases since these are the places where you are most likely to quit. Remember, if your body is happy doing something you have never done before; chances are that you are doing exactly the same thing that you did before. Just think about driving, learning a new job etc… There was an uncomfortable phase that you had to overcome.

7. 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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