Salsa is a partner dance form that corresponds to salsa music, however it is sometimes done solo too. The word is the same as the Spanish word salsa meaning sauce, or in this case flavour or style.
According to testimonials from musicologists and historians of music, the name salsa was gradually accepted among dancers throughout various decades. The very first time the word appeared on the radio was a composition by Ignacio Piñeiro, dedicated to an old African man who sold butifarras (a sausage-like product) in Central Road in Matanzas. It is a song titled Échale salsita, wherein the major refrain and chorus goes "Salsaaaaa! échale salsita, échale salsita." During the early 1950s, commentator and DJ "bigote" Escalona announced danceables with the title: "the following rhythm contains Salsa." Finally, the Spanish-speaking population of the New York area baptized Celia Cruz as the "Queen of Salsa."
Salsa music is played in as a recurring eight-beat pattern split into two measures of four beats. The salsa beat is defined by an instrument called the clave which are two wooden sticks hit together in a 2-3 (2 hits in the first measure, and 3 in the second) or 3-2 pattern. Typically the music involves complicated percussion rhythms and is fast with around 180 beats per minute (see salsa music for more).
Salsa is a slot or spot dance. Unlike Foxtrot or Samba, in Salsa a couple does not travel over the dance floor much, but rather occupies a fixed area on the dance floor. In some cases people dance Salsa solo, doing footwork patterns, called shines. Whether dancing with a partner, or solo, Salsa patterns typically use three steps (ie. weight changes) for every four beats, one beat being skipped. However, this skipped beat is often marked by a tap, a kick, a flick, body roll, hip relaxation, etc.
In on-1, or LA-style, Salsa, you count the beats "1-2-3-...-5-6-7-...". The lead starts on count 1 by stepping with the left foot. On count 2 and 3, the lead steps with right then left foot, respectively. On count 4, each dancer can make an optional tap with the right foot or relax the hip. On counts 5, 6, and 7, the lead steps with right, left, then right foot, respectively, again followed by a pause on count 8. Every step is accompanied by a full weight transfer from one foot to the other. The follow has a basic step identical to the lead, but shifted by 4 beats, so that as the lead steps on their left foot, the follow steps with the right foot. In most salsa styles, the lead steps forward on the left foot and the follow steps back on the right foot regardless of the pattern about to be danced.
The Three Steps
There are three main steps that comprise 'on-1' and 'on-2' salsa dancing: The basic step, the under-arm turn, and the cross-body lead.
The term "basic step" normally refers to a forward-backward motion. On counts 1, 2, and 3, the lead does a forward-break, stepping forward on the left, back with the right, and in place with the left. On count 5, 6, and 7, the lead does a back-break stepping backwards on the right, forward with the left, and in place with the right. The follower does the same, but with forward and backward reversed, so that the couple goes back and forth as a unit. The basic step is fundamental to many other patterns.
The following variants of the Basic step may be used, often called breaks.
Forward break: Starting from either foot, step forward, step back, step together, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7.
Back break: Starting from either foot, step back, step forward, step together, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7.
Side break: Starting from either foot, step to the side, step side in the other direction, step together, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7.
The "under-arm turn" involves one or more of the dancers doing a left-hand or right-hand turn during the first or second measures. For example, the leader may dance the basic step while leading the follower to do an underarm turn the partner's right. During the measure preceeding the turn, the lead signals the turn by raising the arm and changing the hand hold. Contrary to common belief, the lead does not turn the partner manually, but only signals the turn. It is the partner's responsibility to turn on the beat and complete the turn in time for the next measure. The lead's signal not only tells the follow a turn is coming, but also if a single or multiple spin is desired. The spin ends when the lead's brings the hand down.
The "cross-body lead" is defined by the two dancers changing places. It normally involves the lead stepping out of the follow's line of dance in the first measure. In the second measure, the follow is led to step past the lead and the lead steps back into the line of dance. At the end of the step, the couple should have switched places.
These three steps, along, with variations, body isolation, and a good partner connection brings salsa to life.
On One and On Two
Salsa danced according to the above description is called On-1 Salsa, or more succinctly, "On-1", because the first step is on beat 1 of the 8-beat pattern. This is by far the most common count used in Europe and North America.
If the break step occurs on count 2 or 6, it is called "On-2". There are three main variants of this:
1. The "Power 2", "Palladium 2" or "Ballroom Mambo" style. The Power 2 basic is simply the On One basic danced one beat later.
2. "New York Style 2" or "Eddie Torres Style". The ET2 basic step starts on beat 6 with the leader breaking forward on the left foot, replacing on 7, and pausing on 8. Then on 1 the left foot steps slightly back, ready for the break step back on the right on 2, and the left replacing on 3. 4 is a pause and 5 is the right foot stepping slightly forwards ready to begin again at 6.
3. "Puerto-Rican 2". This is exactly as the Eddie Torres 2 except the leader breaks forward on 2 not 6.
Power 2 can fit better with commercial "Mambo" music of the 1950s, e.g. Perez Prado.
Eddie Torres Style is so called because it was widely formalized and popularized by Eddie Torres whose clear teaching style and production of instructional videos opened up access to Salsa for many New Yorkers. It is not claimed that he invented the style.
One of the cited advantages of ET2 is that the follow begins her turns on beat one, having been 'prepped' on 6,7,8. This means that a good leader can have the follower hit the crescendos in the music with the more climactic dance moves.
Some consider dancing "On Two" to work more closely to the clave rhythm, the fundamental rhythm of salsa music, as the steps start on the first tick of a 2-3 son clave. However, dancing "On One" hits just as many beats in the clave and hits the first tick if the music is using a 3-2 style son clave.
Dancing on 2 means that the break step synchronises with the accented slap of the Tumbao pattern played on the Conga drum. For this reason it is said to be more punchy and rhythmically oriented, whereas on 1 is more melodically oriented.
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