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 is danced on music with a recurring eight-beat pattern, i.e. two bars of four beats. Salsa patterns typically use three steps during each four beats, one beat being skipped. However, this skipped beat is often marked by a tap, a kick, a flick, etc. 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, i.e., 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 do the Salsa in solo mode.


Salsa music is a fusion of traditional African and Cuban and other Latin-American rhythms that traveled from the islands (Cuba and Puerto Rico) to New York during the migration, somewhere between the 1940s and the 1970s, depending on where one puts the boundary between “real” salsa and its predecessors. There is debate as to whether Salsa originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico. Then again, it is a debate, and there is the possibility that it could have originated in both places or only one. Salsa is one of the main dances in both Cuba and Puerto Rico and is known world-wide. The dance steps currently being danced to salsa music come from the Cuban son, but were influenced by many other Cuban dances such as Mambo, Chá, Guaracha, Changuí, Lukumí, Palo Montel, Rumba, Yambú, Abakuá, Comparsa and some times even Mozambique. It also integrates swing dances. There are no strict rules of how salsa should be danced, although one can distinguish a number of styles, which are discussed below.


The basic movement occurring in the dance patterns of the various salsa styles is the stepping on the beat of the music. Salsa is best grouped in pairs of 4-beat patterns counted “1-2-3-…-5-6-7-…”. The leader starts on count 1 by stepping with the left foot. On count 2 and 3, they step with right and left, respectively. On count 4, the lead pauses or makes an optional tap with the right foot. On counts 5, 6, and 7, they step with right, left, and right, respectively, again followed by a pause on count 8. As a standard, every step must be taken with full weight transfer. The follower part is identical, but with left and right reversed. In all patterns and styles, the leader starts with the left foot and the follower starts with the right foot.

Basic Step

The term “basic step” normally refers to a forward-backward motion. On counts 1, 2, and 3, the leader steps forward, replaces, and steps backward. On count 5, 6, and 7, they step backwards, replace, and step forward again. The follower does the same, but with forward and backward reversed, so that the couple goes back and forth as a unit. This basic step is part of many other patterns. For example, the leader may dance the basic step while leading the follower to do an underarm turn.

The following variants of the Basic step may be used, often called breaks.

Forward break: Starting from either foot, step Forward, Replace, In-place, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7.

Back break: Starting from either foot, step Backward, Replace, In-place, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7.

Side break: Starting from either foot, step Sideways, Replace, In-place, counting 1,2,3 or 5,6,7.

On One and On Two

Salsa danced according to the above description is called Salsa on One, or briefly, “On One”, because it starts on the first count of the 8-beat rhythm. If the first step (with the left foot) occurs on count 2 or 6, it is called “On Two”. This Basic Step pattern and timing are known also as “Power 2”, “Palladium 2” or “Ballroom Mambo” style. This creates a distinction from another step pattern known as “NY Style 2” or “Eddie Torres Style”.

Some consider dancing “On Two” to work more closely to the clave rhythm, the most basic 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. In short it’s a matter of personal preference which counting to use, and most people prefer the counting of the style they were taught first when they began dancing salsa.

Salsa styles

There are many characteristics that may identify a style. There may be different step patterns, different timing of steps, particular movement on the dance floor (eg:slot, circular), dancer preference of turns and moves, attitude and others. The presence of one or more of particular elements does not necessarily define a particular style. For example, many styles can be danced “On One” or one style may be danced “On One” or “On Two”. The following are brief descriptions of major “recognizable” styles.

Cuban style

The original Salsa style, as considered by most, which has been developing in Cuba since the 1950’s. Cuban-style salsa can be danced either “on one” or “a contratiempo” —the latter is often referred to as “on two”. An essential element is the “cuba step” (also known as Guapea), where the leader does a backward basic on 1-2-3 and a forward basic on 5-6-7. The follower does the same, thereby mirroring the leader’s movement. Another characteristic of this style is that in many patterns the leader and follower circle around each other.

The cross body lead is an essential step in this style too and is referred to as Dile que no. This move becomes essential in the more complex derivative of Cuban Casino leading to the many moves of Rueda, or wheel dance. Here multiple couples exchange partners and carry out moves syncronised by a caller.

Colombian style

This style is common in Latin-American countries. The leader and follower do most of the movements while standing in place. It stems from the Cuban style. As such in many patterns the leader and follower turn around each other, although not as much as in the Cuban style; in fact, in several parts of Colombia, salsa is danced with very limited or no turns at all.

Los Angeles style

Developed in recent years (some say between 1999 and 2002), this is a style of salsa much influenced by Hollywood and by the swing & mambo dances, thus being the most flashy style, which is considered “more show than dance” by many. The two essential elements of this dance are the forward/backward basic as described above, and the cross-body lead. In this pattern, the leader steps forward on 1, steps to the right on 2-3 while turning 90 degrees counter-clockwise (facing to the left). The follower then steps forward on 5-6, and turns on 7-8, while the leader makes another 90 degrees counter-clockwise. After these 8 counts, the leader and follower have exchanged their positions.

New York style or Eddie Torres style

The “NY Style” is a combination of the “On 1” and “On 2” systems. The timing of the steps are on the 1-2-3,5-6-7 as in “On 1” but the breaks (where the body changes direction) occur on the 2 and 6 as in “On 2”. NY instructor Eddie Torres developed this step pattern around the late 70’s and the 80’s and its definition is quite clear since he is still alive and his followers are keen to keep the style intact. This is their description of the step: Description of “On Two” on There are many “socials” in NYC or nightclubs that dedicate on playing only mambo or salsa.

Power 2 / Palladium 2 / Ballroom Mambo

This style is similar to Los-Angeles style, but it is danced “On Two”. The basic step timing is 2-3-4,6-7-8 with the breaks on 2 and 6.

It is important to note that although this style is also known as dancing “En Clave”, the name is not implying that the step timing should follow the rhythm of the Clave as in 2-3 or 3-2. It only means that you take the first step (and break) on the second beat of the measure.

On Clave

This does indeed follow the 2-3 or 3-2 pattern of the clave, e.g. for the 2-3 clave the leader steps forward with the left on 2 and with the right on 3, then does the other 4 steps of the basic on 5-8 (syncronizing with the clave on 5 and 8). It’s a traditional form and it’s less known/used outside some Latin countries.

Puerto Rican style

This style can be danced as “On One” or “On Two”. If danced as “On Two”, it is always danced on count 2, and not on count 6 as in Ladies-style NY. There is a Salsa Congress in Puerto Rico where salsa groups all around the world attend and perform.

Rueda style

Main article: Rueda de Casino. In the 1950s Salsa Rueda (Rueda de Casino) was developed in Havana, Cuba. Pairs of dancers form a circle (Rueda in Spanish), with dance moves called out by one person. Many of the moves involve rapidly swapping partners.


Normally Salsa is a partner dance, danced in a handhold. However advanced dancers always include shines, which are basically “show-offs” and involve fancy footwork and body actions, danced in separation. They are supposed to be improvisational breaks, but there are a huge number of “standard” shines. Also, they fit best during the mambo sections of the tune, but they may be danced whenever the dancers feel appropriate. They are a good recovery trick when the connection or beat is lost during a complicated move, or simply to catch the breath. One possible origin of the name shine is attributed to the period when non-latin tap-dancers would frequent Latin clubs in New York in the 1950’s. In tap, when an individual dancer would perform a solo freestyle move, it was considered their “moment to shine”. On seeing Salsa dancers perform similar moves the name was transposed and eventually stuck, leading to these moves being called ‘shines’.

This article was referenced from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia