A Guide to Almost Everything You Need to Know About Salsa Dancing
Salsa Dancing is fun, energetic, inclusive and helps with social skills, confidence and literally changes lives. Many students have made lifelong friendships and partnerships through Salsa dance classes.
Salsa dance opens up a whole new social life, it is hard not to become addicted. Salsa dance is a way of life, you will find yourself a member of a whole new social community, not just a dance school.
The Dance Guru has been teaching Salsa Dance all over the UK for nearly 20 years. Now she brings her wealth of knowledge about the world of Salsa to many people through this website.
In ‘Salsa Dance: A Guide to Almost Everything You Need to Know About Salsa Dancing' we will give you nearly everything you need to know about Salsa Dance.
You might already know some of these things, so you can navigate your way through to later chapters using the quick links below. Throughout our guide you will find links to other articles for further reading in depth on a subject plus helpful links to other resources such as music lists.
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The Dance Guru
In this guide you will find 8 Chapters.
You can click the links below to skip ahead or download the whole guide in PDF format from our FREE Social Dancer Membership area to read later.
Chapter 1: Salsa Dance History
What actually is the meaning of the word Salsa? Well if you Google just ‘salsa’ you are going to get lots of yummy looking recipes for a lovely tomato based dip, great with tortilla chips! So, unless you’ve come here by mistake looking for a new recipe, we’re going to assume you’re looking for lots of juicy details about the world of Salsa Dance.
Since the late 1990s ‘Salsa’ has been used to refer to the widely accepted 8 styles of Salsa dance. But before that, the word ‘Salsa’, coined in the 1960s by the Fania Records production team to promote Latino music to the rest of the non-Latino world, was a loose phrase to describe Latin American music. It included other rhythms such as Cha Cha Cha, Guaguanco, Mambo & Son.
Where did Salsa Dance begin?
Salsa Dance originated from Eastern Cuba and eventually moved across to Havana. It stemmed from the Cuban Contradanz as seen danced in Havana in the early 1910s.
The Contradanz was introduced to Cuba by the ruling Spanish nobles and has its roots in English and French Country Dance. During the slave trade the Spanish nobles brought African slaves to Cuba, and with it came their African rhythms.
The African slaves were forbidden to practice their native African religion ‘Yoruba’, and were supposed to convert to Catholicism. What emerged was actually the Santeria religion, a fusion of the African Orishas (Gods) and the Catholic saints.
Since the slaves were also forbidden from dancing their native dances, many of which worshipped the Yoruba Gods, they would find ways to mimic their masters’ formal dances and sneak in elements of their own African rhythms, whilst still paying tribute to their Orishas, hence a fusion of African & European rhythms and dances began.
Danzon subsequently evolved from the Contradanz as a slow and formal partner dance as seen here, but it was when the faster African syncopated rhythms were added (especially in the 1940s) we saw the emergence of the original Mambo.
The music of the time in Cuba was mainly Son which was a combination of Guaracha, Danzon, Cha Cha, Pachanga, Rumba & Mambo these all combined to be known as ‘Son’.
About Latin Dance
When we talk about Latin dance we are drawn to thinking of ‘Latinos’ or generally people of Spanish speaking decent (Hispanic), but why?
Well first we need to take a look back to around 1492 when the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas and laid claim to it on behalf of the Spanish. Columbus didn’t really ‘discover’ America, plenty of people already lived there and had done for centuries, but what Columbus did do was to pave the way for a massive influx of western Europeans to the Americas which would then go on to colonise the Americas under the Spanish Empire.
So why is this important? Well the Spanish colonization of the Americas began in 1492 with Columbus and they began to expand their territories until it included Central America, South America, Mexico, what is now Southern states of USA and some Western states of USA including up to the South western part of British Columbia in Canada. Spain began losing control of colonies in the 1820s and through the rest of that century.
During Spanish rule many Spanish settlers came, as did the slave trade. The Spanish brought many African slaves to the Americas and along with Spanish culture they brought African cultures. Many history books tell of particularly cruel and barbaric practices by the Spanish.
The Caribbean region of The Americas was particularly important to what is today known as Latino culture. The key Islands that still contribute to the development of Latin Dance are: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic & Haiti (previously joined as the La Hispanola) Jamaica and Panama. At one time these all fell under Spanish rule.
In 1898 the Spanish-American war occurred. This began with America intervening in the Cuban revolt against Spanish rule and ended with the liberation of La Hispanola (Haiti & Dominican Republic) and then Puerto Rico which now comes under American control. After a 10 week war in the Caribbean and Pacific, the Treaty of Paris allowed the US temporary control of Cuba and laid the way for US ownership of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine Islands with a $20 million ($602,320,000 in today’s money) pay out by the US government to the Spanish government. Thus, the Spanish Empire was no more. Other Caribbean Islands remain independent today, whilst some are governed by countries such as Frances, Netherlands, UK, USA & Columbia.
Although the Spanish rulers were gone, their culture wasn’t. The Spanish left behind whole Spanish speaking nations, newly freed slaves and a population widely converted to Christianity and Catholicism.
After La Hispanola gained Independence many Spanish nobles and their newly freed slaves emigrated to Cuba, which is why there is a large population of Haitians in Cuba.
There is always a reflection of the political and economical situation of a country in popular culture, such as music, singing and dancing. Music gives an outlet for expressing attitudes towards oppression, poverty, freedom or whatever the general populous is experiencing at the time.
So, to understand the term ‘Latin Dance’ we are talking about dance originating from Latino or Hispanic cultures. We really need to look at each of the Hispanic cultures, country by country and explore the dances that have originated from each one such as
Cuba, Puerto Rico, Columbia, the USA, Dominican Republic, Argentina and Jamaica.
The Great Exodus
During the 1930s to 1970s many people were either displaced from their home countries through Political upheaval or war. A number of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Mexicans chose to make their way to various locations in the USA and took their music and dance with them. Many were very poor and often ended up in the poorest neighbourhoods of their adopted cities. In New York especially, many settled in the ‘barrios’, especially ‘El Barrio’ in East Harlem where most Puerto Ricans settled.
Latin Music gains popularity in mainstream American culture
The 1930 song ‘El Manisero’ (The Peanut Vendor) introduced US audiences to Cuban dance music and also started a Rumba craze which lasted in the o 1940s although the song is not technically Rumba. It became one of the biggest selling Cuban hits in history. Band leader Don Azpiazu combined Cuban musicians and American singers in order to popularise his music.
The 1940s saw Carmen Miranda go from stage to film and she appeared in many musicals as an exotic Latin singer and dancer.
The 1951 hit TV series ‘I love Lucy’ featured a character called Ricky Ricardo (played by Desi Arnaz) as a New York based latin band leader. Ricky’s co-star was Lucille Ball (his wife) who played Lucy. The show was loosely based on their marriage as a Mexican / American partnership which saw the funny side in the meeting of the 2 cultures. The Song ‘Cuban Pete’ from the show was a big hit, along with many others from the show. At the advent of the Television era this was bringing Latin music into the homes of many Americans.
The 1950s saw American Jazz musicians influencing Son music with the additions of horns, trumpets and bass. Many 1950s films began featuring Latin numbers and Cuban musicians were travelling from Havana to play in the music halls of New York. At the same time many US citizens experienced Cuban music when visiting Havana.
The Cuban Embargo and the 1960s
In 1959 when Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba things began to change, and many more Cubans emigrated to New York. However, many Cubans were forced to choose between either staying in Cuba or leaving Cuba for good when the Cuban embargo of 1961 cut off travel two way travel between the 2 countries, and many would never be able to return home again.
In the USA the 1960s saw Charanga ensembles (Cuban dance music bands) adding in strings and flutes to their arrangements; younger Barrio (Puerto Rican) musicians were influences by Rhythm and Blues and Boogaloo was born. Boogaloo followed the same rhythm as traditional Cha Cha as popularised by Enrique Jorrin but incorporated the new sounds of Disco and Hustle.
In the Dominican Republic Merengue was popular, whilst Columbia had Cumbia and Puerto Rico had Plena & Jibaro.
The huge game changer was the founding of Fania Records by Johnny Pachero and Jerry Masucci in New York in 1964. This gave all Latin artists and opportunity to be represented formally by a Latin record label, in the 1970s Fania went from strength to strength and around this time Afro-Cuban music which was really Son became more widely known as Salsa and the dance styles were starting to emerge and evolve in different regions.
Some of the most famous Fania artists were Bobby Valentin, Celia Cruz, Charlie Palmieri, Cheo Feliciano, Eddie Palmieri, Hector Lavoe, Ismail Rivera, Joe Cuba, Johnny Colon, Johnny Pacheco, Lebron Brothers, Machito, Orchestra Harlow, Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodriguez, Ray Barretto, Ruben Blades, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez and Willie Colon to name but a few of the legends!
These artists have been responsible for the incredible range of Salsa Music across the decades.
You can check out The Dance Guru's list of 100 Top Salsa Dance Tracks here.
As the 1980s approached a newer style of Salsa music was developing known as Salsa Romantica, it emerged as a ‘smoother’ form of Salsa music and was popular in Latino and non Latino communities alike. In the 1990s American pop artists of Latino heritage were responsible for bringing Salsa – like beats into a more commercial pop music arrangement. Often sang in English, to appeal to a wider global audience they received much criticism from Latino artists but also helped to promote Latin American music further afield.
Artists such as Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin are among this movement.
Want to hear some modern, commercial tracks?
You can checkout our list of 20 Top Commercial Salsa Tracks here.
As the Cuban Salsa scene developed in isolation in Cuba after 1963, similarly the Columbian Salsa scene took its own path. It’s reported that a DJ made the mistake of playing a Salsa song at 45 rpm on a record player instead of 33 rpm and dancers sped up to accommodate this mistake. This seemed to please the audience and a newer, faster, style of Salsa music began to develop with Columbian Salsa musicians.
Just as Fania records in New York helped develop the Puerto Rican and Cuban artists, the Discos Fuentes Record label founded by Antonia Fuentes in 1934 helped immortalise Columbian Salsa artists.
Some of the most famous Columbian Salsa artists are Joe Arroyo, Sonora Caruseles, LA 33, Grupo Gale, Grupo Niche, Fruko y sus Tesos, and The Latin Brothers. Adapting music from Son, Rumba, Bolero, Cha Cha, Mambo and Pachanga and being in a Latin American country these artists were free to develop Salsa music as they wished.
The strong beats of Columbian Salsa music leads dancers more naturally to dance on the ‘1’. Traditional Columbian Salsa and Cali Style Salsa (which developed in the capital city of Cali) are quite different.
Salsa in Columbia also had fierce competition from its distant cousin ‘Cumbia’. Cumbia is a slower, folk dance with its origins as a courtship dance and since the 1940s it really spread amongst the South American countries such as Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venzuela.
Cali-Style Salsa also saw off competition from Pachanga, another style of Salsa introduced to Columbia around 1957.
The traditional national dance of Chile is La Cueca. However, many Chileans were forced into exile across the Caribbean islands and other South American countries during the era of General Pinochet. Upon returning to Chile they brought the Salsa music and Salsa dance back to Chile and it is especially popular in Santiago.
In Chile, Salsa is often danced ‘El Ladrillo’ style. The direct translation is ‘the brick’ meaning to dance in a very small space, as the dancehalls were so crowded you could hardly move. It also has another more political meaning as at the time of Pinochet the economic advisors from Chicago University prepared a document for Pinochet which was nicknamed ‘El Ladrillo’, ‘the brick’. Another reflection of political issues in the music and dance culture.
Chapter 2: Types of Salsa Dance
Essentially Salsa dance is a combination of Afro-Cuban, Son, Cha Cha Cha & Mambo all mixed together. There are now distinctive styles of Salsa where each style has been made popular by either a famous salsa dancer or the area or region from which it is most danced.
Salsa Dance was born out of the Mambo which was hugely popular in the USA in the 1950s. However, in Cuba, from 1961 onwards because of the Cuban embargo Salsa was developing entirely differently.
The original Mambo dance was faster and less rigid than Danzon. Perez Prado was the main purveyor of Mambo and when he moved from Havana to Mexico he took it with him, pioneering the original Mambo movement in the 1950s.
Mambo still however did not have any real form or structure, (including a lack of any break step) and therefore when introduced to the wider USA populous it became apparent it needed to be ‘translated’ for the wider social and Ballroom dancing audience of the time and given structure and basic steps!
In the 1950s the New York dance hall the ‘Palladium’ hosted dances for all nationalities where ‘Mambo’ was the craze, everyone went to the Palladium to dance Mambo! Nowadays we refer to this as the ‘Palladium Era’.
Take a look at Eddie Torres and Robyn Lobe appearing in a show in the 1980s demonstrating Mambo in the style of the Palladium Era
In the film Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze’s character can be seen dancing a version of the Mambo in the scene ‘Johnny’s Mambo’ which was set around 1950.
In the late 1960s and 1970s George Vascones promoted the new Mambo dance in New York, and later he was followed by Eddie Torres and Angel Rodriquez of Razzm’Tazz Mambo Dance Company who were mainly 2nd generation Puerto Ricans living in New York.
They each had their own interpretation of the Salsa Dance Rhythm and hence different styles of Salsa emerged including Mambo On2, Nightclub Style (Eddie Torres Style) and further afield LA Style. All these styles have their origins in Mambo.
The difference from the original Mambo to the new Mambo On2 was the introduction of the break step by Eddie Torres in the 1970s whereby the Leader steps back their Right Foot on 2 and the Follower steps forward on their Left Foot forward on 2.
Steps are taken on beats 2,3,5 and 6,7,1. When dancing Eddie Torres Style On2, dancers are stepping on the same time steps as LA Style which steps 1,2,3 and 5,6,7, just in different directions.
Eddie Torres breaks down his Salsa count in this short video on how to dance On2 Eddie Torres style:
Angel Rodriquez of Razz MTazz Dance Company also introduced his own style of On2 which has the Leader stepping forward on their left foot on 2 and the follower steps back on their Right Foot on 2. Steps are then taken on beats 2,3,4 and 6,7,8.
Here’s an old video of Angel and his dance Company from circa 1995:
Eddie Torres said that when developing his style he was listening to certain instruments in the music, especially the Tumbao. He is often seen describing the rhythm of the Tumbao as ‘Con con pa’ with the ‘pa’ happening on the 2 and 6 and therefore guiding the break steps to the 2 and 6.
Types of Salsa
Especially well-known types of Salsa are New York Style (Eddie Torres), LA Style, Puerto Rican On2 (not New York On2), Afro- Cuban, Casino or Cuban Style, Cali and Miami. So Salsa Dance as we know it today consists of 8 key styles of Salsa:
New York Style (Eddie Torres On2)
Casino or Cuban Style
Let's take a close look at the characteristics of each style of Salsa.
1) New York Style Salsa (Eddie Torres, On2)
The New York Style or Eddie Torres Style or Nightclub Style Salsa as it is often known, is characterised by the Tumbao rhythm played on the Conga drum. Dancers are listening for the ‘pah’ sound on the 2 and 6.
Leaders will step back on their right foot on 2 and Followers will step forward on their left foot on 2. New York style has been described as being more rhythmic than other styles as it is following the pattern of the drums rather than On1 style which is following the Bass or the melodies.
New York style is Linear and danced in a ‘slot’, it is almost more compact than other styles, with dancers staying closer together. There is a lot of emphasis on footwork in New York style, dancers will often separate from each other and dance ‘shines’, which are individual footwork patterns.
Eddie Torres combines Broadway theatricality and some ballroom terminology with Rumba (Afro Rumba) styling, it leverages the momentum of the dancers and emphasises intricate turns and spins. Above all, Eddie Torres added structure and teaching methods, which has helped to spread this style all over the world.
2) Puerto Rican Style Salsa
Puerto Rican style Salsa is derived from Cuba, but Puerto Ricans already had their own music of Plena and Bomba. Plena told of daily events and news whilst ‘musica caliente’ told of Puerto Rican struggles in New York, and Bomba with its aggressive Afro-Caribbean beat was used by El Barrio artists to express their frustrations with life in New York.
Derived from ‘Danza’ which was created in Puerto Rico around 1840, Puerto Rican Salsa has emphasis on lines & elegance in partner work, often opening up further away from the partner than in New York style.
It can be danced On1 or On2, but when danced On2 the Leader tends to break forward rather than the Follower as in New York Style.
In later years Puerto Rican artists moved towards ‘musica romantica’ which was smoother, helping with the dancers showing elegance in their moves. Puerto Rican style really showcases the Follower or female dancer, the partner work is slightly less complicated than New York style which allows emphasis on styling and creating beautiful lines and travelling combinations. Ladies tend to use very flamboyant arm movements.
A key figure in Puerto Rican Salsa was Felipe Polanco who emphasised a unique 5 beat basic based on the 2 / 3 Clave rhythm, it involves sliding forward and back to hit the accents of the Clave.
Nowadays it is hard to see Puerto Rican style in its purest form and it is often confused with New York Style, but here is Felipe Polanco and Denise Denaro demonstrating the beautiful lines and gracefulness of Puerto Rican style.
3) LA Style Salsa
LA (Los Angeles) Style developed more along the West coast of the USA, predominantly in LA but it reached a real height in the early 2000s after a Salsa competition was held in Club Mayan in L.A.
Danced On1 and based around Columbian style, it adds in strong Ballroom Latin lines, tricks, lifts, jazz & hip hop moves. With the help of the internet it spread quickly to Europe in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It also incorporates Swing, Tango and Hustle with high energy moves, acrobatics and a real staccato sharpness to the styling.
Some of the early pioneers of L.A. Style were Albert Torres, Laura Canellias, The Vasquez Brothers, Los Rumberos and Salsa Brava.
Here’s a clip of Johnny Vasquez and Caroline Cerisola performing in Club Mayan in 2001, from here LA Style Salsa really took a hold. Since then Johnny has taught all around the world showing how LA Style can be fast, furious and at the same time sensual and expressive with slower pieces. It really is captivating to watch.
You can checkout more about L.A. Style Salsa with The Dance Guru here.
4) Afro-Cuban Salsa
This is most popular in Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico & other Caribbean islands. It has lots of upper body movement and fast arm changes. The Leader uses his body movement to ‘flirt’ with the Follower a lot more than in other styles.
The music emphasises words from African languages and often uses specific African instruments not heard in other Salsa music. There are lots of upper body movements, shimmies, rolls, body isolations and wild arm gestures.
Some specific Afro-Latino movements pay tribute to the Orishas such as Eleggua, Yemaya, Oya, Chango, Oggun, Ochosi, Oshun and Obatala. In the Afro-Cuban Salsa music the Orishas are mentioned frequently and the strong beats of the African drums can be heard.
5) Cuban Style Salsa 'Casino'
The original rhythm of dancing ‘Casino’ style is that no step is take on the 1st and 5th beats, thus originally being danced ‘On3’ and more widely in other non-Caribbean parts of the world ‘On1’.
Casino dancers are spontaneous and use elements of all the dances through time that have given birth to the modern dance, it truly is a ‘freestyle’ dance as you never know what is coming next. It is also danced with a more flat foot and bare foot as often Cubans were too poor to afford shoes, and further back this stems from the Slaves being bare-foot.
Here’s a video of Nelvis and Noel from Baila Habana dancing Cuban Salsa
Additionally there is a group form of Cuban salsa dance known as Rueda de Casino where couples dance as a group with a caller shouting out the moves. It’s a fast paced and energetic party dance if you can keep up!
6) Colombian Style Salsa
Traditional Colombian style Salsa originates from North Columbia and is rooted in the Cumbia dance. The distinctive sound of the accordion can usually be heard in Cumbia music. The Cumbia dance is danced side by side and is still popular in nightclubs, especially further afield in Mexico.
The Colombian style Salsa has taps on 4 and 8, with circular style open breaks and side breaks, there is no forward and back (Mambo step). It has very little turn patterns and partners stay close in hold. It isn’t fast or ‘showy’ and there isn’t much shift in body weight, the upper body stays reasonably still.
It is also counted in bars of 4, like the music is written, not in the dancer’s measure of 8 counts as other styles. It is mainly danced On1 but occasionally On3.
7) Cali Style Salsa
Cali Style Salsa originates from Cali, Columbia where everyone dances salsa!!
The traditional style Columbian salsa with the taps on 4 and 8 is sped up to include a triple step in between the normal forward and back motion of the Mambo step (on the 3&4 and the 7&8).
It is usually danced On1, however in some variations it can be danced with the Leader On3 and the Follower On1 which makes teaching Cali style incredibly difficult.
Taking elements from Pachanga & Boogaloo, Cali-style is fast and furious with extra flick & tap steps and lots of acrobatics. It combines precision, speed, twists, taps, boogaloo, rock n roll, mambo and swing. There are several Basic steps, not just one, there is no Cross body Lead and multiple steps can be danced across each beat.
The focus is on fast and furious footwork, lifts, dips and tricks. There are actually very few turn patterns, which is why the International social Salsa scenes do not really dance Cali style. It lends itself to show and competition dancers. It’s highly competitive with dancers flooding from all around the world to compete in Cali competitions.
Many dance schools were setup in Cali to keep kids off the streets and the result has been the export of some of the most incredible fast-footed Salsa dancers the world has ever seen.
2007 World Salsa Champions Nilson and Deisy show us here just how fast and furious Cali style Salsa can be.
8) Miami Style Casino Salsa
When Cuban immigrants went to Florida and a large population grew around Miami, they brought with them Cuban Casino, but they incorporated American culture, adding in American influenced moves. The main difference between Miami-style Casino and Cuban casino is the diagonal back step.
Other dances related to Salsa dance
Chapter 3: Salsa Music (Salsa Musica)
What is Salsa Music?
In Chapter 1 we discussed how Salsa music and Salsa music artists developed Salsa over time from the merging of many rhythms such as Guaracha, Danzon, Cha Cha, Pachanga, Rumba & Mambo and these all combined to be known as ‘Son’.
After Fania records took the word ‘Salsa’ to promote Latin music, which in the 1970s included Son, Boogaloo, Cha Cha and Pachanga, the words ‘Salsa music’ have come to really described the music to which most dancers actually dance Salsa dance to.
Understanding the Salsa Rhythm
The Salsa Rhythm is one of the most difficult arrangements to understand. The traditional Salsa band comprised of 2 main arrangements, either a ‘Son Conjunto’ or a ‘Charanga Conjunto’. The Son Conjunto focused on the addition of Horns whilst the Charanga Conjunto focussed on the addition of Strings. Both however have Congas, Bass and Piano and the Clave as well as many other instruments.
Each percussion instrument has its own traditional Rhythm that you would hear in the Salsa music, whilst other instruments were free to explore the melody and add other flavours to the music.
The one instrument that binds all the instruments together is the Clave. Traditional played by 2 wooden sticks being struck together, this African rhythm generally has 4 types (2 Son and 2 Rumba Clave rhythms). Of these, the 2 Son clave rhythms are most commonly used in the Salsa music, the 2-3 and 3-2 clave.
Most traditional Salsa songs follow the ‘son montuno’ of a verse followed by a ‘coro-pregon’ which is a ‘call and response’.
Once you understand the basic principles of the rhythms of the Clave, cowbell, Montuno and Tumbao you will be able to train your ears accordingly.
Checkout this excellent post in Wikipedia for a great explanation of how Salsa music is constructed.
Salsa music for beginners
Salsa music can be particularly difficult for the Beginner Salsa dancer to get to terms with. Understanding the structure of the music in Salsa is important for all budding Salseros, especially the leaders. Being able to find the '1' is important for all styles of dance, no matter what beat you actually intend starting on, if you can't find it and keep it you lose the fluidity of the dance, your partner will also find it very difficult to follow your lead.
The ‘Salsa Beat Machine’ is a great online tool (that can also be downloaded to a PC / Iphone / Android phone) that breaks down each musical instrument in a salsa band. You can change the volume of the instruments individually so that you can hear the essential instruments separately.
Here’s a Salsa timing track, taken from the Salsa Beat Machine that has the singer counting the 1,2,3 and 5,6,7 over the top of the Clave and Piano rhythms:
Music4Dancers by Don Baarns
Musician Don Baarns has some excellent articles and tools aimed at dancers to help them find the beats in the music. His ‘Music4Dancers’ is a Youtube channel where he presents a methodology for understanding the technical make up of Salsa and more importantly how to find the '1' beat. It doesn’t matter what style of Salsa you are learning, if you can find the ‘1’ then it will lead you to the ‘2’ or ‘3’ of whatever beat it is you are looking for.
Chapter 4: How to Learn to Salsa Dance
Find a great Salsa Teacher
Finding a great Salsa teacher or Salsa Instructor is not easy. First you need to see who is available to you locally, or within easy travelling distance. Then you need to ask what style they are teaching. If you don’t have a preference which style you learn first, checkout reviews from other students or ask for local recommendations.
Remember the best Salsa dancers that look fancy on the dance floor are not always the best teachers. You need clear instruction with breakdown of techniques, not just a routine.
Make sure your Salsa Teacher is explaining core techniques, the name of moves, the arm / body and foot movements.
Take Salsa classes
As a social dance, Salsa has often been taught through ‘drop in’ classes where you will just pay on the day for that class. If you don’t go the next week you don’t pay anything. Salsa classes are often just before a night of Social Dancing and the class may be included for free before the social dancing starts.
It’s always best to read the advertising material you have found for a Salsa dance class and if in any doubt contact the Salsa teacher or Salsa promoter for the event.
Some teachers offer a course of classes for say 6 or 8 weeks in which everyone starts at the same time and there is an agreed learning plan. This can be more effective as everyone is starting together and moving at the same pace. However if you miss a week you may fall too far behind to continue, the Salsa teacher will expect you to attend every week of the course.
The best thing to do is start with a Google search. Ask Google for ‘Salsa Dance classes near me’ and see what comes up.
Go to a Salsa bootcamp
Salsa Bootcamps are often ½ day, 1 day or 2 day workshops where you will spend a period of quality time under intense instruction, often with a smaller class size. This way the Salsa instructor is able to pay more attention to each dancer.
These can appear more expensive initially but spending a longer, intensive period of time learning in 1 go can make a dramatic improvement to your dancing very quickly. You may choose to attend a Beginners Salsa Bootcamp in order to kick start your Salsa dancing journey, and then attend weekly classes afterwards.
Learn to dance Salsa Online
If you cannot get to a regular local class, or classes are logistically too far away from your location or your schedule doesn’t fit with taking a class in person, then another way is to learn Salsa online through online classes.
Whilst learning Salsa online may never be a replacement for in-person dance classes with a group of other Salseros, it can certainly be a start.
Learning at home can give you a feeling of security. You can have a chance to master the basic steps of Salsa in the privacy of your own home and then go on to find a Salsa dance class locally when you’re ready.
You don’t need a partner to learn the basic steps of Salsa. You can access a number of resources online, especially Youtube. However there is a lot of poor quality information out there so be careful.
When choosing a Salsa dance programme online you need to choose a programme that’s easy to follow at home. Whilst Youtube has a wealth of free resources you don’t really know what to look for, videos are randomly uploaded without a logical order.
As Salsa dance teachers ourselves, we are very aware about the lack of quality and consistency across Youtube videos. There are however a few teachers that we personally support and feel that their teaching and breakdown methods are clear for students.
For Salsa On2 checkout Krambo Dance
For New York Style Salsa checkout Joel Salsa
For LA Style Salsa checkout Addicted2Salsa
The Dance Guru Recommended Online Salsa Courses
Here at The Dance Guru HQ we have created partnerships for learning to dance Salsa with some top International Instructors.
You can learn to Salsa Dance Online with 9 times World Salsa Champion Oliver Pineda, who specialises in On2 style.
If you prefer the look of New York Style then you can enrol in Joel Dominguez’s Beginners Salsa Bootcamp. A great introduction to learning Salsa online.
And coming soon will be the complete guide to LA Style Salsa, direct from us at The Dance Guru HQ
How to learn to dance Salsa faster
Learning to dance Salsa is like learning a new language. You would not be able to start having a fluent conversation if you hadn’t learnt the vocabulary, the grammar and the rules of how to build a sentence.
Salsa is the same, you must learn your basics, learn the rules, learn about leading and following principles and master these at the basic level before you move on. You must have the basic building blocks in order to learn faster.
Marcin from Krambo Dance explains this beautifully in ‘Learn Salsa a lot Faster!’
We also recommend learning in strict order: Beginners, Improvers, Intermediate and Advanced, never jump up to the next level before completely mastering the level below.
To truly accomplish a level, every move and technique should feel easy, natural and be executed with good frame, posture and timing.
Chapter 5: Salsa dance Steps
Salsa Steps Names
Each style of Salsa has different ‘moves’, ‘steps’ or ‘turn patterns’ which you will learn with a partner. Many Salsa dance moves have names which you will learn from your Salsa Instructor.
Since Salsa is a street dance, a number of Salsa dance moves are non-standardised. Each style of Salsa (New York, LA Style, On2, Cuban etc) will have its’ own list of salsa moves.
Salsa moves range from Beginners, Improver, Intermediate and Advanced. It is not just about learning a combination of moves but really learning core basic Beginners' techniques and building on them as your Salsa knowledge expands
Mambo Basic (Forward and Back Step)
The Mambo Basic is the key basic or default step for Cross Body dancers. It's the first step you will do when you get to the dancefloor with your partner.
If you want to know the timing differences between the Basic mambo (forward and back) step in LA Style, New York Style, and Razz MTazz Style then checkout these step pattern diagrams which set out where the Leader would step on each count of the music on each foot.
Beginner Salsa Dance Steps - Cross Body Style
Here is a quick list of basic Beginner Salsa Dance Terminology and Salsa Dance steps you are likely to be introduced to when dancing Cross Body Style Salsa (Cross Body Style is the group term for the LA, Puerto Rican and New York style as they are danced across the body in a strict slot format):
Cross Body Lead
Cross Body Lead Inside Turn
Cross Body Lead Outside Turn
Cross Body Lead Walkthrough
Cross Body Lead Check
If you’re a complete Beginner and can’t wait to get started, then checkout this ‘Salsa Dancing for Beginners’ video from Addicted2Salsa. It covers the key basics of LA Style On1 as follows:
1:07 Basics Steps On1 Timing (although this is taught from the Leader or Man’s perspective) (Ladies will do the same step but on different timing)
3:20 Dancing with a Partner
4:17 Salsa Right Turn On1
5:17 Leading a Right Turn in Salsa Dancing
6:05 The Cross Body Lead
7:48 Cross Body Lead - Side Angle
8:10 Leading a Cross Body Lead
8:50 Cross Body Lead with Turn
9:12 Shanay Turns in Salsa
10:08 Cross Body Lead with Turn Steps
11:02 Cross Body Lead with Turn in Partnerwork
11:37 Cross Body Lead 180
Improver Salsa Dance Steps - Cross Body Style
Here is a quick list of Improver Salsa dance terminology and Salsa dance moves you will discover in Cross Body Styles:
Back to Back Position
Beginner Salsa Dance Steps - Cuban Style
Here is a quick list of Improver Salsa dance terminology and Salsa dance moves you will discover in Cuban Salsa:
Dile que si
Dile que no
Vacilala & Pimienta
And as you progress to Improver you might discover these:
Cero, Cero Doble
El Uno (Cubanita)
El Dos (Cubanito)
El Doce (12) (Cubanita & Cubanito)
La Prima con la hermana, La Familia
Also a number of moves in the Setenta (70) family e.g. Setenta, Setenta y uno, Setenta y dos etc
A great way to learn how to dance salsa alone is to practice Salsa shines. Essentially Salsa shines are dancing Salsa on your own. In a Salsa dance with a partner the Leader will identify certain points in the music that lend themselves more to dancing shines alone that continuing with the partnerwork patterns. The Leader will let go of the Follower and each will dance their own footwork.
Learning Salsa shines helps the Salsero to listen to the music and keep ‘on time’ with the music. Salsa musicality is the most important part of Salsa dancing. It is no good knowing Salsa steps but not being able to execute them ‘on time’.
Salsa shines often use all 8 counts of the measure, and some even use the half beats in between each core count, so you have up to 16 times that you can place your feet!!
Beginner Salsa Footwork (Shines)
Take a look at Marcin from Krambo Dance explaining his 5 Salsa Basic steps .
Marcin is explaining these steps in the On2 style (where the break forward step is happening on 2). But the principal of using Quick Quick Slow and stepping on all the different beats is the same in On1 style too.
Examples of Basic Beginners Shines are:
Side Basic (side Rumba)
Cumbia Basic (crossing behind)
Crossing side basic
V Mambo (Mambo to the corners)
4 Forward steps on core beats
Tap step on the spot
Improver Salsa Footwork (Shines)
When you get more competent with your footwork you might move on to Improver level and increase the complexity of your shines. For example:
Half left, half right
Suzy Q travelling for 7 counts
Bow ties (double tap step)
Around the world
Mambo flare on 7
Do not get caught up worrying about whether you are dancing On1 or On2. Both styles have the dancers stepping on the 1,2,3 and 5,6,7 counts, each style is just stepping in different places on those counts when in the Basic mambo (forward and back) step. When you start doing footwork and shines, it doesn’t matter, you’re going to use all these counts in all directions.
Take a look at this video of Eddie Torres (Mambo King and pioneer of New York Style On2) and Johnny Vasquez (Prince of LA Style On1) showing the same Salsa shine footwork.
The actual shines themselves don’t change, the only thing that changes is the direction of the Mambo step once the dancer comes back to dance the Mambo Basic.
The Salsero has to remember to step forward on either 1 or 2 depending on which timing they are listening to.
Chapter 6: What to wear for Salsa Dancing
So you’ve decided to go for a Salsa lesson and now you’re wondering what you should wear? If you’re taking a Salsa lesson for just an hour or 90 mins in a dance studio or a community hall and there is no social dancing afterwards then you probably want to wear something comfortable.
Remember Salsa dance is a physical activity, you are going to get hot and sweaty, just like going to the gym.
Salsa outfits for men
Salsa outfits men would wear are generally jeans, chinos or linen trousers (depending on how hot your climate is) and a T shirt or short sleeved shirt.
Salsa outfits for ladies
Salsa dresses and Salsa skirts can be worn by ladies, but generally ladies will wear leggings or skinny fit jeans. You need to be able to move freely and open your legs without restriction, plus you need to keep your modesty and not have your underwear on show! Tight dresses and salsa skirts should be worn with caution and always with a pair of shorts or hot pants underneath. When you are spun around remember a dress or skirt may rise up and expose your underneath.
Salsa dresses and Salsa dance costumes
Salsa dresses and Salsa dance costumes are generally only worn for Salsa competitions or Salsa shows, not for normal classes or general social dancing.
Remember to take a change of clothes, deodorant and a small towel to remove excess perspiration, nobody wants to dance with a sweaty dancer.
Chapter 7: Salsa Dance Shoes
I’m a Beginner, do I really need dance shoes?
Let’s talk about shoes. Why should you invest in shoes when you’ve only just started?
Well actually, for the first few lessons don’t worry about hurrying out to buy new shoes. Just wear something soft (so you don’t hurt your dance partners’ feet) and something comfortable which is not too grippy and not too slippery and is secure on your foot.
Most Salsa classes are held in nightclubs or community centres so you should be fine in a street shoe. However, if your class is being held in a proper dance studio with a sprung dance floor they may actually ban street shoes in the studio, so it’s best to call ahead and check.
Which dance shoes should I buy?
The choice of dance shoes is immense. The best advice is to find something that will not grip to the floor but equally does not slide so much that you will slip over, something that will stay on your foot and not slip off, something that is flexible so that you can move your foot with ease and something light so that if you step on someone else’s foot it reduces the damage that you do.
Jazz Shoes for Salsa Dancing
Once you’ve completed a Beginner course, we hope you’ll book another one.
Then it’s time to get thinking about dance shoes. Our first recommendation is a pair of Jazz shoes.
These are just one option for your dancing needs and will depend on how much or little support you feel you need. Jazz shoes don't have much support, not like a dance sneaker, but they do help you feel in contact with the floor more, allowing you to spread the weight over the ball of the foot.
There are several styles of Jazz shoes, with full or split soles and rubber or suede soles. We recommend a suede sole with a rubber heel (split or full sole is fine).
A split suede sole, (not the rubber sole) is best for Salsa dancing (rubber is more grippy and we use that in other dance styles). Don’t forget you cannot wear a suede sole outside in the street, you must change into these once you are at the dance studio, and never get the soles wet.
Aren’t Jazz shoes just for male Salsa dancers?
We actually recommend ladies to have a pair of jazz shoes for practice sessions and dance workshops when you don't want to be in your dance heels the whole time.
When men start Salsa dancing they will probably be wearing hard outdoor shoes which hurt when you tread on the ladies' toes, so getting a pair of Jazz shoes is a must have affordable option for your salsa dancing feet in our opinion!
Latin Dance Shoes for Ladies
Latin dance shoes for ladies come in many styles, shapes and heel heights. This can be very confusing for the new lady Salsa dancer. So, how do Ladies choose the right type of Latin dance shoe? In our comprehensive guide on this subject we show Ladies how to determine the correct height of Latin dance shoe based on their foot length, we help Ladies with how to choose the right shape, style and height of Latin shoe for the EXACT type of Latin dance they are doing.
We get nearly all our Latin & Ballroom dance shoes from 1 supplier. They are based in China but have been trading on the internet for years. They make shoes in sizes that we can’t get from the UK dance shoe suppliers.
Terrier Playnet Shop on Ebay have ready to wear shoes on eBay, which means they are dispatched very quickly as they are ‘IN STOCK’:
If you want to customise the shoe by changing the heel height or width of the shoe, then you go to their main website. You can either pay in Dollars through the American version or Euro through their European site, both links are below.
When you choose a custom shoe, it takes a little longer to receive. The website states 4 to 6 weeks, but we have never waited over 4 weeks ourselves.
Please consider their sizing chart, they give the length of the shoe in cm. Please stand on a piece of paper, drawer a line where your big toe end and your heel sticks out and measure with a ruler, then match this up against the corresponding size chart.
In high heels, most ladies will come down a size against their true street shoe size, however in a closed toe shoe you may need to order the same size as your street shoe size.
The most expensive pairs of shoes, once you’ve included postage and packing, are still only around £32. Compared to going into a high street dance shoe shop where you will pay around £90 - £120 per pair we think this is good value, especially for the Beginner Salserso.
Mens Salsa Shoes
A shoe that men can wear all the time (and for ladies can wear for practice shoes) is a canvas trainer / pump by Taygra. These are a Brazilian style casual canvas trainer which have a sole which slides nicely for dancing.
We at The Dance Guru also wear these as a casual street shoe because they are so comfortable. They are also an ethically run company and we recommend reading the ‘About Us’ section whilst you’re on their website.
We order our normal street size shoe for Taygra’s, although our Lady dancers have a slim foot, we know that sometimes men go up a size if they have a wide foot but check out their sizing guide to be sure.
They can be found online here:
Choosing a dance shoe that’s right for you
Remember the style of dance shoe is personal not only to how your feet feel in it but also what style of dance you will be doing. Different styles of dance can require different styles of shoes.
If you are going to a class once a week it won’t matter as much if you wear the same shoe; but if you are going to 4 or 5 classes a week and dancing all night at socials, you need to look after your feet and treat them to the right shoes for the occasion.
Going too high or too low in heel height can both be painful, as can not having enough support underneath your arch, especially if you don’t have naturally strong arches.
Chapter 8: The Etiquette of Salsa Dance
Your local salsa Scene
When you first start learning to dance socially, there is always an etiquette of your social dancing scene. Now this can vary slightly from city to city and indeed country to country, so it's always best to ask a longer standing member of the social dance scene for advice.
The new Salsa Dancer (Salsero)
Our advice is specifically about the social salsa / bachata / kizomba dance scene in the UK. Here are a few tips for the new Social Dancer:
Always ask as many people to dance as possible in the practice session. Men and Ladies CAN ask each other.
NEVER say no to a dance, it can really knock someone’s confidence to be told no. Only say no if there is a genuine risk of injury by dancing with that person
Do not dance repeatedly with the same partner, usually 1 Salsa and 1 Bachata with someone is considered the etiquette per night.
Try to ask people from levels above and below you. You will learn a lot from people above you and you will be able to help people below you…we all had to start somewhere.
Wear soft dance shoes
Make sure you wear soft soled shoes that slip easily on the floor. Invest in a pair of dance shoes as early as possible (suede soled). Men especially should not wear hard outdoor leather shoes that can seriously hurt a lady if you tread on her toes. If you don’t have dance shoes yet please wear something soft.
Personal hygiene whilst Salsa dancing
Please be aware of your personal hygiene. Dancing will make you perspire, that can’t be avoided. However, you should bring deodorant and spare T shirts / Tops to change into throughout the night. You can also use a flannel or small hand towel to deal with excess perspiration. No-one wants to dance with a very sweaty person!
Breath freshener, mints and clean teeth are a must. Try not to eat a particularly strong-smelling food before you come dancing, especially garlic, it’s not pleasant for your fellow dancers!
How to get asked for a dance
If you are waiting for a dance, wait on the edge of the dance floor standing up, look ready to be grabbed and taken on the floor. Generally, if you are not wanting to dance or you’re taking a break, you should sit down away from the dance floor. If you are sat down all night and don’t get a dance, don’t complain. The general etiquette is to wait by standing close to the side of the dance floor.
How to ask for a dance
Be friendly, approach someone with a smile and try to make eye contact. Hold out your hand gently and ask if they would like to dance. Do not just march up to someone and grab them by the wrist and pull them to the dance floor. You wouldn’t do that in the street, so don’t do it in the social dance environment.
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