Salsa is a dance for Salsa music created by Spanish-speaking people from the Caribbean and their immigrant communities in the US. Salsa dancing mixes African and European dance influences through the music and dance fusions that are the roots of Salsa: Son, Guaguancó, Rumba, Boogaloo, Pachanga, Guaracha, Plena, Bomba.
Salsa is normally a partner dance, although there are recognized solo forms, line dancing (suelta), and Rueda de Casino where groups of couples exchange partners in a circle. Salsa can be improvised or performed with a set routine.
The name "Salsa" is the Spanish word for sauce, connoting (in American Spanish) a spicy flavor. Salsa also suggests a "mixture" of ingredients, though this meaning is not found in most stories of the term's origin. (See Salsa music for more information.)
The history of "Salsa" dance is peppered with hearsay and contradiction. Although few would disagree that the music and dance forms originate largely in Cuban Son, most agree that Salsa as we know it today is a North American interpretation of the older forms. New York's Latino community had a vibrant musical and dancing scene throughout the '50s but found limited success with the 'Anglo' mainstream. In the 1970s, adoption of the term "Salsa" reduced the linguistic and cultural barriers to mainstream adoption of Latin music and dance.
The modernization of the Mambo in the 1950s was influential in shaping what would become salsa. There is debate as to whether the dance we call Salsa today originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico. Cuba's influence in North America was diminished after Castro's revolution and the ensuing trade embargo. New York's Latino community was largely Puerto-Rican. Salsa is one of the main dances in both Cuba and Puerto Rico and is known worldwide.
Origin of the salsa steps
The dance steps currently being danced to salsa music come from the son, but were influenced by many other Cuban dances such as Mambo, Cha cha cha, Guaracha, Changüí, Palo Monte, Rumba, Abakuá, Comparsa and sometimes even Mozambique. Solo salsa steps are called "Shines", a term taken from Tap dancing. It also integrates swing steps. Salsa can be a heavily improvised dance.
Dancing Salsa in MexicoThe basic step of all styles of salsa involves 3 weight changes (or steps) in each 4 beat measure. The beat without a weight change might contain a tap, kick, or pause. One of the steps is a "break step" a little bit longer than the other two. Different styles of Salsa are often differentiated by the direction and timing of the break step ("on 1" or "on 2" for example). After 6 weight changes in 8 beats, the basic step cycle is complete. While dancing, the basic step can be modified significantly as part of the improvisation and stylings of the dancers.
As a salsa dancer changes weight the upper body remains level and nearly unaffected by the weight changes. Caught in the middle are the hips which end up moving quite a bit--the famous "Cuban hip movement."
The arms are used to communicate the lead in either open or closed position. In open position the two dancers hold one or both hands, especially for moves that involve turns, or putting arms behind the back, or moving around each other. In closed position, the leader puts the right hand on the follower's back, while the follower puts the left hand on the leader's shoulder. In some styles, the dancers remain in a slot (switching places), while in others the dancers circle around each other.
Music suitable for dancing ranges from slow at about 100 beats per minute (bpm) to its fastest at around 140 beats per minute (bpm), although most dancing is done to music somewhere between 80-120 bpm. Every Salsa composition involves complex African percussion based around the Clave Rhythm (which has 4 types), though there can be moments when the clave is hidden for a while, often when quoting Changüí or Bomba.
The key instrument that provides the core groove of a salsa song is the conga drum. The conga drummer slaps (high pitch) on the 2nd beat of each measure and strikes twice with an open tone (often on a 2nd lower pitched conga) on the 4th beat (see salsa music). Every instrument in a Salsa band is either playing with the clave (generally: congas, timbales, piano, tres guitar, bongos, claves (instrument), strings) or playing independent of the clave rhythm (generally: bass, maracas, güiro, cowbell). Melodic components of the music and dancers can choose to be in clave or out of clave at any point. However it is taboo to play or dance to the wrong type of clave rhythm (see salsa music). While dancers can mark the clave rhythm directly, it is more common to do so indirectly (with, for example, a shoulder movement).
Incorporating styling techniques into salsa has become very common. For both men and women shines, leg work, arm work, body movement, spins, body isolations, shoulder shimmies and rolls, and even hand styling have become a huge trend in the salsa scene. Hip hop, jazz, flamenco, belly dancing, ballroom, bboy, popping and locking, Afro Cuban folkloric dances (orisha for example), and Bhangra are all possible in the art of styling. In Cuba, footwork is called "pasillero."
Since salsa has its roots in so many dances and is open to improvisation, salsa styles are very fluid. Dance styles are associated with their original geographic area that developed that style. There are often devotees of each of these styles outside of their home territory (except Cali style). Characteristics that may identify a style include: foot patterns, body rolls and movements, turns and figures, attitude, dance influences, and the way that partners hold each other. The point in a musical bar music where a slightly larger step is taken (the break step) and the direction the step moves can often be used to identify a style.