Whether you're new to salsa dancing or a long-time devotee, you may not be familiar with all the subtleties of the form's different styles. Here are seven essential facts you need to know about New York salsa style, known to aficionados as "On 2."
1. Salsa was born in New York City, as many say
Latin immigrants in New York
Dance aficionados claim that New York Style salsa is the original style of salsa, as the term and the dance were coined in the Big Apple. While salsa has its roots in many types of dance, such as rhumba, cumbia, guaracha and merengue, it didn't come together until the influx of Latin and Caribbean immigrants in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970 mixed bits and pieces of these other ballroom and club dances into a new form. The term "salsa" is thought to have come from the "sauce" made by all these different styles, and the connotation of the heat of chili pepper-based salsa definitely speaks to its flavor as well.
2. Salsa Music is as much an art as salsa dance, and New York style favors "salsa dura."
Young Tito Puente playing conga drums
Salsa isn't just a latin dance form; the music that salsa is danced to is an art of its own. New York style salsa is usually "salsa dura," a type of salsa that features fast tempos and long instrumental solos, versus "salsa romantica," which is more languid and full of lyrical passages. New York style salsa, in particular, takes its cues from the rhythm of the music rather than the melody, and percussion instruments such as the clave and conga drums are what dancers listen for on the floor. The first NY salsa bands were predominantly "Nuyorican" (New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent) or Puerto Ricans who moved to New York. Most notable bands and performers include Tito Puente and Ray Barretto.
3. New York dances salsa "On 2"
You may often hear New York Salsa referred to as "On 2" dancing. This is because dancers in this style accent steps on beats two and six of a two-measure phrase with a 4:4 time signature. The lead dancer steps back on beat two, while the follower steps forward, unlike many other dance styles. When you watch New York style salsa being performed, it should look similar to the basic mambo step.
4. NY style salsa is identified by its fluidity and linear patterns.
Once you see different styles of salsa performed, you'll start to notice the variations between them. New York style salsa has an elegant, flowing look to it, and it is less percussive in the movement quality than other styles like LA salsa. It is also danced in a "slotted" or linear layout, as opposed to circular patterns you might see in Cuba or Colombia. Dancers tend to hold their space on the floor more tightly than in other locales, perhaps due to the limited size of the clubs in which New York style was first danced.
5. Women "shine" on a dance floor in NY-style salsa
New York style salsa uses more spins and turns than other styles too, which gives the dancers a lot of momentum going into the following moves. A classic element of New York style salsa is the "shine," a part of the dance sequence in which the partners separate and each perform their own solos or the same steps next to each other. Unlike Miami and Cuban styles, where the man's dancing is highlighted, New York salsa offers more of a showcase for the female partner, whose steps may be quite sensual.
6. The most famous "On 2" NY salsa dancer is Eddie Torres
One of the reasons New York style salsa is so popular today is due to its 1970s mentor Eddie Torres. Known as "The Mambo King," Torres was one of the earliest salsa dancers, embracing it in the 1960s and taking up teaching it in the 1970s. He is largely responsible for proliferating the "On 2" style that is practiced today, and he still teaches and performs around the world.
7. New York style salsa has a global following
New York style salsa isn't just danced in New York. You can find this salsa style all over the world, but it is most predominant on the east coast of the US and in Mexico, Europe, Japan and Korea.
One thing you may appreciate is that salsa dancers are as loyal as sports fans to their own style of dance and are equally vocal about it. If you find yourself a New York style lover, expect to face some stiff competition from folks who follow other styles, and be ready to prove why New York style is the best when you hit the dance floor! And be sure to check out our NYC Salsa Dancing Calendar for all upcoming salsa events in the Big Apple.