Different Salsa Styles, Types & Vocabulary Different Salsa Styles, Types & Vocabulary

Different Salsa Styles, Types & Vocabulary

story by Danceus Staff for DanceUs.org

There are numerous Salsa styles, moves and types, although the untrained eye may have some difficulty noticing the difference between many of them. Each style stems from the same origin, 'the dances of the countryside.' French and English influences combined to form Contra-Danze first, followed by Danzon. These dance styles were further influenced by the African Rhumbas. Over time, new forms of Salsa were created and have lingered and evolved until the present.




Knowing One Salsa Style from Another

Geography plays a huge role in the varying forms that Salsa takes. For instance, there is the New York Salsa (On2) and Los Angeles Salsa (On1). Both are similar, but upon close inspection, there are noticeable differences. Professionals will also have slightly different styles of Salsa than those who enjoy it in a club. The diversity of each style is most readily spotted through:

  • Timing
  • Basic footwork
  • Musical variations
  • The hold or frame
  • The tone, or attitude, of the dance
  • Overall sensuality portrayed

New York Style Salsa

New York Style Salsa, also known as dancing 'On 2', was made famous by Eddie Torres. More often than not, this is the type of Salsa that professionals will choose in competition. A few of the elements that set this style apart is the body isolations, precise movements and an undeniable elegance. It is commonly referred to simply as 'On 2' because the leaders break forward and back on the second beat.

Commonly, New York Salsa is referred to as Mambo, although this isn't entirely accurate. Mambo always follows the 'On 2' pattern and doesn't encompass the same beat. Rather, New York Salsa closely ties into a specific style of music, and the timing of the dance is based on the bass guitar and the conga drum's tumbao pattern. Dancing with the beat is what New York On 2 Salsa is all about, and as such, there is a very specific type of Salsa music utilized by dancers. Hard Salsa, more formally known as Salsa Dura, highlights strong musicality and a heavy use of percussion. The tempo is normally medium to fast, and the dancers use this to their advantage as they demonstrate complex footwork and intricate body movements.

LA Style Salsa

LA (Los Angeles) Salsa, as opposed to the New York Salsa, is danced 'On 1'. It is an incredibly break-neck speed dance, and is known dancing to the beat of the music. 'On 1' is a high speed, acrobatic Salsa that uses theatrics, a sensual theme and excellent musicality to its advantage. Although it is also tied to Mambo, just as the New York Salsa, the LA Style Salsa also has a huge Swing influence incorporated into its styling.

LA Salsa was popularized through many famous and incredible dancers, including Alex Da Silva. Luis Fransisco and Johnny Vazquez, a trio of dancing brothers, were highly influential in its growth. The complexity of the LA Salsa is something to behold, and coupled with the fast tempo accompaniment, it holds a certain excitement thats a bit contagious.

A Comparison of 'On 1' and 'On 2'

Although there's no doubt that 'On 1' and 'On 2' are different types of salsa dancing, they also have some similarities. Both share holds at the same time; on the four and eight counts. Also, the man leads with his left foot while the lady leads with her right, and they each utilize 123, 567 counts. Thats quite a few similarities for dances that are different, but they are indeed very unique styles.

The major way to tell the New York Salsa apart from the LA Salsa is precisely where and when the gentleman places his first step. 'On 1' is the choice if he takes a forward step on the first beat of music. On the other hand, 'On 2' is chosen when he steps slightly back, or in place, on the first beat. While the two different Salsa styles have other differences, this is the primary defining step that sets them apart.

Choosing which style to learn is a very personal decision, and there isn't a right or wrong answer. Sometimes, the area in which a person resides is the one and only determining factor. However, personal preference for those who have options plays a strong role, as well as the places where the learner enjoys going to dance.

Other Styles of Salsa

There are many other kinds of Salsa that abound. Cuban Salsa and Cumbia are both circular style latin dances, while the New York and LA styles are linear. Palladium is very similar to the LA style, although the dance breaks on the second and sixth beats. Rueda de Casino is a Salsa that is danced as a group with one caller giving all of the other dancers direction.

Colombian Style Salsa (also known as Cumbia) 

Colombian Style Salsa, also commonly referred to as Cumbia, originated in Cali, Columbia. The term Cumbia more accurately describes the type of music that Colombian Salsa is performed to. Although this dance incorporates similar intricate leg and hip movements that mark the Salsa style in general, the top portion of the body is more rigid. Simple, circular turn patterns are followed, and front/back steps are not often incorporated. Rather, back and side to center step patterns are used. Not the showiest of the Salsa dances, Colombian Salsa keeps the partners close, usually touching from head to hip, and has few turns. 

Cali, Colombia boasts itself to be the World Capital of Salsa, and this may well be an accurate declaration. No other city around the globe offers more Salsa classes or competitions than Cali. Within the city, Cumbia Salsa is showier. However, in rural areas, most who regularly perform this dance learned it from close family and friends, and set a tighter, low key feel. 

Puerto Rican Style Salsa

Puerto Rican Style Salsa utilizes clean lines, and may be performed ‘on one’ or ‘on two.’ While the New York Salsa style requires the follower to break on two, in Puerto Rican Salsa, the opposite occurs. Also, it is widely thought that ‘shines’ originated with the Puerto Rican style. These are moments where a soloist performs complex, quick footwork and ‘shines’ individually for the audience. Shimmies are also common Puerto Rican Style moves. 

Cuban Style Salsa

Cuban style Salsa is a somewhat circular dance where partners tend to travel around each other as opposed to other linear Salsa styles. Male dominated, this particular dance requires that the follower have very flexible, limber arms so that she can work with the leader’s push/pull movements. While the arms are the complex part of Cuban Salsa, the footwork is actually quite simple and has few turns. Body isolation and hip movement also define the Cuban Salsa. Dancers usually tap on the 4th and 8th beats, but it isn't uncommon for the Cuban Salsa dancer to simply go with the feeling of the moment and forget the 1 beat when he pleases.

Miami Style Salsa (Classico Cubano, Casino) 

Miami Salsa is referred to by several common titles including Cubano, Classico, and Casino. The Miami Salsa ties back to the Cuban style, but is much more intricate and showy. While the follower in Cuban Salsa is required to have limber arms, the follower in Miami Salsa must demonstrate more complete body flexibility. The moves are complicated and ‘pretzel-like.’ Miami Salsa may be more complex, but still follows the same circular travel pattern as Cuban Salsa, even while incorporating cross body lead variations. Common steps include the Guapea basic with a tap and open breaks.

Casino Rueda Style Salsa (Rueda de Casino, Salsa Rueda)  

Casino Rueda is a playful, fun variation of the Salsa dance. It incorporates many couples dancing in a circular pattern with a ‘caller’ dictating which moves are to come next through hand signals or simply yelling out. Although playful, the Casino Rueda style of Salsa is far from simple. Rather, it features many complicated moves and is stunning to watch as couples often switch partners and perform on command. Callers commonly know up to 300 moves, and dancers must be able to execute them on a whim so that the circle remains unbroken.

This Salsa style began in Havana, Cuba. Its name, when interpreted literally, means ‘Salsa wheel.’ Guaracheros de Regla was the group that originated this style, but it has gained popularity since the 1960’s around the world, and particularly, in Miami.


Salsa Terminology, Salsa Dance Terms, Words & Vocabulary:

  • Adelante: Forward step
  • Al costado: Move to the side
  • Atras: Back step
  • Bailar: Dance
  • Basic: The step pattern, which is forward and back
  • Caida: Literally translated fall. 
  • Compas: Beat of the music
  • Copa: Bringing the follower in and then leading her out
  • Crossed Hold: Partners facing, right hands to left hands
  • Cuadrado: Box step
  • Derecha: Right step
  • Duck: Dancer ‘ducks’ down to cross underneath partner’s arm
  • Embrace: One partner has arms crossed holding both of the other partner’s hands.
  • Enganche: Coupling or hooking
  • Freno: Brake or stop
  • Guapea Basic: Partners push off each other following a break back 
  • Inclinada: Tilting or leaning
  • Izquierda: Left step
  • Latigazo: Whipping; whipping the leg as in a boleo
  • Lento: Slow
  • Normal Closed Hold: Basic hold with the man’s left hand holding the ladies right, arms bent. His right hand is on her waist, and her left hand is on his shoulder
  • Normal Open Hold: Partners facing, right hand to right hand and/or left to left
  • Patada: Kick
  • Shines: A solo movement meant to allow the performer 'to shine'
  • Step Pattern: Counted, "One, two, three, pause, four, five, six"
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