How to dance salsa puerto rican style

Puerto Rican Dances You Need to Know

Salsa dancers | © jrsnchzhrs/flickr

Kris Pethick

13 January 2018

Watching a Puerto Rican couple on the dance floor is a glorious display as their bodies glide as one to the hot beat of salsa, but while salsa was originated by Puerto Ricans in New York and is the most popular dance, there are others that are just as dazzling.

It is not clear who coined the term “salsa” for this style of dancing, but perhaps it is because it is a blend of many of the dances of Puerto Rico: plena, bomba, cha-cha and mambo, a saucy mixture of a Caribbean sound with a Cuban beat. The dance itself was developed in the mid-’70s by Puerto Ricans in New York. It is believed that the popularity of disco at the time also influenced this dance, as you see glimpses of the Latin Hustle. Salsa is a combination of fast footwork and swaying hips, while the upper body maintains its position. The turns the couple make is what differentiates salsa from mambo.

Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic where it was developed in the late 1700s and came to prominence in the 1800s. It is considered the simplest of the Latin dances to learn as it has relatively easy side-to-side movement, with the man stepping to his left in the “chase step,” and then “dragging” the right leg to meet the left leg. There are differing stories as to how this leg drag came about. One story is that a man with a wooden leg, perhaps a pirate, would dance on the beach to the merengue music, thus dragging his wooden right leg. Another description of the dance step is that it came from the slaves who were chained together by the ankle, thereby creating the necessity of having to drag the right foot. While it may not be as complicated as salsa, the fast beat and staccato horns keep dancers moving.

Danza is a more rigid dance revealing a European influence that has very specific movements and patterns. A lead dancer, usually the best most experienced dancer, dictated the movements and the other dancers followed. There was also a conductor, of sorts, who determined how many dancers there would be for each song. This was around the turn of the 19th century, but in the mid-1800s, an influx of Cuban immigrants brought a new spark to the dance and from that came danza. It is now less structured than the original version.

La Plena began on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, and today is very popular in places like Ponce. The music of plena has a heavy African influence, the instruments being primarily drums and percussion. It is accurately described by the phrase “el periodico contada,” as each song is a living newspaper that tells the story of the working class. When plena is being played, there are no lyrics, but there may be instrumental solos.

Bomba is another music style and dance that came from the slaves in the sugar cane fields of Puerto Rico. Because of this you again hear the influence of Africa in the drums, but in bomba Spanish music is also combined with the music of the Taino culture. A striking difference between bomba and plena is that in bomba, the drummer follows the dancer, rather than the usual practice of the dancer following the musicians. Bomba also tells a story, usually with a lead singer supplying the verses, and everyone else singing the “chorus.” Also in bomba, there will be a pause in the music as people take turns adding a verse, again providing a glimpse of daily life of Puerto Rico.

Compared to bomba, plena and danza, cha-cha is pretty much a newcomer. It was originated in Cuba in the 1950s by composer Enrique Jorrin, who developed the music by the same name. The name of this dance comes from the sound the shoes make on the dance floor. The cha-cha is a spinoff of mambo, the Latin dance of Cuba. In today’s competitions, the dance has become more of a blend of salsa and cha-cha.

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Toronto Dance Salsa - The Different Styles Of Salsa

Colombian Style Salsa (Cumbia) 
Colombian style salsa began in Colombia and is danced to a different type of salsa music called “Cumbia” which is similar to the salsa rhythm but has a longer pause between the first three and the last three beats. It is rare to find a Cumbia instructional class as most people who dance this style were taught by family and friends. The style is still quite popular in South/Latin America and can be distinguished by a circular style of open/side breaks with a tap on the pauses of 4 and 8. Feet never move forward and backwards as in the Mambo step. Instead, the movement is a series of back to centre or side to centre footsteps. The style has very little turn patterns and is generally not a fast or “showy” style. Instead most Cumbia dancers will hold their partner very close with their entire bodies touching from head to toe. If turns are involved, they are generally very simple rock step left turns.

Cuban Style Salsa 
Cuban salsa style is most similar to the original form of salsa rooted in Cuba . It is characterized by Afro Cuban style body movement which includes body isolation and hip movement. Cuban style salsa does not have many fast spins. Instead the movement is very circular as opposed to linear and partners tend to travel around each other. The hip movement is more noticeable in this style and stems from the pumping of the knees. The footwork is quite simple – the complexity lies in the arm work which requires the follower to have limber, flexible arms. Cuban style salsa is considered “male dominated” in the sense that the leader tends to be more showy and will create a greater push/pull feel for the follower then many other styles. Most Cuban style dancers tap on the pauses which are on the 4 th and 8 th beats if the dancers dance on 1. However, Cuban style salsa dancers do not always stay on the 1 beat and tend to stray depending on where the music takes them.

Miami Style Salsa (Classico Cubano, Casino) 
Miami style salsa evolved from the Cuban style of salsa but is a more difficult and technically advanced style of Cuban salsa. Advanced Miami salsa moves tend to be intricate and pretzel-like and require a flexible follower to execute the moves. Many of the Miami moves are the same as Casino Rueda moves and the style is still more circular than linear. Open breaks or the Guapea basic (leader and follower break back and then push off eachother) with a tap are the most common basic steps in Miami style salsa. Cross body lead variations are common but are executed in a more circular fashion.

Casino Rueda Style Salsa (Rueda de Casino, Salsa Rueda) 
Casino Rueda (meaning salsa wheel) is a group dance which originated in Havana , Cuba in the 1960s by a group called Guaracheros de Regla. In this dance, couples dance in a circle while one dancer, designated as “The Caller”, provides hand signals or calls out the moves which will be executed by every couple in the circle simultaneously. Many of the Casino moves involve swapping or switching partners which makes the dance tricky to execute and spectacular to watch. Rueda is very popular in Cuba and Miami and has gained popularity all over the world. Cuban Rueda tends to be more playful with easy-to-follow fun moves while Miami Rueda has many complicated turn patterns and requires memorization and skill to execute. Many callers will know anywhere from 150-300 moves so memory, speed and accuracy is a key to ensuring the circle is not broken. The advantage of learning Casino Rueda is that all moves learned in the Rueda circle can be danced one on one with a partner adding to a dancer’s repertoire of moves.

L.A. Style Salsa (Dancing “On 1”) 
L.A. style salsa, usually danced “On 1”, is a flashier version of New York style salsa moves. Dancers use lots of dips, flips, drops and tricks which make for a great show to watch. The back and forth Mambo basic, again in a linear motion, is utilized with the leader breaking forward on 1. Because the dominating beat is the 1 beat which is the most accented beat in the series, the dancing looks and feels powerful and fast. L.A. style salsa has incorporated many other types of dancing including jazz, hip hop, and ballroom which is challenging for the dancers and entertaining for the viewers. Similar to the New York style salsa, many of the moves are created from cross-body lead variations. Shines are an important component of this type of salsa with complicated, speedy footwork and jazzy moves.

New York Style Salsa (Dancing “On 2”, Mambo Salsa, Eddie Torres Style) 
Salsa on 2, commonly referred to as “Mambo”, is a style of salsa first introduced by Eddie Torres in New York in the 1960s. Technically speaking, dancing “On 2” refers to the beat the dancers break forward on. Followers will break forward with the left foot on the 2 and leaders will break forward on the 6. New York style salsa is distinguished by smooth, controlled, highly technical movements that are elegant, graceful, flow well and are not rushed. The style is very linear and many of the turn patterns evolve from cross body lead variations. Multiple spins, complicated footwork, Afro Cuban body movement and shines are a must. Dancing “On 2” is rhythmically more difficult as it is easier to hear the 1 beat and break on this beat. Many dancers learn to dance “On 1” first and then train “On 2” as they feel it is more musically and rhythmically rich and complex.

Puerto Rican Style Salsa 
Puerto Rican style salsa can be danced “On 1” or “On 2”. If you are dancing Puerto Rican style “On 2” dancing, it is opposite from New York style in the sense that the leader breaks forward on 2 instead of the follower (can be called “On 6”). Some say that shines originated in Puerto Rico as these dancers would break away from their partners and execute extremely fast and complicated solo footwork. The lines are very clean and there is a great deal of shoulder shimmies incorporated into the dancing. There is an emphasis on dancing to the “Clave” especially the 2/3 clave (pa-pa, pa-pa-pa). In fact Felipe Polanco, one of the pioneers of Puerto Rican salsa, has created a unique basic that complements the uneven 5 beat dance which incorporates a sliding forward and back motion that hits the accents of the clave.

Salsa Shines 
Shines refer to solo work when the leader breaks away from the follower and each dancer has the opportunity to freestyle on their own to the rhythm and accents of the salsa music. Shines involve more complex footwork as well as body movement and arm work. Shines are common in the New York , L.A. and Puerto Rican styles of dancing. They are not as common in the Cuban, Miami and Colombia styles of dancing. The term “shines” originally referred to having the opportunity to “shine” independently. Shines give dancers an opportunity to take a break from partner work and turn patterns and freestyle. There are many common shines such as Suzy Qs and flares but every dancer has their own unique and individual movements which allows dancers to be constantly challenged.

Salsa Styling 
Incorporating styling techniques into any style of 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. There are lessons dedicated to the art of salsa stylin’. Hip hop, jazz, flamenco, belly dancing, ballroom, breakdancing/pop and lock, and Afro Cuban styles have all been infused into the art of styling.

Salsa - Salsa: gaoh - LiveJournal

Salsa dancing is wildly popular in Toronto. And not only. Almost all over the world, wherever you go, in some cafe, club or on the street on Friday evening there will be a place to dance salsa. And, most importantly, there will be someone to dance salsa with. A huge number of people take courses, dance or think they dance salsa everywhere. Why, anyone who has ever been to Cuba has probably tried to dance with animators by the pool :)

But, few people know, for example, that the official birthplace of salsa is ... New York City. In the mid-70s, from the mass of styles brought by immigrants from Cuba, Puerto Rico, from the Caribbean, a dance was born that we now consider "salsa". It incorporated mamba, sleep, cha-cha-cha, Puerto Rican captivity and bomb, pachanga (which in turn is also a mix of merengue and conga), and the name "salsa" to some extent reflects this potpourri, this mixture styles.

What a wonderful dream!

Due to the fact that the dance is young and easily absorbs other styles, in salsa there are several directions that separate the dance so much that it is often not clear at all whether it is one dance or two completely different ones.

First, there is the Cuban salsa (Miami style also belongs there, since the majority of Cubans settle in Florida), this is a dance with a circular step, the partners spin around each other, shaking their shoulders (which is strictly prohibited in other types of salsa). In the previous post there are just Cuban somersaults, almost all steps are at an angle. It is very convenient when you need to dance in the crowd, where there is nowhere to step and everyone is spinning on their heels.

As the opposite of Cuban salsa, there is the Los Angeles style. Or some call it "Puerto Rican salsa". This is the so-called slotted dance. Here no one walks around each other. It's like in swing, the movement is only along the line. The girl walks back and forth along the line, and the boy simply steps back from the line, skipping it, and again steps onto the line. Very convenient, I chose my ruler and iron it all the way. And no one will run into you. And if so, then you can safely try aerial acrobatics.

Here is an illustration. Just to show what I mean - the girl walks in a line like in a swing, there are no circular steps.

Well, finally, although New York gave birth to salsa, but the New York style is a special salsa. If most people in the world dance salsa to the count of 1, New York thinks it's too easy and correct to dance salsa to the count of 2. What does that mean? Well, in salsa there is a so-called "basic step". Usually the music is broken into counts of 8 - 1-2-3, 4, 5-6-7, 8. In salsa on 1, the first beat - strong - coincides with the first step. At the moment when nothing happens, we "connect" with a partner / partner. In salsa on 2, the first beat is preparatory. They don't go for it. And they go only to bit 2. Accordingly, everything shifts. And someone who is used to dancing on 1, and waiting for the moment of "connection" at the usual time, will simply never connect with a partner / partner who dances on 2. There is an opinion that dancing on 1 is easier, on 2 it is more correct. But, in fact, there is no meaning in the word "correct" when we are talking about a dance that has evolved as salsa did and you can perceive dance by 1 as an organic evolution, when the number of people practicing this or that style determines the "correctness" of that as "should be done now".

For an outside observer, there is practically no difference. But it's impossible to dance salsa :) We tried in New York. epic fail.
But pay attention - salsa is still a line dance. The main element of salsa is the cross-body lead (leading "through the body", the boy steps back and allows the girl to pass where he just stood. The girl goes straight into him, not trying to dodge, and his task is to get out of her way in time).

It's almost like dancing salsa with Colombians. These people don’t know what they are dancing at all, and they still call it salsa (by the way, it’s clear that there are no Cuban swaying of the shoulders at all, the upper body is motionless, only the legs work):

In conclusion, I would like to say - salsa, it is different like a seasoning. Some are spicy, some are sour, some are bland. She can be vulgar or puritanical, strict and elegant. It all depends on the dancers.

P.S. I'm a little unsure if I should write about dancing that I haven't invested in at least 2 years of my life. In no way do I pretend that I know the truth and there is no "absolute truth" here, these are just my observations, what I read, heard, saw, felt. For example, I'm not a tanguero at all, but I'm going to write my vision of Argentine tango, which is possible, and what's "maybe" there, will certainly change if I start dancing tango. Do not think that I want to slander something that I have no idea about, I just want to share with people who are very far from the world of dance with common simple facts about different dances, according to the same beginner.

In general, my previous post, I will try to describe each of the styles from there, if there is enough enthusiasm, and let it hang there. I hope no one will be offended :)

Music to which salsa is danced

Depending on the music, dancing salsa, like any other dance, can be very fast and energetic, or calm and romantic. At the same time, it is important to hear the music, then you will perform all the movements in the dance at the right time. Salsa can be danced to a variety of music. How not to get confused in the styles and varieties of music for salsa, we will tell in this article.

A bit of history

Few people know that first there was Cuban dance music, to which they danced son, danson, dansonette and many other dances, and later styles such as cha-cha-cha and mambo. Modern salsa has evolved from the traditional Cuban son. Son corresponds to his own dance of the same name, he danced in different forms, including social with a small number of figures and stage, with complex figures.

In the 1950s, various Cuban orchestras played outdoors and indoors, and people moved to the rhythm of the music. To this music, young and creative Cubans began to dance rueda de casino and double casino - what is now called Cuban salsa.

Since the 19th century, and in Havana since 1910, an urban style of son performance has developed. In the 1930s, the son became incredibly popular in the United States thanks to the unexpected success of the song "Nutseller", then came the era of "mambo madness" - a whole generation of young Americans danced to Caribbean rhythms literally until they dropped. However, by 1960, the Americans had lost interest in Latin American dance music and dances, and a revolution took place in Cuba itself, and the entire entertainment industry of the Island of Freedom turned out to be irrelevant for a long time. In New York, salsa combined Cuban music (mambo, son, folk songs), Latin American jazz, and a lot of Puerto Rican and even Colombian traditional music.

After salsa experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1980s and quickly broke into Europe, it was complemented by rock, jazz, pop and R'n'B. But even after significant modifications, salsa music remains original and original today, like the dance itself.

By the way, you can read more about the origin of salsa dance here.

Salsa and Rhythm

Good music cannot exist without rhythm. The dancer must feel the rhythm and pulse of the music, only after that he will be able to understand the whole idea, the meaning of the dance.

Salsa music is characterized by a variety of instruments, especially percussion, so finding the right rhythm for dancing can be very difficult. How to be?

  1. Remember that in general music a measure is 4 beats, but in a basic salsa step it is 8 counts (per two measures of music). Depending on the style of the dance, the movement can start at a different count.
  2. Listen carefully to the music and dance with the rhythm of the percussion instruments and melodies.

What are the rhythms of the different salsa styles?

In the article about the types of salsa, we have already briefly talked about what kind of music is most often used to dance salsa of one style or another. Each way to dance salsa will have its own unique style, its own energy and rhythm. For example:

  • Modern Cuban salsa (timba) has a hard and energetic sound, because it uses mainly drums and wind instruments, as well as electric instruments - synthesizers, electric guitars, etc.. It also has a noticeable influence of reggaeton, hip hop and other modern music styles. Perfect for casino and rueda de casino.
  • Puerto Rican salsa is a soft, pop version of salsa. The rhythm is even and predictable, with interesting accents and a catchy melody. It contains elements of national Puerto Rican music - bombs and captivity. Today, this salsa variant is the most common for the New York-style dance or “mambo for 2”.
  • Colombian Salsa is based on traditional Colombian music with original elements and national culture, and is characterized by a fast tempo. The corresponding salsa is “kali”.
  • Salsa romantica features a soft ballad-style melody with little percussion. This is the music of the early 90s, it is easy to recognize it by sonorous synthetic piano parts and languid voices.
  • Salsa dura is a more energetic and hard variant of Puerto Rican salsa that tends to have a more upbeat tempo and hard sounding brass section. For example, preference is given to trombones. Salsa dura fits perfectly with the Los Angeles dance style.

How to choose the right music for salsa?

At parties, competitions or dance studios, the music is usually chosen by either the organizer or the teacher. What are the criteria for choosing music for salsa yourself?

  1. It is desirable that the music matches the chosen style of salsa, otherwise it may be difficult at first to understand where to enter and how not to lose the rhythm.
  2. If you are taking your first steps in learning salsa, choose music that is easy to follow and not too fast. It's good if you can clearly hear percussion, drums and bass - they will help you keep the rhythm.

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