What is Salsa?

Salsa is a syncretic dance form with origins from the Cuban Son (circa 1920s) and Afro-Cuban dance (specifically Afro-Cuban Rumba).  It is generally associated with the salsa music style, although it may be danced under other types of tropical music.

Salsa is normally a partner dance, although there are forms such as a line dance form “Salsa Suelta“, where the dancers dance individually and a round dance form “Rueda de Casino” where multiple couples exchange partners in a circle.  Salsa can be improvised or performed with a set routine.

Salsa’s roots are based on Cuban Son, specifically to the beat of Son Montuno in the 1920s. However, as it is a popular music, it is open to improvisation and thus it is continuously evolving. New modern salsa styles are associated and named to the original geographic areas that developed them. There are often devotees of each of these styles outside of their home territory. Characteristics that may identify a style include: timing, basic steps, 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.

Incorporating other dance styling techniques into salsa dancing has become very common, for both men and women: shimmies, leg work, arm work, body movement, spins, body isolations, shoulder shimmies, rolls, even hand styling, acrobatics and lifts.

Latin American styles originate from Cuba and surrounding Caribbean islands and then expanding to Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the rest of the Hispanic countries; also heavily influence “Miami” style which is a fusion of Cuban style and North American version. The styles include “Casino”, Miami-Style, Cali-style and Venezuelan Style.

North American styles have different characteristics: Los Angeles style breaks on the first beat “On 1″ while New York style breaks on the second beat “On 2″. Both have different origins and evolutionary path, as the New York Salsa is heavily influenced by Jazz instruments in its early growth stage.

Cuban-style salsa, also known as Casino, is popular in many places around the world, including in Europe, Latin America, North America, and even in some countries in the Middle East. Dancing Casino is an expression of popular social culture; Latin Americans consider casino as part of social and cultural activities centering around their popular music. The origins of the name Casino are derived from the Spanish term for the dance halls where a lot of social Salsa dancing was done in Cuba during the mid-20th century and onward.

Historically, Casino traces its origin as a partner dance from Cuban Son dancing, and its rhythmic body motions from Afro-Cuban Rumba heritage. Son is considered an older version and ancestor to Salsa. Son is danced on delay measure upbeat (contra-tiempo) following the 2-3 clave (Son Clave) whereas Casino is usually danced on the downbeat break of 1 or 3 (a-tiempo). Musically, the beats 1, 3, 5 and 7 are considered downbeats; whereas 2, 4, 6 and 8 are considered upbeats. Casino was popularized in the late 1950s as the Cuban Son received upbeat and quicker arrangements by musicians. Casino has a very independent development, free from external influences such as Puerto Rican and North American dances partly due to the effect of the Cuban Embargo.

Culturally, Casino is danced as an interplay between male and female gender and feeling the music (“Sabor”) as its main ingredients. Much of the interplay of Casino style dancing is based on the broader Latin cultural context with emphasis on sexual interplay, teasing and everyday experience.

Miami-style Casino

Developed by Cuban migrants to Florida and centered around Miami, this form of Cuban Salsa fused with American culture and LA Style. Major differences of Miami-style Casino is that it is exclusively danced on the downbeat (On1) and has elements of shines and showstyle added to it, following repertoires of North American Styles.

Rueda de Casino

In the 1950s Salsa Rueda or more accurately Rueda de Casino was developed in Havana, Cuba. Pairs of dancers form a circle (“Rueda” in Spanish means “Wheel”), with dance moves called out by one person. Many of the moves involve rapidly swapping partners.

“Rueda de Miami” originated in the 1980s from Miami, is a formal style with many rules based on a mix, and is a hybridization of Rueda de Cuba & Los Angeles-style Salsa and dance routines that reflect American culture (e.g. Coca-cola, Dedo, Adios) which is not found in the traditional Cuban-style Rueda.

Cuban-style Rueda has evolved over the recent years and now incorporates Son and Rumba style movements while dancing inside the Rueda.  Callers will generate connection between the dancers and the entire “wheel” by calling more advanced patterns and movements. Typically, each city or school will have their own “calls” or patterns that will separate their group and their group’s styling from others.

Because of the dynamic and ever-changing Cuban music,

the dance of Casino is truly limitless!