A Description Of Salsa Dancing
Salsa is danced by stepping on 3 consecutive beats of music and then pausing for 1 beat, then repeating. The step timing can be thought of as step, step, step, pause; step, step, step, pause. Dance teachers count the step timing as quick, quick, slow; quick, quick, slow. Each quick consumes one beat of music, each slow consumes two beats of music. Depending on how you hear and feel the music, you may start the dance on any beat of the measure you wish. Most beginners start the dance on the first beat of the measure.
Though salsa is danced at approximately twice the tempo of the Rumba, the two dances share much in common. Salsa and Rumba music are both written in 4/4 time, with four beats to each measure. Two measures of music are required to complete one full basic step. In the music, the heavy beat is the one beat, the first beat of the measure. While the music tempo of rumba is typically 104 beats per minute, the music tempo of salsa is typically 180 to 210 beats per minute.
In both dances three steps are taken during each measure of music. In other words, three steps are taken to four beats of music. Recall that the step timing is counted quick, quick, slow; quick, quick, slow. Learning to count the music correctly is the first big hurdle for beginners. Students are seldom able to understand the dance fully until they are able to count the music and the step timing correctly. Notice that the cow bell sounds on the first and third beats of each measure.
The Character of Salsa and the Different Styles of Salsa: An essential character element of salsa is Cuban motion. Cuban motion, especially the hip action, comes, comes mainly from the alternate bending and straightening of the knees. Like the basic for mambo, and for rumba, a full basic of the Salsa can be thought of as having a forward basic, which takes 4 beats of music, and a backward basic, which takes four beats of music. So, eight beats of music are required to complete one full basic. Each forward and backward basic can be considered to contain the following three steps: a break step, a replace step, and a slow step usually taken to second foot position. Most salsa dancers perform a touch step or tap step, not entailing a weight change on the second beat of the two-beat “slow” step. In other words, the tap occurs during the “pause” beat. Thus, this tap step precedes the break step.
The Cumbia style of salsa: Another style of salsa is the cumbia style, popular in South America. In the cumbia style, the full basic has two back breaks rather than a forward break step and a backward break step. The cumbia basic has a side to side feel rather than a forward and back feel. The music for the cumbia style is also distinctive in character.
Salsa Counting Systems: Something that confuses the beginner is that three different counting styles can be used. I’ll call these three styles 1) Salsa on one. 2) Ballroom Mambo, and 3) New York club-style mambo on two. In salsa on one, the break step occurs on count one, the first beat of the measure. The replace step occurs on count 2 and the slow step occurs on counts 3 and 4. In Ballroom Mambo, the break step occurs on count 2, the second beat of the measure. The replace step occurs on count 3 and the slow step occurs on counts 4 and 1. In New York Club-Style Mambo on 2, the break step occurs on count 2, the second beat of the measure. The replace step is also the slow step and this step consumes beats 3 and 4.
The most popular way of teaching salsa is with the break step occurring on count one, the first beat of the measure. The replace step occurs on count 2 and the slow step occurs on counts 3 and 4. Most salsa dancers perform a tap step on the second half of the slow step. In other words, the tap step occurs on the fourth beat of the measure. The step timing could now be counted 123 TAP 567 TAP. The tap occurs on count 4 and on count 8. The tap step is optional and notice that this step does not entail a weight change. With the tap step included, we now do something on each beat of the four-beat measure. We step on counts 1,2, and 3 and we tap on count 4. Since steps are taken only on counts 123 and 567, patterns are normally counted out using the number series 123, 567, 123, 567.
Salsa Music: The tempo of salsa music is typically 180 to 210 beats per minute.
History of Salsa: The basic step of salsa dancing probably derives from the Rumba, often called the grandfather of the Latin dances. The Rumba originates from Cuba and it was first seen in the United States around 1920. Salsa dancing as we know it today was mainly developed in the Latin Quarter in New York City. Casino Rueda from Cuba has also had a big influence on the Miami style of salsa.
Tips & Info: What’s the difference between mambo and salsa?
This depends completely on how each is defined. If we are talking about club style salsa and club style mambo, the only difference is that salsa can be danced on any beat whereas in mambo, the break step is taken on the second beat of the measure. Thus salsa encompasses mambo. In other words, mambo can be thought of as the special case of salsa where the break step is taken on count 2.
If we are talking about salsa and ballroom mambo, the differences are larger. Ballroom training encourages precise and sharp movement with sudden stops and fast changes of direction. In addition, big arm lines are used in ballroom figures. Ballroom figures normally have precise geometries and usually move in linear or lateral directions. In contrast, salsa is more relaxed, more flowing, and the patterns are more circular. Big arm lines are not used in club style salsa dancing.
Advice & important points to remember when dancing the Salsa:
Small Steps: Salsa and mambo steps are very small. Keep the feet beneath the body versus taking huge break steps. As the music gets faster, smaller steps must be taken. Your feet should generally be less than one foot apart, usually less than 1/2 foot apart.
Foot turn out: Break steps should always have foot turn out. Never dance break steps in a pigeon toed fashion.
Don't "blend" the steps: Avoid "blending" the slow step with the quick steps. Instead, hold the slow step for the complete duration of two beats of music and delay stepping to the first quick prematurely. A verbal queue, if dancing on the "2" beat would be: 2,3,4, lift, 2,3,4, lift, 2,3,4, lift. In this case, the break step occurs on the 2 beat, the replace step occurs on the 3 beat, and 4 is the first beat of the "slow" step. Many mambo teachers say, "Nothing happens on the 1 beat." That's true in that a step is not taken. However, on the 1 beat, the heel is lifted and the same hip drops, as the same foot is released in preparation for making the upcoming break step on the first quick. In other words, during the "lift," the heel is lifted and the knee is bent as the same hip drops and weight then goes to the other foot. You could also use the verbal queue, 2,3,4, drop, 2,3,4, drop to remind yourself to drop the hip. This might help in developing "Cuban motion." Adding the "flick" action to your basic will also assist in preventing "blending," and premature movement to the first quick. An observer should be able to clearly discern your slow steps and your quick steps.
Weight transfer: To the extent possible, each step should be distinct and should entail a complete weight transfer versus a "shuffling" of the feet.
Soft knees: Cuban motion (that is, hip and body action) comes from the alternate bending and straightening of the legs. As a knee is bent, the same hip drops. Take steps onto a bent knee and begin weight transfer before the knee straightens. Rather than feeling like you are dancing lightly on top of the floor, you should feel like you are dancing into and pushing out of the floor. Before beginning any Latin dance, think about lowering yourself slightly, perhaps as if a glass ceiling is overhead. Do not stoop or compromise posture, however.
Don't over extend arms: In general, arms should not stay rounded with the elbows bent. Connections should be relatively short and connections should be very responsive to sudden changes in the direction of the lead. Don't allow elbows to collapse behind the body (the chicken wing look).
Posture, Frame, Connection, and Timing are the most important elements for any partner dance: Don't stoop or look at your feet. Don't allow your frame to collapse or loose integrity. Always maintain firm and secure connections. Never give up counting! Count the steps always but don't count out loud. Always start "on phrase" with the music.
A final note about learning to dance Salsa: Learning to dance salsa can be a real challenge. Why? First, salsa is a "club dance" or "street dance" that has not been brought into the ballroom dance curriculums. Being a "club dance," and being outside most ballroom dance curriculums, salsa is taught mainly by night club salsa dancers and each may have their own, unique style. For such an easy dance, night club dance teachers often do not agree on what to teach as the "basic step" and they often do not agree on which beat to start the dance. Most night club salsa teachers fall into one of these two categories. Category 1: They grew up dancing salsa, they are great dancers with great style and "feel," BUT they can't teach it in a way that the average person can grasp - every detail broken down to count. The second category: They are fairly new to salsa and they can't teach much beyond very basic figures. Finding the combination of a great salsa dancer and a great teacher with the technical knowledge is very difficult.