Most people, whether professional dancers or complete novices with no experience have heard of the style of dance classes called the Salsa. Normally associated with sexy and energetic moves, learning to dance Salsa style is perceived as something fun to do and as a social dance, not just because of the intimacy you develop with a partner in the studio and in clubs (if you are confident enough to take what you have learnt to nightclubs!) but also because you can feed off the vibes from all of the other passionate dancers around you in the Salsa dance class or on the dance floor.
What you may not know is that there are different types of Salsa dancing classes, each with unique features and requiring a different set of skills. Below, I will introduce absolute beginners along with intermediates to the fundamental Salsa styles of dance and, with any luck, will get you excited about learning to dance the Latin dancing way!
Salsa is designed as a couples dance, but you can also perform some parts solo if you wish. Photo credit: The U.S. Army on VisualHunt
Salsa dancing benefits from having its own associated music, known as Salsa music. Both the dance and the songs originated in the middle of the 1970s in New York, America, and the beats of the tracks highlight the Salsa dance rhythm and the sequence of steps that the dancers take.
Lessons in Salsa are great for people wanting to meet new people, as you don’t necessarily have to have a regular dance partner. The joy of Salsa dancing is that the two people can switch partners and get a chance to come across new people each and every time they take to the floor. In fact, a lot of people love Salsa so much because they like the feeling of dancing with someone they have never met before; the thrill of the unexpected! How amazing is it to think that two complete strangers can come together and, as soon as the music starts, share such a strong connection through musicality and dance?
Salsa dance clubs can now be found in most cities across the world, even if its history is rooted in Latin America and other United States regions (the different places have their own distinct styles: Cuban, Puerto Rican, Cali Colombia, L.A. and New York).
As we know, Salsa is a predominantly Latin dance but, more specifically, the style of dancing evolved from earlier Cuban forms of dance routines like Son, Cha Chas, Son Montuno, Mambo and Puerto Rican Bomba or Plena. These dances were already popular across the Caribbean, Latin America and some communities in New York City from the 1940s onward. A number of factors influenced the style of dance and its accompanying music so we have seen many variations through the years.
The word ‘Salsa’ itself is everywhere and has been in use for decades. Where it came from is a little uncertain, but some have suggested that it was linked to sounds made by musicians while they played that particular style of music whilst others say it is simply a play on the fact that Salsa as a dance is such an enjoyable mixture of hot styles.
Some think the name Salsa derives from the hot and spicy fusion food. Photo on Visual Hunt
Below is a list of the Salsa styles you might come across as a beginner.
Afro-Latino style: a popular kind of expressive Salsa for men and women in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Haiti and Cuba, this style ties in with African identity and instruments found primarily in Africa, but incorporates many of the elements of other Salsa versions.
Colombian / Cali style: Cali is known as the ‘capital of Salsa’, because of its overwhelming popularity in the city. It doesn’t have Cross-body leads like some other styles, but instead includes a step in place and displace in closed position. The key feature is the quick rapid footwork and skipping motions
Cuban style / Casino: this discipline takes its influence from Cha Cha Cha, Cuban Son, Danzon and Guaracha, but no step is taken on the first or fifth beats. It is closely linked to Afro-Cuban dance vocabulary.
Miami style Casino: another fusion of different Salsa elements, this routine makes use of back breaking steps, whereby the movements are performed backwards diagonally instead of forwards and backwards. Dancers of this style keep their upper body more still and poised.
Rueda de Casino: developed in Havana, Cuba, this dance takes its influence from circles of dancers (hence ‘Rueda’, which translates as ‘wheel’). One person calls out the moves and dancers quickly swap partners. Other interrelated styles are Rueda de Cuba and Rueda de Miami which each have similar sequences.
Los Angeles Style / LA style: using elements of North American dance, this style is danced strictly on 1 and is designed to prevent dancers obstructing other couple on a crowded dance floor. It has been influenced by Swing, the Latin Hustle, the Argentine Tango and Latin Ballroom dancing. Its main features are the forward backward basic step and the cross body lead.
New York style: this style is danced in a flat figure of 8, danced on the second beat of the music (on 2 rather than on 1) with partners facing each other most of the time. The follower steps forward on the first measure and some solo dancing is encouraged. Origins stem from Swing dancing and New York Tap dancing.
It is safe to say that there is no ‘mild’ version of a salsa dance – participants really must throw themselves into the lively dance and get out of their comfort zone to truly benefit from what it has to offer! But as you can see from above, with several different styles to master, you may want to research the variations and choose one that you are most taken with.
Learning any dance, even a slow Ballroom dance routine practised in a studio, is a challenging learning process and will help to keep you in shape, so long as you are sensible in terms of your abilities, agility and flexibility and warm up your muscles to prevent any injuries.
Salsa dancing, along with much of its Latin dance family, is great used as a fitness program for weight loss, as it includes all the elements of an effective aerobic style workout (primarily stamina) while performing distinctive Salsa moves.
Salsa is high energy so generally uses upbeat music, with between 150 and 250 bpm (beats per minute). That’s a lot of moves to fit into a short 60 seconds! While it is designed as a partner dance, there are also circumstances in which you can perform solo and lose yourself in the rhythm of the music. Many fitness classes for individuals like Zumba, but more specifically Salsacise, use elements of traditional dance styles and enable the dancer to learn some basic techniques but with their own twist and in a sociable setting. If you go classes like these regularly, you’ll feel healthier in no time. What’s more, the sociable setting makes it feel more like a dance party than the usually organized dance lesson.
Some Zumba or Salsacise lessons can feel more like a dance party. Photo credit: avarty on VisualHunt.com
The types of movements required of your body in the Salsa dance style, whether performing alone or alongside a leading or following partner, mean that you are always using different parts of your body, from your core to your toes. Weight changes, taps and kicks are repeated on loops, with six weight changes in eight beats per basic cycle. The idea is to keep your upper body quite relaxed and unaltered throughout the weight changes, which is perfect conditioning and training for your tummy and core.
On the flip side, your hips move quite a lot, which focuses on tightening up the gluteals and the hip flexors. Finally, your arms will also become more solid as a result of continued Salsa dancing training and practise, because they are vital in both the leading and following parts, typically kept open and strong throughout twirls. In fact, solo Salsa dancing doesn’t require as much use of the arms so is less likely to tone your biceps and upper body!
Even if you are just learning how to dance for fun, you will still notice an improvement in your health in your one-hour cardio session!
If you want to gain in confidence and are keen to try out Salsa (whether private dance lessons or ‘open to all’ Latin dance classes), then you are sure to find one on one instructor sessions, couples classes, dance fitness classes or a dance academy near you.
Your best bet is to look for dance studios or gymnastics centres near you that offer the opportunity to learn to Ballroom dance or to master Latin dancing techniques. Some clubs will offer a free lesson to entice you in, some workshops will encourage you to drop in to one of their dance events to get a feel for the dance programs they offer, whilst others may require you to reserve or book your adult dance class in advance or even in block as a commitment to attending the entire class schedule. Getting to know the dance instructor and hosts is important as you can ask them all you need to know before you start, like what type of comfortable shoes to wear, if wearing a skirt is necessary, etc…
If you are able to travel to the capital, then you will find a number of famous Salsa dancing London clubs, where you can dance all night on Fridays after work or at the weekend – you can even find dance events taking place on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays too! Meanwhile, you will come across numerous more locations across the country that offer Salsa dancing: Salsa dancing Glasgow, Salsa dancing Edinburgh, Salsa dancing Manchester… there’s Salsa dancing everywhere!
Latin dancing is all about timing, so you should make sure that you put in the required time and effort to keep up with your partner in class.
While it may not be a dance traditionally associated with weddings or your first dance as a married couple, the social dance teaches you a set of new dancing skills that you can use to impress a romantic partner on a night out in town (although wouldn’t it be fun if you could make your special day more memorable by having one of those weddings where the bride and groom perform a choreographed dance sequence!?).
If you have two left feet, a dance teacher may not be able to bring you up to international standard and get you dancing in a competitive way, but they will certainly make you feel more graceful and equally help you to embrace your learning experience, teaching you fascinating things about the art of dance. You’ll also meet people with a shared passion for dance, which could bring you closer to other people, possibly even sparking a romance.
Leave your reservations at the door. You can dance the Salsa if you put your mind to it!