Today, Salsa dancing can be divided into many dance styles, or forms. However there are two major things to look at before we can talk about 'style' and that is 'Structure' and 'timing'. Configuration means the form, the system, technicalities and shape of the dance, for example circular base or a linear base. Then there is timing, there is 8 counts in the dance and when you change direction in your basic is how you tell which count someone is dancing on. Salsa is most commonly danced on the one expressed "on1". It can also be danced on2, on3, on4, on5, on6. Often dancers have a mixture of styles & flavours depending on who & where they learnt. So for example if you learnt Puerto Rican Style you probably leant this in Puerto Rico, you probably dance this on1 or on2 with a slot/linear configuration. But in recent times, with teachers & students traveling to teach & learn and plus the advancements of the internet, this has drastically changed & influenced Salsa. Dancers can now get a good mix of all the flavours Salsa has to offer.
The Two major configurations for Salsa;
Linear style dancing usually goes up and down a line or a slot, and the follower usually moves up and down a track, while the leader moves around or making room for the follower. This makes it easy during social dancing where every couple has a predictable slot to dance on. The 3 major linear styles are LA, New York & Puerto Rican Style. These styles are very closely linked but have different structures in the fundamentals. All styles use a forward & back basic step, aka contemporary Mambo basic step', and are usually danced on1 or on2.
Circular based dancing the lead and follow rotate around each other in any direction, it also can be a 't' shape like 2 intersecting lines. In social dancing circular dancers have their own bubble, except in the case for Rueda. The main styles for circular are; Cuban, Casino de Rueda, Colombian, SA & Miami. All these styles have different structures. Most of these styles use a variety of basics but usually a back break also known as a back basic sometimes with a tap or a kick. Timings vary but usually danced on1, on2, on3 or any other count.
L.A. style is very linear, very sharp looking in its style. The Los Angeles style uses the contemporary mambo basic as well but typically executes this step by breaking forward on count "1". Dancing salsa on1 is the most popular form of salsa dancing in the world and can often be confused with LA style, the structure of this style is also what sets it apart. LA-style salsa, like its name suggests, orginated in Los Angeles, California, and was popularized by the Vazquez brothers & other big names such as Alex & Liz Lira. LA-style salsa is danced in a line, similar to New York style salsa, but dancers break on the first beat of the music (on 1) rather than on 2. Many newer dancers find this timing more intuitive.
New York Salsa aka Mambo
New York style is more like Mambo, its smoother. It makes use of body waves, free style footwork, shines, rib cage movements and shimmying.
New York has earned a reputation for dancing on "2" yet there are many New Yorker's who also dance on "1". There are two variations of the mambo step danced in New York, the contemporary mambo (a.k.a. Eddie Torres style) and the Palladium style.
Salsa music as we know it today originated in New York, and New York-style salsa is the style of salsa that originated there. New York-style salsa is sometimes called “linear salsa” or “linea” by dancers of other styles because it is danced in a line (or “in the slot”) similar to Hustle or West Coast Swing, from which it was influenced. New York-style salsa is often referred to as “Salsa On 2” or “On2 Salsa” because the break step in New York style happens on the second beat of the music. While On2 salsa was popularised by Eddie Torres, there are other NY dancers & teachers who also developed it.
Puerto Rican Salsa aka Salsa Porto
Puerto Rican Style also known as Salsa Porto, can be danced on the "One" or the "Two" beat of the music or even on3. There is more an emphasis on footwork, than in New York style. It is very closely linked to NY style however In New York style, there is a strong Latin Hustle influence. Because of the great Hustle craze of that area, many Hustle dancers incorporated a lot of their moves into the Mambo style during that slow transitional period back to Salsa music in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Although the Miami style has its roots in Cuba, it has evolved into a more refined and technically stronger variation of the Cuban style. The basic step of Miami style salsa comes with a "tap" between measures. This "tap & step" is a characteristic of Miami style salsa and you'll know it when you see it. Miami style salsa makes use of "ganchos" or arm-hooks, which is when one elbow is hooked over the partners elbow to create a kind of arm lock giving the leader leverage to move his partner via the arm.
Dancers dance in a slot and do many flowing continuous circular turns. It also makes use of many pretzel- like holds, and as such, Miami style salsa becomes very intricate and complex-looking at its most advanced level.
On a social level, very little demand for technique is placed on the follower in terms of spins, footwork or dips. In a closed dance hold the basic mambo step is danced with an option to break on either "1" or "3" depending on the dancers preference.
Cuban-style salsa or Salsa Cubana is a type of salsa that originated in Cuba. Cuba-style salsa is usually danced in a circular motion similar to East Coast Swing, rather than in a line. The follower usually goes around the lead. The turn patterns in Cuban salsa typically are in a constant circular motion, with lots of hand tricks and movements. Cuban style appears to be a very male-dominated "macho" dance, more so than the New York or Los Angeles style, which fully displays the woman, and allows her to stylize with her arms, hips, and head.
The newer sounds of Cuban music emphasize the "One" beat of the rhythm and the "Three" beats of the rhythm, much more than the "Two" beat. However dancing On2 is also done in this style.
Casino Salsa aka Rueda
Salsa rueda, also known as Rueda de Casino is another type of salsa that originated in Cuba. “Rueda” in Spanish means “wheel”, and in salsa rueda a group of couples dance together in a giant circle, rather than as individuals.
In salsa rueda, there is one leader who calls out what move to do, and all the couples in the circle execute the move simultaneously. The moves are similar to those of Cuban-style salsa, and a salsa rueda dance involves a coordinated dance of synchronized movement, partner switches, and intricate turn patterns.
Salsa is danced differently all throughout Colombia including Cumbia style.
Colombian salsa, also known as Salsa Caleña (named after Cali, Colombia, where the dance originated) is one of the rarest forms of salsa. Outside of Colombia there are very few cities in the world where Colombian salsa is danced regularly.
Inside Colombia, however, is another matter entirely. Cali, Colombia calls itself “La Capital Mundial de Salsa” or the “world capital of salsa”, and it has valid claims to that title. The city by some estimates has over 200 salsa academies, more than any other city in the world. Every year the city hosts a massive festival called the Feria de Cali, with thousands of dancers, and the city is host to a number of massive salsa dance competitions.
So, which style?
No style is definitively better than the other. It's all really a matter of taste. They are all fun to watch and exciting to dance. Many salseros take the time to learn all the different styles and even incorporate their own personal inventions to create their own style. Even some dancers mix circular & linear structures. Salsa literally has no boundaries so many of the styles' combinations overlap, blurring the line between all styles.
So what do we teach at Salsa Latina?
It would be best described as 'Salsa Porto & NY', our system is mainly New York structure and dancing on1 or on2 NY is easy once you know the timing. We even add Cuban styling elements with Afro Cuban Salsa flavours. As for timing we teach mainly On1, while On2 timing is for the more advanced.