Salsa Dance Styles
Today, Salsa dancing can be divided into several styles defined by the geographic region from which they come. Generally, these styles are identified as L.A. style, New York style, Cuban and Miami style. Although these are not "official" styles, most salseros today identify the styles by these four names
Refered to as dancing up and down a line rather than in circles (Circluar Style), the 2 major linear styles are L.A & New York. These styles are very closely linked. Both styles use the mambo step as a basic and are very slotted/linear in execution.
L.A. style is very linear. It uses dips and arm styling. L.A. style is very flashy incorporating many flips and dips. L.A. style dancing is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to dance and is usually danced on 1. The Los Angeles style uses the contemporary mambo basic as well but typically executes this step by breaking forward on count "1". The L.A. and New York styles consist of the same core components that make up their incredibly diverse repertoire of moves. The main difference is their approach to styling, the ebb and flow of movement. For example, if you were looking into a window at a group of dancers from both L.A. and New York and could not hear the music to determine the count you should still be able to ascertain the style of choice for each dancer. The New York dancers certainly have a more composed, elegant, and smoother look and feel for the dance. The women in particular tend to reveal a sensual quality to express the intricacies of this dance. Unlike the subtle nuances of the New York style dancers, the L.A. dancers would perhaps catch your attention first with their incredible display of explosive and technically challenging roster of moves. The execution tends to be crisp and sharp with a vivacious appeal. The L.A. men tend to really surpass the basic expectations of a good dancer with jumps, and flips, and splits, and spins, and get the picture?
New York / Mambo Style
New York style is more like Mambo. 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. The Eddie Torres style is characterized by a continuous and smooth body rhythm and passing of the feet where the non-weight changing counts are on "4" and "8". The Palladium style is very much like the 1950's Mambo whereby the non-weight changing counts are on "1" and "5". Unlike the contemporary style, it can be very staccato (fragmented) in execution depending on the dancers interpretation and placement of the feet on counts "4" and "8". While this definition may seem trivial, it drastically changes the dynamics of how one dances salsa. The New York style tends to have the most varied interpretation/ opinion of the basic step than any other style. Although this is called New York style, the styles danced in New York dance clubs are fairly diverse.
Puerto Rican style
This can be danced on the "One" or the "Two" beat of the music, but it involves a tremendous amount of very technical footwork.There is more an emphasis on footwork, than in New York style, however, in recent years this can be argued by many a Mambo maniacs in Manhattan. In New York style, there is a strong Latin Hustle influence. The guess is that in the disco craze of the late 70’s and early 80’s, when Eddie Torres was one of the only instructors in New York, single-handedly holding the torch of "Mambo Dance" with Tito Puente, Salsa dancing almost completely grew extinct to the Hustle dance. 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. Because Salsa is such a diverse dance, and there are no real "rules" of style, once you learn any style of dance, you tend to stick to that style when transitioning to Salsa.
The primary influence in Los Angeles is West Coast Swing and Latin Ballroom. Many of the showy tricks and Caberet moves are taken from Swing and Latin Ballroom, which is very prevalent and highly competitive and influential throughout the Mid and West Coasts. Unlike Miami, there are not many Cuban immigrants in Los Angeles, hence the Salsa dance style is predominantly a hybrid of Swing, Ballroom, and a soft Puerto Rican style. In New York, however, because of the high concentration of Puerto Rican immigrants, the Puerto Rican style is much like that of what is now New York style, Latin Hustle, or what we call "Mambo On-Two". The fancy footwork (shines) is really starting to become very strong in New York because of this influence. It is almost an even match now, whether they do more shines in New York than Puerto Rico.
Although the Miami style has its roots in Cuba, it has evolved into a more refined and technically stronger variation of the Cuban style. It is also known as Classico Cubano style or Casino 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.
The music has determined the style of dancing. The contemporary faster rhythms of the more popular bands, such as Charanga Habanarra, and Los Van Van, are taking the style of Salsa to a more non-partner dance. If there is a tremendous amount of percussion, the woman can shine with her incredibly beautiful and rhythmic body movements. In fact, partner dancing the Cuban style is so restricting to the woman, that many of the women could not wait to dance solo for a while.
The way Cuban Salseros hold on to the women’s wrists during the majority of the dance, restricts her from extending her arm and fingers, and displaying a sexy style of her own. 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.
"On-Two" dancing to hard-core Cuban music is also a bit more difficult, although it can be done with a very well-trained ear. In recent years, I found most New York dancers don’t particularly enjoy an entire evening of contemporary Cuban music. They prefer the traditional Salsa / Mambo music, that is more suited to their style of dancing.
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. The rhythms are also much faster, hence the solo styling done more often than partnering up. With the opening up of Cuba, and more and more Cuban music and bands visiting the United States, dancing on "Two" becoming tougher for the average dancer to want to learn, unless people still listen to Puerto Rican style music, and Salsa from Puerto Rico, New York, and Los Angeles. It will be interesting to see how the style of dancing in New York will change with more and more Cuban-style musicians entering the market.
This is a Cuban circular style and turn patterns involve a lot more double hand holds. The complex but spectacular turn patterns resemble a game of ‘twister’ from which the leader will emerge, without allowing the viewer to see how he’s done the ‘Houdini’ act. It’s very clever, and it’s the role of the follower to ‘hang on’ keep rhythm and not allow the leader to ‘trick’ her. Cuban style salsa also has a lot of solo work which involves rhythmic middle body movements derived from the old Cuban rumba. These movements have an afro –Cuban heritage and are also popular in Mambo.
Although we have observed many different Cuban style dancers dancing on a variety of beats, it appears most comfortable within this style to break on the 3. When you listen to Cuban style salsa, son, songo or Timba (all related to Cuban salsa) it actually feels entirely natural to break on the 3. This has to do with the underlying clave rhythm which forms the basis of most styles of salsa music. The prominent bass encourages a lot of movement through the centre of the body and it’s more about rhythmic interpretation through the body than precision with the feet or strict discipline. It’s all about the feel of the music and therefore, there appears to be a fair amount of liberty there as long as you’re listening to the music. Frequent adjustments are made between partners to return footwork into sync, in order to do turn patterns.
This is a Group Dance originating in Cuba. It is danced to lively, up-beat salsa music. The couples dance in a circle executing moves called out by a leader. There is a constant changing of partners, which makes it a vivid and joyful spectacle. There are three groups of participants in every Rueda. The caller, who calls out the names of the moves that are to be danced, (He may also use hand signals in a loud club setting together with the call.) The leaders, usually the men, initiate the execution of the moves. The followers, usually the ladies, perform the moves as guided by the leaders.
Colombian Salsa Styles:
Salsa is danced differently all throughout Colombia. In Cali, it is more "showy", in other, more rural parts of the country, it is danced more closely and tightly, with heads touching in some cases. However, the underlying commonality is that there is no forward and backward motions of the feet. It is simply what we call "Cumbia" style, which is feet alternating to the back or to the side. There are not too many fancy tricks, turns, or spins in Colombian style - except if you are a professional dancer, dancing with bands, or competing. There is record on film that professional Colombian dancers performing incredible lifts and swinging the girl around the guy's neck, etc., however this is not the norm. This is simply for show. Casual social dancing, Colombian style is much calmer, closer, where both dancer's bodies are almost completely touching each other, from head to toe.
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. Salsa has no boundaries so many of the styles' combinations overlap, blurring the line between one style and another. The style taught at Dance Connection is predominantly, but not limited to, Miami/Casino style.