History of Salsa

What is Salsa? Where is Salsa from? Who invented salsa? The Cubans or the Puerto Ricans?

These are the debated questions you frequently hear being discussed and even argued about. Salsa itself just means ‘sauce’. Salsa, with its many influences, is not easily defined and the debate will continue. However, one thing is for sure, Salsa’s infectious rhythm and its ’sabor’, or flavour, have made it one of the most popular Latin dances in clubs around the world.

Salsa music is credited as to having its origins in Cuba as early as 1909 with the blending of African drum rhythms and Spanish guitar.

Salsa dance is a fusion of many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances. Each of these dance forms has played a large part in the evolution of salsa dance today. Salsa is considered by many as ‘Cuban’ and credit should be given to Cuba for its origin, ancestry and creation.

What is Salsa Dance?

Salsa is derived from the Mambo basic with similarities in footwork and music. The mambo/salsa similarities are in the basic pattern of six steps danced to an eight count phrase of music. Both dances are referred to as slotted or linear dances sharing many of the same movement patterns. In Salsa, turns have become an important feature, so the overall look and feel is quite different from those of Mambo. Where they truly differ is in the timing of the forward and back break creating the definitive for these dances. In New York the salsa dancers break forward on a ‘2’ and back on a ‘6’ where as the L.A. style of salsa dancer breaks forward on the ‘1’ and back on the ‘5’.

New York and L.A. are not the only cities that can claim a territorial influence on salsa. As well, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Miami and the Dominican Republic all lay claims to style and technique each having their own recognized uniqueness. As the phenomenon of partnered dancing continues to grow world wide, especially Latin and salsa dance, the influences of style and character from each country will grow exponentially. All are good. None are better, only different.

Cumbia Style Salsa

Originally, in the salsa club scene of Toronto, Cumbia style salsa was the only salsa dance style being danced on the dance floors. It differs from the forward and backward motion of the mambo influenced salsas in that it has a side-to-side basic with back breaks on counts ‘3’ and ‘7’. When compared to the New York and L.A. styled salsas, Cumbia styled salsa also has a more rotational pattern and feel to it. Both styles, Cumbia and the linear Salsas, can be danced together as a blend or separately.

Casino Rueda Salsa

Casino Rueda is Cuba’s form of a ‘country/western or square dance’ style of salsa. This popular street dance dates back to the 1950’s in Cuba.

Rueda means ‘wheel’ and casino is a reference to the turns and breaks of this salsa dance. Casino rueda is a synchronized group dance performed in a circle with a designated ‘caller’, or lead dancer. The ‘caller’ orchestrates the movement of the group leading and guiding the dancing couples through sequences of turns and partner changes. The leader makes the ‘calls’ by using a combination of hand signals and verbal calls. All attention must be on the ‘caller/leader’ for the dancers to be able to respond with a fluid ease while simultaneously executing turns, direction changes and partner changes.

Resources
  1. www.musicofpuertorico.com
  2. Tracing the Origins of Salsa Music: Luis Alba
  3. www.salsa-in-cuba.com
  4. A look at the origin of Salsa: Jaime Andrés Pretell
  5. “Raices” Latin Music Museum