The history of Salsa dance is peppered with hearsay and contradiction. Although few would disagree that the music and dance forms originate largely in Cuban Son, most agree that Salsa as we know it today is a North American interpretation of the older forms. New York’s Latino community had a vibrant musical and dancing scene throughout the ’50s but found limited success with the ‘Anglo’ mainstream. In the 1970s, adoption of the term “Salsa” reduced the linguistic and cultural barriers to mainstream adoption of Latin music and dance.
The strict lines between salsa romántica and classic salsa have been blurring in recent years. Popular salsa performers in Puerto Rico have succeeded in blending elements of salsa romántica and more hard-driving, traditional salsa, including La India, Tito Rojas, Eddie Santiago, Anthony Cruz, Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Víctor Manuelle. Jerry Rivera (another Puertorican salsa singer) was the first salsero to go triple platinum with his record “Cuenta Conmigo” (“Count on Me”) which was all salsa romantica. The latest form of salsa being Timba which is a form that has a stronger percussive content and at times incorporates rap as a way to give the song a different feel and is only popular for the most part in Cuba.
The modernization of the Mambo in the 1950s was influential in shaping what would become salsa. There is debate as to whether the dance we call Salsa today originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico. Cuba’s influence in North America was diminished after Castro’s revolution and the ensuing trade embargo. New York’s Latino community was largely Puerto-Rican. Salsa is one of the main dances in both Cuba and Puerto Rico and is known worldwide.
Salsa Characteristics and Style
In some styles of salsa, such as LA and New York style, the dancers remain in a slot or line (switching places), while in some Latin American styles, such as Cuban style, the dancers circle around each other, sometimes in 3 points. This circular style is inspired by Cuban Son, specifically to the beat of Son Montuno in the 1920s. However, as it is a popular music, it is open to improvisation and thus it is continuously evolving. New modern salsa styles are associated and named to the original geographic areas that developed them.
There are often devotees of each of these styles outside of their home territory. Characteristics that may identify a style include: timing, basic steps, foot patterns, body rolls and movements, turns and figures, attitude, dance influences and the way that partners hold each other. The point in a musical bar music where a slightly larger step is taken (the break step) and the direction the step moves can often be used to identify a style.
Incorporating other dance styling techniques into salsa dancing has become very common, for both men and women: shimmies, leg work, arm work, body movement, spins, body isolations, shoulder shimmies, rolls, even hand styling, acrobatics and lifts.