Salsa Dance History: 6 Facts You Must Know

Salsa dance has become increasingly popular across many cultures. There are fierce competitions, a multitude of casual and serious classes, and fun events involving salsa dance across the world. Many people know that it originated in Latin America, but not many know about its history.  

Salsa dancing has a rich history rooted in Cuban culture, however, much of the dance style that we see today was developed in New York City by people of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent. 

Salsa is a widely known dance style, but many sub-styles exist in different areas around the world. They all have a unique history associated with them as well as different characteristics. 

Salsa Dance History

The Origins of Salsa Dance 

Salsa dance’s origins aren’t completely clear. However, we do know that it started in Cuba around the turn of the 20th century. It began as a dance to accompany salsa music which had been brewing in Cuba since the late 19th century. This music arose from other styles such as cumbia and rhumba.

While salsa dancing and music developed in Cuba, the majority of the styles were actually established in New York City by the Cuban and Puerto Ricans that lived there. These styles started to become popular in the 1960s. 

During this period, salsa dance was primarily a street dance. There was no established school or technique. It was simply a social dance that was created to accompany the increasingly popular salsa music. It wasn’t until many years later that Eddie Torres established a formal school for the New York style of salsa. 

New York Style Salsa

The first formal style of salsa was the New York style, which was established by Eddie Torres. This formalization of the dance is what prompted salsa to become more popular worldwide. This style is also known as the ‘on 2’ style, which refers to the beat which is emphasized in the dance style. 

The New York Style also was influenced by swing dance and other popular dance styles in New York at the time. This is most obvious in the way that dancers add ‘shines’ to the dance. Shines are moments when the two partners break apart and do solo dance combinations, often with complex footwork, before rejoining their partner again. 

Cuban and Miami Style Salsa

Cuban style salsa is also known as casino style. This style is popular in Cuba and was established as an official style of salsa in the 1970s. Cuban salsa has heavy influences from other Latin dance styles such as the Cha Cha Cha, Rumba, and Danzon

In contrast to the New York style, this salsa style is done ‘on 1’ rather than ‘on 2’. Previously, it was also done ‘on 3’, but that is less common in modern times. 

There are a couple sub-styles of Cuban or Casino style salsa. These include the Miami style, which is done in Miami, Florida and combines American dance styles with the casino salsa style that the Cubans brought with them to the States. 

Another style of Cuban salsa is Rueda de Casino, which originates from Havana, Cuba. This is a type of salsa that involves a lot of quick partner switches and dance moves that are being called out. Some different variations on the Rueda have popped up in places such as Miami. 

Other Styles of Salsa

There are many small salsa variations that exist all over the world. However, there are few that are more popular and have been formalized, showing up in schools and competitions both in their home countries and sometimes internationally. 

One of these styles is the LA style. The LA style started in Los Angeles and is another ‘on 1’ salsa style. This style involves the dancers changing positions within a line, also known as a slot. The establishment of this style is usually credited to the three Vasquez Brothers who combined some elements of other styles, such as tap, to salsa. 

Another style is Cali style salsa. This is also known as Colombian salsa as it finds its origins in Cali, Columbia, which is sometimes referred to as the Salsa capital of the world. Cali has found itself home to many salsa schools and competitions over the years. 

This style has many more acrobatics than the other styles as well as quick rhythmic footwork. Cali style also features a more closed partnering position and no cross-body leads as seen in many other styles of salsa. 

History of Salsa Music

The history of the music is just as important as the history of the dance, since the dance only exists to accompany the music. The music is a combination of American jazz, local Cuban and Puerto Rican music, and various Afro-Latino influences. 

This music became popularized in the 1960s when the record label Fania Records took off and rose to fame. Fania records continued to change the style and eventually it evolved to be what we know as salsa music today. 

Fania records also coined the term salsa, however the exact origins of the word is still unknown to this day. Some say that it dates back to Cuban history while others think it was made up by the record label or it was just used as slang. Either way, the term became popular along with the music in the mid 1960s and dance style evolved right on its heels. 

Modern Day Salsa Dance

Salsa dance has become an international sensation. There are many competitions dedicated to salsa all around the world including the World Salsa Summit in Florida, the Fusion Salsa Fest in Mexico, the World Salsa Open in Puerto Rico, and the Cali World Salsa Festival in Cali, Columbia, just to name a few. 

There are also many Latin dance competitions that feature salsa as part of the event. The most popular of these is the prestigious World Latin Dance Cup in Columbia. 

Salsa has also made its way to pop culture by becoming a dance category featured in shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. The music has also been used in many other popular shows as well. 

Things to Remember

The most important thing to remember is that salsa dancing has a history rooted in Cuban culture. However, it is also imperative to know that it wasn’t popularized in Cuba, rather the United States, namely New York City. 

Salsa dancing has many styles that have different histories and cultures to go along with it. It also relies on salsa music which has a history and evolution all of its own. The music and dance styles influence each other over time, evolving both together and independently. 

Finally, salsa has made its way to the big screen and an international audience. This means that it has lost some of its cultural significance. It is important to remember its history and culture and not let its pop culture fame take away from its deep Afro-Latino roots. 

Now that you know this history and styles of salsa dancing and music, consider trying it out for yourself or exploring the world of competitive salsa online. Learn some simple moves or enjoy the intricate rhythms. Salsa can be enjoyed by anyone from any part of the world. Just don’t forget the culture behind the mesmerizing footwork.

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