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The Salsa: Music and Dance Review Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 12th, 2021


Salsa can be viewed in two main perspectives namely the musical perspective of salsa and the dance perspective of salsa. The musical perspective of salsa refers to a musical style that derives its rhythms from the influence of other musical styles such as the African beat and the Cuban beats. In the dance perspective, it refers to a dance that tries to communicate the beats found in the salsa music. Therefore, when these two perspectives are put together, salsa as a whole is formed (Waxer 93). Therefore, salsa can be said to be a dance that expresses the beats of salsa music and involves two people who are partners dancing simultaneously in accordance to some stipulated particular moves. Salsa has its origins from the Spanish people of the Caribbean and some of the Spanish speakers who migrated to the US. It incorporated variety of music rhythms and dance styles from various cultures across the world for example; Rumba from Africa, Bomba, Plena, Pachanga, Songuaguanco (Waxer 94). Therefore, what is salsa in the real sense, how did it come about and what has made it so popular form of music and dance across the continents and especially in the western countries. This research paper will look into the basic ideals of salsa including its history, styles and other things that have made it popular in the world.

History of Salsa

The history of salsa is surrounded with many controversies with its true original history remaining unclear among many people. However, many people concur that the history of salsa has its roots in Cuba. It is in Cuba that the famous country dance of England began to merge with African rhythms such as Rhumba, and son music of the Cuban people which was a combination of the Spanish troubadour (Sonero) and African drumbeats. All the three combined led to the formation of salsa in Cuba. However, it should be noted that it is not only in Cuba that the mixtures of music occurred but also in other countries such as Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Columbia among many other countries (Clifford 02). The compositions and mixing of this musics took another turn when the music was introduced in the Mexico City where there were lots of investments in the music. Similar events occurred that necessitated the spread of this kind of composition to New York later on. The spread of this kind of music in these two countries was basically due to the huge investments made towards this kind of music. In these two countries, this music was highly promoted using advertisements and it became famous (Clifford 02).

The word salsa was first introduced in New York City though in the real sense the dance did not originate from New York. The term salsa was used to refer to a variety of music brought together to form one unique music. These varieties were; Rhumba, Son Montuno, Mambo, Guajira, Cumbia, Festojo and Cubop. Though some of the music maintained and have continued to maintain their individualities, most of them merged to form what has been referred to as salsa. It is in this connection that it is typical to listen to the modern salsa tune and realize the variety of tunes contained in it. For example, the base part of the salsa originated from Son Montuno and other varieties in the modern culture are the Guracha and Merengue. Overtime, the New York people have added flavor to the salsa beat to in order to match the contemporary mambo rhythms. Therefore, it can be said that salsa is like a tree which has many branches and roots but all have one stem that support the whole system. Since its inception, salsa has been popular mainly in Hispanic nations in the Caribbean although some regions such New York also engages in a lot of salsa dance (Manuel et al 102).

Basic Dance Steps and timing

The basic step for dancing salsa is the forward movement combined with back movements with the woman generally following the man’s steps while on the dance floor. That is, when the man makes the front movement, the woman is required to make the back movement and the process continues throughout the dance. However, we cannot stick to one particular movement as a universally accepted salsa steps since various other steps have been adopted in different countries throughout the world. However, once one grasps the basic salsa step movement, he/she would find it easy to match with different variations in the salsa movements. The basic idea of dancing salsa using salsa music is that both partners be compatible with the music.

That is, once the music is played, one should be able to break within the second beat of the music. Therefore, salsa emphasizes consistency in each dance step with the music beats. Each beat in the salsa music should be followed by a corresponding step movement in the dance (Olson and Sheehy 173). It should also be noted that due to the similarity in origins and composition of salsa with other music such as Rumba and Mambo, they highly share the dancing styles. If one is able to dance to the tune of either Rumba or Mambo, then he/she wouldn’t have any problems adapting to the dancing style of salsa. Further still, most academic writing would always provide various dancing styles techniques and this tends to confuse new users of salsa. The advice is; learn the basic requirement of salsa and the rest would be incorporated in the technique acquired. This research will explore further into these steps as explained below.

Salsa’s timing

Since the introduction of salsa, changes have been made in the timing of one’s steps in order to differentiate it from Mambo which is the original dance style that salsa borrowed ideas from. Therefore, Mambo’s one beat step which occurred on count four has so far been changed to half beat step in salsa. Consequently, the dancers are required to move immediately after the tap on the first beat to keep pace with the music and then pause a little bit later when the dance has already began. This was enhanced with the introduction of an additional step that is; a tap that is followed with half beat pause to impose a break in the dance. Salsa basically employs four by four timing techniques which is employed by most music and its tempo picks up immediately the music is initiated (Rondón et al 268).

Basic dance steps

As mentioned earlier in this paper, there are different variations in the movements of the steps while dancing to salsa music. For example, the New Yorkers’ popular movement style is known as New York Hustle. However, there are two basic steps movements that once grasped; one can easily dance to any variation in the movements. These are; forward and backward basic movements. This explains the fundamental need for a partner in dancing salsa music. In the forward movement, the man is the initiator of the steps and as a result, the woman will only be doing steps complimenting that of the man throughout the dance. Another important point to note is that a move in salsa normally contains 8 basic steps four made by the male partner and four by the female partner. While the man perform the forward basic movement, it’s mandatory that the woman should be doing the backward basic movement to make the dance compatible with the music. When the man does the backward movement, the woman will have to do the forward movement and any contradictions to these requirements would lead to the partners’ tramping on each other (Pietrobruno 125).

Basic Movements

The above discussion centered on the basic steps and timing involved in the salsa dance. However, in this section of the research, this paper will look at the basic movements requirement that a dancer should employ in order to make the dance successful at all point. This will focus on the individuals weight changes and how it influences the movements while dancing to salsa music. Weight of individuals would normally change during a pause however; it is a requirement that during the movement of the body, the upper part of the body should remain stable without changing its weight. The hips of the female dancer are held tightly by the man as she swings around while changing her weight. On the other hand, the arms are used to show direction of movement by the initiator of the dance (Rondón, Aparicio and White 280).


In order to explain the body movements further, it would be necessary to look into the rhythms of the music. The rhythms normally range from as low as 70 beats per minute (bpm) to 120 bpm. Therefore, depending on the speed of the rhythms, the weight variation will really matter. In the salsa music, the rhythms are mainly derived from African percussion instruments and the dance incorporates all the movements consistent with the rhythms. The Conga drums always act to enrich the salsa music and provides guidelines to how the movement of the body would take place and how the shift in weight would be carried on. It should be noted that the rhythms of salsa music are derived from the clave rhythms which incorporates congas, timbales, bongos and piano among others or can play minus the claves rhythms though it is advisable to play salsa using the claves rhythms to bring out the real salsa flavor (Clifford 2).

Salsa styling

Overtime, salsa has incorporated various techniques in dancing which were absent previously. This has been done basically to spice up the dance and to allow for variation in dancing though maintaining the basic initial movement steps. These modifications occurred in the body movements, leg work, body isolation and hand styling. Various scholars have argued that salsa has also incorporated dance moves and styles from music such as hip hop, jazz, belly dancing and pop among others. All these are in an effort to spice up the salsa dance and music (Waxer 93).

Salsa Styles

Salsa has many styles incorporated within it. This is basically due to the fact that the music has its origin from a combination of different music from different geographical areas and cultures. The following are the features associated with salsa dance styles around the world. They are; dance styles with different foot patterns, different turning positions, styles that involve different holding positions of the partners, attitudes in the dance, and styles within body movements. Therefore, any slight changes in the basic movement of the body in salsa can be referred to as a salsa style. This research paper will discuss some of the renowned dance styles found around the world in the modern society. These are discussed below.

New York and Puerto Rico Dancing Style

This style basically advocates for body isolation technique between the dancing partners. The isolation depends on the efficiency of the body movement performed by the dancers’ usually two partners. Rhythms employed in the New York dance style is derived from conga drum pattern and requires individuals to concentrate on the message of the salsa music while dancing to the Rhythms. This has made it possible to upload the initial Caribbean dance style. This style therefore emphasize on the use of percussion in producing rhythms rather than employing much of vocals thereby making this style to be referred to as hardcore salsa. In the city of New York, this kind of dance style is normally held on 1st, 3rd, and 5th of every Sunday in a given month. The New York style has gained popularity all over the world especially among the teachers who coach students into understanding the basic requirements of salsa (Candelaria and García 780).

Cuban dance style

This style is sometimes referred to as Casino and is danced particularly in Cuba and Miami in the State of Florida. However, it is also danced in some parts of Europe and China. This style can either be danced in an upbeat or low beat with all the beats skipping the fourth beat. The style emphasize on partners moving in a circular nature with the leader usually the male making a forward movement of one-two-three steps and a subsequent movement of five-six-seven steps which are imitated by the follower in the opposite direction respectively. Therefore it can be noted that the fourth beat has been skipped both in the forward movement and the backward movement in this dance style (Manuel, Bilby and Largey 190).

Rueda style

This dancing style has almost similar features with the Cuban styles. The partners move in circles just like in the Cuban style but involve swapping partners in the process of dancing. Therefore, a group of people may enjoy dancing with each other through a systematic changing of dance partners. This style was originally designed in Cuba around 1950’s and is employed in various balls where people intend to have lots of fun with each other. The Rueda dance style is divided into two categories namely; Cuban style and the Miami style.

Ronda Manila

This was derived from Rueda and was formed basically to increase on the satisfaction derived from the Rueda dance style. It also incorporates dancing in groups and swapping partners though it has simple moves compared to Rueda. The dance is popular in Philippines and comes in form of storytelling in the salsa music while the dancers dance to the tune of the music. This style has mainly been employed in social gatherings since it always provides an excellent theme during the gathering. It has five fundamentals that are really inspirational to the dancers and are phrased out in Pilipino language. They are: ‘Gising’ to mean wake up and is always a call to the society to think beyond; second is ‘Pule’ which means calls for prayers in the society; third id ‘Patria’ which calls for togetherness in the community and society at large; fourth is ‘Lakambini’ which advocates for cautiousness in preserving nature especially the environment; and lastly is the ‘Dolorosa’ which calls for caution towards life. It should be noted that any group in the society can come up with a new combination to form the fundamentals of the dance so long as it has a good sociological theme. This dance style is not much popular outside Philippines but lately, various groups have come up to popularize it to the world especially through offering free dance lessons (Pietrobruno 95).


Some other styles include the Cumbia practiced mainly by the South and Central American people and involve partners dancing on a side by side basis with the follower imitating the moves of the leader. The second one is the Cali (Capital de la Salsa) and found particularly in Columbia and incorporates only selected methods of movements. Last but not least is the Los Angeles style which emphasizes mostly on aerobics during the dance moves (Pietrobruno 97).


As can be seen from the research above, salsa has evolved over time from a simple combination of different kinds of music to become one of the best music that incorporates the best dance moves. Anyone who wishes to enjoy a nice night dating full of fun can blend the dating with a little bit of salsa dance. This is because; the partners have close contact with each other and can feel each others’ body while enjoying the music together with the dance. It should also be noted that though the salsa music originated from Cuba, it has been widely practiced in Hispanic countries such as Mexico and Puerto Rico. That is, it is generally played and dance in the Caribbean countries. As a result of its fantastic dance moves, the dance has become very popular in most urbanized cities around the world especially in the Caribbean and western countries. To make matters even more intriguing, is the incorporation of salsa lessons in various institutions of learning. This illustrates how salsa has grown to become so popular.

Works Cited

Candelaria, Cordelia and García, Peter J. Encyclopedia of Latino popular culture Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004, pp 734-800.

Clifford, Paul F. Background to Mambo, Salsa and Cha Cha – Part 2. Web.

Manuel, Peter L., Bilby Kenneth M. and Largey, Michael D. Caribbean currents: Caribbean music from rumba to reggae. 2nd Ed. Temple University Press, 2006, pp 102-200.

Olson, Dale A. and Sheehy Daniel E. The Garland Handbook of Latin American Music. 2nd Ed. Routledge, 2007, pp 173-256.

Pietrobruno, Sheenagh. Salsa and its transnational moves. Lexington Books, 2006, pp 65-125.

Rondón, Cesar M., Aparicio, Frances R. and White, Jackie. The book of salsa: a chronicle of urban music from the Caribbean to New York City. Translated by Frances R. and White, Jackie. UNC Press, 2008 pp 260-300.

Waxer, Lise. Situating salsa: global markets and local meanings in Latin popular music. Routledge, 2002, pp 44-100.

Waxer, Lise A. (2002), The City of Musical Memory: Salsa, Record Grooves, and Popular Culture History of Salsa Dance and Music in Cali, Colombia, Wesleyan, p. 93-94.

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