Salsa

Salsa has an addictive quality inherent in this rhythm which fuels the desire to become part of it and express it physically, this varied music enveloped by the umbrella term "salsa," and its fundamental, most visible instrument... DANCE... Dance gives life to the music in many visible forms. Salsa resulted from centuries of dance evolution, brought about by economic, social and political changes. It originated in the ports of Cuba during the colonisation of the Spaniards, who imported slaves from Africa. Bringing with them their culture, the Africans introduced their rhythmic dance styles to the Caribbean, giving birth to Afro-Latin dance hybrids like Cha Cha, Mambo and Rumba.

Salsa has risen to the status of a world dance. People from all cultures are relating to it, there are in fact more Salsa clubs in major cities like Los Angeles, New York or London than in its historical homes like Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Simply hot - Its seduction lies in its simplicity.
Unlike some dances, Salsa does not intimidate with technicality. Although there are basic dance routines to follow, at the end of the day, Salsa is all about having fun and a good time.

Salsa appeals to many people because you are not constrained by too many parameters, you are free to vary the basic steps and improvise your own moves.
Salsa is something for you to enjoy, It allows you to do almost anything - you just need to know the basic steps, which are relatively easy, and follow the music.
Step into a Salsa club and you will notice that it usually does not take complicated moves to wow the crowd. A stylish head turn, a sensual hip wave or a flirty wink usually does the trick.

Another advantage of doing Salsa is that you are not confined to one dance partner. You require a fixed partner for most ballroom dances because the steps are choreographed. But for Salsa, you can dance with anybody because the leader is an on the fly choreographer when he relates to the music!
To get the most out of Salsa, the key is to 'let go'. While newbies usually begin with feelings of inadequacy when they step onto the dance floor, many have come to enjoy the dance by overcoming their inhibitions.

You become less self-conscious once you are familiar with the steps, many students are in fact surprised that they are able to loosen up and dance in front of a large group!

The shedding of inhibition extends to their fashion sense as well. Its not uncommon to see students - mostly professionals - have become "more daring" in their choice of outfits since taking up Salsa. When the men first start, they normally come in strait-laced pants and shirt, but after a while, you notice them dressing up and wearing more colourful and flashy clothes."As for the ladies, they start wearing less and less!"

Hot Connection
If you are bored with the predictable movie-then-dinner routine, you may want to consider adding some sizzle to your relationship by taking up Salsa together with your partner. Salsa is a 'partner-dance', and it is about making your partner look good, so you learn how to please your partner.

Salsa provides a means to connect with others. So if you want to widen your social circle or expand your business network, Salsa might just be for you.
Swinging hips and an eclectic mix of happy people dominate the extremely social and convivial atmosphere in Salsa clubs. Everyone is having an enjoyable time and contacts are naturally made faster than anywhere else.

"Visit any Salsa club in the world, and you are likely to be received with open arms, people who do Salsa share very strong bonds, probably because the dance brings out the warmth and passion in you.Doing Salsa is very conducive for making friends. The Salsa community is a very congenial one, Everyone knows everyone after a while! So take the first step and spice up your life with Salsa now!

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.

Linear Style
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
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.

Miami Style
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.

Cuban Style
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.

Casino Style
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.

Rueda
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. 

Stylin'
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.

One of the most hotly debated issues around Salsa is where its from and who owns it; in a recently reissued song, Pio Leyva sings, "if they talk to you about Salsa, lies, it’s called Son" (si te hablan de la salsa, mentira, se llama son). I can now reveal the answer is to this is … IT DEPENDS. It really depends on how you are looking at it. Are you tracing history of the rhythms back to their roots (how far back do you go, it could go on forever) or you could look for the people who developed it, or the people who consume it and keep the demand going. You could argue that Salsa is Caribbean because that’s where the rhythms came from, or maybe from New York because they jazzed up the Son and called it Salsa. Or you could argue that it belongs to all the people who dance and listen to Salsa from Japan, LA, London, San Juan to "el quinto pino", or the ends of the earth.

But often when people ask, "where does salsa comes from" they want an answer based on nationality, geography and ethnicity. What I’ve done here is to go through some literature on Salsa, which sheds some light on the question. The ideas fall under three main headings:

• Musical roots.
• Transplanted music.
• Trans-national music.

Musical roots.

Salsa draws on several Afro-Latin genres, among the most important influences is Cuban Son Montuno, from which salsa gets its rhythms (e.g. clave, and matriz "taka taka taka gun") and song structure (canto - montuno) which Son derived from Rumba. Salsa also drew indirectly on another Cuban musical family Danzon / Mambo. So Cuban music and musicians have been especially important to "Salsa". But there is furious debate around this, which I will look at by describing the contribution of the Cuban sources from which Salsa was created.

Son.

Son is an Afro Cuban music, which originated a century ago in Oriente, eastern Cuba, (Santiago is often quoted). Son drew on African and European musics but was predominantly played by and for Afro-Cubans and was considered vulgar by the elite. Son arrived in Havana (which was reputedly less racist) around 1909 and despite its association with the poor it began to attract following of white upper classes. This coincided with an increased interest and respect for Afro-Cubanismo inspired by authors like Fernando Ortiz. This respect was seen later with the "re-Africanisation" of Son by people like Arsenio Rodriguez in using the conga drum which had formerly been a rejected symbol of lower class black culture.

Son's two-part structure features verses, which set out a theme, followed by a call and response section of lyrical and musical improvisations on the theme. This structure allowed son to incorporate other genres, e.g. guajira-son, bolero-son etc and this gave Son a wide appeal in Cuba, which was also helped by it’s celebration of the everyday life of Cuba’s poor. Son became popular throughout Cuba around 1920 when Miguel Matamoros copyrighted the first Son, "Mama Son de la loma". International popularity followed in the 1930s when Don Azpiazu's orchestra performed Moises Simons’ Son "El Manisero" at the Chicago world fare. This gave rise to the US "rhumba craze" of the 1930s. So in 30 years Son went from being an obscure regional performance mainly produced by poor black musicians, to a national symbol of Cuba and "international pop phenomenon".

Rumba.

Rumba was Havana’s parallel to Oriente's Son. Traditional Rumba is an Afro Cuban genre, which emerged in the 1890s it featured percussion and voices and the best known variety (guaguanco) represents a sexual conquest. It was also associated with poor Afro Cubans and like other aspects of Afro Cuban culture was often suppressed. Afro Cubans faced prosecution for street performances of box drums and ñañigo Rumbas.

However the restriction of Afro Cuban and traditional forms didn’t extend to cabaret music, and the cabaret Rumba flourished during the US prohibition era when Cuba attracted US tourists. This was a greatly changed Rumba of lewd "sainetes" (short plays) which portrayed racial stereotypes to a racially segregated male audience. The music was not always Rumba but featured caricatured rumberas. Moore suggest that this parody especially belittled Afro Cuban music. References to black culture were in the lyrics not the music, through singing about poor areas in a mock black dialect.

During this period Rumba was suppressed while Son gradually became seen as the essence of Cuba, "Cubanisimo". So Moore sees the history of Rumba and Son as the struggle of Cubans to come to term with their cultural diversity and to create a national unity. The acceptance of Afro-Cuban performers as Soneros but not as Rumberos led to an increasing disguising of Rumba within Son as musicians adapted to middle class Cuban and international tastes.

The mixing of two genres can be seen in song lyrics, through the 1930s and 1950s, references to Guaguanco increased, Sones with little Afro Cuban percussion, referred to Rumba in lyrics. In the mid 1940s traditional Rumba was re-appropriated by black artists and came to be celebrated as a self-confident expression of black culture and Rumba rhythms began to appear within Son and Mambo; the Guaguanco in particular became seen as a source of authenticity.

Danzon & Mambo

Danzon emerged as a stylised derivative of the genteel contradanza (habanera) which was derived from the charanga or tumba francesa. This came to Cuba with refugees from the Haitian revolution. By 1920 the genre had become Danzon and featured flute, violins, piano, string bass, timbales and güiro. Danzon used a habanera bassline, a violin "guajeo" (the repeated phrase which is usually played on piano) and despite its more European sound Danzon was a Creole genre and often played for the white urban elite by black musicians.

In 1938 Orestes Lopez (Cachao’s brother) from Arcaño's band composed a danzon called "Mambo" which had a fast improvised section at the end. Arcaño added a conga to the ensemble, replaced the habanera bass with a Son bass and the played the timbales pattern on the cencerro (cow bell), so the new music now had feel of Son but was in three parts. Soon charanga ensembles adopted Danzon-Mambo, and when separate Mambos were recorded without the preceding Danzon section, a new genre was formed which was eventually to rival the international popularity of Son.

Transplanted music.

Since the 1930s Son had become popular throughout the Hispanic Caribbean, through live performances, radio, recordings and film. This popularity emerged from common cultural disposition created by similar histories of colonisation: slavery, sugar and tobacco economies and the influence of African and Iberian cultural forms.

So Son went from being a very local Cuban style to one which transcended cultural and geographical boundaries. A particularly important tie has been between Puerto Rican and Cuban genres. An often-quoted poem has the line: "Cuba and Puerto Rico are the two wings of the same bird" and throughout their history the two countries have had close links and similar histories. But because of Puerto Rico's geography, size and position it had a different experience of colonial rule, e.g. the ethnic mix was different because Cuba's indigenous population were wiped out, also Puerto Rico had proportionately fewer Africans and hence Cuba had a more robust and visible Afro-Latin culture. But both countries felt a need to distance themselves from the colonial influence of Spain and the emerging influence of the US. In Cuba black musical expression especially Son served this purpose, and Cuban genres also helped in Puerto Rico. They had been accepted there since early days e.g. contradanza, bolero and guaracha were adopted and became symbols of Puerto Rican nationalism.

Bomba and Plena

Puerto Rican national identity is especially important because many Puerto Ricans feel they have not had independence since the 1490s and they have often seen themselves in contrast with their colonisers. Music has been symbolically important in this, so Son and later Salsa were embraced as local genres, which confidently contrasted with Spanish and US music. Local Puerto Rican music like Bomba and Plena are important in Puerto Rico as folk genres and as influences in Salsa, but didn’t get the same mass popularity as Salsa perhaps because they were not established national musics. Mon Rivera, Rafael Cortijo, his wonderful singer Ismael Rivera, were the most recent popular champions of Bomba and Plena. But their music was really Cubanised, it used the conjunto ensemble, instrumentation and often featured a Son clave, Son bass and guajeo over local rhythms. Also the repertoire of the bands which emerged from the break up Cortijos combo, e.g. Cortijo's "Bonche", "El Gran Combo", and Ismael Rivera's "Cachimbos" all produced far more Salsa than Bomba or Plena. So basically the contribution of Puerto Rican people to salsa has been much greater than the influence of Puerto Rican music to Salsa. (Having said that where would Salsa be without Ismael Rivera, El Gran Combo, Cortijo, Mon Rivera, La Sonora Ponceña, Libre, Willie Colon, Willie Rosario, Gilberto Santa Rosa to name a few).

There is a counter argument that challenges the exclusive Cuban roots of Salsa. This suggests that Salsa is pan Latin and diverse incorporating many styles of which Son is only one. Some people suggest that Plena was as influential to Salsa as Son and that Salsa is very different from Afro Cuban music, in its instrumentation, tempo, arrangements and subject matter. It is hard to resolve these arguments, certainly Puerto Ricanisms in Salsa are more subtle than the Cubanisms but they are there. Sometimes a bomba pattern is played on a cencerro, or a song has a "lelolai" introduction or they are singing about rural jibaros, or Christmas aguinaldos. But before we even consider settling the Cuban - Puerto Rican debate there’s another argument which presents "Salsa" as neither Cuban nor Puerto Rican but North American; a product of New York where the Son became Salsa and gained a new significance.

Trans-national music

The USA has been important to the development of Salsa for several reasons. Firstly, along with Spain, the USA provided a symbol of colonialism to be reacted against, in the cultural world this lead to a greater acceptance of Afro-Latin musics, which might otherwise have remained marginal.

The US has been a major consumer of Latin music not only through tourism as was seen in cabaret Rumba, but also in the "rhumba craze" of the thirties (see above) followed by the popularity of the Mambo and Chachachá, which the USA helped to distribute. We often think of Latin music being exported to the USA, but Waxer argues that this was a two way process. The US influence in Cuban music is seen in the use of trumpets in Son and the Jazz influenced big band styles of Benny More among others. New Orleans was also closely linked culturally to the Caribbean in its past and in particular to Havana.

Perhaps the most important US influence on salsa has been as home to many Latin musicians, which led to new music, combining the New York experience with the original Caribbean sources. The Puerto Rican population of New York was particularly important to Salsa. In his obituary to Jerry Masucci, founder of Fania, Larry Harlow described Salsa's growth in NYC as a response to the reduced availability of Cuban music after the Cuban revolution, which led New York Latins to reproduce Cuban music for the new local setting. Waxer suggests that the transnational development of Son, Danzon, Mambo and Chachachá set the stage for the creation of a pan-Latin American cultural identity, and that this musical appropriation is linked into the development of a new social identity. Furthermore Manuel adds that in this process of creative appropriation and reformation that the original roots and ethnic associations can actually become irrelevant to the new identity being formed.

Conclusion?

There is no conclusion to this ongoing debate, Salsa is a trans-national genre, which draws on many other genres. What’s more interesting to me is not deciding who is right or wrong (which is impossible) but being aware of and respecting the many different contributions to the argument, and enjoying the many wonderful contributions to the music. I’ve touched on some of the issues. But I haven’t even had time to mention the relationship between Salsa and Calypso, Mento and Merengue or the contributions of Miami, mainland Latin America, e.g. Venezuela and Colombia or even African, European and Asian contributions which have all played a role in the creation of Salsa.

So a simple question like "where’s salsa from" leads us to questions like "what is nationality", "what is ethnicity" and "what is identity" and the idea of a music moving around the world and forming a joint pop culture. Its not a simple subject, you could do a PhD on it (as I am) and still not find a definitive answer. So now, when people ask me "where’s salsa from", I say "If you’ve got a couple of weeks, I can start to explain, but wouldn’t you rather dance instead?"