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?"

Merengue

The Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic, and also to some extent, of Haiti, the neighbour sharing the island.

There are two popular versions of the of the origin of the Dominican national dance, the Merengue. One story alleges the dance originated with slaves who were chained together and, of necessity, were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar to the beat of drums. The second story alleges that a great hero was wounded in the leg during one of the many revolutions in the Dominican Republic. A party of villagers welcomed him home with a victory celebration and, out of sympathy, everyone dancing felt obliged to limp and drag one foot.

Merengue has existed since the early years of the Dominican Republic (in Haiti, a similar dance is called the Meringue). It is possible the dance took its name from the confection made of sugar and egg whites because of the light and frothy character of the dance or because of its short, precise rhythms.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Merengue was very popular in the Dominican Republic. Not only is it used on every dancing occasion in the Republic, but it is very popular throughout the Caribbean and South American, and is one of the standard Latin American dances.

There is a lot of variety in Merengue music. Tempos vary a great deal and the Dominicans enjoy a sharp quickening in pace towards the latter part of the dance. The most favored routine at the clubs and restaurants that run a dance floor is a slow Bolero, breaking into a Merengue, which becomes akin to a bright, fast Jive in its closing stages. The ballroom Merengue is slower and has a modified hip action.

The Merengue was introduced in the United States in the New York area. However, it did not become well known until several years later.

Ideally suited to the small, crowded dance floors, it is a dance that is easy to learn and essentially a "fun" dance.

Origins of Merengue
by Carmen Vazquez

The origin of this dance, according to the Dominicans themselves, from a program shown on TV "SANTO DOMINGO INVITA".

Merengue is a combination of two dances, the African and the French Minuet, from the late 1700's - early 1800's. The black slaves saw the ballroom dances in the Big Houses and when they had their own festivities started mimicking the "masters' dances".  But the Europeans dances were not fun, they were very boring and staid, so over time, the slaves added a special upbeat (provided by the drums), this was a slight skip or a hop.

The original Merengue was not danced by individual couples, but was a circle dance, each man and woman faced each other and holding hands - at arm's length. They did not hold each other closely and the original movements of this dance were only the shaking of the shoulders and swift movement of the feet. There was no blatant movement of the hips like there is today, as native African dances do not move the hips. In fact, African dances, as well as other Indigenous dances throughout the world, consist of complicated steps and arm movements. Tribal dancing does not have "primitive" sexual shaking of the hips, this is only done in Hollywood movies.

So, the origin of the Merengue is very similar to that of the "Cake Walk" dance of the American South.

Zouk

Zouk Lambada

The word lambada refers both to the rhythm - a fusion of Carimbó and merengue - and to the dance, which incorporates elements of forró, samba, merengue and Maxixe (the 19th century Brazilian dance which was a tremendous success in Europe).

The dance is sexy, yes, but it is danced by all kinds of people, of all ages and sexes, without the "dirty" connotations given to it by very bad Hollywood movies. It's very graceful, fast-paced, and believe me, when you have to move your feet and body that fast on the dance floor without tripping all over yourself and falling on the dance floor, the LAST thing on your mind is sex...Anyway, the rhythm originated in the Amazon, was later adopted by Bahians, who proceeded to create the steps...and the rest is history!

History of Lambada

This is a quite interesting story since it is made of lots of contemporaneous tales. It's quite difficult to get the same one version from anybody since everyone seems to pull out the thing to it's own flavor.

I had the fine opportunity to start dancing around Brazil very before the explosion of the so called Lambada, hence I had the chance to follow the ascension and decline of this rhythm in Brazil and in other countries.

I have been in Pará (this is the Brazilian 2nd greatest state located at the north part of the country, very near to the south Caribbean isles with a local and secular typical style of culture, food and dancing) and other states down the north-eastern coast of Brazil ending at the Bahia state, researching for this story throughout.

Hence I couldn't resist and wrote these lines to you...

The origins - The "CARIMBÓ"

Since the time Brazil was a Portuguese colony (which happened between year 1500 a.d. till 1822 a.d.) there was a common dance in the north part of the country called Carimbó. It was a loose and very sensual dance in which the woman tried to cover the man with many spins and rounded skirts. The music was played mainly among beats of drums made of trunks of wood, thinned by fire.

As time passed by, the dance changed as did the music itself. It had many influences from the Caribbean music due to its geographical proximity, and a reminder of this is that even today one can listen to Caribbean radio stations when at some north states of Brazil like the Amapá state. This strong relation also generated some new rhythms like the Sirimbó and the Lari Lari, and so it changed forever the way the Carimbó was danced.

The NAME and The FATHER

After a while, a local radio station from Belém (Pará's capital city) started to call these new type of music as "the strong beated rhythm" and "the rhythms of Lambada" (Lambada is another word in local language for a strong hit). This last name "Lambada" had a strong appeal and began to be associated with this new emerging face of an old dancing style.

Then the Carimbó dance started once more to be danced in couples, in a 2-beat style, something very close to the Merengue, but with many spins. I once danced this kind of music back in 1983, in Belém and Macapá (Amapá's capital city). I also bought some LPs from a guy called Pinduca, who is a very well known singer at the north of Brazil for it is strongly believed he is the true father of Lambada, although he never got to be known anywhere else.

The fusion between the metallic and electronic music from Caribean brought again a new face to the Carimbó, which started to be played throughout the north-eastern region of Brazil (a place well known for its tourist approach), although this new Carimbó went with the name of Lambada.

The LAMBADA FROM BAHIA - The 1ST BOOM

As the Lambada traveled through the coast until reaching Bahia (the elder Brazilian state) it started to receive some influences from the Forró dance (another strong beated and old Brazilian style of dance), and finally it became a 4-beated dancing style, in which we can definitely say it was different from the original Carimbó.

The way of dancing this Lambada was with arched legs, and the steps were done from one side to the other, and never from front to back. This was also the time in which the tight skirts fashion were up, and both things (the dance and the fashion) got too close to one another. Still today, at some places like the Lambar (a night club in Sao Paulo) this match of a girl in a tight skirt and a man in long trousers still has it appeal on an outdoor.

During these years the Carnival from Bahia was beginning to increase in popularity, and so every summer a new kind of dance aroused, only to disappear during the year due to lack of tourists, and the arising of another dancing style and rhythm on the following summer. A few years before the Lambada, we had the Fricote and the Ti-Ti-Ti among others dances, which truly disappeared to never be remembered anymore.

Among with the "Trio-eletricos" (Big movable trucks covered with speakers, on top of which musicians play during the Carnival in Bahia) the Lambada started to become popular in Bahia, and established itself in the city of Porto Seguro. Still, in this first boom of the Lambada, the south-east region (the most economical evolved region of Brazil) despised the rhythms which came from Bahia on a regular base (those were believed to be only summer hits).

It is worth to mention that there is a tale concerning about a prohibition to dance Lambada long ago, back to the 30's, but that is solely a plain confusion. What really became forbidden was a dance called Maxixe because of its spicy lyrics and movements. What really happened to Lambada was that in its peak it was mistaken for something of pornography, by people who knew nothing about the dance itself and tried to make "news out" over something which, at best, was a sensual way of dancing. The funniest part of all this, is that many years later, nowadays, there are some really-sexual related dances like the "dança da garrafa", like many other ones, and people don't seem to bother anymore about it. (The "dança da garrafa" is a kind of dance in which the woman goes alone, dancing and crouching down over straight up bottle, trying to get the closer she can with her sex to the top of the bottle without touching it).

Although it was recognized to have became a summer-fever, the Lambada was far away from having its true world-wide success. The many first lambaterias (a place to dance Lambada) which opened couldn't stand the low tourism of the winter station and all of them closed a few months later, but this wasn't the end...

AN INTERNATIONAL BEAT

Meanwhile in Brazil the Lambada was being buried at winter, some people at Europe had other plans for it.

At the end of that very summer, a couple of French business man came to Brazil and bought the musical rights of something like 300 lambada-music. They went back to France, and created the Kaoma Band, boosted up some serious bucks on Marketing, turning Lambada a world-wide known style, reaching even the far east of Japan in which Lambada is danced until nowadays.

THE 2ND BOOM

The world-hit was so strong that brought something almost unbelievable: it came back to Brazil, but this time at the economically evolved south-east region (a region on which decades over, Brazil imported foreign music). This re-insertion of Lambada changed the way people danced, and for the first time in more than 30 years since the Beatles, young couples started to dance together once more. If today we in Brazil have thousands of Ballroom dancing schools, a web-list, and plenty young happy people dancing together, we owe it to Kaoma's international success.

This second wave I call the 2nd Lambada Boom. This was a far greater happening which let us with strong new marks on our culture. Besides the fact that young people came back to the Ballroom dancing, the Lambada became internationally known as much as the Samba.

A funny irony on this story is that the world most known Lambada music: "Chorando se foi" (which means: the one who left crying) is in fact a Bolivian music called "Llorando se fue" (which has the same meaning). At the cover of that Bolivian album, the title was Lambada, and here goes another tale: that Lambada had its origin in Bolivia, which definitely is a great mistake.

THE CHANGING

With world repercussion, the dance reached far distortions. Due to a lack of fine Lambada dancers to make films and shows, most professional dancers started changing the way it was danced. Rock spins and steps were added (like those from Jive and East coast swing) , and also some acrobatic movements became more common-placed.

Just to make a point, I myself remember to have watched to a Lambada contest at "Lambateria UM" (a place of Lambada) in which the contestants were to be eliminated if ever they became separated during the dance.

Among with the Lambada music playing in every radio station, some musician tried to follow the trend and recorded some songs who became real hits. Some of these guys were like Sidney Magal and Fafá de Belém. Soon enough although, these well-known singers showed themselves as just a few guys wanting to make some easy money and were forgotten as a reference on Lambada music.

THE DECLINE AND THE NEW MUSIC

After these up's & down's the Lambada composers were starting to fade away. The music and dance lost its strength, and let hordes of millions of fans all over the world helpless.

Some very resistant dancers started to use other music styles to keep on dancing this so early discovered pleasure before it died forever.

This way, people gathered the habit of using many of the Caribbean music like Soca, Merengue, Salsa and Zouk to dance the Lambada. (During that time...) There was also another band which sold plenty discs in Brazil associated with Lambada: the Rumba band called The Gipsy Kings.

Finally the dance recovered most of its original way and style, with less acrobatic moves, smoother, intimate and closer contact. Unfortunately as stated by some people like Israel Szerman (a Brazilian teacher), nowadays the dance changed its name to Zouk (on most parts of Brazil), mainly because of our orphanage.

After all, I inquire myself whether it is indeed so wrong the dance should now be called Zouk. One way or the other Zouk is a kind of step-father or even an adoptive-father to our Lambada dancing style.

This issue seems to philosophical to me. The main purpose on bringing this text to you is to contribute on a history which I had the luck and opportunity to live along, and so try to record the truth as it did really happen.

Happy shall be the people whose country has a so rich culture in which one can choose its own national rhythm.

And even happier shall be the people who can take care of its own culture as it shall never die.

A great hug to all "Lambadeiros" and "Zoukeiros"

Chico Peltier - Sao Paulo - Brasil
Translated by Claudio Falcao of Rio de Janeiro

Social dancing

At the dance studio alot of students that take either group lessons or private lessons and are never seen at the Salsa nightclubs or parties. This is very disturbing, often when asking students why they are never at the Salsa night clubs/events the answer is usually "well, I don't think I'm quite ready"

Going to the Salsa Night club or Salsa Parties is the MOST important thing for any level!

Ready or not, first of all going to the club should be main reason you are trying to learn salsa - to dance at  the actual Salsa night club or party. 
There is no point in learning Salsa if you are not really using it - keyword 'using' instead of 'will use' (future tense). It is like learning a language in class, but not using it in a daily basis - in the long run, you won't get good in the language or worse, you'll forget it.

Nothing beats being in the trenches taking grenades. 
Salsa Classes & Salsa clubs/parties, they go hand in hand, they both help each other, but at some point you need to use the skills.
An analogy would be on how to drive a car by learning how to read a book or by a driving school. 
The learning does not SUBSTITUTE the fact that you will do most of your real time learning while you are behind the wheel. 
You can certainly always up skill with classes too!
Now, some of you might say that "well, private lessons or classes are like driving the car too", - well that might be true, but its like driving a car on a closed course. What about traffic? What about traffic lights? What about different types of terrain? What about drunk drivers? 
Different types of cars, with different handling? ...and many more

Nothing beats real-world scenarios. 
So, you might be practicing with your instructor or a partner or class mates - but what do you personally do when the dance floor is really crowded? What if your partner can't turn correctly or keep balance? What if the floor is sticky, or too slippery? What if you have uncomfortable shoes? What if the lights are dimmed or too bright in your face? What if you can't find the beat in the music? What if you've had a couple of drinks? What if your partner has had a couple of drinks? ... or what if all the people around have had too many drinks!

Mistakes are an essential part of learning. When you go to the club, with a specific move in mind - you will make mistakes. Maybe during the first night - you don't get to do that move or combo correctly at all or in the ladies case following those moves. 
But, you should not give up. The next time you go to the club and try that same move, maybe you'll only make 3 mistakes. Maybe the next time you go after that only make 1 mistake.. and so on. That is how you get better. It doesn't magically come out right the first time, on the 10th time it will be much better than the first time I did it - its a simple law of economics.

The 3-1 rule. Very simple and specifically for lessons: for every 1 hour of lessons you take, there should be at least 3 hours dedicated to social dancing and practicing what you've learned in that hour. Now, this might sound insane, but its not. If you take the fact that you go to a club at 9pm and possibly leave at 12am – that’s already 3 hours! If you go out dancing twice a week, then you're more than done! It is the same idea from taken from college teaching and homework.

Practice makes perfect: Some students take weekly private lessons - but here is the main problem. In a private lesson, if the instructor is very good, you'll learn a whole lot of things that you need to work on. In group lessons its much the same thing too, all the little details make a huge difference. PUT INTO PRACTICE what you learned in that lesson. If not, you'll be either learning the same issues you had in the previous lesson, or working on new ones - without previously fixing the old ones which (if fixed, or worked on) could help reduce the remaining ones. That’s why some people never see an improvement in their dancing - they take and take lessons, but never put into practice what they are learning. It is like going to a class in college, sitting and listening to the instructor - but never doing homework.

Homework is the key in becoming great at the material. There is not a more fun homework that going to a salsa club and dancing! If you do take private lessons, if it's a good instructor, the instructor will know that he/she should space them out for you - because again, you need time to soak the knowledge in, practice it on your own, and try it at the club and join classes. 
Because when you try it at the club, you'll potentially make mistakes and you will come back to him/her with questions. 
But, you will show progress! ...and that’s the important part, because each time you come back, the questions become less and less.

Intimidation is a sin. To be intimidated to the point that you don't even go to a salsa club - thats a Capital Sin!. The best cure is just to get out there and dance right away. Choose to dance with person you know you have good chemistry with, a friend or a person on your dance team or class that is on a similar skill level. Do this because its harder to screw up and if you do, then they'll be entertained and have fun anyway. And that’s the key fact - you are still dancing, still moving and more quickly becoming a better dancer just because you are out there.

 

Here are some good tips:

• Don't try things in a crowded club that you have not mastered through practice first in an uncrowded place.

• Women should refuse to execute moves that they know the partner hasn't the skills to lead when it puts her (and others) at risk

• Same for the guys, some of the women are crazy - don't let them be.

• The men are leading the women as though they are driving a car in traffic - so the men MUST be aware of the surroundings and know that when the partner finishes a move - will the space already be occupied by another moving couple? 

• Small controlled steps will prevent all of those painful instep injuries that result when beginning dancers take big steps - especially on the back step - and step on other dancers.



What is dance floor etiquette? The art of dancing, whether good or bad, in your own space. The art of not being all over the dance floor, unaware of or totally oblivious to the other people dancing around you. The art of having consideration for other dancers and of not intruding into their space, just as you wouldn't want them to intrude into yours. A problem today is that too many people want to show off, whether they have the ability or not, or if they do - whether or not they have space. They want to turn, dip, flip and spin and don't seem to care that there are others on the dance floor, too.Every dancer must adopt the philosophy of dancing in the "slot", remaining in their own space, completely aware of who is around them and of how much space exists between them and the other couples. If the dance floor is crowded, don't try to dip your partner or to do a fancy turn combination because it will put your partner in someone else's space and put your partner at risk. Learn to dance in a "contained" manner. If the floor is really open and empty, only then can you get fancy. If the floor is crowded, contain yourself, stay in your space. Guys, remember that you are the one who leads the lady into everything that she does "normally". You must be in control at all times and know where you are leading her, without invading another couple's space. Ladies, if you are dancing with someone who is twirling you like a top, who has no control and who has you out of control - stop dancing, even if you have to pretend you suddenly have a sore foot! or let your partner know that he needs to work on his control. You do not want to be at risk because he hasn't the control to lead you well. If he does not listen, if he shows no consideration, then politely excuse yourself off the dance floor. Do not embarrass yourself or the person you are dancing with. It is preferable to being hurt yourself and preferable to hurting someone else. Guys, if you are dancing with someone who does not know how to turn, who does not have the footwork, or who is herself wild, let her know that it is unbecoming or that she should take lessons. If you are not a dance Instructor yourself, then recommend someone that can help. Advise her to always be more conscious of the dancers around her.It is our mission to make New Zealand and the Dance communities of the world safer by having ALL dancers be more aware and considerate of each other.

Social dancing in couples is mainly a phenomenon of Western European culture. Social dance has structure but is not executed in the form of routines i.e. basic rules which once understood allows two individuals to dance together and flexibly determine their choreography, even if they had never met before. This demands that each move element of the dance posses a unique identifying start signal. Initiation of the signal and compliance with it result in the co-ordination of the move element by both partners.

When a couple takes to the dance floor, both partners cannot initiate at the same time, neither ca they both comply. Therefore one partner initiates and the other complies. This is known as leading and following respectively. Traditionally the lead role has been assumed by men and the following by women.

The lead (known as la marca meaning "the mark" in tango) for a move can take a variety of forms, usually presenting itself as a change in pressure (increase/decrease) as the point of partner contact. or in the body position of the leader relative to the follower. The most elegant leads are clear and considerate to the follow without being obvious to the casual on-looker. The challenge to the follower, in choosing to comply with the signal, is in finding ways of self-expression whilst dancing within its constraints.

Consequently salsa demands the abilities of lead and follow of its dancers in order for it to be executed on our club floors in a social context.