Let’s Salsa! Learn Salsa Dance History


Let’s Salsa! Learn Salsa Dance History

Raoul Suarez
January 23, 2024
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You’ve probably wanted to spice up the dance floor with some Salsa moves before — but if you don’t have someone to teach you the moves… 

You might feel a little lost.

Salsa dance is known for being sensual, quick, rhythmic, and filled with partnered-movement. 

But what exactly is it?

What is Salsa?

Salsa dance is a Latin movement style that originated in Cuba, but draws on movement styles from around the world.

It’s usually done with a single partner, but subgenres can make way for a dance party involving a group of people exchanging partners.

For a clearer picture, let’s dive into how this dance came to be.

Salsa Dance History 

Salsa is a dance that first emerged in Cuba during the turn of the 20th century, molded by different cultural tendencies from Spain, Africa, and the Caribbean.

The dance stems from the melodies popular in Spain and the instruments of Africa and Cuba. 

Then, as time went on, the music and dance style began picking up on the way people moved in the clubs of LA to the streets of Australia.  

Its popularity spread like wildfire.

When did Salsa become popular?

Salsa has always been a big hit for everyone who came across it, even in its early stage.

When American soldiers began traveling to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War, they fell in love with the style.

Salsa dancers started blending in movements found in American Jazz, as American Jazz players started joining in with Cuban dancers and musicians. 

Club promoters saw the potential and soon started creating records of upbeat Latin music and shipping it off to the U.S..

Expansion to the United States

By the 1970s, Salsa music had a home in the United States. 

After an increase of native Caribbean workers immigrating to the U.S., more and more locals began spreading the dance, and it started being incorporated into the music of notable musicians such as Willie Colon, Reuben Blades, and Johnny Pacheco.

Salsa’s rapid growth in popularity can also be greatly attributed to the Palladium Ballroom in New York City.

The dance hall located on Broadway became somewhat of a refuge for Latino immigrants, granting a platform for them to practice their craft and movements.

Coupled with popular Latino bands and musicians such as Machito, Arsenio Rodriguez, and Tito Puente, it became key to giving Salsa the ability to bring people together and create fun, comforting times.

Salsa Vocabulary

Before you get into the Salsa groove, here are some terms that you might want to familiarize yourself with:

  • Salsa

The origins of the name Salsa, as you might imagine, is just like the sauce - it is a mixture of all sorts of things!

Some people say it comes from the fact that in the 1800s, shouting salsa brought about energy. Some claim that it is because the dance is closely tied to the genre of music with the same name or that it is called salsa simply because of the multicultural background that the dance has, with roots coming from Africa, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

  • Shines

Remember when we said that Salsa is a partner dance?

That’s still true, but Salsa can allow one of the dancers to perform solo and have the spotlight. This instance is called shines.

  • Duck

A lot of topsy-turvy is involved in Salsa, and one of them is called “duck”, the movement where a partner ducks down so that they can cross underneath a partner’s arm.

  • Embrace

Salsa can be a very sensual dance, and that is fully evident when the performers are in an embrace, a position where they cross arms while holding hands.

Types of Salsa Dances

New York Style

We mentioned before how the Palladium ballroom in New York became a hotspot for Latinos to practice their dances, so it’s only natural that New York birthed a Salsa style of its own. 

U.S. music genres such as R&B and Jazz, as well as other Latino dances such as Mambo mixed in with traditional Salsa dances, and that called for new movements.

New York-style Salsa is characterized by body isolations and precise movements.

New York Salsa often requires a lot of skill when it comes to footwork, so professionals take a lot of time with this one!

Los Angeles ("L.A.") Style

L.A. Salsa gets your blood pumping quickly.

With a speedy tempo and rapid movements, people can not help but get excited when they witness it on the streets!

It is inspired by the Argentine Tango, Latin Hustle, and European Ballroom Dances, making it an explosive mix of dance moves.

Miami-style Casino

Miami sets itself apart when it comes to Salsa.

With the credit being given to Cuban immigrants who came to Florida, it’s very in touch with Cuban culture as it morphs and changes with time. 

Miami style is complex, moving diagonally and requiring body flexibility to do the pretzel-like movements. Just like Cuban Salsa, this is danced in circles.

Colombian / Cali Style

This Salsa style is very distinct from the others, due to its hip and leg movements, back-to-side-to-center patterns, and encouragement of keeping the bodies of each partner super close.

This is one of the more difficult versions of Salsa, but it has a whole vibe to it that makes it an enjoyable experience to learn.

Rueda de Casino

This is a party all on its own.

The Rueda de Casino can be performed by hundreds of dancers, but it must begin with partners who dance in a circle with an orchestrator in the middle signaling the time to switch partners.

Popular with weddings and festivities, this is one of the most enjoyable and romantic ones, but it is a difficult variation to master since the pressure is on with this one.

After all, you do not want to be a party pooper and break the circle!

Ballroom Salsa

This is an especially elegant form of Salsa.

Ballroom Salsa became popular at the turn of this century, being danced by at least two dancers, as with most ballroom dances.

It’s usually performed by professionals who know different Salsa variations and Ballroom styles.

Cuban Style Salsa

Cuban Style Salsa is one of the more romantic ones out there!

Danced in a circle where the male often leads a push and pull movement, this is an electric dance that implores the participants to be energetic and limber so that they can tap on the right beats and push and pull with ease.

The Benefits of Salsa Dancing

Other than the fact that you’ll look incredible when performing this dance, Salsa can be adapted for all ages and abilities.

Yes, that’s right — even if you have no clue how to move your arms or legs, you can participate in Salsa. 

STEEZY is an online dance platform that makes it easy and fun to get started with Salsa dance!

Just download the app and start enjoying all these benefits:

  1. Salsa breaks social barriers.

Salsa is simply too electric to have you feeling left out. 

When you visit a Salsa club or party, it’s basically guaranteed that you’ll meet new people, laugh with them, and be able to learn a little bit about yourself too. 

Being one of the most popular activities in Latin America, you can observe that nobody feels self-conscious — everyone’s just vibing together.

So, whether you are shy, experiencing a period of depression, or trying to gain a boost in self-esteem, Salsa will be able to help with that through and through.

  1. Salsa is for fitness

Is Salsa good for workouts?

The answer is a resounding yes!

Salsa’s spoils do not end with the friends you meet, but also with the health benefits that you gain. As you get down and dirty on the dancefloor, vibing to the beat, you’re gaining the benefits that you would get from any aerobic exercise.

You’ll be able to experience these fitness benefits with Salsa Dancing:

  • Burning up to 420+ calories per hour. That’s more than you lose when riding a bike or swimming. Crazy!
  •  Salsa can help relieve a lot of your stress.
  • It improves your endurance and stamina due to the fast-paced movements.

Salsa Dance Choreographies You Can Learn Now

Is Salsa Dance easy to learn?

After knowing the history, styles, and benefits you can gain from Salsa, how can you start groovin’ and movin’? 

Thankfully, STEEZY’s got you covered. 

Here are the best choreographers to guide you in every step, whether you are learning basic or intermediate salsa dance:

  1. Gracie Flores x Tony Flores

Gracie Flores and Tony Flores have a one-week program ready and waiting for you.

From the foundations of Salsa to the turns and choreography, you’ll feel super confident after taking their course.

Click here to check out Day 1 of their beginner program — it’s free!

  1. Aubrey Ares

You can try out Aubrey Ares’ 20-minute tutorials on different variations of Salsa.
Her videos are easy to pick up and vibe with. You can definitely feel the magic of Salsa through her movements.

Here is Aubrey showing her groove in a Salsa choreography tutorial: 

Related article: How to Prep for Your First Salsa Class

The whole world is in on it!

You can consider Salsa a global party, and everyone is invited! 

You may think that you need flexible limbs or a flat stomach to do it properly, but there are no boundaries with Salsa. All you need is that confidence to grab a partner and get those feet moving!

You do not want to be missing out on all the fun, so watch the tutorials, work on your steps, and get in on the vibe.

Want a shortcut to get started? Watch this!