Buyer's Guide

Salsa Dance Styles of the World

What is the difference between Puerto Rican style,
Cuban style, LA style, New York Style, Israeli Style, Colombian Style
Cuban Style, and the New Millennium Style?


Well, let me explain. The Puerto Rican style can be danced on the "One" or the "Two" beat of the music, but it involves a tremendous amount of very technical footwork ("Solo" if you’re from LA, or what they call "Shines" in New York.) 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. My 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.


I found this to be true in California. 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.


In Cuba, I found that 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. From carefully watching the Cuban style throughout Europe, I would say that at least 30% of Cuban style is being danced solo, depending on the song and its rhythms. 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 I found 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, I foresee 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.


Israeli Style Salsa


I was doing a story on Israeli Salsa Dancing in Tel Aviv, Israel during the winter of 1998. My first couple of dances with Israeli men had me partially confused. I kept asking myself, "Why are they placing me into premature turns?" They would turn me left, then right away, right. "OK, right turn, left turn… got it… whoa!!! Wait a second there fella!" I felt like I wasn’t getting that extra split second of time to finish my turn. However, when I watched how they danced with their own partners, they looked phenomenal.


"What was the lady’s secret of following THAT?" I would ask myself.


I purposely took a few songs "off", kicked back, and studied the women’s footwork for a while.


I found the Israelis have a dance style that is completely unique, and their own. The best way I can describe it, is like a fast swing, forward and back, a little like Los Angeles style, and then back and back, Cumbia style. The difference is the woman is very often placed into a quick right turn, then left turn, without her actually stepping back. It is a type of quick back and forth pendulum motion. In Los Angeles, and New York, usually after a turn, or a cross-body lead, the woman takes a step back with her right leg, finishing the "five" beat, and is allowed ample time for that.


However, here in Israel, the woman place their feet almost together just after the turn, and may at times even step slightly forward just a few inches with her right leg after the turn. This is because of the way the man places the lady into a turn in one direction, and then immediately another turn, in the other direction, much like Cumbia turns.


That’s right folks, I actually sat there,
and analyzed the lady’s footwork for quite a few songs.


I mimicked the lady’s steps in my seat, while watching how the girls did this. After I tried it out on an "experiment guy", I was pleasantly surprised at how much easier it was to follow the man. As long as I didn’t step back after each turn, I was fine. I had to always be immediately ready for the next turn, even with my right foot forward a few inches. I’m sure that I felt heavy to some when I did step back, but with the new style, even "I" felt myself physically "lighter" on the floor with my Israeli dance partners.


Colombian Salsa Styles:


After speaking with and watching demos of many Colombians, I've come to the conclusion that 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. I've seen video clips of 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.


Ballroom Style Salsa:


This is what is officially called "Ballroom Mambo". Here, there are no tricks, fast spins, dips, nor lifts. Ballroom Mambo is normally danced on the "two", "three", "four", beats of the music, where both feet come completely together at an almost stand-still on the "four" and the "eight" beats of the music. This is normally taught in professional dance studios by professional ballroom coaches. The Ballroom Mambo style differs from the New York Razz M Tazz style of dancing on the four, five, six, in that Razz M Tazz style is more showy, and has a big hustle influence behind it. It also differs from the Eddie Torres, "5, 6, 7" method of teaching Mambo on "two", which also has a big hustle influence, and includes a great deal of spins and fancy floorwork (shines).


What's in now - is Millennium Style...


The argument over the One or the Two is OLD NEWS and frankly, people are getting tired of it. It's causing divisions and problems in the community that we can definitely do without. Dancing to the hits, peaks, and valleys of the song is so much more challenging and exciting than keeping a certain timing 100% of the time.


This new style demonstrates focusing your dance and body movements to hits and breaks in the music, rather than just specific timing. We see it on stage, so why not on the social dance floor? Millennium Style emphasizes tighter footwork, enhanced hip and body movements, and shortened to negligible energy and space-saving steps that are now replacing the dated long front and back steps formally taught in the dance.


Dip at the finale. hit the hits, pause on the pauses, bodywave to the waves, jump to the jumps - interpret the music!!! Go back to the One or the Two in between the breaks, but focus and interpret the MUSIC - not just the beat.


When you develop dancing or "talking" on the One or the Two, don't develop an attitude about it, and just dance THAT. Do both Speak both languages with a smile and excitement, while Millennium Styling to the Hits in between!! God has given you TWO SKILLS now, so use them both.