Salsa means sauce in Spanish and in this case the sauce can be hot and spicy!
As with many dances, the creation of the dance followed the creation of the music. New Yorkers of Cuban and Puerto Rican ancestry are credited as the pioneers of Salsa music - a music that grew out of Mambo and Cuban Son roots.
At the time of the advent of Salsa music in New York during the 1960s, Mambo dancing was already very popular and it is not surprising that as the dance developed, one of the basic steps in Salsa dancing is the Mambo basic.
Salsa soon became popular in Puerto Rica, Cuba and Columbia. In each of these countries, music allied to Salsa was already in vogue. They also had connections with the Puerto Rican, Cuban and Columbian communities in New York. Soon, each of these countries developed its own brand of Salsa music and dancing.
Simultaneously, the popularity of Salsa music and dance spread across North America and the West coast of North America developed its own brand of Salsa dancing.
Difference Between Mambo and Salsa
The differences in Salsa and Mambo starts with the music. Mambo is the older form and Salsa a modern form. Older Mambo music was frequently played by big bands while modern Salsa music is played by Latin bands. However, Mambo music has evolved from the big-band style of music where it started, and now has a feel close to that of Salsa.
Picking out the beat in some types of Salsa music can be confusing, while the beat in Mambo, especially the 1 and 4 beats, is clear and strong. For dancers, the difference in music is best understood by listening to the music and getting a feel for the differences. In the videos page, the Salsa videos feature Salsa music and there is a Mambo music video.
As a dance, Mambo is now most commonly danced as a ballroom dance, while Salsa is danced as a club dance. In ballroom dancing there is a strong emphasis on style, posture and dance rules. Salsa is far less formal and is open to innovation. Different countries or regions may have different Salsa dance styles.
One of the rules in ballroom Mambo is the beat on which the break or first rock step is danced. In the ballroom Mambo basic, the break step (or the first step in the rock step) is danced on the 2 and 6 beats, while in Salsa's Mambo basic this convention is optional. In North America, New York or East coast style Salsa breaks on the 2 and 6 beats, while LA or West coast style Salsa breaks on the 1 and 5 beats. Some will say that Mambo music invites the dancer to break on the 2 beat (as does Cha-Cha and Rumba music) while Salsa invites the dancer to break on 1.
Speak in these terms to Latin American Salsa street dancers and they may look at you in a way that questions your sanity. Many will tell you they just feel the music and dance in a manner that comes naturally to them.
New York or East Coast Style
When using the Mambo basic, New York or East coast style Salsa breaks on the 2nd beat. This reflects New York Salsa's Mambo heritage. A number of New York style patterns are based on the cross body lead rather than on the woman's turn.
LA or West Coast Style
When using the Mambo basic, LA or West coast style Salsa breaks on the 1st or strong beat. The patterns use frequent turns for the woman. LA style also uses more tricks and dips than does the traditional New York style.
Cuban and Miami Style
Cuban Salsa breaks on the 1st or strong beat. One of the basic steps is called the Guapea. In the Guapea, the couple do a back basic on the first three beats and a front basic on the next three beats, stepping towards one another on 5 and away on 6 and 7. The leader and follower use their right and left hands respectively to push away from each other on beat 6.
Cuban style Salsa is also called Casino and patterns frequently rotate. In a group dance called the Rueda, couples place themselves in a circle and change patterns or partners when a designated caller calls for a change.
Colombian style Salsa (different from Cumbia) is based on Pachanga & Boogaloo, without the characteristic Boogaloo bounce. The focus in Columbia Salsa is on footwork. Some of the kicks and toe-heel swivels are reminiscent of Swing. The music can be very fast.
We have a separate page devoted to Cumbia.
Salsa Moves and Steps
The Mambo Basic in LA Style Salsa
A common basic step in Salsa is the Mambo basic (see Salsa videos). It is danced to two bars of music or eight beats with three steps to every bar or four beats. The step rhythm is quick quick slow, or one-beat one-beat two-beats, or step step step hold. The count for a complete basic set of steps is 1 2 3, 5 6 7.
In LA style, since there is no designated step on the 4th and 8th beats, dancers frequently insert a tap or kick with the free foot (or some other embellishment).
While his music is not the Salsa music we have come to recognize today, Cuban singer Benny Moré (1919-1963) reportedly shouted "Salsa" during particular moments when singing. This tradition could have resulted in the use of the word "Salsa" to describe the Afro-Cuban music that emerged from Mambo and Son in New York in the 1960s.
Tito Puente Sr.
Salsa's emergence and connection with Mambo roots is exemplified by the music of Tito Puente Sr. (1923-2000). A founding member of Salsa royalty, Tito Puente - known as the King of Mambo and the Sultan of Salsa - was a New York native of Puerto Rican ancestry. However, Tito Puente Sr. was not particularly keen to label his music as Salsa.
While others called his music Salsa, Puente said "The music I play is Cuban music. The only salsa I know comes in a bottle." He went on to say, "I'm a musician, not a cook." Tito Puente preferred the label Latin Jazz. Said Puente: "Sometimes jazz can be boring, but I give it a new twist."
If by the 1960s, Puente was not already a household name, in 1970, Carlos Santana helped add to Tito's fame with his rendition of Oye Como Va. The New York Times chose Puente's Dancemania as one of the 25 most influential albums of the 20th century.
Born Úrsula Hilaria Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso in the Santos Suárez neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, Celia Cruz (1925-2003) - known as the Queen of Salsa - is another member of Salsa royalty.
She left her native Cuba for New York city in 1960, and in 1966, teamed up with Tito Puente to produce six albums.
Her 1974 album Celia y Johnny produced with Johnny Pacheco was more successful than her albums with Tito Puente. In 1990, Cruz won a Grammy Award in the Best Tropical Latin Performance category for her performance with Ray Barretto - Ritmo en el Corazon.
In February 2004, her album Regalo del Alma, won a posthumous award for best Salsa release of the year at the Premios Lo Nuestro.
Salsa Music Spreads
The 1970s saw a dramatic rise in Salsa bands and the Salsa music of the 1980s is still popular today.
Names like Victor Manuelle, José Alberto, La India, Gloria Estefan, and Marc Anthony became familiar in North America.
In Columbia, Joe Arroyo, Carlos Vives and the bands Sonora Carruseles, Orquesta Guayacan and Grupo Nicherose rose to fame.
Singers like José Alberto of Dominican and Puerto Rican extraction introduced a new style of Salsa called Salsa Romantica. In 1984 he released Noches Calientes and in 1991, Dance With Me.
Salsa became very popular in Puerto Rico and native son Jerry Rivera's Cuenta Conmigo (Count on Me) became one of the all-time top-selling salsa albums anywhere - winning him a Grammy Award. The top hit from the album is Amores Como El Nuestro (Lovers Like Us) and its other hit songs are Cuenta Conmigo, Me Estoy Enamorado (I am in Love) and Casi Un Hechizo.
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