Salsa is not easily defined. No one really knows who even “invented” Salsa. Was it the Cubans or the Puerto Ricans? Salsa is a term which encompasses many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances; and each played a large part in its evolution.
Salsa is similar to Mambo in that both have a pattern of six steps danced over eight counts of music. The dances share many of the same figures. In Salsa, turns have become an important feature, so the overall look and feel of the dance is quite different from Mambo. Mambo moves generally forward and backward, whereas, Salsa has more of a side to side feel.
Though Salsa is not wholely Cuban, Cuba is generally given credit for its origin. It was in Cuba where the Contra-Danze (Country Dance—later called Danzón) of England/France, brought by the French who fled from Haiti, was mixed with Rumbas of African origin. Add the Són (a mixture of Spanish colonial dance and African rhythms), and a new partner dance emerged to the beat of the clave.
This blending of rhythms and music from several cultures also occurred to smaller degrees and with different variations in other countries like the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Central America. New York created the term “Salsa”, but it did not create the dance. The term became popular as a nickname to refer to a variety of different music from several countries of Hispanic influence.
The “basic” step generally consists of 6 steps done in a “quick-quick slow; quick-quick slow” rhythm.
Depending on location, the Salsa “basic” varies. Three common basics are:
Cumbia (side, close, side) (3 steps to the right; and 3 steps to the left)
Rock-step, side; Rock-step side
Forward and backward
The footwork is generally “Ball Flat” throughout the dance. Ball Flat is a term indicating that the ball of the foot is the first part of the foot to come in contact with the floor and will receive the pressure from the weight change before the rest of the foot. The weight is then transferred to the Flat of the foot as the weight change is completed.
Though Salsa music ranges in speed, it is generally a lively, quicker-paced dance than its Latin counterparts of Cha Cha, Rumba, Bolero.
While Cuban Motion is still used in Salsa, it is not as pronounced as in slower dances.
Generally speaking, Salsa dancers “break” on count 1 of the measure. However, like its cousin, the Mambo, breaking on count 2 is also acceptable.