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 moves. In Salsa, turns have become an important feature, so the overall look and feel are quite different form those of Mambo. Mambo moves generally forward and backward, whereas, Salsa has more of a side to side feel.
The History of Salsa Dancing takes us back to Cuba. Cuba was the root of diverse styles like son and guajira, and the African rhythms of Rhumba. Salsa is probably the term most often heard in connection with Latin music, and paradoxically it is one that came into use in New York. Arguments rage about its origins and some musicians still resent its catch-all vagueness. Salsa itself just means ‘sauce’, and the phrase “echale salsita” – put sauce on it, i.e. heat it up – has been around since at least 1928, when Cuban veteran Ignacio Pineiro used it as a song title. In any case, the music called Salsa is the blend of essentially Cuban and Puerto Rican dance music which emerged in 1960s from immigrants in New York. Salsa could be described as a mixture of brassy arrangements, repeating choruses and jazzy solos.
What’s with the Rhythm?
The clave is what makes it different – “It is the listener or dancer who has to supply the beat: the listener must be actively engaged in making sense of the music It is a music-to-find-the-beat-by”. John Miller Chernoff). The instrumentation for salsa groups is as follows: one or two lead singers, 2-5 brass instruments, piano, bass, a pair of conga drums, timbales, bongos, a cowbell, and various hand-held small percussion instruments.
(Gerard and Sheller)
What’s the dance scene like?
Salsa Dancing has mass followings the world over. There are Salsa dance clubs in most major cities. New York, however, remains the home and creative hub of Salsa, hosting the liveliest salsa clubs and street concert scene. At Salsa clubs, “some people may sit and shout conversations, others may stand near the stage watching the band, but most come to dance. Indeed, it is worth reiterating that Latin dance music is designed to accompany dance. To attend a Latin dance club, whether in New York, Havana, San Juan, or Caracas, is to see two-hundred-plus people engaged in an extraordinarily rich and dynamic form of creative, artistic expression. This is not the shapeless shuffling and bobbing dancing of mainstream pop or dance but rather a highly stylized and sophisticated couple dance. The basic foot (and hips!) pattern is fairly standardized, but skilful salsa dancers, with the man leading, combine it with such varied, dazzling, high-speed turns, twists, and spins that it’s a wonder to behold.
Latin dancing clubs also differ from rock clubs and other mainstream dances in that one sees all ages and types of people dancing and mingling together, with an ease and naturalness that reflects the racial synthesis that produced Cuban dance music in the first place”.
(Gerard and Sheller)