STYLES OF SALSA:
L.A.,  CUBAN,  N. Y.,  MIAMI & 
RUEDA DE CASINO

Introduction To The Styles

Different people sometimes have a different perception or "take" on what is typical of various styles of Salsa.  So I don't claim my descriptions are the only way to look at this. 
Also, within any city or style there is a lot of variety of interpretation.  Moreover, styles blend and meld over time so they are less distinct.

That said, the video at this link, is a nice explanation and example of the different styles: http://ilivesalsa.com/blog/salsa-blog-2/style/the-styles-of-salsa.  And this link also shows videos and explains the different styles:  www.langeasy.com/spanish7/salsa.html#mozTocId558265 .   

From my experience, I would summarize the key features of the various styles as follows.

L. A. style is no doubt shaped in part by the fact that Los Angeles/Hollywood is all about acting, being flashy, and drawing attention to oneself. This style is fast, sharp, and eye-catching.  It often includes what Salsa dancers call "tricks" (i.e. acrobatics).  In addition, L. A. dancers do a lot of their movements linearly, staying in a "slot."  L. A. style is generally danced "on 1" which means you change direction in the basic step on beat 1.  Here is a video clip of some top notch dancers doing LA style salsa: click here

New York style evolved in a city where many great Mambo dancers made their mark. Mambo is danced on beat two--which means that the dancers change the direction of their movement on the second beat of the musical phrase. So it is no surprise that many NY dancers dance "on two." In terms of content, New York style Salsa tends to include a lot of multiple spins. This style emphasizes making moves look smooth and clean. This video shows NY style salsa: click here.

If you watch the above video, you'll notice that the video of NY style looks similar to the video of L.A. style.  I checked with a NY Rueda teacher before posting these videos to see what she thought of this similarity.  Her comment was that basically, NY and LA styles are pretty similar, but LA style can be done very fast while NY style attempts to be smother and more relaxed-looking.  LA style is generally on 1 while NY style is typically on 2. 

A comment about dancing" on 1" or "on 2":
Breaking (i.e. changing direction) on beat one is generally thought to be simpler, since beat one is the easiest beat to find or hear.  Many people first learn to dance on one and then switch to dancing on two. Those who love dancing on two often feel it is more musically sophisticated and that the rhythmic feeling of the dance is richer. Indeed, there is more rhythmic tension to dancing on an offbeat such as beat two. There is also some impact on how moves are done and how they feel when dancers switch from dancing "on one" to "on two."

Cuban style Salsa is the style that is most like the Salsa done in Cuba, where the dance has its roots. I have heard many say that this style is characterized by a sort of male dominance. (It does seem that some of the moves show off what the men can do.)  Cuban style dancers don't tend to do fast, multiple spins. In addition, the movement of the partners in this style tends to be circular as opposed to linear. When Cuban moves are danced by one couple on the dance floor, that is referred to as Cuban Style.  If those moves are done by a group in a circle, that is referred to as Rueda de Casino.

Rueda de Casino in Cuba is done a little differently than how it has evolved in the U.S.  There is a lot of body movement in Cuban style Salsa, and you can more visibly see the Afro-Cuban roots of the dance when you watch Cuban dancers.  Cubans tend to bend their bodies forward more, and their knees are also more bent.

The director of Boogalu Productions, an organization that produces Cuban dance videos, told me that Cubans tend to get inspiration from the music regarding what steps to do. They don't just hear the beat and dance moves they like. Rather they adjust the selection of moves according to how the music "speaks to them."  For more information on dancing in Cuba, click here.

If you go to this link: http://danceintime.com/dancecuba.htm, and scroll to the bottom of the page, there is a link to a video about Cuban dancing.  This video is about the origins of Rueda de Casino and gives you a good look at this style.  You can see that it is pretty different from LA and NY styles.

Miami style Salsa is dominated by the Casino Rueda moves that are popular there. These moves have been used and adapted by Miami dancers. The steps are "pretzelly;" with intricate, interconnected arm movements. In this style, too, the movement of the partners tends to be circular as opposed to linear.

This style more or less originated with the Cuban style, but the approach evolved and changed in Florida. So the emphasis in Miami style is a bit different.  It tends to emphasize longer and more complex steps that can be blended into even longer sequences of movement. 

There is one more thing that I think is worth noting. On the videos from the major Miami studios (e.g. Salsa Racing and Salsa Lovers), when dancers are demonstrating Rueda de Casino moves, they often tap on beats 3 and 8 in Guapea (the basic step). This is done for styling purposes, and only during the basic step.  But it adds a lot of dynamism and rhythm! 

CURRENT STYLING DEBATES

1.  "To Tap or Not to Tap"
More on Taps in Miami vs. Cuban style Rueda de Casino

To enter many moves, Miami style dancers do a tap on the 8th beat of the musical phrase. Many teachers including myself teach students to tap with the knee bent and the foot forward slightly and facing the center.  But some teachers don't teach students to tap, and feel that this is not authentic styling. I feel there is no right or wrong on these matters (although some are more faithful to the dance's traditional origins).  People tend to teach as they learned and based on what they prefer for appearance, comfort, etc.

I have heard much debate on whether Cuban style Rueda dancers do taps on the 8th beat, or even tap at all. In fact, I have heard Cubans themselves argue heatedly about whether the Cuban style Salsa includes taps. So I watched a number of Cuban videos from varying sources and talked to a number of dancers.  I concluded that some Cubans dance with taps, and others don't. It's complicated, because a small or slight tap will barely contact the floor and will look almost like a kick.  So when you watch, you can see borderline cases where you aren't sure whether you saw a tap or not. 

Moreover, those Cubans who do a true tap, aren't necessarily tapping on beat 8. The tap is more for styling and expression, so each dancer does it a little differently, and on different beats.  In addition, it looked to me like some Cuban dancers move freely and are not always consistent on what they do.

These matters are no doubt why people see this differently. You can see what Cuban Rueda dancing looks like by going to Boogalu.com. That is a company that sells Cuban videos. They have some video clips of Rueda circles on their website that you can watch and make up your own mind!

My take on this is that taps aren't wrong in the Cuban style, but they certainly aren't "required." And they are not done routinely at the beginning of many moves the way they are in the Miami style. In Miami style Rueda, on the other hand, the tap serves a definite purpose and is important as an introductory move to many steps. It also enables dancers to change direction smoothly if needed in a move.

So when people debate whether Cuban style Salsa dancers tap, both parties are right in a sense. It just depends on what you mean by a tap, how the tap is functioning, and when it occurs.

2. Should Cuban Dancing Be Done Faithfully In The Original Cuban Style,  or Treated As An Evolving Art Form?

It is common for Rueda groups to create some of their own steps, in addition to learning a body of common moves. Dancers may see things that they like on the dance floor and incorporate that into a move done in the circle. In this sense, Casino Rueda leaves lots of room for creative expression and flexibility.

My Rueda group for example, does a nice step we call "L. A. de Glen" (taught to us by Glen Minto). The move is clearly inspired by L. A. style Salsa. It is linear, fast and flashy, and includes multiple turns (which are not common in traditional styles of Rueda).

Just as the different styles of Salsa are all beautiful and worthwhile, so are the original Afro-Cuban approach to Rueda dancing and other approaches.  Rueda de Casino has evolved in some corners of the world, picking up more and more influences not only from other styles of Salsa, but from other dance forms such as Hip Hop etc.  In my opinion, this makes discussions of what is a correct way to do the dance a bit pointless. I think it is fine to dance Rueda in a traditional manner, and equally fine to borrow elements from other dances and styles.

The Last Word:   A picture is worth a thousand words

A man by the name of Fabio (director of Salsaisgood) from Australia produced a video to compare and contrast various styles of Salsa dancing.  What Fabio did was provide a short video of Salsa moves to dancers of all styles. The dancers were to learn the moves on his video and perform them, adapting and interpreting that material in their preferred style (i.e. LA, NY, Cuban, etc).

Fabio contacted me about participating and we agreed that I would assemble Rueda dancers and adapt the material for Rueda moves. I worked with Casino Rueda dancers and teachers from both NY and D.C (Vic Hadar, Chris Rogicki, and Glen).

What came out of this project was very revealing about the nature of different Sala styles. Though Fabio started out intending to cover the broad basic categories of Salsa styles listed above, in the end individual differences of his dancers trumped those styles

Fabio told me after producing his video is that many of the dancers had moved from one area to another, taking their styles with them.  So their style naturally became a blend or hybrid style.  Plus Fabio assembled so much talent, that their flair and ability really defied the traditional categories.

For example, Ana and Joel out of Boston did a segment for Fabio.  I contacted both of them and got permission to put the following clip on this website. You MUST watch this---it blew me away! Click here to see Ana and Joel dance.  
How can you categorize this style?  Ana's movement is so fabulous that the broad category of her approach to dancing becomes irrelevant.

Indeed, what emerged from Fabio's study is that dancers' individual styles overshadow other considerations such as whether a couple is doing NY or LA style Salsa).

FYI, if you would like to learn more about Ana and Joel, you can visit their website:  http://www.masacoteentertainment.com. These people are very approachable and they do workshops all over.  The email is  info@masacoteentertainment.com. And to order any of Fabio's videos, go to his website: http://www.Salsaisgood.com.

In closing, I want to thank Fabio and Allison, for their hard work as well as Glen, Chris, and Hadar on filming the moves we submitted to Fabio.