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
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
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
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
CURRENT STYLING DEBATES
1. "To Tap or Not
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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