Dance Parade

Dance Parade

Check out this site:

Be sure to watch the video at the bottom the Home page, or on the “Parade and Festival” drop down, where it says “See the parade.”

The videos give you a good picture of how splendid, varied, colorful, and joyful this event is!!
(Can you tell that I like it?!)

DanceInTime on TV and in the News


DanceInTime Appearances on TV

1.  Fox 5 News

On April 4, 06, Holly Morris of Fox 5 News interviewed Barb Bernstein and featured her the DanceInTime crew on the Morning News show.  Video clips here:  and 

2.  Comcast Sportsnet channel 

3.  ABC Morning News 

4.  Fox 45 Morning News in Baltimore 

5.  "Voice of America" News Channel
On March 23, 2013, newscasters Raza Nqvi and Shonali Sen from the Voice of America came to DanceInTime's Saturday class to film for their TV channel.  The video is below.  (The clips of dancing are at: 2:20 to 5:15; 8:45 to 9:50; 17:55 to 18:45 and 22:45 to 23:30.)

Newspaper Articles on DanceInTime

1. From The Washington Post's Weekend Section 6/17/05

"On the Move: Salsa For One And All"

By Rebecca R. Kahlenberg; Special to The Washington Post

Friday, June 17, 2005; Page WE56

IT'S SATURDAY morning, and the parking lots at Safeway, Giant and Whole Foods along Route 123 in McLean are packed with minivans and SUVs. But in a lower-level room in a nondescript brown building tucked away along the same stretch of road in Vienna, it feels more like Havana than suburbia. Salsa blares in Spanish as dance instructor Barb Bernstein leads a class in casino rueda , a form of salsa dancing also known as salsa rueda .About 15 students ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties have been divided into couples and stand in a circle.

"Back on the right and forward on the left!" Bernstein directs. "Back on the left, forward on the right!" Bernstein walks the class through the basic step, called guapea, several times.

She also explains that the constant rhythm of casino rueda is "Quick-quick-slow." Then she calls out "Dame una," another basic step that involves a partner exchange, and each student gets a new person to dance with.Casino rueda is roughly analogous to Western square dancing.

Both styles have a caller who shouts out moves (or signals them with his hands, in the case of casino rueda), both involve couples changing partners and there is a pattern to the progression of both dances. Indeed, some people refer to casino rueda as "Latin square dancing," Bernstein says, admitting that the term makes rueda experts shudder because the styles are so different. Casino rueda, she says pointedly, is "sharper and more sexy."

Weekend drop-in sessions at Bernstein's Vienna location start at the beginner level. An hour or so into each class, she begins to call out more advanced steps, which are longer and often more difficult to execute than basic moves. Today, a few students choose to sit out and watch the more challenging moves, but most have casino rueda experience and continue dancing.

Her students return week after week in part to gain more dance proficiency, but for other reasons as well."We love it," says Niss Albraig, 39. He and his wife, Alexandra, 35, have traveled from Owings Mills and left their two young children in the care of grandparents to attend the class for the fourth time. "It's always a challenge and gets our hearts going," Niss Albraig says. Alexandra Albraig agrees. "It's a good workout," she says. "And once you get going, it makes you sweat."

Norman Froomer, 58, of Vienna began coming a year ago when he moved to the area from New Orleans. "Usually, the man has to think about what to do next, and there is a certain anxiety about leading," he says. "That anxiety goes away here because there's a caller."

Falls Church resident Gilda Ascunce, 57, has been taking the class since November. "The music is very much in me," she says, explaining that she was born in Cuba and lived there until she was 13. "But I like casino rueda better than regular salsa because it's a group thing, which makes it more fun."

Jeanette Ortiz, 39, of Arlington, who has been dancing casino rueda for about 10 years, loves "the fact that people here are different ages and come from different cultural backgrounds, yet they share this one passion for dancing. It's almost like belonging to a club where you find kindred spirits." .....


2.  From the Washington Post Sports Writer, Dan Steinberg's "blog" on July 23, 2007

This article followed an evening at the Bowie Baysox Stadium where DanceInTime conducted a Dancing with the Stars program with local celebrities. The celebrities were Washington Post writer Dan Steinberg and ABC's Weatherman Brian van de Graaff.  We taught them Merengue moves behind the scenes during the first six innings. They then performed their "Merengue routines" on the field during breaks in the game.  It was all great fun; these guys were wonderful to work with, and the action was captured on camera.  Videos of this event were shown on both the Comcast Sports channel and the ABC News!  Below are sections of Steinberg's blog about the experience!

....Luckily, the only sporting event I came in personal contact with this weekend was the Bowie Baysox game on Saturady night. Unluckily, I was there for "Dancing With the Stars" night, for which someone had decided I was proper material to be one of the dancing stars. This meant that four equally unlucky instructors from DanceInTime were forced to listen to me wailing about my rhythmic deficiencies for seven innings, until I finally was allowed to go on the field and attempt to Meringue Merengue for 80 seconds, at which time I promptly forgot all my steps and sort of wobbled about the third-base line with my partners.... The instructors were very nice and kind and gentle, and their company should be properly patronized, but I was awful.

My competition was WJLA's popular weather person Brian van de Graaff, who, thanks to years of being On Your Side, had lots of fans who were clearly On His Side. Also, he is naturally blessed with what the instructors called "Cuban Motion." Trust me, I am not.

Anyhow, I need a few more days to collect myself, but there will be video of the dance-off on CSN's Washington Post Live tonight, and later on the blog.
By Dan Steinberg |  July 23, 2007


I Dance With the Stars----Or whatever.

I really have nothing left to say about this. All my memories of the events of Saturday night have been completely erased...

Actually, I do have some slight memory of this long speech I gave to Barb, one of my instructors about how this dancing thing was quite the metaphor for life, and how some people are gifted with naturally fluid movements and thus bound joyfully through life with their soaringly optimistic personalities, looking as weightless as Nick Young on a moonbounce, and how others instead move with the grace of Dmitri Young on a treadmill, cruising through life with all the levity of a broken-down minivan traversing Benning Road, and that whether you can dance is probably in some ways a fine measure of all these other issues of lightness and weight, but maybe I'm just imagining all that. 

And try not to watch the dancing portions of what follows on an empty stomach.


3.  From the Kennedy Center News---March/April 2003 Edition

Article on AmericaArtes: The Kennedy Center Celebrates the Arts of Latin America

Performance Plus

Friday, March 14, experience the intricate footwork and comlex choreographiy of the form of salsa dancing called Rueda with an exciting performance demonstration by Salsa Linea on the Millenium Stage.

(Note that the date of this show at the Kennedy Center was subsequently moved back after the Kennedy Center News magazine was published!  Salsa Linea is the name of the previous Salsa Rueda group that was co-directed with Gary Pennington by Barbara Bernstein.  To see this show, click on the button above titled "The Kennedy Center Show" and you can watch the entire one-hour show on your computer screen.)

Humor and Human Interest



1. This is a dance-type video of guys on treadmills that is really clever and hilarious. Don't miss tickling your funny bone with this video clip!

2. Check out this hilarous video titled the evolution of dance.

3. Totally heart-warming:
Matt has become a worldwide sensation, and he has now created a video that some DanceInTime folks participated in…. can you find us in the Arlington, VA clip?   

4.  Years ago, one of my colleagues, Victoria Hadar, who teaches Cuban Salsa in NYC, told me about a modern/ballet choreographer named Emanuel Gat who was very taken with Cuban Salsa.  This famous choreographer had his professional dancers learn our style of Salsa and choreographed a modern dance using the moves.  It's danced to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," a famous, old classical piece of music.  Take a look at this video—the ultimate fusion!

 5.  Check out this absolutely amazing video of "precision walking."  This is apparently a competitive sport in some places.  Watch:

6. Music lovers will love this video which is also amazing:

7.  Check out this video on the funniest flight attendant who makes great use of rhythm and rhyme:

8.  “Tap Dogs” show clips:   dancing on beams    a short overview

9.  Dancing often brings laughter and expresses joy…. Check this out:

10.  This is a very creative use of dance and shadows:

11.  This father-daughter wedding dance is great!

12.   Dance Routine Used in Protest March.....
In 2011, thousands of Chilean students demanding education reforms added a dramatic touch to their protest. They did a mass reenactment of Michael Jackson’s Thriller routine in front of the Chilean presidential palace. 
The video below captures a good shot of the Michael Jackson character in front of the dance group:  

13.  Babies and Children Dancing
This shows babies moving to music and this is a very talented little girl doing some serious hip hop: .  These are priceless.

14.  Here is a video showing a man putting his pants on with out using his hands…really funny!

15. unique cop’s driving test

16.  hilarious effort to move athletes in a stretcher

17.   This is a hip hop video that is very cool

18.  Check out this incredible dance video on a subway platform.  It is amazing and unique: 

19.  Don't miss this hilarious video of TV personality Conan, learning to do Cuban Salsa and Cuban Rumba on a visit to Cuba: 

20.  Check out OK Go's video:  This is the same group that year earlier did the video in item #1 above on the treadmills.  You have to watch till at least a minute and 30 seconds to see what it is starts out small but gets really crazy!

21.  This is called a "trust windmill"-- a very cool video of sequential "trust falls." 

22.  At this link you watch a short video and answer a question.  But there is a point being made about selective attention, that will astonish you in the end!   

23.  This is a video will touch the hearts of animal lovers.  It's an orangutan using a blanket to make a hammock to sleep in! 7.8m Views5.4k Comments40k Likes.

24.  Here is a great saying that dancers and musicians will readily understand:  
You know you are a dancer (or musician) when "and" is a number.

25. Check out this cute video of dancers following the choreographic lead of a baby:  

26. New dance move?

27. Cool group choreography:

En Espanol: Class Information in Spanish

Información en español

Doy clases de salsa y coordino espectáculos de danza latina.

Si desea venir a clase, no hace falta hacer una reservación ni venir en pareja.  La vestimenta es informal.  La clase es para divertirse bailando Rueda y para conocer nueva gente.  Por lo general, hay alguien que habla español en clase.

Chevy Chase Baptist Church; 5671 Western Ave NW; Washington DC.  El precio de entrada es $15.00.  La clase es el sábado a la 1 pm.

Direccion: Chevy Chase Baptist Church Chevy Chase Baptist Church; 5671 Western Ave NW; Washington DC.  Chevy Chase Baptist Church está a cinco (5) cuadras de la estación de metro de Friendship Heights.  

Además de las clases, organizo presentaciones de bailes latinos que a veces son breves y simples, y a veces son programas largos en los que participa la audiencia.  

Si tiene interés en clases de bailes latinos o en presentaciones para algún evento, póngase en contacto con Barbara Bernstein, Directora de  Puede también comunicarse conmigo por correo electrónico en esta dirección:

Espero verlos pronto en clase.

Articles by Barb Bernstein

For an article on how to pursue learning to dance, read below. This
was published in The Scene Magazine.

Patience, Practice and the Pursuit of Excellence

March 15, 2009
by Barbara Bernstein

An old joke goes as follows: A woman walking down a street in New York City
stopped a passer-by and asked, "Excuse me, but can you tell me how to get to
Carnegie Hall?" The gentleman answered, "Practice, practice, practice!"

A new book out by Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink) makes a startling
proposition about how to explain exceptional talent. Gladwell describes a
principle he calls "the 10,000 hour" rule. He says that to be very
outstanding at some skill-like a top flight pro tennis player-requires
10,000 hours of practice. That amounts to 20 hours a week for 10 years.

Whether you train to perform or just dance for fun, the same rules apply:
you just cannot become highly skilled without lots of practice; and you
cannot get a lot of practice without being comfortable making mistakes,
picking yourself up and trying again. No matter how talented someone appears
when they dance, they didn't start out that way. They made mistakes and kept
on trying.

Just as children learn to walk before they run, students of dance learn to
do things slowly before accelerating. It is best to learn new material first
to very slow music and once the move is in muscle memory, gradually kick up
the pace.

Slow tempos are very "forgiving." For example, if you have excess motion in
your lead, you may be able to slog through a move to a slow speed. But a
faster speed requires greater cleanliness to get through the move, which can
be done once you have practiced the move enough to commit it to muscle

It's important to recognize that knowing something is really a matter of
degree, rather than all or nothing. You don't simply know or not know how to
do a cross body lead, for example. You start out doing it hesitantly and
with awkwardness, and the more you practice, the more confident and smooth
the movement becomes.

Dancers may feel that they already know a move, and understandably want to
learn new moves rather than review what they know. But since learning is
incremental, the more you do it, the better you'll do it (at faster tempos,
with less thought, adding embellishments).

That smoothness and improved technique is what makes you feel good to dance
with and look great on the floor.

Barbara Bernstein is a Rueda de Casino Teacher and Director of



The following article was published in the December 09 issue of Latin Beat Magazine.

The Seven Sins of Salsa

By Barbara Bernstein and Glen Minto aka: Salsero

So you wanna learn how to dance salsa? Maybe you're already an aspiring salsero/salsera wanting to take your dancing to the next level. Well, congratulations - you found us! We're about to show you how to take your dancing to the next level by listing things to avoid when dancing. After years of discussing some of the finer points of dancing, two dedicated salseros (Barb and Salsero) have compiled their experiences of how to get the most enjoyment and learning out of dancing salsa. "The Seven Sins of Salsa" is a list of common, all-too-human mistakes that most of us make at one time or another (the authors included!). Avoiding these mistakes will help you get the most out of your dancing. By gaining skill and making your dance experience a joyful way to exercise and connect with others, you will have heaps of fun dancing salsa and gradually learn to dance better and better. 

So here goes… The Seven Sins of Salsa

1a. Leading Yourself (for ladies) - by Barb
Dancing is a partnership activity that requires a coordinated effort by both the leader and the follower. As we all know, a person can feel and indeed be very alone in a crowded room, as connection is really a mental state. Likewise, one can dance with another person and not be responsive to them or be aware of them. For ladies, what this would mean is anticipating what the leader is doing and moving herself without waiting for or responding to his lead. Ladies often don't realize they are doing this when they are! A good example is that a lady may sense that a turn is coming and turn herself without waiting to be led. Or she may get the beginning of the lead and then move herself through the turn faster than the leader was leading her to turn. In both cases, she is not moving as he leads her, but has "taken over the lead." This is unsatisfying for the leader because, in a sense, he's not really needed. Even in Rueda de Casino, the follower should wait for the lead even though she knows the move!

1b. Out-Shining The Ladies (for men) - by Salsero
Let's face it guys, the ladies are just sexier than we are. Thank goodness too! But seriously, when the ladies look good, we look good. When the ladies don't look good dancing, we don't – no matter how good we are. Trust me on this one guys, you do NOT want to be one of those salseros that does all the cool tricks, dips, and shines, with a lady that just started dancing two weeks ago – even if you know how to do the cool tricks, dips, and shines. What do I mean? Let's examine a typical scenario: You're dancing with the girl and suddenly you decide you want some "me time." You give the lady a free spin and let her do her thing while you do your thing. If you see the lady doesn't know what to do, or she's only doing the basic steps instead of a really cool eye-catching shine, then don't overdo it with your shine either. Always be mindful of your partner's ability to dance and the level she's dancing at. Doing so will go a long way in helping you master leading in general and help you increase your skill in dancing with multiple ladies. Think about it this way: Would you rather dance with one beautiful girl at a night club or all the beautiful girls at a night club? If the answer is with all the beautiful girls, then try not to commit the sin of out-shining your lady!

2. Dancing Off Time/Out of Rhythm to the Music - by Barb

Ahhh... Dancing off time - the dancer's nightmare! 

First, we have to discuss what this means. If a person breaks on 3 or 4 instead of his intended 1 or 2, but does so consistently, is that off time? The answer to that depends on your definition of "off time." My own concept of being off time is not dancing in the rhythm of the music. To me, dancing consistently on any beat may not be fully correct, but the timing is predictable to your partner. It's keeping the music's tempo, at least. The most egregious meaning of "off time" is dancing the 4 beats in what is really 4 and a half beats of music, or 3 and a half beats of music, etc. In this case, dancing off time means dancing independently of the music's rhythm or tempo. This creates a disconnect between the movement and the music. The music provides merely a pleasant background to move to, but has no true bearing on the timing of the steps. This scenario is the most serious definition of "off time" and the one that I'm addressing. Sometimes, in such a case, the dancer grasps the beat but cannot make their feet move to that beat – they need practice moving feet faster. If after a lot of practice, the individual still dances this way, it's a good bet they cannot feel the music's beat. It's very hard to teach someone to feel that "musical pulse" if they don't feel it on their own. It feels uncomfortable to his/her partner to dance off beat in this manner because at certain points in time during an 8-beat phrase, dancers are stable and at other points in time they can be moved into a step. If both partners are not in time, then one partner may be trying to move when the other is stable or vice versa. It creates a kind of dance argument or disagreement. The partners are not working together. If you have been told that you have difficulty hearing the beat, you can pay attention to your partner's beat and try to match it even if you aren't hearing the music's beat. That way you are still in-synch with your dance partner. This will go a long way to mitigating the effect of difficulty with the rhythm.

3. Thinking There's Only One Right Way to Dance Salsa - by Barb
People unfortunately sometimes believe that the way they dance is the only right way. We all pick how we like to do things based on principles of what we feel looks best or feels best and natural to us, so of course our way is the way we prefer! Yet, while everything is not "relative" and there are some rights and wrongs, there are also many "acceptable" ways to dance. In Casino Rueda for example, there are often countless ways to do any given move as well as ways to style it. It's best to think of these approaches as just that: variable approaches rather than right or wrong ways to dance. This is particularly important in making a dancer flexible so he/she can dance with anyone. We all dance comfortably with our dance class friends or dance teammates. However, the world is populated by many who aren't in that set, and to dance with them, a great deal of flexibility and acceptance is helpful!

4. Learning to Run Before You Walk - by Barb
This refers to dancers trying to learn advanced moves before they get a real handle on the basics. People are naturally attracted to flashy movements, but any lady will tell you that well executed and physically comfortable basics are more fun to do than poorly executed flashy moves. The latter are awkward and can even strain her while basic movements smoothly done can be quite satisfying and she'll show it in how she looks! So, for both leads and follows, be patient with studying the fundamentals as you learn them in layers. First, you get the moves, you smooth them out, and then you grasp them well enough to add styling/flairs. Finally, you grasp the basic elements at a deeper level...and the cycle continues. You learn this material better and better. It's like practicing scales for a musician; it's something you do for a very long time. Once you are very solid on fundamentals, the more advanced moves are easier to grasp, easier to do, and you will execute them more skillfully.

5. Not practicing good dance etiquette - by Barb
This covers a host of "sins!" People can take up too much space on a crowded floor; they can dance to show off ("the sin of pride"); they may invade their partner's space and dance too intimately, etc. There are many etiquette rules than can be breached. Essentially, etiquette is a matter of being considerate of all those around you-your partner as well as others. Good etiquette is also aided by common sense. You don't want to do tricks on a crowded club floor as not only you and your partner, but those around you could get hurt, for example. Likewise, dancing to strut your skills doesn't make your partner feel important. (See sin 1b above). Dancing too close to a partner may also make him/her uncomfortable. If you are watching your partner's reaction, you may be able to read how they are receiving you and make adjustments; it's a matter of caring enough to be sensitive to their signals. This applies equally to those around you at a club!

6a. Assuming That Errors Are Due to Your Partner - by Barb
Most mistakes have some influence from both partners. It's pretty rare that an error is due entirely to one person. If a couple is dancing, for example, and the lady doesn't have quite enough tension in her arms, the man must lead more forcefully to get her to follow. To avoid feeling yanked, the lady may loosen up further. The man must then lead even stronger. Many dance interactions are like this! Don't fall into the trap of thinking that mistakes require that the other person make a correction. Another way to think about this is that if one if the partners changes what he/she does, that alone may avoid a problem, even if the move isn't totally perfect. You can be aware of how to correct an issue even if your partner isn't doing something right, and compensate for them so the move can be executed. You cannot change someone else, you can only change yourself, and people who can compensate for others are much loved on the dance floor as that takes skill and consideration! Think about this: In a class, the teacher can generally dance with everyone and get through all the moves, but the students may have trouble doing the moves with each other. The strength of the teacher's knowledge of the moves enables the partnership to get through the move adequately despite the student's mistakes. So, make it your business to strengthen your own dancing, and don't worry if your partner isn't always doing things the best way.

6b. It's Always The Guy's Fault - NOT!!! (for men) - By Salsero

Salsero here. Ladies, please move on to the next section…this is only for the guys. 

Guys, have you heard that if anything goes wrong it's always the guy's fault? Quite frankly, most of the time, it's the ladies' fault. I mean, I've been hit in the face more times than I can remember (now I'm like a ninja expert at avoiding these unsuspecting hits from nowhere). Actually, the second to last time it happened, about a couple of months ago, I was in the bathroom bleeding for over an hour and had a bruise on my lip for DAYS (grrrr). The last time it happened, I didn't bleed at all but this girl hit me on my jaw so hard, it hurts when I try to yawn - even today! And that's supposed to be "My Fault???" But I digress - this article is about you, not me. Guys, we're men, and so we have to take being hit like a man. Feel me? If a lady hits you in the face, and you know it's entirely her fault, try to smile it off and proceed with extreme caution to finish dancing with her while you eagerly await the song to be over. Try not to storm off the dance floor and let the lady feel even more embarrassed than she does. That way, the other beautiful ladies who are waiting to dance with you and who saw what happened will know that you're a real gentleman. That being said, and to echo what Barb said, you have to be cognizant of your own leading ability. No one expects you to be perfect. But if you can develop an understanding of what went wrong AND WHY, you will be in a better position to try to avoid the same problem in the future. And so, while errors do happen, don't succumb to the sin of assuming that errors are due solely to your partner and try and not make the same error twice. I know, I'm preaching to the choir!

7. Not having fun!! - By Barb and Salsero

Taking yourself too seriously. 

Dancing is often an expression of joy. Think of the victory dances players do after making a touchdown, for example. To keep that fresh, joyful approach alive on the floor, make sure you don't lose that outlook as you learn. Getting every step or technique just right takes a lot of practice. It isn't the end of the world to mess up a move or lose your balance on a double/triple turn. Most important is having a great time as you learn. That way you'll keep coming back and in time you will master what you practice! Remember that it's all about fun, and dance with love, joy, and playfulness in your heart. When your dancing comes from a place of loving music and movement, it will show through; and the technique will come in time. This attitude will make your own experience rich, and will make dancing fun for you and your partner. 


Even though we chose to focus on only seven sins or pitfalls of salsa dancing, don't think for a second that those are the only ones. However, avoiding the Seven Sins of Salsa will help you tremendously in improving your dancing experiences with your partner. Remember, no matter how many pitfalls there are, the rewards and pleasure of dancing Salsa far exceeds those pitfalls. So, cast aside your fears, shed your doubts, stop reading this article and get up and go out on the dance floor AND DANCE!!! (Did you remember to grab your partner?)


Barbara Bernstein is director of DanceInTimeProductions (, a Cuban salsa (rueda) group in the DC/VA/Baltimore area.



Guidance on Learning to Dance

Guidance on Learning to Dance  



Helpful Hints For Learning To Dance

First: Some simple words of advice from Barb Bernstein:

I want to begin with important advice for anyone who wants to learn to dance.....
"It's all about heart. "
There is a line that I love in a dance movie where a teacher is starting a lesson.  She says to her students, "Dancing begins with the dancers' feelings."  This is very true.  

If you want to learn to dance, the most important thing is to derive pleasure from what you are doing.  There will be mistakes---many of them, of all types.  But if you love to dance, it will be great fun to practice and keep improving.  This is what keeps people dancing.  And it is the "practice, practice, practice" that is really how people become capable dancers.  

Regardless of how basic you are when you start out, or how slowly you may advance, anyone can become a good dancer.    I have had students over the years who started out having trouble switching weight and keeping time--the most fundamental elements of dance movement.  But those who stuck with it over time became very good dancers.  Salsa can be done with fancy acrobatics, but usually people simply learn to lead and follow in partnership.  The physical actions involved in this are not too different from walking--there are no backbends, no lifts in the air, etc.  Social dancers do not have to be in exceptional physical condition; it's a skill that is accessible to anyone who can walk.  It just takes patience and heart.

And here is a little hint....  When you look around at a club or in a class, and see people who appear to learn really fast, you can be sure that they have had a lot of exposure beforehand to either dancing, or moving in a rhythm, or listening to music, etc.  That is, they have experience or practice at some underlying dance skills.  No one comes out of the womb able to step in the quick quick slow rhythm.  But life experiences can make this easier to pick up, while having little or no experience makes it a slower process.  But it is learnable--by all who can walk!!  

So don't be discouraged if you feel you are learning slowly.  Remember that you may be watching people who came into a class with some skills that were already built.  You can certainly get there too, even if you feel awkward and "dance challenged," by taking the time you need to practice and build those skills.  
That is why I say that it's all about heart.  If you enjoy dancing a lot, you can learn by putting in the time.   The expression "labor of love" comes to mind.

In section 1 below are comments on techniques to help dancers learn Cuban Salsa and Rueda.  Then in section 2, there are some more philosophical comments on underlying concepts of timing, leading and following, dealing with errors, and how to navigate some of the confusing aspects of taken dance classes.   

Barbara Bernstein, Director of DanceInTime


1.  Specific Techniques For Learning


You should generally not bounce your steps in Salsa dancing. The knees are bent very slightly throughout the steps, and the head stays at the same level.  When knees are bent and then straightened even slightly, this creates a bounce where the head goes up and down. Instead, what experienced dancers do is keep their knees bent the same amount throughout the dance so the head remains level.


Keep your weight over your center; don't lean back on your heels.  Back weighting slows you down as you have to shift your weight forward before you can take the next step. This in turn, can cause dancers to be slow and off time.  When people take a back-rock, they often don’t even put their heel on the floor at all to avoid back-weighting.


Remember to watch other experienced dancers and match their moves so you are in synchrony with them. Mimicking others is a useful technique in this dance, but not everyone remembers to do it. 


Listen to and watch the caller so you don't miss a call. That is the responsibility of every dancer in the circle.


Pay attention to keeping the circle tight and circular. That is also everyone's responsibility. Try to stay fairly close to the perimeter of the circle on steps where it's easy to pull away.


Both partners generally should keep enough tension in their arms so the elbows stay bent, forcing the couple to stay fairly close. If partners extend their arms fully, they get too far from each other and leading is compromised.


Ladies, let me tell you what it feels like to be a leader and come to pick up a new partner who is standing still, not moving her feet at all. It feels like the lady has stopped dancing and it's unsatisfying. Followers should keep their feet moving, even if they aren't "going anywhere," so they look and feel like they're actually dancing!

This applies to all steps where either leaders or followers stay in place. The group spirit of a Rueda circle is augmented by having everyone move in the same rhythm. So even if you don't have to take a step to move or turn, keep the feet going in the quick quick slow rhythm. This also helps ensure you'll know which foot to step on when you do need to move!


There is a lot of variance in how forcefully guys lead. Likewise there is a lot of variance in how much lead ladies prefer. There is no one correct answer to the question of how much lead is too much. People will judge that differently.

Personally, I prefer as much lead as necessary for clarity and no more (a sort of "economy of lead" principle). If you start the lady in motion and her momentum will continue taking her where you want her to go, for example, there is no need to push the entire time she moves along. That doesn't mean you don't provide contact so she can feel some guidance.  But force isn't needed to get her to go somewhere she's going to go anyway!  

Or if you are doing a turn or alarde, there is no need to raise the lady's arm very high over her head. You just need to clear her head. To raise the arm high, the lead has to be more forceful. So you can keep the lead gentle by moving the arm only as high as needed. It takes a greater level of sophistication as a dancer to lead effectively but still be gentle. It's much easier to lead with force. 

There is one more notable point regarding the stength of the lead. If someone has too little lead, they'll find out. The lady won't know what to do, so it's obvious she needs a firmer hand. But if your lead is extremely strong, you don't get feedback on that as readily. Everyone you dance with will follow just fine; but it may not be comfortable. So if you value a gentle lead, this is something to bear in mind.


Following a lead properly requires some basic understanding of frame and tension.  This is something people develop over time and experience.  When women who aren't experienced dancers first try a turn, they often let their arm move back but don't move their bodies, as their partner tries to lead them.  

To follow a lead, the lady's arm maintains a shape so that she can be pushed (gently!) to move where the leader wants her to go.  Because followers hold the shape or frame of their arm, the leads can move them by moving their hand at the point of contact.  I have seen a number of interesting ways to explain the concept of frame.  One is that ladies must be able to see their right arm out of the corner of their eye. So the arm never goes outside their range of vision.  So when the arm is pushed in an effort to turn the lady, her body has to go with the arm---and (voila!) she has been led!

Another unique way to explain this was shared with me by a friend, Melinda Turner. She said she was in a class where the teacher passed out tennis balls to the ladies. They were all told to put the ball under their right armpit and dance without letting it fall.  Then when the lady was turned to the right by pressure on her right hand, she had to hold a rigid frame and move her arm and body too, or the ball would fall.  

I've never quite had the nerve to bring tennis balls to class, but this is an outstanding way to convey the concept of frame.  I have found that even just describing this in words from the beginning, and asking the ladies to imagine a ball is under their arm, is enough to get the concept across.


2.  The Big Picture and the Philosophy of Learning


Practicing dance moves you "already know" is far more useful than it may seem. The more you dance, the more your technique improves, and these gains cut across all the steps that you do, so they are far-reaching.

Musicians (and singers) often warm up by practicing scales, for example.  This is very useful but it is not done because they don’t know the scale or forgot how to play it.  Rather, it is useful because the player’s fingers become increasingly nimble, the movements increasingly natural and easy, etc.

Likewise, as you practice dancing, you get to know the steps you are doing better and better. So you naturally execute them more competently---at faster tempos, with less thought, easily adding embellishments, etc. Practice clearly improves your dancing, even when you are practicing steps you had already learned.  Moreover, the more automatically you can do the fundamentals, the easier it is to use those components in more advanced moves.  (See footnote 1.)

In short, the time spent in class, refines and smooths out your execution and makes your lead/follow feel comfortable to your partner.  Trust me----if you join a Rueda circle during club dancing, you'll see the tremendous value in this.  The music at a club is much faster than what it is possible to learn to, and the calls are very hard to hear and recognize, plus different callers say the names of the moves slightly differently.  To dance Rueda successfully in a club, you have to know the moves "like the back of your hand." 


When someone has trouble with Salsa timing, the most common error is that the "slow" step is shortened. As a result, the three steps in the musical measure are equal or more equal in time than they should be. (See footnote 2.)  The "slow" step should be twice as long as each "quick" step. 

Timing issues are a very hard thing for people to correct on their own. If they could feel the correct rhythm, they'd be doing it. Progress can be made, but it is long and slow. Generally, when I teach in a Rueda circle, if I say "quick quick slow" or "step step step" in the correct rhythm, people can match their steps to my words relatively well. So that tends to help dancers stay on time and keep the Rueda circle flowing in class.

But how can someone practice and improve this when they are not in a Rueda circle with a teacher hammering out the beat? I've found that it can help to practice a particular move very slowly, to get the feel of the “slow" step taking twice as long as the “quick" step. 

Many people can keep the rhythm ok in the basic step but lose it as soon as they are turning or doing something more complicated.  For example, dancers may lose the quick quick slow timing when they do a turn like vacila.  But if they walk the movement through very slowly in the correct rhythm, that helps give them insight into how this rhythm should feel.  

Since many people who have trouble with timing are aided by having a teacher on hand to count out loud for them, I made a CD on which I voiced over the quicks and slows for students. Using the CD, dancers can be sure they are practicing correctly! There is ordering information on this website for my CD.

If you have had a teacher tell you that your timing is off, it's a good idea in a Rueda circle to pay special attention to what others are doing. Many students don't take advantage of the benefit they can get by watching others and trying to match them. You move when they do. For example, if a lady is coming across for the cross body lead too early, she can watch when the other women step across, and try to mimic them. Likewise if guys are moving to their next partner on the dame too early or late, they can watch the other leaders and synchronize with them.  

If a leader is aware that he has a problem with timing in one on one Salsa dancing, he can pay special attention to his partner's timing. I have watched couples dancing where one person is off time and the other is attempting to step correctly. If the person who is off time were aware of the issue and tried to be responsive to his/her partner's timing, that would no doubt help. 

To complicate things further, be aware that Salsa and Latin music change tempo a lot, so you really have to be listening to the music constantly!


The most common way for dancers to count Salsa when they practice, teach, learn, etc. is by the beats. Most dance music is in 4:4 time. That means there are 4 beats to what is called a "musical measure." The first beat of each measure gets a slightly stronger accent.

When we dance to Salsa music, we take two quick steps each lasting one beat and one slow step that lasts two beats. The phrasing in Salsa music is that every other measure receives a particularly strong accent on beat one. So we think of Salsa music as being constructed in sets of 8 beat phrases where the first of those 8 is the very strongest accent and beat 5 is the next strongest.

When experienced (“on one”) dancers count Salsa or Rueda moves, they most commonly count 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7. These are the beats on which people take steps.  Although some teachers count by naming the number of steps taken, so they count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 instead.

If I am teaching people who fail to lift their foot and shift their weight each time they take a step, then I count by saying "Step, step, step; step step step." In a sense, this is literally a verbal reminder that every step is "truly a step" in the sense of walking. We lift a foot off the ground and put it down to take a step when we walk. I have found that this wording helps students remember to lift their foot off the ground!  

If i’m teaching students who are not waiting two beats for the slow step, i may count:  "quick quick, wait!” to help them remember to wait a full two beats.  

Implicit message:  Language matters in teaching!


When is advice from teachers, or from any two people, contradictory? I would submit that just because one teacher tells you to have tighter arms and another tells you the opposite, that doesn't mean one of them is wrong. Lots of things are correct in one place and not in another (i.e. different steps or different parts of the same step). 

Also, what level of tension to use is a matter of degree, and teachers draw the line a bit differently. Or your arms may be “right" for dancing with one person but not for dancing with another (due to the level of tension your partner has); etc. 

Different teachers emphasize different things, conceptualize things differently, explain them differently, and have different taste, strengths, and weaknesses. All these things affect how and what they teach. So they'll sometimes say opposite things, but that doesn’t mean one of them is necessarily wrong. 

Oftentimes, I hear students comment in frustration that they are told opposite things by different teachers or by the same teacher (said at different times) and they don't know which piece of advice to follow. This is a difficult matter, and it happens to many people as they learn. You have to evaluate and analyze what is meant, and how you can best understand the intent of the advice. 

Teachers are generally trying to help students learn to dance as smoothly and comfortably as the student is able.  That may lead the teacher to say something to exaggerate a point, for example, if the teacher feels that is the only way to be heard.  You can see how this might lead someone thinking that a comment made to them must be wrong.

My point here is that contradictions are not always an indication of an error. As you progress in dancing (or in your understanding of anything), you get more of a handle on the sense in which two opposite pieces of advice can fit together and both be valid and valuable.  That kind of sophisticated understanding requires a broad perspective and comes from experience.  So keep an open mind as you try to grasp the meaning of the advice that a teacher gives you!    And remember, you can both love and hate someone, too!  So things that appear opposite aren’t always mutually exclusive!  :) 


My philosophy on mistakes is that they are the best learning tool anyone has. When I taught mathematics, many moons ago, I preferred that my students write in ink and not erase their mistakes. It is very instructive to look at your errors to be sure you are clear on why you thought that way and why it's incorrect.  I'd much rather have students guess wrong if they aren't sure so we can address the matter, than guess right and squeak by, still confused.

When I teach, if I make an error, I often stop and ask the class if they can figure out what I did wrong that messed them up. For example, calling is a frequent source of error. No one can mess up a Rueda circle like the caller can. One bad call---too early, too late, too soft, a mixed up step name----and the whole circle is shot. 

So when I make mistakes, I like to use them as learning tools, just as I do with students' mistakes. When the students can assess what I did wrong, they are on their way to understanding the dance better.  I don't sweat my mistakes and I'd like students to feel the same way. (Indeed, if students didn't make mistakes, they wouldn't need a teacher. Then I'd be out of a job---and where would that get me?)

If you can think of your own errors as opportunities to learn and go forward, you'll be more comfortable making them. And you can't learn much unless you are willing to make mistakes, especially not in dance!!


There is another dimension to errors that I'd like to point out. When two people dance together, as when they do anything together, what they do affects each other in a profound and ongoing way. Let me give you an example of what I mean. If a couple is dancing together and the lady doesn't have quite enough tension in her arms, the man must lead more forcefully to get her to follow him. To avoid feeling yanked, the lady may loosen up further. The man must then lead even stronger.  See what I mean? As 6-year old kids on a playground might say, "You started it!"   But the reality is clear — they are both creating this situation.

The interactive nature of dance understandably gives lots of opportunity for partners to subtly affect each other. Naturally, when there is a mistake, it can be hard to parse whose error it was, and really it doesn't matter. It was the partnership that failed, so to speak. Better to grasp the complex nature of this mini-ecosystem where everything affects everything else, than to regard matters as simple. (See foonote 3.)

Moreover, sometimes when a mistake is made, a good many people all played a small role. Here is an example: I was dancing with a wonderful, considerate friend, and while turning, I lost my balance slightly. As a result, I swung out a bit farther from him than he had reason to expect. He moved toward me to "stabilize the partnership" but before that maneuver was complete, I lightly bumped into another couple on the floor. The truth is that they were dancing "a bit large" if you know what I mean.

My partner immediately gestured that it was his fault, since it's the guy's responsibility to watch out for the other couples on the floor. The other couple apologized because they knew they were taking up too much space for the crowded floor. And of course, I felt my partner was just being nice; it was largely my fault for swinging out too far. He couldn't have anticipated that I would do that. Truthfully any one of the three parties involved could have avoided that collision. 

So whose fault was it? Many things are joint affairs just like this. To learn from mistakes, it is helpful to appreciate the complex nature of how they come to pass rather than regard one person as causing the error.   

Here is another way of thinking of this matter.  Many times there is a range of what is correct in terms of how a move is done. For example, consider the matter of how partners stay connected.  Each partner has a certain level of tension in the hand hold and a shape for holding their hand which enables partners to stay in contact.  However, there is a range of tensions that will be satisfactory.  

If the gentleman is in the proper range but at the low end and so is the lady, they may disconnect even though they were both dancing “correctly."  There is a temptation for an individual to feel that since he/she did a move correctly, if it failed it must be the other person's fault.  But again, it can be the partnership or the union of how those two individuals dance together that really caused the error.  

In other words, just because you were "right" doesn't mean the other person was "wrong."  Often no one was exacly wrong!  But the partners need to learn to work together more effectively, looking at what happened to figure out how both can contribute to avoiding that in the future.


Dancing is a social experience and a contact sport. This has many implications. It is nice to smile (but not stare) at your partner. And men should lead the dance in a manner that suggests they are relating to their partner!  If he is dancing with a lady who has difficulty doing certain moves, for example, he should try to adjust what he does to her ability. 

Some people worry that they won't look good if they "dance down." But your partner will appreciate your leading things she has some hope of following, or slowing down your pace (how quickly you initiate one move after another) to a level she can keep up with. And overall you may look better than if you are forcing a lady through moves she can't gracefully do. 

Besides, everyone who goes to clubs knows very well the level and style of everyone else's dancing. If you dance with someone who is more of a beginner than yourself, what you really look like is someone who is generous and willing to share your talent with others.  There is absolutely nothing that endears you to other dancers more than this! Plus, dancing for fun shouldn't be just about how you look, anyway!!


  1. I want to point out something else here. People sometimes regard learning as a relatively "all or nothing" proposition, but that's not really the way it works. By that I mean that we tend to feel that we either know a step or we don't, or maybe just some mid-point in between. But I believe that there are many more degrees of learning than is commonly appreciated. Even if you can do a move well from memory, if you practice it more and more, it will probably improve in some ways. I see learning as highly incremental, and I think it's helpful to appreciate the implications of this. 
    Let me give you a simple example of the incremental nature of learning from my days as a math teacher. If you teach a class to add fractions, you can start with a simple problem like 1/6 plus 3/6. You can "move up" to a problem where they have to get a common denominator like 1/2 plus 1/4. Students can almost visualize these problems, imagining that fraction of a pie and they'd know what the sum is just from experience. A teacher might feel that if the student can correctly solve these problems, then he/she knows how to add fractions.
    But if that student cannot also find the sum of 2/9 plus 5/20, then I would submit that he/she doesn't understand how to add fractions that well or that fully. It is the level of complexity of problems that someone can correctly solve that measures how well they understand. Understanding is very incremental, and the harder the problem a student can solve, the better they have to understand the material. All learning is like this, including dance.
  2. I used to sing in a barbershop quartet for women, and the most common error that was made in singing was also for the timing of the notes to be equalized. That is, short notes were lengthened and long notes were shortened to make them all more equal in length. I originally became aware of this because I harmonize by ear and often "resolve a chord" over the course of several beats when I sing with others. But many times, before I can achieve the final resolution, the person I am singing with has begun the next phrase----very frustrating!! 
  3. I once took tango lessons from a teacher who spent a lot of time analyzing in great detail this kind of interaction. There was virtually no dance problem we encountered that didn't have a contribution by both partners. I consider the teacher a sort of "psychologist-dancer." Those lessons were really fascinating and I learned a tremendously valuable lesson. 

CD on Rhythm and Timing



To help those of you who are learning to dance, we recommend a very original product.  

DanceInTime's director Barbara Bernstein and her colleague Michele Kearney have recorded a CD titled Rhythm Reminder, which has a voice-over marking the timing of the dancers' steps. This simple idea creates a great tool for dance practice. It is like having a dance teacher available at any time, marking the beat so you can concentrate on the step patterns. 

Rhythm Reminder will make your practice time more productive, relaxed and fun. It features original music for Single Swing, Triple Swing, Salsa, Cha Cha, and Foxtrot.  After each song, the piece is repeated without the voice-over so you can also practice on your own.  With Rhythm Reminder, dance instruction is as close as your CD player!

The six-panel CD insert explains the mechanics for doing a number of steps in each dance.

Copyright 2002 by Barbara Bernstein and the Greg Jenkins Quartet.

To sharpen your dance skills and have fun doing it, you can order your own copy of Rhythm Reminder. To order by mail directly from the producer, email and include your phone number.  We can make arrangements for the sale.  The cost is $19.00 plus $2.50 for postage and handling in the US (more for out of the country).

Chart of Latin Dance Rhythms


 Merengue:  Quick      Quick      Quick      Quick      Quick      Quick      Quick      Quick

This dance is very basic both rhythmically and in terms of the steps. It is often the favorite of beginning dancers for that reason. The music has a steady, repetitive quality.  Dancing Merengue is like walking to music, stepping on every beat.  Then you can do any moves such as turns, that the leader leads.  This dance is also the National Dance of the Dominican Republic.

Salsa:         Quick      Quick      Slow      Quick      Quick      Slow      Quick      Quick      Slow

You can begin the first quick on beat one or beat two of the musical measure in Salsa. It is a little more musically challenging to start the pattern on the second beat. Most Americans begin on beat one which is the accented beat of the musical measure and "easiest to find."
If an reader would like to watch a program that shows and explains the basic step.

Bachata: Quick Quick Quick Tap Quick Quick Quick Tap

This dance has become very popular since the early 2000’s. Dancers step on the first three beats of a four beat musical measure and they mark the fourth beat by touching the floor but not putting weight onto the step. Then they begin the next step on the same foot they tapped onto. So it would be for example, leaders step left, right, left and then tap on the right. Then it’ right, left, right and tap on the left foot, and repeat. There are steps that alter and play with the above pattern but that is the basic step rhythm.

Note: This video link: shows segments of a Hispanic Heritage Month program by DIT at Florida Southern College. The rhythms of Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata were shown and demonstrated. Differences in the sound of the music for these dances was also explained. (For example, Merengue music generally pounds out a steady beat.) The program concluded with some dance instruction. This DanceInTime program is a nice way to honor Latin culture.

Mambo:      Quick      Quick      Slow      Quick      Quick      Slow      Quick      Quick      Slow     

This rhythm pattern is identical to Salsa.However, Mambo is always begun on the second beat of the measure. Technically, Salsa in considered a "street dance" with a flavorful, expressive style while Mambo is a ball room dance. In reality they are essentially the same dance.


Cha-Cha:    One      Two      cha, cha, cha       One      Two      cha, cha, cha      One      Two      cha, cha, cha

What happens if you replace the "slow" in Mambo with the "cha, cha, cha?" The answer is that you get the Cha Cha rhythm. Cha Cha is done to slower music than Mambo, so there is time to fit in those three cha chas instead of the one "slow." So Cha Cha and Mambo are very closely related dances. Furthermore, like Mambo, Cha Cha begins on the second beat of the musical measure.  That said, many Latin club dancers who don't have ballroom training, dance Cha Cha like a slowed version of Salsa.  So they start on beat 1 and as with Mambo, they replace the Slow step with "Cha cha cha."  Essentially, Cha Cha is a dance generated by slowing down Mambo or Salsa and inserting 3 steps instead of one slow step.  All the Mambo or Salsa moves can be done in Cha Cha with the appropriate rhythm variation!

 Rumba:      Slow      Quick      Quick      Slow      Quick      Quick      Slow      Quick      Quick     

Rumba is the slowest of all the Latin Dances. It is sometimes referred to as the dance of love due to the somewhat romantic character of both the steps and the music.

Single Swing:      Slow      Slow      Quick      Quick

Triple Swing: Triple time (3 steps) Triple time Quick Quick

West Coast Swing: Quick Quick Triple time Triple time or…
Quick Quick Triple time Quick Quick Triple time

There are many forms of swing dancing. Single Swing is done to fast music, such as "Rock Around the Clock." Triple Swing is done to medium tempo music. Finally, West Coast Swing is done to the slowest swing music which has a "bluesy" sound.

Swing and the other dances listed here (which are Latin dances) are all "related" through their connection to Jazz.

Note: The "quicks" get one beat each and the "slows" get two beats in all patterns above.

Dance Histories



a. Salsa

Salsa is one of the most dynamic and important musical phenomena of the 1900's. In many Hispanic communities, it remains today the most popular style of dance and music.  The roots of salsa originated in Eastern Cuba early in the l900s. There, Spanish and Afro-Cuban musical elements were combined, both in terms of rhythm and the instruments used. By mid-century, this music came to Havana where foreign influences were absorbed, particularly American jazz and popular music heard on the radio.

By the end of the l950s, many Cuban and Puerto Rican people including musicians had settled in the U.S., especially in New York. In this environment, salsa music completed its development. In "El Barrio" (Spanish Harlem), bands were formed and immigrants continued to make Afro-Caribbean music, but they adapted the sound to their new world.  Gradually in the 50s and 60s, salsa as we know it today was emerging. The most famous musicians of that time were Tito Puente ("King of Mambo") and Celia Cruz ("Queen of Salsa").

The rise of salsa music is also tied closely to Fania Records which was founded in l964 by the musician Johnny Pacheco and an Italian-American divorce lawyer named Jerry Masucci. The two met at a party in a NY hotel. They struck a deal to launch what became the most influential record label in Latin music's history. Fania was known as "the Latin Motown," with one huge hit after another becoming popular all over Latin America. Many artists became very famous with the promotion they received from the record label "La Fania." Fania Records remolded Cuban music into a sound more appropriate to Latin New York, and they called the sound "salsa." By the l970s salsa was becoming so popular that Fania's bands and artists were touring all over Latin America. This decade was the real "heyday" of salsa.

The type of salsa music that Fania promoted came to be referred to as "hard salsa." Then in the 80s, another style of salsa which was softer and more romantic was born, with artists like Gilberto Santa Rosa. Around this time, Latin musicians began to have an impact on mainstream U.S. music. Latin music was becoming trendy here and beginning to intrigue the rest of the world as well.

Both types of salsa remain popular today and with the popularity of the music, came the popularity of the dance. Salsa refers both to the music and the dance done to that music. The rhythm for Salsa is quick-quick-slow. To dancers, a "quick" is a step that lasts for one musical beat and a "slow" lasts for two beats.

b. Rueda de Casino (Cuban Salsa)

During the 1950s, a dance craze called Casino Rueda became popular in Cuba.  The name "casino" comes from the name of the social club where the dance began. That club was called El Casino Deportivo. "Rueda" means wheel or circle. It is a type of salsa dancing done by a group in a circle, with partners being passed around.

The moves to this dance are numerous and can be very complex. The dance is done by two or more couples who do the moves in synchrony. A member of the circle calls the moves for everyone to execute. Each move has a name and most have hand signals since it is hard to hear in noisy nightclubs. Moves can be called in quick succession, and along with frequent partner exchanges, this creates a very dynamic and exciting atmosphere for everyone involved.

The group nature of the dance is unique and makes it quite social. A group consciousness develops to make the rueda work well---with everyone watching the leader for the calls. Dancers have to open up their sphere of awareness far beyond what is necessary for ordinary partner dancing. Whether you are dancing or watching, it is thrilling when a rueda circle works well and flows smoothly!!

This festive dance was brought to Miami by Cuban immigrants and took hold there in the l970s and l980s. From Miami, it spread first to major U.S. metropolitan centers with large Hispanic populations and eventually to other cities as well. The movie "Dance with Me" has a segment of Cuban Salsa (Rueda) dancing which helped popularize the dance in this country. 

In recent years, Casino Rueda has swept the world.  The joyful spirit of this dance has made it popular just about everywhere--from Israel to Alaska, from North and South America to Europe, Australia, and beyond. Groups of Salsa dancers assemble in classes, clubs, and conventions all over the globe to teach, practice, and perform beautiful Casino Rueda moves done in a circle!  What began simply in a Cuban social club, quickly became a world-wide dance phenomenon!

c. Cha Cha

Cha Cha evolved and developed around the mid-1900’s. Cha Cha music is similar to Salsa, but the tempo is slower. Thus there is time to replace the slow step found in Salsa with the “cha cha chas.” Indeed, Cha cha was originally called triple Mambo because you take 3 cha cha steps in place of the slow step in mambo (and Salsa).  The name "cha-cha" imitates the sound of heeled shoes as they hit the floor percussively.  This explains why some refer to the dance as the cha-cha-cha while others call it cha-cha.

Cha Cha quickly became very popular and remains today the most well-known of the Latin dances to Americans. Cha Cha music is catchy, and has a lively, happy sound.  You’ll notice that most dances have “rhythm breaks,” or steps that vary from the basic rhythm of the dance. If you watch Cha Cha closely you may be able to see some of these different patterns which include syncopations and other types of variations. These rhythm breaks make the dance more interesting and challenging. They are particularly easy to notice in Cha Cha because any alteration of the “cha cha cha” tends to stand out.

d. Merengue 

Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic and, to some extent of Haiti which shares an island with DR. This dance was developed in the early 1900’s. The music has a repetitive quality and pounds out a steady beat. The dance rhythm is quick-quick-quick-quick. It is the only dance that doesn’t have a mixture of “quicks” and “slows”.

The movement of all Latin dances is characterized by “Cuban motion.” This is the hip sway that is created by stepping onto a bent leg and then straightening it. “Cuban motion” is most easily taught in Merengue due to the steady beat. As a result, it is the Latin dance that beginning dancers often start with.

In the basic movement of Merengue, one leg is dragged slightly. There are a couple of legends about why this is so.  One is that the dance originated with slaves who were chained together. So they had to drag one leg as the cut sugar to a drum beat.  Another story is that during one of the revolutions in the Dominican Republic, a great hero was wounded in the leg. He came home to a celebration in his honor. When the villagers danced at the celebration, they all limped and dragged one leg as a gesture of sympathy for him.

e.  Bachata

Bachata is a popular form of music from the Dominican Republic.  The first bachata was recorded in 1961 by José Manuel Calderón.  But over time, bachata began to be associated with the world of prostitution, crime, and delinquency.  The stigma against bachata was strong enough that only one national radio station would play it.  From about 1970 to about 1990, bachata music told stories of an underground life-style such as men who loved prostitutes, poor country boys who get to the city and are ripped off, impoverished barrio dweller without light or water, etc. 

But bachata’s popularity began to grow, as Anthony Santos and others used the new style to record more acceptable, romantic songs.  Over time, middle class musicians experimented with bachata, and were so successful that the music began to be accepted by all sectors of society.

In its current form, bachata is listened to throughout Latin America, and is particularly popular in New York City today. Many seasoned dancers in the US have witnessed the tremendous rise in popularity of Bachata dancing.  Around the late twentieth century, it was only occasionally played by DJs at clubs.  But now it is far more commonly heard, and many interesting dance moves have sprung up to make dancing Bachata richer and more interesting.


a.  Lindy Hop

Just as jazz helped shape the evolution of Latin music and dance, it was also fundamental to the evolution of swing dancing. In a sense, you might say that if the Latin dances are closely related to each other, then swing is like their second cousin. They are all related through jazz with its African roots.

One of the features of jazz music is the subtle pulse, or swing, that animates the music. In the l920s and 30s, jazzy, big band sounds became popular and with that, swing dancing began to evolve.  On March 26, 1926, the Savoy Ballroom opened in NY and was an instant hit. People flocked there every night to dance and listen to bands play what was called "Swinging Jazz."

One night, a dancer named "Shorty George" Snowden was asked by a newspaper reporter what was the name of the dance being done. It happened that Charles Lindbergh had just made his famous flight, and there was a newspaper on a bench by Snowden. The headline read: "Lindy Hops the Atlantic." Glancing at the newspaper, Snowden answered, "Lindy Hop." And the name stuck. By the late 30s, Lindy Hop was sweeping the nation.

In Lindy Hop, the dancers move in an elliptical pattern. The rhythm of the basic step is 1, 2, triple time, 1, 2, triple time. A couple of styles of Lindy Hop gradually emerged, notably the Savoy and the Hollywood styles. Ultimately, Lindy Hop developed into some completely different forms of swing dancing described below. These variations on swing are characterized by different rhythm and movement patterns.

b.  East Coast Swing

     Single Swing

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a form of swing developed that was called "East Coast Swing" since it began on the east coast.  The basic movement in East Coast Swing is in a circular pattern. East Coast that is done to very fast music is also referred to as Single Swing and has an underlying rhythm of Slow-Slow-Quick-Quick.  Of all the forms of swing, this is probably the easiest for beginning dancers to learn. The fast tempo makes it an extremely lively dance.

    Triple Swing

Music that is a little slower in tempo lends itself to another form of East Coast Swing called Triple Swing. In this dance, each of the Slow steps from Single Swing is replaced by three steps in the "Triple time" rhythm. So the underlying rhythm for this dance is "Triple Time-Triple Time-Quick-Quick." Many of the same steps can be done in both Triple Swing and Single Swing with some small adjustments. Both Single and Triple Swing remain very popular today.

c.  West Coast Swing

While East Coast Swing was developing on the east coast, West Coast Swing emerged on the west coast. West Coast Swing is smoother, more sensual, and done to music with a slower tempo than East Coast. West Coast is danced in a line which is referred to as the dancer's "slot." Some people think that the dance developed partly because dancing in a line enabled more people to fit onto dance floors which became very crowded after World War II.

West Coast Swing lends itself to a good deal of improvisation. In fact, in some steps, the woman, who is normally the follower, can actually do what is called "hijacking the lead." She indicates that she wants to take over the lead and then controls the steps for a short interval. This is quite unique in partnership dancing. It is like a dance form of improvisation that mimics instrumental jazz improvisations. So there is a sort of parallel between the dance and the music that gave rise to it. West Coast Swing is now popular all over the country. 

Clave and Percussion in Salsa Music

Clave and Percussion in Salsa Music


all about rhythm

This page is divided into two sections. The first is a very good article (by "The dancing Irishman") on the all-important skill of finding the first beat of a musical measure. Dancers begin counting their dance pattern on beat one so feeling the pulse of the music to find that beat is essential.  I want to add to the points in the article that the method of following a particular instrument is tricky because no instrument is always played the same way in all pieces of music.  Learning to feel the pulse or rhythm of the music and see which beat is the heaviest is less mechanical and more intuitive, but also may be more reliable in the long run if it can be mastered.

And if you have trouble despite lots of practice in finding the one beat, don't worry.  Many perfectly capable dancers have that problem---or don't quite keep the tempo of the music perfectly.  You can still dance and have fun.  You just have to compensate by learning the moves well so you can watch others and match their timing.  This is another approach in addition to learning to "read the music" that enables you to dancing in synch with a partner or with a Rueda circle.

The second section on this page explains the beats on which percussion instruments typically play in Salsa music. That can help find the first beat, but has a beauty of its own.  All the percussion instruments taken together in a Salsa band create the intense rhythmic feeling that feeds the impulse to dance!


The truth is, when you’re starting out, finding the beat in salsa can be a bit of a nightmare. You listen to the music trying to hear that magical “1” so you can get your boogy on but somehow it seems to elude you.

Let me tell you friend, you are not alone! For many people not exposed to salsa music from a young age finding the appropriate beat to start on can be tough. At least initially.

There are two ways to find the beat in salsa:
There’s the
1:  dance, dance and dance some more until you finally pound the beat into your skull method.

and theres the
2: learn all about the instruments and intricacies of slasa music so you can specifically pinpoint that god damn “1” count…method (pretty catchy titles eh!!)

I’ll try and try and keep them short and sweet.

Method 1:
Get out there and dance song after song with someone who knows the rhythm until you finally “get it”.
This is the method that has been used for years by virtually 99.99% (disclaimer: may be a completely made up figure) of salsa dancers.

It is completely unscientific and this pisses a lot of people off because we all would love a more definite marker in the music. But it works.

The only caveat is that you have to dance with someone who already knows how to dance well. Otherwise it’s a true case of the blind leading the blind and you may end up with something reminiscent of my nightmare above.

Just give it time and practice...

Method 2:
For those of you who aren’t content with the wishy-washy, unscientific, new age, hippy, “natural” method above, there’s a more in-depth (read: complicated) method.

Salsa’s rhythm comes from two percussion instruments: the clave and the congas. The clave is basically 2 sticks struck together in either a 2/3 or 3/2 rhythm. Clave literally translates as key or code and is the original base beat of cuban son (the precursor of salsa).

The congas are the tall African style Cuban hand drums that you may have seen if you’ve ever seen live salsa music. Congas provide the back beat to salsa music.

If you can only hear the clave or the conga you can hear the beat and dance to salsa music.

In order to use these instruments to find the beat in salsa we need to understand a little more about salsa itself.

Salsa Beats 101
Salsa is danced to 2 measures of 4 beats each making a a total of 8 beats. Of these 8 beats we step (or transfer weight) on only 6 beats (1, 2, 3…5, 6, 7…). The 4 and the 8 beats are used for a slower weight transfer (i.e. we don’t actually step on them but can transfer our weight more slowly between each measure). Salsa generally starts on the 1 count with the directional change (break) occurring “on 1” or “on 2” (depending on the type of salsa).

No with this knowledge we can use the instruments to help us find the beat i.e. to tell us when to start dancing.

With the clave
With the 3/2 clave rhythm the 1st sound of the first three beats is the “1” count.

With the 2/3 clave rhythm the 1st sound of the first two beats is the “2” count. The 3rd sound of the last three beats is the “8” thus you will start dancing immediately after that. Here’s a song with a nice clear 2/3 clave for reference:

Of course, often the clave can be difficult to hear, so….

With the congas
In my opinion it is far easier to hear the congas in a song and the truth is we (inadvertently) wait for the congas to start before we start dancing.

The basic salsa beat for congas can be seen in this video. It consists of three parts: gentle slapping with the left hand called “masacote”, a heavy slap with the right hand called “quemado”, and a hollow sounding double tap with the right hand called “abierto” (I’m sure there are terms in English for these but my conga teacher only speaks Spanish so we’ll have to make do).

It is the “abierto”, that double tap that is easiest sound to pick out in salsa music. It occurs on  the 4 and 8 beats which means you need to step immediately after it (the double tap) to hit your “1”.

Now, I said that it’s a double tap (and it usually is) but occasionally it may only be a single tap or it may be a combination of a single and a double tap (or sometimes something more complicated). The fact of the matter is: that prominent hollow beat in a salsa song is the conga and is perfect marker of the 4 and 8 beat. Here’s a nice song with a clear example of the conga beat (and a 2/3  clave):

Dissecting the music
All of this technical talk about claves and congas and beats, however, requires that you actually distinguish them form each other in the song. Salsa bands are usually huge meaning a great many instruments are used which makes picking out individual instruments tricky, especially to the untrained ear.

The best homework you can do for yourself is sitting down and consciously listening to salsa music. Pop on some headphones and try to pick out the different instruments in the song. Follow them all, especially the percussion instruments; the drums, the cow bell, the congas and the clave. All help you to maintain your timing during a dance. If you have trouble finding the beat then ask someone to give you a hand...

Practice makes perfect
As I’ve mentioned countless times before. this type of information is worthless unless you put it into practice. Practice with real salsa music (and an experienced friend) and I guarantee you, finding the beat in salsa will become as automatic for you...

Reference/Credit:  The above article was written by "The Dancing Irishman." Readers can google him for more information. Warning: His information is very good but know that he uses colorful language!  



Salsa music is counted in 8 beat phrases. These 8 beats constitute two "musical measures" of 4 beats each.  A clave is a simple but important percussion instrument---that is basically two sticks of wood that are hit together.


In the clave patterns below, the clave is struck on the beats that are bolded.

3-2 Clave Rhythm
(strike on 1, the and of 2, 4, 6, 7)

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and

2-3 Clave Rhythm (also called "Reverse Clave")
(strike on 2, 3, 5, the and of 6, 8)

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and

Note the difference between the above two clave patterns. In the 3-2 clave rhythm, there are 3 clave hits in the first measure and two in the second measure. In the 2-3 clave rhythm it is the reverse.  We just reverse the first and second measures to get from one clave rhythm to the other. The nature of the music determines which clave rhythm is most suitable.  All other instruments have to be consistent or coordinated with the clave. The clave is (literally) the "key" or foundation of the Salsa rhythm.

There is a distinctive feel to each of the clave measures. The one in which 3 beats are struck creates a syncopation or tension. (The timing on these three notes is somewhat similar to the timing of playing three notes of even length in four beats of music---which is called "triplets" in American music. Triplets create rhythmic tension that is similar to the clave rhythm.) By contrast, the clave measure with 2 beats is less syncopated and resolves the tension. Interestingly, the two beats that provide the resolution tend to be louder and more emphatic-sounding by their nature


Drums such as congas or bongos generally hit all of the beats explained below.

Note that the way a drummer hits each stroke is not identical. Drums can be hit in different spots, creating a rich and textured sound---something more interesting than just the even marking of beats.

A. The pattern below could be thought of as a simplified version of what a single conga drum might play. The bolded beats are accented (louder). The conga rhythm is called "tumbao." (strike on 2, 4, the and of 4, 6, 8, the and of 8)

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and

B. The pattern below could be thought of as a simplified version of what the bongos play during a Salsa piece. (The name of the bongos' rhythm is "martillo" (which literally means hammer).
(strike on 1, 3, 5, 7)

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and


There are a number of rhythm patterns that can be struck on a cowbell. If a percussionist had one cowbell, he might strike it on the beats listed below.

1 2 and 3 4 and 5 6 7 8 and (for songs in 3-2 clave)

1 2 3 4 and 5 6 and 7 8 and (for songs in 2-3 clave)

Where and how the bell is struck determines whether the sound is high or low, strong or weak etc.---adding texture to the pattern. If the bell is held so that the opening is the lower part, then hitting the bell at the lower end produces a low tone. The top of the bell does not vibrate much and when hit there, the bell makes a high sound.


Salsa/Mambo dancing is done by taking three steps during four beats of music. The steps are most often taken on beats one, two, three, five, six, and seven, or on beats two, three, four, six, seven, and eight. Sometimes the timing is described as follows: "quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow" with the "quick" step representing one beat and the "slow" step representing two beats.

In an eight beat phrase, dancers generally change direction twice when doing the basic step. That is, they change from going forward to backwards and vice versa. This change of direction is referred to as the "break step."

If a dancer steps on one, two, three, five, six, and seven, and does the break steps on one and five, this is referred to as "dancing on one."

If the dancer steps on two, three, four, six, seven, and eight, while doing the break steps on two and six, then this is referred to as "dancing on two."

If the dancer steps on one, two, three, five, six, and seven while breaking on two and six, that is also a form of "dancing on two." Eddie Torres is credited with the idea of having people start on beat one while doing the break step on beat two. Many people find it easier to begin dancing on beat one. This clever maneuver preserves the dancer's ability to start on the first beat, while still putting the break step, which has special importance, on beat two.  This is a far more common way to dance on two than stepping on beats two, three four, six, seven and eight.

Because the break step is when the dancer changes direction, it is the body movement that is the "strongest" or most emphasized. In a sense, you might call that the dancer's accent. When this accent comes on the downbeat (one and five), the feeling is very different from having that "body accent" occur on two and six. Accenting the two and six creates a greater feeling of rhythmic tension and syncopation. Hence some people say that dancing "on one" is dancing "to the music" while dancing "on two" is dancing "in the music." Mike Bello describes dancing on two as dancing "in the fabric of the music." 

Edie, the Salsa Freak, (a famous Salsa dancer) had some interesting things to say about "on one" and "on two" dancing. She said that what is important is dancing to the music by responding to the hits and breaks in a song, rather than whether the dance is structured "on one or two." In her opinion, the best and most musically rich experience is to respond to the accents of a particular piece of music by altering where your break steps are to match those accents. Then afterwards you can resume whichever pattern ("on one or two") you were doing for the bulk of the dance. In short, she felt that flexibility in responding to the music is more important that being wedded to a particular style or break pattern.

The fact is that it is perfectly fine to dance on one or on two. It is up to what the dancer prefers. In both cases, the dancer is stepping on three of the five clave strokes. What is essential for a Salsa dancer is to keep the tempo of the music by consistently taking three steps in four beats of music---whether dancing on one or on two. This is really the most fundamental and important dimension of rhythm and timing as it applies to dance.