What is Salsa?

Salsa is the most popular, fun, social and energetic partner dance not just across the globe but also in Kenya. Salsa means sauce in Spanish and in this case the sauce can be hot and spicy!

As with many dances, the creation of the dance followed the creation of the music. New Yorkers of Cuban and Puerto Rican ancestry are credited as the pioneers of Salsa music – a music that grew out of Mambo and Cuban Son roots.

Salsa Music

At the time of the advent of Salsa music in New York during the 1960s, Mambo dancing was already very popular and it is not surprising that as the dance developed, one of the basic steps in Salsa dancing is the Mambo basic. Salsa soon became popular in Puerto Rica, Cuba and Columbia and infiltrated to many parts of the world.


Types of Salsa Dance Styles

The most recognized styles of Salsa dancing today are LA (Los Angeles) salsa or ON 1 style, New York salsa or ON 2 style, Cuban style and Rueda de casino. Each of these dances has particular footwork and popular rhythms. Selecting a style is a matter of personal preference, no one is better than another.

LA (Los Angeles) Style/ON 1

The LA Style/ON 1 was popularized by Francisco Vazquez, along with his two brothers, Luis and Johnny and was highly influenced by the Hollywood and by the swing & mambo dances. The LA Style/ON 1 is characterized by flashy moves and acrobatic.

L.A. style/ON 1 basic steps consists of 3 steps (2 quicks and 1 slow or a pause) and you start your first step (breaking step) on the first beat (the strong beat). The two essential elements of this dance are the forward/backward and the cross-body lead.


New York Style/ON 2

New York Style/ON 2 emphasizes the efficiency of movement, elegance, and body isolations. By focusing on control, timing, and precision of technique, dancers aim for smooth execution of tightly woven complex patterns. In New York City this style is danced strictly On 2, although dancers around the world often integrate elements and repertoire from New York into their dancing On 1.

On 2 timing emphasizes the conga drums tumbao pattern, and encourages the dancer to listen to percussive elements of the music. An advocate of New York Style considers this to more accurately reflect the Afro-Caribbean ancestry of the music.



Cuban-style salsa (“Casino”) can be danced either on the down beat (“a tiempo”) or the upbeat (“a contratiempo”). Beats 1,3,5 and 7 are downbeats and 2,4,6 and 8 are upbeats.

An essential element is the “Cuba step” (also known as Guapea), where the leader does a backward basic on 1-2-3 and a forward basic on 5-6-7. The follower does the same, thereby mirroring the leader’s movement. Another characteristic of this style is that in many patterns the leader and follower circle around each other.

The cross body lead is an essential step in this style too and is referred to as Salida Cubana or as Dile que no in Rueda de Casino Dancing. This move becomes essential in the more complex derivative of Cuban Casino leading to the many moves of Rueda, or wheel dance. Here multiple couples exchange partners and carry out moves synchronized by a caller.