Salsa is the Spanish word for “sauce” denoting a “spicy” and “hot” flavor to this popular dance style. Having originated from Mambo its exciting music also reflects the fusion of an Afro-Cuban beat with enhanced jazz textures. Salsa is a casual, adapatable dance with varied texturing and a ‘must learn’ for anyone wanting to go out to a latin club or travel to a Latin American destination.

Exciting music, fun turning patterns and smooth rhythmical body movements make the Salsa an irresistible social dance.

Teaching Elements:

  • Footwork–Steps can move side to side, forward and back or in circles
  • Rhythm–Count as Quick, Quick, Slow or 1, 2, 3 (holding taping on beat 4)
  • Regional Influences–Breaking on count three is acceptable on a regional basis.
  • Compare/Contrast–Marked similarities with Mambo, Lindy Hop, Swing, Hustle


Mambo was the original Salsa-like dance that arose from the latin musical experimentation of the late 1930’s through to the 50’s [see Mambo section for more detail]. Mambo has continued its development in the dance studios to this day but Mambo also evolved into a different social dance form, now called Salsa, on the street and in latin dance clubs since then.

Salsa is the Spanish word for “sauce” denoting a spicy or hot flavour. The earliest dance reference appears to be in 1933 when Cuban songwriter Ignacio Piniero wrote the song “Echale Salsita” (throw on some sauce) after tasting food which lacked the Cuban spices. But it wasn’t until 1962 that the Jimmy Sabater’s tune “Salsa y Beme” suggested the dancers spice it up by adding a little “salsa” (sauce) to their movement when they danced.

Over the 1960’s and 70’s the term Salsa came to be used as the unofficial name of the music and the social dance that was developing in response it. The American societal shift toward more liberal social attitudes ensured that both the music and the dance had an edginess to them. The word Salsa is said to have become inextricably linked in this way to music and dance in New York City, U.S.A. by Puerto Rican immigrants.

Salsa is currently the national music and dance of Puerto Rico and is the quintessential social dance at any latin dance function.


Salsa music is basically 4/4 time (4 quarter beats per bar of music). It arose out of music originally called Mambo which encompasses many Afro-Latin rhythms particularly those driven by a clave rhythm sometimes referred to as a “Son” clave. This is a 5-note rhythm tapped over 2 bars of music often by wooden sticks also called “claves”. It is this Son clave rhythm that is considered to be the very heart and soul of both the traditional Mambo and the current Salsa music.

Salsa can be danced to wide range of tempos in the social setting, from the fastest hot new latin dance numbers to the slightly mellow slower rhythms.

Today’s Salsa is the result of years of rhythmical evolution and experimentation leading to many rhythmical variations on the main theme. It is a constantly evolving musical and dance form, keeping it fresh and exciting.


Danced to four beats using only three steps, each step taking one beat, the remaining beat is used as a tag to the last step or perhaps an adorning (tap, kick or pause) movement called a highlight. The dance is usually started on the first count of the music – “breaking” on count 1- but there are regional differences here as some dancers break on count 3 or even on count 2, as mambo is danced.

There are regional variations on patterning as well. For instance the Cuban/Puerto Rican influenced salsa dancers in Florida and along the east coast of North America tend to dance side to side as the basic structure and do rocks and turns in a more purely circular and seemingly random fashion, of course while maintaining the basic rhythm. In contrast, Central American/Californian inspired salsa dancers (sometimes call “L.A. Style”) tend to dance salsa in slightly more structured form, moving forward and back alternately and dancing in an almost “slotted” fashion passing each other as they rotate giving it a slightly more mambo-like structure.

Salsa patterns can be traveling or on the spot and many of the leads for wraps and turns are shared with Hustle. It is characterized by a smooth rhythmic latin motion, loose arm styling and a slight, mostly outward, connection between the partners giving it a casual, natural look and feel.

Salsa, along with the Merengue, will be the predominant dance at any latin dance club. It is the perfect dance for someone taking a cruise or a trip anywhere in Latin America.  Smoothly latin and sensual, it is a very sexy and showy dance at it’s highest level with fast wraps and turns punctuated with dramatic stops and positions.

Salsa artists include:

  • Albita
  • Marc Anthony
  • West End Mambo
  • Tito Puente
  • The Latin Explosion
  • Celia Cruz