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Styles of Salsa Dancing

You’re standing at the bar having a tiny rest after particularly fab dance and you overhear some guys talk about ‘On2’, ‘New York’, ‘Rueda’, ‘Cali-style’ and other things that sound like some kind of exotic secret code-language. Not a clue?

Don’t worry- I’m here to hold your virtual hand and explain all. I’ve even dug out some great links for you of real life incredible Salsa dancing. Let get cracking!

Instant Jargon Translation: These guys were just talking about different styles of Salsa dancing. Yes, like your favourite ice-cream, Salsa dancing comes in different flavours and I’m going to simplify them for you

There are four main types of Salsa danced around the world. Usually what actually happens on the dance-floor is a glorious fusion of the best bits, but in theory just one style is learnt: or is the ‘mother dance’

Cuban Salsa/ Salsa Cubana

Cuban salsa, also known as ‘Casino’ is incredibly circular and momentum driven. The best way to understand this is to imagine both dancers are wearing very muddy wellies whilst they dance. Apart from resulting in a very irate club manager (!), you would see an intricate pattern of tiny circle on the ground surrounded by bigger circles.

Cuban Salsa has a big Latin personality and an African soul which makes it feel grounded, earthy and highly rhythmic.

La Rueda/ Rueda de Casino

This playful style is also Cuban and is characterised by lots of couples all dancing in unison, and swapping partners an awful lot!

First a circle is formed by the couples that want to join in and usually a mini-rush when other dancers spot a Rueda about to happen and don’t want to miss out!Someone becomes ‘caller’ and then signals which Rueda moves (turn patterns) to do and when. Each move has a name which is relatively standard thoroughout the world (although there can be interesting variations between areas).

The result is a syncronized, dynamic and impressive looking dance which is great fun! There tends to be plenty of tongue-in-cheek moves, silly stuff or even special moves which make it a classic party dance.

Cross Body Salsa

styles of salsa dancing

Cross-body is an umbrella term that includes New York Style, LA style and also Puerto Rican style Salsa. To revisit our muddy wellie analogy, you would still see circles on the dance-floor, but they would be contained within a rectangular shape, known as a ‘slot’. At the beginning and end of each particular move, each dancer will be in one end of this slot, and is expected to be in a certain position during the dance.

The result is disciplined, crisp and precise,  is exciting to watch and is a particular favourite for the media.

New York style Salsa is also known as Mambo and is danced ‘On2’ (starting* on the 2nd beat of the bar). Dancers often separate and perform ‘shines’: solo moves containing intricate footwork and styling.

Puerto Rican style Salsa can be danced ‘On1’ (starting on the 1st beat of the bar) or ‘On2 ‘(starting on the 2nd beat of the bar) and also contains shines, fancy footwork. When danced On2, it is different to New York style in that the move begins at a different point in the music (on the 5 instead of the 2).

For LA style Salsa, think lifts, dips, stunts and a heavy ballet influence.

Colombian/ Cali Style

Lastly we come to Colombian Salsa, also know as Cali-style. It takes the middle ground between Cross-body and Cuban styles as it remains circular but the circles created by our muddy wellies are wider and less intricate. You’ll often see a very prominent tap on the 4th beat and the 8th.

When I was resident DJ at a top UK Salsa club, this was loosely the style of salsa danced by the Latin American community, unsurprising as Cali appears to be king of salsa in Latin America. (alongside Peru for Cuban).At an elite level Colombian Salsa can be quite acrobatic and you’ll see footwork at a breathtaking speed!

If you’re like me, you’ll be amazed at the different styles of Salsa dancing out there. It’s important to remember that none are better (or worse) than another, just to different tastes.

*Whilst I am aware that Cross Body Salsa on2 is not technically ‘started’ on the 2nd beat, it is a clear definition for a beginner to understand. 


Now it’s over to you. Which is your favourite flavour of Salsa? Did you start learning one style and later change to another? Let us know in the comments below.

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Image © Ryan Ready 

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