What is Salsa Dancing?
Salsa is generally a partner dance, popular throughout Latin America, and also in the United States, Japan, India, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Israel and Eastern Europe. Salsa has its origins in the Cuban Son and Afro-Cuban dance. Though it is generally performed with salsa music, tropical music is also used in some cases during its performance. The Music suitable for Salsa dancing ranges between 150 to 250 BPM (Beats Per Minute) but generally the dancing is done somewhere between 160–220 BPM. There are also solo forms of Salsa, such as Salsa suelta and Rueda de Casino where a number of couples dance and exchange partners in a circle.
A Short History of Salsa Dancing
Cuba is where most of the Latin music that we hear today originated. Around 1898, when the Cuban war was on, American soldiers got to hear and developed an interest in Cuban music. This interest grew further during the Prohibition as Americans visited Cuba where there was no such restriction on drinking. This spread even further with radio recordings from Cuba. The Orquesta Anacaona, an all-female orchestra, was the first orchestra in Cuba who played percussions, horns and other instruments out in the open. Ironically, this was fostered all the more by the war when they had nothing to do but be restricted to the interiors of their homes. All they did was practice music.
Soon they reached the top of the billboards, even in New York. Steadily their influence began to be become visible in the American music. Latin jazz was begun in the USA under one named W.C. Handy. Other artists such as Louis Armstrong, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie started incorporating Latin music in their songs and it began to become more and more popular.
Now, the roots of Cuban music lay with the West African slaves. People from this area created their own form of music for religious purposes that is, to call the gods. As slaves were captured and forced to work under dire circumstances, their music was used to keep their spirits alive, especially when working on deck. Spaniards brought their Flamenco guitar to Cuba. This gave birth to the dance form of Son. The folk guitar was incorporated by the Cubans from the rural areas. Initially, the dance began as couples came together in an impromptu manner to dance along with the rhythm.
Different dance forms such as Mambo and Rumba came to be evolved. From the early 1960s, a blind drummer in Cuba began to evolve the Salsa sound. Salsa became to be used as a generic name which could stand for food, a style of Latin music and also a form of dance.
Though it is based on the Cuban Son, there is a lot of room for improvisation in Salsa. Differences between the various styles are dependent on factors such as body movement, basic steps, timing, the way the partners hold each other, etc. This form of dance has spread over a wide area from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic and has even had influence over the dance styles in North America each of which have developed their versions of the original. The different forms of Salsa dancing include the New York Style, Miami-Style Casino, Rueda de Casino, Los Angeles Style, Colombian or Cali Style, Cuban Casino Style.
The basic step of all styles of salsa involves 3 weight changes (or steps) in each 4 beat measure. The beat where one does make a step can have a tap or kick. Also weight transfer may simply continue as the actual step takes place only with the next beat. A pause may also be included by some dancers since it is open to improvisation. ‘Break step’ is one of the steps which take a little bit longer compared to the others. The basic cycle of steps is complete when the 6 weight changes in 8 beats are over.
When changing weight, the upper body of the dancer remains steady and the weight changes do not make any difference to this. The ‘Cuban hip movement’ is what is vividly noticeable as the hips have a lot of movement. The opening and closing positions are done with the arms. In open position the two dancers hold one or both hands, especially for moves that involve turns, or putting arms behind the back, or moving around each other. In closed position, the leader puts the right hand on the follower’s back, while the follower puts the left hand on the leader’s shoulder. While the dancers stay in a slot in certain styles, in others the move around each other in circles.
Style is what most important in Salsa dancing. It is held during many occasions and proper gatherings at night clubs and ballrooms or during friendly parties. Annual festivals are held in different parts of the world where dancers come together to celebrate their love for this form and also to exchange ideas and tips.