27.12.13 : Blogs’ 1 year anniversary special – History of “Salsa” Dancing !

Buenas dias a todos los amantes de la musica Cubana !

Hard to believe, but this week my blog celebrated its 1st birthday…
The blog started on December 25th, 2013; A few days prior to that, I posted a note (which resembled a blog entries) on my facebook profile.
It was viewed by many people, one of them being my friend Ido, the owner of salsalust.com, the website that hosts this blog.
He suggested that I rewrite the note to a blog entry, because a blog gets more coverage, and the more people learn about salsa music, the better.
And so it began, and the rest is history 馃槈

On this joyous day, I hereby present you a project upon which I’ve been working for several weeks now, collecting info, piecing the puzzle together… History of Salsa dancing.
I did my best, trying to cover the topic as fully as I can, but I’m certain that there is more to be discovered and said on the topic…
Also, I tried to keep the descriptions rather short; if you want more info regarding a specific dance, just google it; I got much of the info doing just that.
They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words… so how much is a video worth 馃槈 ?
I added a youtube video which roughly demonstrates each dance form; These are not always perfect, but they are the best I could find.

Well, let’s get to it!
*presented in chronological order, both in the text and the diagram (bottom to top until salsa, as all styles came to exist roughly at the same time).
**yep, it’s quite a long one, no doubt, as I tried my best to trace the evolution of Salsa, spanning almost 500 years of cultural history.
We also have to remember that most of the time the various dance forms coexisted in Cuba, effecting one another.
***diagram key:
Solid line = major connection
Dashed line = minor connection
Countries \ Continents of origin are in orange, dance forms are in green, and salsa dance forms in red.

Our story starts with 2 distinct sources – Africa and Europe, as most Latino people originate either from African slaves, brought to the Caribbean by the Europeans, or from the European (mainly Spanish, French, Portuguese and English) conquistadors who brought the slaves to labor in the fields and plantations.

Bailes del Afro (16th century):
Having little recorded history, we don’t really know for how long were these practiced, or when they came to be, but we do know that the various groups of African slaves in Cuba and other Caribbean countries kept practicing their religions in the new world, when brought there by the Europeans during the XVI century.
Most slaves came from tribes and peoples who lived near the Atlantic coast of Africa.
There are 3 main ethnic groups that most Africans in Cuba stem from, and each one with a culture of its own and its own system of religious beliefs, among most of which dances plays an important role:

a. Diablito & Ireme – these are the dances of followers of the secretive and cult like religion called Abakua, of the Caravali ethnic group, common to the peoples of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon.
It is quite a strict and hermetic religion which has only started revealing itself to the outside world in the recent few decades.
The dances of this group are strictly religious, and are used as a form of worship of various spirits and demons, called “diablitos” (little devils) or “ireme” in the Abakua language.

b. Palo, Makuta & Yuka – these are the dances of the Bantu people of the Congo ethnic group, which resides at the countries of the Atlantic coast of Africa.
There are various religions and beliefs among the peoples which came from that region, and most include worshiping spirits and ancestors.
Palo means “stick”, and the movements resemble slaves harvesting crops with a stick or scythe; Makuta is a type of drum which is dominant in the music played for dancing the dance; Yuca, or cassava, is a type of root commonly grown in sub-Saharan Africa, and the dance symbolizes a ritual of fertility.

c. Bailes de los Orishas – these are religious dances of the Yoruba people, living in western Africa, mainly Nigeria and Benin.
Their culture is very rich, and belief system quite complex, with a great many religious dances dedicated to the Orishas, the spirits, gods or “saints” of the natural world.
There is a large pantheon of Orishas which reminds of the Greek pantheon, with various gods responsible for various forces of nature or different fields of life.
Each Orisha is worshiped in a special ceremony, and has a unique dance of its own, with different movements for each god.
There are as many dances as there are Orishas, so instead of trying to link all of them to this post, I’ll put a link to one of them, dedicated to the Orisha Chango (Shango); You can find more on the youtube channel on which the video is hosted, and of course, feel free to聽search youtube on your own!

Contradanza (Habanera in Cuba; mid 18th century):
This is the European side of the equation.
During the Renaissance, the English country daces became quite popular in Europe.
First taken up by French dance masters during the mid 17th century, the dances quickly gained popularity, spreading to many nations of continental Europe.
From dances of the simple country folk they became dances of royalty, practiced in formations and lines by nobles聽in the royal courts and palaces of聽continental Europe.
Contradanza found its way to Cuba with the wave of French settlers fleeing the revolution in Haiti which took place during the 1790’s; Contradanza聽gained popularity soon after, at the turn of the century.
In Cuba, during the 1st half of the 18th century, the dance was changed, adding some African motifs such as references to the songs of the free slaves and rhythmic syncopation.
The creolized dance also changed its name – in Cuba Contradanza became known as Habanera.
The dance was danced in groups, squares, or lines facing each other; Later versions included couple dancing as well.
It is interesting to note that the dance, known as country dance or square dancing, is still very popular in parts of the USA today, especially in the state of Alabama.

Conga de Comparsa (mid 18th century):
Conga is one of the carnival dances of Cuba, originating at the eastern part of the country, the province of聽Oriente.
During the 17th and 18th centuries (and even up to the 19th century, to some extent) African slaves, even those who bought their freedom (something that became possible in Cuba starting 1709) were persecuted for their non christian religious believes.
Thus, they had to “mask” their believe behind christian symbols and saints, with the result being syncretism.
So, during various christian celebrations, the slaves and former slaves worshiped their deities under the disguise of worshiping christian saints.
Such is the case of the “day of 3 kings” carnival, which was celebrated on January 6th, with the Conga de Comparsa being the main dance of the event, part of the parade.

Changui & Nengon (early 19th century):
Changui is a type of traditional Cuban music which originated at the Campos (rural areas) of the Oriente province in eastern Cuba, with centers being at Baracoa and Guantanamo.
It comes from an even earlier type of rural music called聽Nengon, and is a mix of African rhythmic patterns with the Spanish Sonero singing and guitar playing (in Cuba a modified version of the Spanish guitar called “Tres” was mainly used).
This style of music has a dance of its own, and is considered to be one of the direct predecessors of Son, both music and dance wise.

Rumba (Early to mid 19th century):
The point of origin for the music and dance is considered to be the emergence of the clave in 4/4 formation, at the docks and shipyards of Habana and Matanzas during the late 18th century, spreading throughout black neighborhoods in the cities of western and central Cuba since the 1st quarter of the 19th century.
The music was often played on household items such as jars, wooden boxes and crates, and empty or full barrels, using other household items like sticks or tableware.
The Rumba is the secular form of the Afro dances, which are the religious heritage of the African slaves brought to Cuba during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The dance can be subdivided into 3 forms:

a. Yambu, the slower form, known as the “old folks’s dance

b. Guaguanco, being a dance of courtship (based upon courtship between a hen and a rooster) in medium fast tempo

c. Columbia, a solo dance that until recently was danced by males only, and is a game of improvisation between the dancer and the Quinto drummer

Danzon (originated during 1850’s, officially created at 1879):
Danzon is the official national music and dance of Cuba, and is the first more or less “equal” mix between the European and African parts of the Cuban heritage.
As a dance, Danzon started as a group or square dance, danced by groups of black Cubans in Habana and Matanzas (some speculate that they were trying to copy square dances danced by white Cubans of Spanish origin from higher social classes).
The first Danzones were composed by Miguel Failde during the early 1880’s, being based on the Habanera.
Within a few years the dance format was changed to couple (rather than group) dance format.
The dance was quite revolutionary (and controversial at the time), as it was intended to be danced in “mixed” venues, attended by people from all social classes and origins, white, black and mixed!
It was the 1st “European” couple dance that included hip motion, then quite a provocative thing!
Apart from being the official dance of Cuba, it also remains quite popular today in Puerto Rico and Mexico.
A very interesting feature of Danzon music is the presence of the “Mambo” section at the end of the Danzon composition… but on that issue, a bit later 馃檪

Bolero (late 19th century):
Boleros’ origins are in the Spanish cancion singing style, which gave birth to trova music in Cuba.
The first Boleros were composed in 1885 by Jose “pepe” Sanchez who lived in Santiago De Cuba.
The style quickly spread around the country, thanks to the romantic lyrics and rather simple and elegant form of dancing, which resembled Danzon (which is considered one of the forefathers of Bolero) .
Bolero became popular throughout all of Latin America during the 1920’s, and after WWII has spread globally, mainly as a kind of ballroom dance, mixed with Son; Such mixes were common due to the simple form of dancing Bolero, thus many “hybrids” like “Bolero-Son” and later “Bolero-Mambo” and “Bolero-Cha”.

Son (late 19th or early 20th centuries):
Son is considered to be the “father” of salsa (with Rumba being the “mother”…) , as all salsa is very much based on the Son, both as a type of music and as a dance;聽The basic closed position, the pattern of displacement, most of the basic steps and many of the fundamental elements found in salsa come from Son.
The timing of Son is also the most fundamental and natural way to dance to salsa music.
Son music and dancing were forms of expressing the advances of Cuban society, breaking cultural, social, racial and class boundaries.
Arriving from the Oriente province to Havana and other major cities, Son became mainly a dance of the middle class urban population during the first 2 decades of the XX century.
It was the first dance which allowed the full incorporation of聽black and mixed race Cubans聽in the entertainment and music industry in Cuba.
With the arrival of radio in the early 1920’s, Son gained nationwide popularity; A decade later, in the 1930’s, Son became a top “export product” for Cuba, gaining worldwide recognition and popularity. mainly as a musical style, but also as a dance.
Together with the Bolero, Son will provide the basis for a “Latin” ballroom dance, mistakenly named “Rumba” by Europeans and Americans…

Mambo (created in 1938, popularized during the 1940’s):
Meaning “a conversation with the gods” in the language of the Congo people (many of the black Cubans have their roots in this ethnic group), the Mambo was at first the ending part of many Danzon compositions written in the 1930’s, and was originally called “Diablo”; This practice was started by Arsenio Rodriguez, one of the musical geniuses of Cuba, and in 1938, developed into full length compositions by the Lopez brothers (Orestes and Israel “Cachao”) as a faster paced and more energetic ending for the Danzon.
A few years later, in the early 1940’s, this style of music became highly popular in Cuba, then Mexico and New York.
The man who is considered the most responsible for spreading Mambo outside Cuba is Perez Prado, who’s also credited for creating the Mambo dance together with the troupe which accompanied his concerts.
Mambo is danced in free formation, and stems from both Danzon and Rumba, with some emphasis on footwork.
Mambo is danced by singles, couples and groups of dancers alike.

Cha Cha Cha (created late 1940’s, popularized during 1950’s)
The creation of this style of music is accredited to composer and violinist Enrique Jorrin, using the Danzon as its base.
Jorrin created this style of music attempting to “energize” the Danzon, while not making it as fast paced and complicated as the Mambo already was at that time.
The creation of the dance, characterized by the typical “cha cha cha” sound the feet make when accenting the main syncopated Cha Cha music, is attributed to the dancers of the silver star club in Habana; The dance was developed during the early 1950’s, using elements from Rumba, Mambo and Danzon.

Pachanga (1959)
The Pachanga rhythm and associated dance are Cuban-Latin fusions, stemming from Mambo, Danzon, Son and Cha Cha Cha, but also incorporating some movements and elements from the Dominican Merengue.

Mozambique (1963) & Pilon (1960)
These are 2 rather modern dance form which stem from the Conga de Comparsa, the main聽carnival聽dance of Santiago De Cuba.
These were the first dances created after the revolutionary, and among the first styles of popular Cuban music to use the Rumba Clave, a common feature of contemporary Cuban music.

Casino (Salsa Cubana), late 1950’s:
This is the original style of “salsa”, if one is to assume that “salsa” as a style of music or dance exists (there are academic grade discussion on this topic, which we will not go into; for our purposes, in the realm of dance, the term “salsa” signifies couple dances of Afro Cuban origin, based on Son, Rumba and Mambo as their main components, with clave as the rhythm on which they danced), before the name was used to signify any kind of music or dance (that happened during the 1970’s for commercial reasons) .
Casino is based in large part on Son, with body motion and styling from Rumba, and some Mambo footwork and partnerwork; Over the years, elements from other Afro Cuban dance forms, such as Pachanga, Mozambique, Pilon, Conga, Bolero, Cha Cha Cha, Afro Cuban dances, Changui (to name some…) have been incorporated.
The name (both of the couple dance, Casino, and the group format, Rueda de Casino) comes from “Casinos Deportivos”, the dance clubs where the dance was mainly danced and originally developed during the late 1950’s.
Casino is danced Contratiempo, like Son and Mambo, but can also danced A-tiempo.
The syncopated rhythmic patterns of African origin, which are found in Son, Salsa, Songo and Timba music, are extensively used by dancers for intricate聽play between dance partners and the music (just as in Rumba Columbia, where the game is between the dancer and the Quinto drummer), resulting in much improvisation.
Casino is a social dance, concentrating on musicality, body motion, personal styling (using the countless Afro Cuban origins of the dance), and connection between the partners.
The partners move freely on the dance floor, always maintaining a circular pattern of motion around each other, with the leader being in the center of the circle, and the follower(s) dancing at the perimeter of the circle (Casino is often danced with more than 2 partners in various combinations) .
Regarding steps, the basic stepping pattern is the “quick-quick-slow” (or “1-2-3-pause”) pattern, and it is always maintained.
Regarding technique, the dance is mostly simple, with the majority of patterns consisting of 2-6 bars of music (which are 3 clave counts or “8 counts”), typically 2-4 bars in length, although professional and stage dancers have been inventing longer and much more complex figures since the 1970’s.

Salsa Colombiana, 1960’s:
Like many coastal cities in the Caribbean and Latin America, the聽Colombian cities of Baranquilla and Cartagena, have been absorbing musical and dance influences since the early 20th century; Son was quite popular in Colombia in the 1920’s, and Mambo and Pachanga in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Combining these with local rhythms such as Cumbia, 2 unique styles of dancing were created in Colombia during the 1960’s:
One is “Salsa Cali”, which is based on Mambo, Pachanga and Boogalu, and is characterized by a strong emphasis on聽intricate footwork to fast salsa music, mostly from New York (USA) and Puerto Rico (Since the beginning of the US embargo on Cuba in 1959, Cuba was shut off from its neighbors and most other countries) .
The 2nd style is what I like calling “Salsa Colombiana Clasica”;
Unlike the big cities, the dancing in rural areas is much simpler and more relaxed, owing much to Cumbia.
It resembles an over simplified version of Son, and to some extent, Merengue, which was quite popular in the Caribbean and Latin America during the 1960’s.
Both styles of Colombian salsa are mostly danced A-tiempo, with the most common form referred to as “on3”.

Salsa Puertorriquena, 1960’s
Being only ~1250 kilometers away, Puerto Rico has many times been described as the “cultural mirror” and also “sister culture” of Cuba.
Being a dominion of the USA, Puerto Rico was cut off from Cuba since the initiation of the US embargo of Cuba in 1959; prior to that, Son, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha, Pachanga, and other dances from Cuba reached San Juan quite hastily when spreading outside Cuba.
Thus, the Puertorican style of salsa shares many similarities to Casino (“Cuban Salsa”), being mostly based on Son, and replacing the Afro Cuban heritage of with an African heritage of its own (Afro Boricua), mainly the Bomba & Plena. It has some Mambo influences as well.
Unlike the Colombians, who choose to place the emphasis on fast footwork, Puertorican salsa owes its style to its origins in Son, placing the emphasis on and elegance and smooth motion, especially for the leader (who always maintains upright posture) .
Sharing many origins, dance steps, elements and styling, Casino and Puertorican salsa can be interchangeably danced to their respective types of salsa music.
Just like Casino, Puertorican salsa is danced both Contratiempo and A-tiempo.

Salsa NY, 1960’s
New York city has been a Mecca for immigrants from Caribbean and Latin American countries since the early days of the 20th century.
During the first half of the 20th century, many styles of Cuban music have been brought and established in New York, allowing the creation of a unique style in the city (and popularization of salsa nationwide later on, during the 1970’s).
The NY dance style is a blend of the various dance traditions of its immigrants, mixing Cuban, Puertorican and other Afro Cuban, Afro Latin, and Pan Latin rhythms, like a huge melting pot…
The dance style, also known as “Palladium Style”, has its origins in the Mambo, Son, Cha Cha Cha and Rumba, with stylistic influences from other Latin (and even sometimes non Latin) dances.
Salsa NY is danced strictly Contratiempo, referred to as “on2”;
It should be noted that what one mostly sees today when looking for “salsa NY” is not the original way the style was danced during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, with the rising popularity of “Latin Hustle” in New York city, some younger dancers started mixing NY salsa with this western dance, resulting in a show oriented, commercialized dance form which is widely presented nowadays under the name “NY style”, although more educated dancers use the more accurate and appropriate name “ET style” or “NY salsa ET style”.
In the late 1980’s a dance teacher named Eddie Torres created a hybrid form of contratiempo and a-tiempo dancing, using methods and techniques from the world of ballroom dancing.
The ET (Eddie Torres) “NY salsa style” is danced starting on the 1st beat of the measure, like when dancing some forms of a-tiempo, but the break step is executed on the 2nd beat of the measure, same as when dancing contratiempo.
Style wise, the salsa NY is characterized by fluent and smooth motion (like Son), combined with聽intricate footwork steps performed without contact between the partners; these are called “shines” by dancers in New York city and other parts of the USA.

And here’s and example of solo dancing, a typical thing during the 1960’s:

Well, that just about sums it up for the moment.
I hope you enjoyed and learned a lot…

14 thoughts on “27.12.13 : Blogs’ 1 year anniversary special – History of “Salsa” Dancing !

  1. Axel

    Felicitaciones por la p谩gina, est谩 muy completa!

    S贸lo quer铆a hacerle saber, ya que es un error muy com煤n, que Hernesto “Che” Guevara era Argentino, no Cubano como se dice a veces. Particip贸 de la revoluci贸n cubana pero no naci贸 all铆.
    De cualquier manera excelente la informaci贸n!!.

    Saludos desde Argentina.

    1. Michael Che Morozov Post author

      Gracias por su comentario.

      No te preocupes;
      Yo se que el Che era Argentino, pero esto no es importante.
      La cosa importante es que gran persona era, y que podemos aprender de el.

      Muchas gracias otra vez y saludos!

  2. Axel

    forgiveness, i read the information in Spanish because it is automatically translated.

    Congratulations on the page, is very complete. What I meant before is that Hernesto “Che” Guevara was an Argentine, not Cuban as is sometimes believed.

    Regards and congratulations again!!

  3. Antonio

    Hi there, I was just wondering, in the video you posted about Casino, the song is Mala Noche by Adalberto Alvarez, they are dancing with a weird timing, they are not dancing one 1, Can you shed some light please? Are they dancing incorrectly/wrong timing

    1. Michael Che Morozov Post author

      Hola Antonio!
      You are correct; they are not dancing “on1”, but they are still dancing “a-tiempo”.

      The original way of dancing Casino is “on3” – that’s the way they danced it back then, in the 1950’s and 60’s when they were dancing “a-tiempo”, as opposed to “contra-tiempo”, which is the way you dance to Son music (and can also be called “on2″…) .

      AFAIK, this manner of dancing stems from Danzon and Mambo, as in music of these genres the bass plays on the 3rd and 4th beat of each bar of music.

      1. Antonio

        Hi Michael,

        Thanks for your reply.

        So they are dancing a-tiempo but on 3 rather than on 1

        So a person that watches that video would assume that the male, which is the one who leads and decides where to start dancing, either

        – has chosen to dance on 3, for aestheatic reasons ( coz according to what you said , that ‘s the way casino was originally danced back in the 50-60s. Well, I would like to ask you a question in regards: Is it still common for people {in Cuba and/or outside Cuba to dance casino/timba on 3 nowadays?})

        – is hearing the song in clave 3-2, i.e. he is hearing the ONE where we are hearing the THREE

        Whichever of the above two assumptions one chooses to make , everything is thrown out of the window later in the video , because if you keep looking and get to minute 1.42, the guy actually changes and now starts dancing on the ONE, a tiempo, on the ONE.

        Therefore it can be concluded that he was either dancing with the wrong timing in the first part of the video or he was dancing with the wrong timing in the second part of the video.
        I would say he picked the wrong timing in the first part of the video because the song is clearly in 2-3. It’s frustrating for me to see people dancing with the wrong timing, and even more frustrating when it’s done by such an amazing dancer like this guy.

        P.s. before hitting the post comment button I decided to listen to Deja la Mala Noche from the beginning to see if there maybe was any clave change that could have thrown the guy off timing and hence why he was dancing with the wrong timing in the first part of the song. Well, the answer is YES. The song starts in clave direction 3-2 but at the second 00:30 there’s a clave change Type 2 which makes the song change into 2-3 clave direction. Therefore, it can be concluded that the reason why the guy was dancing with the wrong timing is that he started dancing with the right timing but then failed to adjust his dance moves to the clave change , and only managed to do the adjustment at 1:45.

        P.p.s It’d be interesting to see what steps/moves can dancers do to adjust to clave changes in a song.

        1. Michael Che Morozov Post author

          Very well analyzed!

          From my personal experience, I can say that unless you know the song quite well, some clave changes (such as the one you mentioned) can at times be difficult to spot right at the moment they occur.

          Also, there can be many distractions to a dancer during a dance, so I suppose it is “excusable” that the dancer adjusts to the clave change only after a while.

          Regarding steps \ moves that would get you from one timing to another, I’m not familiar with such moves, or with any curriculum which addresses the issue.

          What I usually do is to “delay” my last move \ step (if rationally possible), and then brake on the correct new tempo.

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