The history of “Salsa” dance is peppered with hearsay and contradiction. Although few would disagree that the music and dance forms originate largely in Cuban Son, most agree that Salsa as we know it today is a North American interpretation of the older forms. New York’s Latino community had a vibrant musical and dancing scene throughout the ’50s but found limited success with the ‘Anglo’ mainstream. In the 1970s, adoption of the term “Salsa” reduced the linguistic and cultural barriers to mainstream adoption of Latin music and dance. The modernization of the Mambo in the 1950s was influential in shaping what would become salsa. There is debate as to whether the dance we call Salsa today originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico. Cuba’s influence in North America was diminished after Castro’s revolution and the ensuing trade embargo. New York’s Latino community was largely Puerto-Rican. Salsa is one of the main dances in both Cuba and Puerto Rico and is known world-wide.
Salsa dancing is a dance style associated with the salsa style of music now popular worldwide. Salsa music has its origins sometime in the 1950s to 1970s, with the truly distinct salsa style coming out of New York in the 1970s. The music fuses a number of Cuban styles, particularly the son, but also draws from a number of other Latin American musical styles.
Salsa dancing is done on eight-beat music, with dancers moving on three beats, pausing for one beat, dancing for three beats, and pausing for one beat. The movement style is left-right-left-pause, then right-left-right-pause. During the pause in most salsa dancing some sort of flourish is utilized, be it a stomp of the foot, casting out the hand or kicking the lower leg. Salsa dancing is mostly a stationary dance, with little movement around the dance floor. Instead, dancers rely on the subtle movement of their legs and upper bodies to convey the energy of the dance.
In addition to the partnered movements of salsa dancing, dancers may integrate solo breaks known as shines into their routines. These are a way for salsa dancers to take a breather from an exhausting routine, or to gather themselves if their rhythm is broken. Shines involve lots of ornate movements and demonstrations of the body, and are intended as a way for a dancer to show off their full talent. While shines are in theory improvisational, there are many standard shines which dancers learn and can fall back on.