The History & Origin of the Salsa Dance

Young man and woman practicing the Salsa in a studio.

Are you interested in learning the salsa or already learning it and curious about its origins? Dancing a dance well is only half the picture — like any piece of art, you’ll always take more from a dance when you understand its roots, how it’s developed, and how it exists today.

Today, we’ll look at what the salsa is, where it came from, and how it’s developed over the years to become so well-loved and varied around the world and so influential in Latino cultures across the globe.

What Is the Salsa?

Salsa is a form of dance first popularized in America in the 1960s, taking its name from the salsa music of the time — a commercial label for various forms of Latin dance music that gradually grew into its own distinct style. 

While there are many variations of the salsa today, most, if not all, still share a few key characteristics. 

Your typical salsa dance sees a lead taking their follower through spins and turn patterns, with three steps for every four beats of music. The tempo can vary substantially, from as slow as 150bpm to as intense as 250bpm, though most dancing happens in a narrower range between those two extremes.

Most variants of salsa also fall into one of two styles: linear and circular, where dancers either remain in a slot and switch sides or circle each other. 

Salsa is also known for ‘shines’, where dancers break apart from their partners temporarily for solo performances, and for being versatile and varied even within a style, thanks to the incorporation of other dance styling techniques into any given performance.

Nearly any other dance technique might be seen in a specific version of the salsa, creating abundant opportunity for a skilled dancer to make it their own. 

History of the Salsa

The salsa descends from several different dances, a fusion born in the 1960s from a combination of Cuban dances like the mambo, rumba, and son, tap dance, swing, and more — much like the salsa music from which it takes its name, a Latin American music style incorporating elements of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and American influences.

Johnny Pachecho, a Dominican musician at the center of the early salsa music scene, coined the term. 

Today, salsa exists in many different styles, many so divergent that they can’t be easily danced together by dancers trained in different kinds of salsa. New York style, Los Angeles style, Colombian style, Cuban style, and many variants of these styles all coexist around the world.

Each of these styles, in turn, draws from different dance traditions, such as the Cuban Casino social dance being descended primarily from the son, cha-cha-cha, danzon, and guaracha, or the American styles being influenced more by the mambo and swing. 

Start Dancing Today

If you’re interested in learning to dance the salsa, there’s no better school to teach you in the Carmel area than Fred Astaire Dance Studios.

We tailor our training to help develop any dancer, whether you’re a beginner with no dance experience or already familiar with one or more forms of the salsa and want to further improve for competition or fun. 

Start dancing today with the help of Fred Astaire Dance Studios by calling our Carmel location at 317-846-3237.