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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Dance Connection Studio Chicago - Salsa Dance Lessons and Dance Video

Salsa dance lesson studio in Chicago. Get dance lessons in Chicago for Ballroom, Salsa, La Rueda, Wedding First Dance, and various Latin dances.


Salsa is used sometimes as a reference to the "music" Salsa, while at other times it is used as a reference to the "dance" Salsa. Sometimes, it is used interchangably. Salsa as a music evolved very much at the same time Salsa as a dance evolved. Their histories are intimately tied together going back to its origins in Havana, Cuba.

A History of the Music

The roots of Salsa lie in Cuba. Its direct predecessor is an Afro-Cuban style of music called "son". Son (pronounced "sone") began in 1868 at the time of Cuba's independence from Spain. It is a blend of the African rhythms brought to Cuba by African slaves and Spanish guitars. Son is a highly syncopated musical style, which in later years has been influenced by American jazz and popular music. Originally played by 3, then 6, then 7 musicians, today, albums such as the "Buena Vista Social Club" contain big band versions of son.

In the late fifties, a flood of Cuban musicians migrated to New York City and brought with them Mambo and Bolero and Charanga in addition to son. Once in New York, and particularly in Spanish Harlem, these Cubans rubbed shoulders with Puerto Rican jazz musicians and produced a new amalgam. In 1971, under the record label Fania Records, Salsa was born.

A History of the Dance

In Cuba during the fifties the social clubs of the day were the casinos. Salsa evolved from its infancy to the sophisticated form of dance that it is today in these casinos. Two popular clubs where salsa originated are El Casino de La Playa and El Casino Deportivo. When the Cuban government was overthrown by the Castro regime, many Cubans emigrated to other Carribean, South American and North American countries. One of the places that many Cubans fled to was Miami, Florida. Salsa and La Rueda was resurrected in Miami and eventually spread to salsero communities all over the United States. This is why Miami style salsa is also referred to as "Casino" style salsa. Because Miami style salsa is the original style of salsa created in the casino social clubs of Havana, Cuba.

Salsa Today

Today salsa continues to thrive. It is still growing and changing as salseros innovate new ways to twist and twirl the night away. Salsa is one of many Latin Style dances that include Cha Cha Cha, Mambo, and Tango to name a few. Its rich history and wide attraction has given it a permanent place in the theatres and dance clubs of today.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for newcomers to salsa is understanding the music. Salsa music is easy to enjoy, but when it comes to clearly identifying the beats, some people fall apart on it. The details below offer some helpful information to guide you in understanding the beat of salsa music and how it relates to dancing.

The 8-Count

Let's begin with something most, if not all, people are familiar with and that is the 8-count. When musicians and dancers begin to do their thing, they begin by saying, "five, six, seven, eight" and then everyone begins on "one" in sync continuing with a rhythm that goes something like this:

one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
and so on...

Music flows on eight beats, which are also considered two sets of four beats. A set of four beats (one, two, three, four) is called a "measure". The next set of four beats (five, six, seven, eight) is also a "measure". The term "measure" is very important and used a lot when teaching/learning how to dance salsa. For a visual reference, take a look at the table below.

Count Beat 1 Beat 2 Beat 3 Beat 4 Beat 5 Beat 6 Beat 7 Beat 8
8 Count one two three four five six seven eight

The 6-Count

Salsa music is based on two musical measures amounting to the original eight beats. However, this is where everyone gets confused. The 8-count is converted into a 6-count by incorporating a "pause" on "four" and on "eight". This changes:

one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight


one, two, three, "and", four, five, six, "and"
one, two, three, "and", four, five, six, "and" ...

Notice how four and eight are replaced with the pause "and". Although you're counting six steps, the reality is that those six steps are occurring over eight beats. Why? Because two of the steps are being spent with a pause. It is noteworthy to mention that depending on the song, salsa music is played at different speeds. Some are slow, some are medium and some are darn fast! The faster the song is, the smaller your steps should be so you can keep up with the beat, but the basic concept of counting the beat remains the same. You'll just be counting faster or slower.

When listening to salsa music, you can hear the musicians creating a six-beat with the instruments although the reality is that there are two standard measures of time. This six-count is the root of the structure of salsa dancing and is paramount to learning how to dance salsa. In salsa dancing, a measure refers to three steps and a pause taken in time with the musical measure of the song. Sometimes the beats of a 6-count are identified by using the words "quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow". Here's the updated table that compares an 8-count with the 6-count.

Count Beat 1 Beat 2 Beat 3 Beat 4 Beat 5 Beat 6 Beat 7 Beat 8
8 Count one two three four five six seven eight
6 Count one two three and four five six and
6 Count quick quick slow quick quick slow

Don't Worry!

This may sound complicated when described in words but actually, learning the six-count is very easy. Once you learn the six-count, which is the root of the salsa dance structure, you'll begin to branch off from there learning all the steps and combinations that make up the vast world of salsa dancing. Before you know it, you'll be dancing structured salsa executing moves that will impress your family and friends.

The steps are where all the focus on salsa dancing is. Fortunately, it's not rocket science. Just like reading has its abc's, so does salsa. To describe the steps in detail with words would be unwieldy and would thus defeat the purpose of helping a newcomer to salsa dancing. However, check back with us in the future as we plan to add streaming video to the site. For now, read the following to get a grasp of what is really important with regards to the steps.

Basic 1, 2, 3 and 4

In the dance of salsa, there are four basic steps called basic one, basic two, basic three and basic four. These basic steps span a full six-count of music making them 3 steps, a pause, then another 3 steps and another pause. Learning these basics is the "kindergarten" of salsa dancing and are generally very easy to learn with a little bit of practice.


From time to time you may have to either walk or march in place instead of doing a basic step, depending on the combo being performed. This simply means that you'll do something like "walk, walk, walk, pause" or "march, march, march, pause". This is sometimes referred to as "marking" because you're not really dancing a particular step, you're simply walking or marching to the beat.

Using the Basics

When dancing salsa, you will always be marking or doing one of these basic steps at any given point in time. No matter how complex or intricate the combo may be, it will consist of a bunch of basic steps chained together with upper body movements at the same time.

Dance Moves

Performing your basic steps while doing upper body movements together make up a dance move. A dance move typically lasts anywhere from two measures to four or six measures at its basic level. Intermediate and advanced level dancing is acheived when you can chain these dance moves together into combinations.


A combination refers to the combining or chaining together of various dance moves. Combinations can span anywhere from six to as high as thirty measures. Generally, intermediate level combinations are less complex than advanced level combinations. Advanced level combinations are typically, but not necessarily, longer than intermediate combos.


At times, a couple dancing can let go of each other and dance in place without the need to be completely in sync with their partner. While they are both dancing to the same beat being rhythmically in sync, they are not necessarily dancing the same "solo" moves. Because the partners let go and dance "solo", the moves being performed are called "shines" because it gives the individual a chance to "shine". There are many, many different shines and variations thereof. Some dancers like to shine often, some don't shine at all. When to shine or whether to shine at all is simply a matter of personal taste.


The highest level of dancing is achieved when combos are executed without thinking, giving the dancer freedom to spice their dancing up in their own personal way. This is when the dancer adds creative things to their dancing such as when the female throws her hair back in tune with the music, spinning in place, doing body curls and more. A highly skilled dancer may also invent entirely new dance moves and combinations.

Today, Salsa dancing can be divided into several styles defined by the geographic region from which they come. Generally, these styles are identified as L.A. style, New York style and Miami style. Although these are not "official" styles, most salseros today identify the styles by these three names.

L.A. Style

L.A. style is very linear. It uses dips and arm styling. It can look like the Hustle or ballroom dancing. L.A. style is very flashy incorporating many of ballroom's flips and dips. L.A. style dancing is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to dance.

New York Style

New York style is more like Mambo. It makes use of body waves, free style footwork, shines, rib cage movements and shimmying. Mambo style is sometimes referred to as "dancing on two". All this means is that instead of beginning to step on "one", the first beat, the dancer takes the first step on "two", the second beat of a measure. While this definition may seem trivial, it drastically changes the dynamics of how one dances salsa. Although this is called New York style, the styles danced in New York dance clubs are fairly diverse.

Miami Style

Miami style Salsa is based on Cuban style. It is also known as Classico Cubano style or Casino style. The basic step of Miami style salsa comes with a "tap" between measures. This "tap & step" is a characteristic of Miami style salsa and you'll know it when you see it. Miami style salsa makes use of "ganchos" or arm-hooks, which is when one elbow is hooked over the partners elbow to create a kind of arm lock giving the leader leverage to move his partner via the arm. Miami style salsa also makes use of "alardes" which are quick taps of the hand on the neck or shoulder while dancing. Alardes create quick flashy hand movements that decorate the dance moves being performed. Dancers dance in a slot and do many flowing continuous circular turns. It also makes use of many pretzel- like holds, and as such, Miami style salsa becomes very intricate and complex-looking at its most advanced level.


No style is definitively better than the other. It's all really a matter of taste. They are all fun to watch and exciting to dance. Many salseros take the time to learn all the different styles and even incorporate their own personal inventions to create their own style. Salsa has no boundaries so many of the styles' combinations overlap, blurring the line between one style and another. The style taught at Dance Connection is predominantly, but not limited to, Miami/Casino style.

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