If you’re going on one of EF Explore America’s student trips to Puerto Rico, you will be treated to a unique, and perhaps humbling, cultural experience: salsa lessons. Whether your moves will be fluid and perfectly in rhythm remains to be seen, but one thing that’s certain is that you’ll be the latest participant in the long, storied tradition of Latin dance.
Salsa dancing in its current form is actually a fairly recent development. Though it’s based on centuries-old traditions, modern salsa originated in the 1970s in New York City’s Puerto Rican and Cuban communities. The dance is a mix of many different Latin dance styles, especially Cuban Son, cha cha cha, and mambo.
Over the years, a number of local variations of salsa have evolved, including Cali style (from Colombia), Cuban style, L.A. style, and New York style. Each variation applies regional sensibilities to the basic moves, incorporating slight differences in footwork, body movements and interaction between dance partners.
As for the moves themselves, the basic idea in salsa is to shift your weight back and forth by stepping in rhythm, which moves your hips. Your upper body generally remains level, though arm and shoulder movements can be incorporated. It sounds simple enough, but as anyone who has been to a salsa lesson knows, some people make it look easier than others.
And the name? Some think the dance was called “salsa” because it’s a mixture of different styles, just like the salsa you eat is a mixture of ingredients. Others believe the term was coined by record companies to market the music. Still others think the name arose from musicians shouting it out while playing.
Wherever the term comes from, one thing is certain: salsa dancing is here to stay.