A-Z-U-C-A-R! Here’s A Quick History Lesson About Salsa And Its Growth Around The World

credit: celia_cruz2003 / Instagram

If you want to dance to impress (and have a great time overall) at any party you’re at, salsa dancing is the way to go. We’re breaking down the history of this revered form of music and dancing, from its Cuban roots to its greatest performers, including la reina herself—Celia Cruz—and how cities from New York to Miami are still keeping the dance form alive.

Salsa is more than just a music genre, it is a dance style that is unique to its origin.

Salsa’s roots started out on the eastern side of Cuba, taking its musical cue from Son cubano and mambo. As well, the drum rhythms and dance moves from Afro-Cuban dance and music shaped the musical style. Not to be forgotten are elements of Spanish flamenco guitar which was brought to Cuba by troubadours and were incorporated into the son style.

During the 1950s, a style of salsa called rueda de casino emerged around Cuba.

Other names for the style are rueda or casino rueda. Dancers move about in pairs or solo, and dance movements are called out with phrases such as “dame una” (give me one) or “exhibela” (show her off.) The dance was made at members-only clubs on the island, called casino deportivos.  

The musical style of salsa started to make its way from Cuba to the U.S. around the same decade rueda de casino was developed.

🇪🇸Rueda de casino o rueda cubana es un círculo de parejas que bailan salsa cubana y donde las mujeres van cambiando de pareja. Todos bailan con todos. Hay un cantante que nombra las figuras y todos los miembros las hacen al mismo tiempo. Mínimo son necesarias dos parejas y el máximo no tiene límite. Al ser un círculo, desde arriba parece un periscopio, no os parece? Esto es parte de la coreo Agua pa Yemayá que hicimos con nuestro grupo Aché💃🕺 🇩🇪 Rueda de casino oder Rueda cubana ist ein Kreis von Paaren, die kubanische Salsa tanzen und wo die Frauen die Männer wechsel. Alle tanzen mit allen. Es gibt einen "Cantante" oder Sänger, der die Figuren singt und alle machen diese Figuren gleichzeit. Man braucht mindestens 2 Paare und der Maximum ist unbegrenz. Es ist ein Kreis und deswegen sieht von oben wie ein Periskop, glaubt ihr nicht? Das ist ein Teil von der Coreo Agua pa Yemayá die wir mit unserer Gruppe Aché gemcaht haben.💃🕺 ➡️➡️Follow us in Facebook: Ricard & Laia Salsa 👍👍 #aguapayemayá #ruedadecasino #ruedacubana #definiciónruedacubana #dame #rueda #salsa #salsacubana #coreo #desdearriba #salsabayern #salsawürzburg #salsainwürzburg #wasistruedadecasino #ricardylaia #tanzen #würzburgdieneuesalsahauptstadt #würzburg mit @anna.kordumanova @martinakouratoraki

A post shared by Ricard & Laia Salsa (@ricardylaia) on

Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians started to settle in New York City and salsa music continued to adapt, along with more and more bands forming. Elements of salsa music also began to appear in the music of more mainstream American artists as well.

As salsa began garnering more attention as a musical style, Celia Cruz became synonymous with the genre.

Dubbed the Queen of Salsa, Cruz released over 60 salsa albums during her almost 50-year career.

Cruz’s infectious personality and strong vocals endeared her to fans in the U.S. and all around the world.

And a lot of her salsa hits are still played in salsa clubs around the world.

Cruz’s lucky break came in Cuba when the lead singer of the Sonora Matancera left the group.

She made a name with Sonora, even meeting her husband, Pedro Knight, who was a trumpet player with the group. She appeared in films, recorded music and performed across Latin America with the band, but was forbidden to return to Cuba once Fidel Castro took control. Cruz became a U.S. citizen in 1961 and worked with record labels in the U.S. to start making her mark, and in the 1970s, her fame started taking off after “Quimbará” appeared on the Celia y Johnny album in 1974.

Cruz’s career spanned decades, with hits including “Cucula”, “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” and the classic that is played everywhere from bodas to quinceañeras, “La Vida Es Un Carnaval.”

As for the actual style of salsa dancing, that too started to ride a wave of popularity. Besides the Cuban style of salsa, there is the Afro-Latino style (popular in Caribbean countries), Cali-style of salsa danced in Colombia, LA style, and New York style. The Afro-Latino style has some African instruments accompanying shimmies, leg work, body isolations acrobatics and lifts.

Cali-style is fast, like rapido fast. The footwork includes quick steps and skipped motions.

Cali-style salsa began in the 1930s when musicians started experimenting with American styles of music like jazz, mambo, konga, guaguanco.

LA style is danced in a line and the forward-backward step is a #majorkey for this dance.

It is clearly a very different take on the global phenomenon of salsa.

New York style is danced in a “flat figure 8” and is danced on the second beat. Also, if you are trying to keep up by being the “follower,” know that in New York style, the follower is the one that takes the first step.

If you want to go out and try dance moves for yourself, hit up La Descarga in Los Angeles, Ball & Chain in Miami and Guantanamera or Club Cache in NYC.


READ: This Isn’t Your Mama’s Cumbia: The Eclectic History Of Latin America’s Classic Music Genre

Do you like dancing salsa? What’s your favorite song to dance to? Let us know in the comments and share this post with your friends if you learned something new!