Salsa Dance Terms


Learning how to dance salsa is challenging enough, and when you add in all the jargon and terminology that’s thrown around the salsa community, things can get downright confusing.

Luckily, we’re here to help. Below you’ll find some of the most commonly used salsa dance terms and their definitions. And if there’s a term we missed, just let us know in the comments and we’ll add it to the list!

A

Afro Cuban

A terms used to refer to dance movements inspired by Cuban rumba styles such as columbia, yambú, and guaguancó.

B

Basic Step

The basic step or simply the ‘basic’, is the fundamental step in salsa dancing. The exact direction and form of the step depends on what style of salsa is being danced.

Body Movement

Refers to the movements of the upper body and hips, which can add character to salsa dancing beyond just the steps and turn patterns.

Break Step

The step in salsa dancing where the dancer takes a big step either towards or away from their partner, usually on the first or second beat of the measure.

C

Cali-Style Salsa

Another name for Colombian salsa, dancers from Colombia typically call their dance “Cali-style” because it originates from the city of Cali, Colombia.

Casino Rueda

A type of salsa dancing originating in Cuba where dancers dance in a circle, and a single leader calls out moves which are executed by all the couples in the circle.

Cha Cha Cha

Often referred to simply as “cha cha”, the cha cha cha is a type of dance from Cuba that is similar to a slowed down salsa, with extra steps.

Clave

Can refer either to the musical instrument, which is a pair of sticks or dowels which are struck together to make music, or the distinctive 3-2 beat pattern played with said instrument, which is found in most salsa music.

Colombian Salsa

A type of salsa dancing from the country of Colombia, characterized by fast and intricate partnered footwork.

Columbia

A style of Afro Cuban rumba characterized by fast footwork and showy moves where dancers dance solo to the beat of the drum.

Cross-Body Lead

A common salsa move in salsa dancing used to bring the follow from one side of the slot to the other.

Cross-Body Salsa

A catchall term used to refer to styles of salsa that are danced in a slot such as LA Style salsa and New York Style salsa.

Cuban Motion

Typically used to the figure eight motion made by the hips during salsa dance. Can also be used to refer similar movements made by the torso and shoulders.

Cuban Rumba

A name for the various styles of Afro Cuban folk dances that developed in Cuba such as columbia, guaguancó and yambú.

G

Guaguancó

A style of Afro Cuban rumba which mimics a mating dance, where the male dancer tries to “impregnate” the female, and the female attempts to rebuff his advances.

L

LA Style Salsa

A type of salsa dancing made famous in Los Angeles, California where dancers dance in a slot and break on 1.

Linea

A Spanish term meaning “linear”, often used by Colombian salsa dancers to refer to salsa that is danced in a slot such as LA & New York style salsa.

M

Mambo

A style of dance and music from the 1940s which greatly inspired the development of salsa.

Montuno

Meaning ‘from the mountain’ in Spanish, Montuno can refer to either Son Montuno, an older form of Son played in the mountainous regions of Cuba, or to improvisational sections salsa music, often using piano.

N

New York Style Salsa

A type of salsa dancing that was popularized in New York, where dancers dance in a slot and break on 2.

O

Orishas

Gods or saints from the Yoruba religious tradition which were brought over from Africa to Cuba which are often invoked in salsa music with Afro Cuban influences.

P

Pachanga

A style of music and dance that originated from Cuba in the 1950s, whose influences can be found in salsa music and dancing today.

S

Salsa Choke

An urban dance from Colombia that incorporates elements of salsa, reggaeton and hip hop.

Salsa Congress

A giant, multi-day salsa festival typically featuring dance workshops, dance performances, dance competitions, and social dancing.

Salsa Dura

Also known as “salsa brava” or “salsa gorda”, salsa dura means “hard salsa” and refers to the original type of high-energy salsa music developed in the 1970s, as contrasted to the more recent salsa romantica.

Salsa On 1

A type of salsa dancing where the dancers take their break step on the first beat of the music. Usually used to refer to LA Style salsa, although it can also apply to Cuban and Colombian Salsa.

Salsa On 2

A style of salsa dancing where dancers take their break step on the second beat of the measure. Usually refers to New York Style salsa, although it can also apply to other styles.

Salsa Romantica

A romantic form of salsa music that emerged in New York in the 1980s and 1990s that is softer and slower than traditional salsa dura.

Shines

A name for solo footwork that occurs during salsa dancing, where the partners break apart from each other for a few measures so they can each ‘shine’.

Social Dancing

Improvisational dancing in a social setting such as a salsa club or studio, as opposed to a dance lesson or a performance.

Syncopation

Steps and movements that happen between the counts, as opposed to on the counts.

T

Tumbao

A distinctive drum pattern found in most salsa and cha cha music, typically played on conga or bongo drums.

Turn Pattern

A sequence of dance moves done while in a partnered position.

Y

Yambú

An Afro Cuban folk dance where dancers (typically women) dance solo to slow tempo music.

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