From its beginnings as an Afro-Cuban, folk tradition, salsa dancing has evolved into one of the most popular dance forms in the world. Today’s salsa dancing includes a rich variety of styles such as Colombian Cali, Los Angeles style, Miami Casino, Casino Rueda, New York style and Ballroom Salsa. Let’s take a brief tour of the history of salsa dancing.
Early Salsa Dancing
The roots of salsa dancing sprouted in Cuba. Cubans gathered in public halls called “casinos” to dance to the rhythms of Son, Danzon, and Mambo, among other musical styles that blended African drums and Spanish, Flamenco guitar. Radio programs brought Cuban music to the United States, and during the Prohibition years, American tourists flocked to Havana to freely enjoy alcohol-fueled dance parties. Starting in the 1940s, the island became a vacation favorite for Hollywood movie stars and other well-heeled celebrities. Soon, Cuban musicians brought their distinctive sound to cities across the U.S.
Evolution of Salsa in the United States
The Palladium Club in New York City became a mecca for salsa dancing with innovators such as Tito Puentes popularizing Latin rhythms such as the Mambo. Unfortunately, diplomatic relations crumbled between the U.S. and Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power. Cuban musicians could no longer travel to the United States, and music lovers found themselves suddenly forbidden to visit the island to dance to Cuban music. Luckily for salsa dancers, Puerto Rican musicians and jazz musicians in New York kept Cuban music alive in the country. They mixed Cuban rhythms with Puerto Rican styles and added the improvisational tradition of jazz.
Since its beginning, salsa dancing has incorporated a diverse array of musical styles. Dancers from the Dominican Republic added to the salsa mix with their national dance, Merengue. West Coast dancers introduced Swing dance steps and flashy Hollywood moves to the salsa repertoire. In the 1970s, dancers began mixing disco moves into salsa dancing. Today, salsa dancers in the U.S. and contemporary Cuban Timba dancers add elements of reggaeton and hip-hop.
Salsa dancing remains an international pastime with studios and dance groups all over the world offering lessons and hosting dance parties.