Sexy, stirring, and stylish: In the world of dance, there are few genres that match the energy, passion, and cultural richness of the salsa dance. After all, this style is more than just a dance; it’s a celebration of history, diversity, and the fusion of cultures. Join our dance experts at Carolina Dance in Raleigh as they share the salsa dance origin, the footsteps, and explore how seven of the most popular styles came to be. 

What is Salsa

Before we dive into the salsa dance origin, we’ll first share the key aspects of the salsa dance. Much like when learning how to dance, when it comes to learning about the history of a particular style, it’s best to start with the basics. So, what is salsa? 

Salsa is usually a partnered dance, though there are some styles that can be performed either alone or in a group, exchanging partners throughout the song. No matter how many people are dancing, this style is always marked by its energetic and rhythmic movements. 

Now, let’s dive deeper into the salsa dance origin and get a look at how this came to be. 

A History: The Salsa Dance Origin

This eclectic and invigorating favorite of so many dancers has a history to match. As we mentioned, salsa has its roots in Cuba, where it emerged around the beginning of the 20th century. The first iterations of the salsa were largely inspired by Spanish, African, and Caribbean dances, like the Cuban Son and Afro-Cuban rumba. The dance and music of the African and Spanish communities in Cuba played a huge part in the development of salsa. African rhythms and movements merged with the structured patterns of European dances, creating a rich and diverse dance culture.

The next chapter in the evolution of the salsa dance came when American soldiers, who had traveled to Cuba during the Spanish-American War, got a glimpse of the style. Like nearly everyone who encounters the salsa, they fell in love with it, and brought some of those moves back with them when they headed home. 

In and around the 1920s, as jazz rapidly gained popularity, American jazz players had a hand in the salsa’s growing popularity. They began blending their styles with that of Salsa, dancing the nights away with Cuban musicians. 

The 1950s and 1960s saw a significant migration of Latin American and Caribbean musicians and dancers, especially from Cuba and Puerto Rico, to New York City. In the vibrant atmosphere of New York’s dance clubs and neighborhoods, these artists blended their styles with others, like swing. 

Since then it has continued to expand to encompass more variations and grow to reach new parts of the world. Today, salsa is one of the most popular styles of dance worldwide.  

Some Important Salsa Terms

Now that we’ve shared the salsa dance origin, we’ll touch on the basics of salsa dancing itself. If you’re planning on hitting the dance floor soon, it might be helpful to brush up on these phrases and terms: 

Basic Step

A basic step is the fundamental footwork pattern of any dance style. In nearly every variation of salsa, the basic step consists of a series of weight shifts and steps that form the foundation for more complex movements.

Cross Body Lead 

A cross-body lead, or CBL, is a common salsa move where the leader guides the follower from one side to the other by leading them across the dance floor—often with a turn.

Turn Patterns

A turn pattern is a sequence of movements that involve turns, spins, and other styling elements. Turn patterns are often composed of a series of steps and are an essential part of salsa dancing.

Shines

Solo footwork moves, or styling that dancers incorporate into their dancing while not in a closed position with a partner, are called ‘shines’. Shines are a perfect chance to incorporate a little of your own unique flair. They can include spins, taps, and other intricate steps.

Duck

A type of movement where one partner bends or leans backward to ‘duck’ underneath a partner’s arm. This movement can be incorporated into various dance styles, including salsa, to add flair and dynamic elements to the dance.

Dip

You’ve definitely heard this one before, but there’s something especially dramatic and exciting about a dip in the middle of a salsa dance. This is a dramatic movement where the leader lowers the follower, supporting them with their arms or legs.

Crossover Break

A crossover break is a step where one foot crosses in front of the other, creating a break in the regular salsa footwork pattern. 

Closed Position/Open Position 

The roles in partner dancing are where one person (typically the leader) initiates and guides the movements, while the other person (the follower) responds and follows the lead.

Embrace

An ‘embrace’ in salsa can refer to one of a few things. It may be simply the way partners hold each other during the dance. It may also refer to a move in which the two dancers cross arms while holding hands. No matter which the phrase refers to, an embrace is a sensual moment in any salsa routine. 

7 Most Common Types of Salsa Dances 

If you couldn’t already guess from the vibrant history of salsa dance origin, this dance lends itself to several different styles, each with its own special spin. 

Cuban Salsa

Rooted in the heart of the salsa dance origin, Cuban salsa embodies the essence of traditional Afro-Cuban dance. Characterized by circular movements, intricate footwork, and a playful connection between partners, Cuban salsa is known for its spontaneity and lively spirit. It often incorporates Rueda de Casino, a group dance where couples form a circle and perform synchronized moves led by a caller—more on that later. 

New York Style Salsa

Although the salsa dance origin is of Cuban roots, the dance has received influence from many different areas. As salsa made its way to the streets of New York City in the mid-1900s, it underwent transformations influenced by the diverse urban culture. New York-style salsa emphasizes strong and elegant movements, with a focus on linear patterns and smooth transitions. This style often incorporates elements of jazz and hustle, making it a perfect complement to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city.

Los Angeles Style Salsa

The West Coast brought its own flavor to salsa with the emergence of the Los Angeles-style salsa. Known for its flashy and showy elements, Los Angeles-style salsa incorporates spins, dips, and intricate footwork. Dancers often break away from the traditional partner hold, showcasing individual flair and creativity. This style has gained popularity in the performance and competition circuit especially. 

Puerto Rican Style Salsa

Puerto Rican-style salsa, also known as “On 2” or mambo, places a strong emphasis on dancing to the second beat of the music. Characterized by smooth and flowing movements, Puerto Rican-style salsa often features intricate turns and shines that add a touch of elegance to the dance. The connection between partners is essential, with a focus on musical interpretation.

Colombian Salsa

Colombia, with its rich cultural diversity, has contributed its own unique style to salsa dance. Colombian salsa is recognized for its joyful and upbeat character. Dancers often incorporate energetic footwork and quick spins, reflecting the celebratory nature of salsa in Colombian culture. Group formations and social dancing are a vital part of Colombian salsa events.

Ballroom Salsa

Ballroom-style salsa infuses the elegance and precision of ballroom dance into the lively salsa rhythms. It’s best described as a salsa with a little more structure, characterized by graceful movements, synchronized footwork, and refined partnering. Dancers in this style pay careful attention to posture, poise, and musicality, creating a sophisticated and captivating dance experience. Don’t be fooled, though, even this smooth style has the energy associated with the salsa dance origin. 

Rueda de Casino

While not a distinct style of salsa dance, Rueda de Casino deserves special mention here.  Originating in Cuba, Rueda is a group dance where couples dance in a circle, performing synchronized moves prompted by a designated caller. It adds an element of camaraderie and surprise as dancers seamlessly switch partners and show off intricate patterns.

Learn Salsa Dance Origins, Basics, and More at Carolina Dance

Whether you’re drawn to the lively circles of Cuban salsa, the elegance of New York style, the energetic footwork of Colombian salsa, or the sophistication of Ballroom style, there’s a salsa style to suit every dancer’s taste. And now that you know the history of this style thanks to our guide to the salsa dance origin, you can take the—ever so suave—steps to making it a part of your future. 

At Carolina Dance Studio in Raleigh, we offer a wide variety of dance classes led by certified dance instructors so you can try any dance style you’ve been dreaming of. Our group dance sessions feature a diverse range of dance styles, including salsa, while our technique classes are designed to help dancers refine their footwork and enhance their dancing skills.


When you fill out the form below, you’ll automatically be eligible for of our new student special: $60 for the first two solo dance classes, or $80 for the first two classes as a couple. We can’t wait to see you out on the dance floor!

Contact us to schedule your lesson

No Partner Necessary

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.