Salsa is begun in narrow dance posture. This is similarly loose like an embrace in Tango Argentino and also the leadership is comparable. Herewith the gentleman grasps the hands of the lady usually from above. Many figures are danced out of a double gesture whereby the arms can be moved without tension circling. In solved gesture, the hands should be held always in middle height in front of the body in order to ease a renewed grabbing. The lady follows the impulses indicated often only over the gentleman's gesture and has up to few exceptions no latitude for own step sequences. A simple basic rule: a raised hand signals the lady to turn.
Salsa is danced in 4/4-time in the rhythm quick-quick-slow. The basic step extends however over two tacts, why the dancers do not usually count on beat four, but rather on eight.
Past and Present
Many people having seen the film "Dirty Dancing" will be reminded by music and dance of the Mambo. This is no coincidence - Salsa (in English: sauce) in the USA evolved from several Latin American rhythms and dancing styles.
Salsa music is no rhythm or music style. It is the union of all musical tendencies meeting today in Caribbean urban regions. Based on Cuban roots, musically enriched in New York of the seventies, Salsa spread all over the world. It is no wonder Salsa can be found in particular regions prevailing the same social and cultural conditions as in Cuba, i.e. in Caracas (Venezuela), Barranquilla and Cali (Columbia) or San Juan (Puerto Rico), whose population is composed of black people and the descendants of African slaves. Salsa is the musical expression of the barrios, the urban quarters. The poor quarters, more and more alike, create themes and traditions having its proper effect in the Salsa texts today: family, love, friends, street, lack of money, violence and social dissatisfaction.
In the beginnings from French Contredance the Danzon evolved, cultivated in the aristocratic dance halls of Havanna. But, like Bolero, it soon was taken up by common people and evolved into a popular folk dance. Up to the twenties music and dance were a matter of race: the Afro Cubans had their Rumba, the white people danced Danzon. But shortly after the inauguration of the republic in 1902 (the independence of Spain and the first US American military interventions) travelling workers from the far southeast of Cuba brought a dance to Havanna, which combined black and white - a Creole mixture of Spanish and African traditions: the Son. The poetry and the string instruments are Spanish, the percussion and the syncopated rhythm are contributed by former slaves.
In the twenties Son spread over the whole Cuban island into the cities. At each street corner its nonchalant syncopated rhythm could be heard. The musicians accompanied themselves with small lightly built instruments: the tres (a small sister of the Spanish guitar), bongo drums, maracas (known as Rumba balls) and the claves. An empty bottle often was used as a bass instrument. When Son became the most popular dance in the capital city and the Habaneros, fond of dancing, filled bigger and bigger dancing halls the instrumentation proved to be inadequate. Added were guitar, double-bass and trumpet - the instrumental basic equipment of innumerable sextetos and septetos in Havanna of the twenties.
In the fourties and fifties two other world-famous Cuban rhythms competed with Son: Mambo and Cha-Cha-Cha. All three dancing tunes are traditionally played by Charanga orchestras faintly reminding of European coffee house orchestras: tremulous strings, a piano slightly out of tune, a transverse flute, a rhythmic double-bass and the specific Caribbean percussion.
In the seventies Son came to America. Prominent names as Celia Cruz or Tito Puente introduced it into the music and nightclub scene of New York city. Soon the public media was interested in Son and began to market it by the name Salsa (hot sauce) all over the world. A typical product of this commercialized variant for instance is Salsa Romantica, which corresponds with the less spirited American and European taste and spread internationally.