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The Ultimate Guide to Salsa Dance

Salsa dance.

You’ve seen it on shows like Dancing With The Stars. You’ve seen ads about dance lessons for it all around you. Heck, you’ve probably even been dreaming about learning it!

It’s the dance everyone is wild about; the dance everyone wants to learn but thinks is too complicated.

The steps, the music, the way both bodies move with each other, the passion. Everything about it is so exhilarating, and yet you keep asking yourself:

“What is salsa? How do I dance it?”

Look no further for the answers to your burning questions. Read on to learn about the Hows, Whats, and Wheres of everything to do with salsa dancing.

Table of Contents:

The Ultimate Guide to Salsa Dance

What Is Salsa Dance?

Who Created Salsa Dance?

What Are the Different Styles of Salsa Dance?

How to Dance Salsa

What Is Salsa Dancing Etiquette?

How Do You Dance Salsa as a Beginner?

How Do You Salsa Like a Pro?

Interesting Facts About Salsa Dance You Should Know

Who Are the Best Salsa Dancers?

What Salsa Music Should You Dance Salsa To?

What Classic Salsa Dance Movies Are A Must-Watch?

Start Learning How To Dance Salsa Today

What Is Salsa Dance?

Salsa is an energetic type of Latin dance, related to the music of the same name. It’s a very intimate dance between two partners and it can include various combinations.

Who Created Salsa Dance?

The most accepted origin of the term "Salsa" dates back to 1960s’ New York. Here, Latin-American musicians from Cuba, Colombia, and Puerto Rico coined the expression.

Salsa is a passionate mix of music created from the following types of dances:

  • Bolero

  • Cha-Cha-Cha

  • Cuban son montuno

  • Mambo

  • Guaracha

As with most things that become popular, however, salsa dance’s true origins can be found decades earlier in the 1920s. As the creators of salsa emigrated from Latin America to the United States, so did their art form.

Some of the musicians widely credited as the founding fathers and queen of salsa include:

  • Celia Cruz

  • Arsenio Rodriguez

  • Johnny Pacheco

  • Tito Puente

  • Larry Harlow

  • Ray Barretto

  • Eddie Palmieri

  • Willie Colon

  • Hector Lavoe

Salsa dance then spread and took on different styles over time to become what it is today.

What Are the Different Styles of Salsa Dance?

If you ask different dance instructors what is salsa dance, you’ll get different answers. The interesting thing about salsa is that each of the answers is likely correct.

Four salsa styles are generally accepted around the world, each with its own features. These include the:

  • New York Mambo Style: This form of salsa is distinguishable by its turn patterns and figures in the “slot”. It was popularized by the acclaimed New York-style dancer, Eddie Torres in the 1960s.

  • Cali Style: Its distinguishable elements include footwork speed and intricacies, as well as a firm handhold connection between dancers.

  • Cuban Style: Not only can this style be danced between two partners, but it can also be danced in a circle. This circle dance is also known as a “Rueda”. The Cuban style is distinguishable by its Afro-Cuban inspired dance moves and its circular turn patterns.

  • Los Angeles Style: Having gained popularity in the 1990s, the L.A. Style is the youngest of the four. Its turn patterns are heavily shaped by Swing, Mambo and Cha-Cha-Cha.

couple dances salsa on the street

Photo by deiby tapia on Unsplash

How to Dance Salsa

Dancing salsa might seem complicated (everything does when you’re starting out), but it doesn’t have to be.

Once you know the basic rules and moves to salsa, you need to keep practising them frequently. You can then grow as a salsa dancer from a beginner to a legitimate pro, ready to take over dance floors.

What Is Salsa Dancing Etiquette?

Before you start practising, you need to understand salsa dancing etiquette. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Understanding space: Whether you’re a lead or a follower, it’s important to be aware of those around you. Do not attempt moves or spins in the direction of other people. Know your line of dance.

  • Keeping your elbows low: Be careful not to have your elbows out. You don’t want to jab your partner or those around you. Keep them in.

  • Wearing the right shoes and attire: It’s important to know what to wear for salsa dancing. Salsa involves plenty of spins and turns so avoid anything that can get in the way.

  • Being polite and cordial: Salsa is a passionate and exciting dance. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should flirt with everyone you dance with. Be respectful towards your partner and understand that it’s just a dance.

How Do You Dance Salsa as a Beginner?

When you begin taking salsa dance classes, you’ll be taught about three major parts of the dance. These three salsa dancing basic components include:

  • Salsa steps: These show you how to connect and move around the dance floor with your dance partner.

  • Salsa turns: Turns are very important in salsa as we’re sure you know. These teach you the foundations for many of the moves you’ll learn over time.

  • Salsa combinations: This is where the real fun starts. You get to combine the steps and turns you’ve learned to create mesmerizing routines.

As you learn the basic movements, you’ll also discover some fundamentals of salsa, such as:

  • The different kinds of salsa timings: basic salsa timing, “On 1”, “On 2”

  • Salsa rhythm

  • The various styles of salsa

diagram showing 8 basic salsa step positions

How Do You Salsa Like a Pro?

Once you’ve covered the basics, it’s all a matter of practice if you want to master how to salsa flawlessly:

  • Practice the correct posture and body movements

  • Practice the basic footsteps

  • Practice dancing to different tempos of salsa music

salsa night

Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

Interesting Facts About Salsa Dance You Should Know

Now that you know the basics of salsa and how to become a pro, we’re sure that you want to learn more about the art form.

That’s why we’ve compiled different lists to give you facts you might find interesting. You might even use this information in debates with your new salsa dancing friends.

Who Are the Best Salsa Dancers?

When it comes to salsa dancing, some consistently do it better than others. They do it so well that they’re considered the best salsa dancers in the world.

Here’s our list of the 5 elite salsa dancing pairs you simply need to know about:


Salsa Dancers


Ricardo Vega & Karen Forcano


Junior & Emily Alabi


Jefferson Benjumea & Adrianita Ávila


Gio & Gabby Ochoa


Darlin Garcia & Keila Perez Vega

What Salsa Music Should You Dance Salsa To?

The debate on the best salsa songs to dance to is always fascinating. Similarly to the list of best dancers, any ranking of classic salsa songs is subjective rather than objective. That said, many of the songs mentioned below would appear on many salsa lovers’ lists.



​Salsa Songs


Celia Cruz

La vida es un carnaval


Marc Anthony

Vivir mi vida


Eddie Palmieri

Vámonos pal monte

What Classic Salsa Dance Movies Are A Must-Watch?

We’re sure that you’ve seen some amazing movie scenes of actors dancing salsa, but do you remember the movies? Better yet, have you watched all these truly captivating salsa dance movies?


Salsa Movies


Salsa, the Motion Picture


Dirty Dancing


The Mambo Kings

Start Learning How To Dance Salsa Today

Now that you know a whole lot more about salsa, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. Become the pro salsa dancer you always wanted to be.

Learn how to dance salsa from world-renowned dance instructors at Heart of Dance in Dubai.

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