The Many Flavors of Salsa Music



One of the most popular shows on network TV in the past few years has been “Dancing with the Stars.” There is something fun about seeing celebrities go from stumbling, bumbling dancers to borderline professional over the course of a few weeks. There are a number of different dance styles performed on the show, but perhaps none as popular as Salsa. It’s easy to understand why it’s so beloved, because this is a sexy, sweaty style of dancing where close contact is an absolute must. There may be no better way to get to know your partner than to hit the dance floor with them and perform the Salsa.

What may come as a surprise to some is that there are actually a number of different Salsa styles to choose from. On the same token, to others, the differences are confusing.



New York was a cultural melting pot that gave rise to the Latin Boogaloo. This was the first transformation of sound by the Puerto Rican community or Nuyoricans!

Salsa derived from Cuban son (Cha-cha-cha, mambo and afro-Cuban jazz) and was adapted, transformed and given its identity by the Puerto Ricans living in NY… it became the voice of the hungry streets of El Barrio (Spanish Harlem).

By the late 60s, the new generation of Latinos tired of the New York scene of Mambo bands were delighted by the rebel sounds of Eddie Palmieri and La Perfecta. “The music was an act of civil disobedience,” – Willie Colon

During this time, The Fania All Stars was formed and they brought a dynamic and Nuyorican flavor to the rhythms of Cuba and Puerto Rico. “It offered a music that could live and breathe: it was the essence of the Latino soul.” – Izzy Sanabria. The Fania All Star Band essentially birthed and named Salsa.

Fania albums combined the raw energy of boogaloo with Classic Cuban Dance Sounds. The sounds of Plena (Puerto Rican folk music) were later introduced and further transformed Salsa. This new Nuyorican sound became what we know as Salsa today.



To break it down in Arroz y Habichuela as we say… Son or Cuban Salsa is more together, controlled, and in sync whereas  Puerto Rican Salsa is looser, fast, and sexy with hip movements and partners. Puerto Rican Salsa is a lot freer for expression and includes percussive instruments like the congas, timbales and clave.


Important in this sound revolution, the Salsa sound of today are El Gran Combo, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colon, Yomo Toro, Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, Cheo Feliciano, Ismael Miranda, Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Frankie Ruiz and Eddie Santiago to start.


While Salsa is the perfect dance for couples, it also allows each dancer to have their moment in the spotlight. The solo moves are referred to as shines, this part of the dance originating from the solo breakaways of Bomba (Puerto Rican folk music).

Puerto Rican music is lively and makes you want to get on your feet and dance, and Salsa is the perfect complement to the beat. If you don’t come off the dance floor smiling and bathed in sweat, you are doing it all wrong.

Why go to the gym when you can go out and take in some great live music as you dance the night away?