History and Development of Salsa: A Timeline

A salsa dancer aspiring to be one of the best should always start from the basics of the discipline itself, particularly with its history and development throughout the various parts of the world. Knowing the roots of salsa can help in understanding the aesthetics, forms, skills that comes with it, and the impact it had in the dance and music industry. This just goes to show that even a dancer does not come from a Latin, Puerto Rican, or Cuban ancestry, it does not mean that he or she cannot perfect the art of salsa dancing.

There has been a lot of debate on where the art of salsa really originated from. Many would argue about how its roots are from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and New York, among others. Technically salsa has roots from all three, but Cuba has the most major contributions to its current form today. The addictive Cuban rhythm spread across countries and started different movements for the art of salsa music and dance. Below is a brief timeline of how Salsa started and developed:


1898: American soldiers got a liking for Cuban music.

During their stay in Cuba, the U.S. soldiers heard and listened to Cuban music. Their love for the music influenced their taste when they went back to America.

1900s: Cuban musicians started to air their music recordings and these arrived to North America.

American musicians visited Cuba then started their own Latin jazz when they went back to their place. During this time, Cuban music and the Latin jazz boomed in America’s airwaves.

1920s-1930s: The Prohibition in the United States greatly affected the tourist visits in Cuba.

Because alcohol was legal in Cuba, a lot of Americans visited the place thus increased the influence of Cuban music on the people’s taste. Also, Cuban orchestras were visited by American radios for recording. Some Cuban musicians were invited to America to join the bands there. The mambo started during the 1930s.


1940s: Salsa music was getting more widespread.

Musicians were apparently hired to compose Afro-Caribbean and Flamenco-rooted music for films because of its high demand among the music industry. Cuban musicians and Puerto Ricans majorly influenced the New York music industry. West Africa started to recognize their own music in the famous music craze, because a major population of Cuba came from West Africa.  Also, the conga line dance became famous during this time.

1950s: A huge number of Puerto Ricans migrated to New York thus increasing their influence on the music.

Puerto Rican musicians displayed their utmost talent, passion, and creativity in the Big Apple. The Cubans migrated to Miami instead.

1960s: The term “salsa” was officially coined by the New Yorkers.

A debate within the distinction between salsa and mambo became common. Salsa was molded into something more appropriate for Latin New York.

1970s: Salsa music reached its peak during the decade and branched out into different forms due to the mixture of various Hispanic and Afro-Caribbean influences.

The major dance forms that influenced salsa are the Rhumba, Guaracha, Mambo, Danzon, Son, Cha cha cha, Cumbia, Merengue, and Charanga. Some of the most popular forms of salsa at present are the following: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Casino, Colombian, Rueda de Casino, and Ballroom Salsa.

Appropriate Attire for a Salsa Session

 purple-latinA professional salsa dancer does not just rely on skills and abilities to be an expert—he or she should also be meticulous when it comes to his or her hair, dancing clothes, and shoes. Using the wrong hairstyle, dress, pants, or shoes can overshadow difficultly practiced moves and can even be dangerous during the risky turns and steps. But this doesn’t mean that aesthetics is sacrificed for safety. In salsa dancing, grace and beauty are always as important as functionality.

Without further ado, here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing or buying salsa clothing and shoes:

  1. Confirm what type of salsa dancing it is to be done.

A Salsera or Salsero can engage into various types of salsa dancing: it could be in a class, lesson, club or dance party studio. There are times that an event facilitator or manager would require certain dress codes for the event, especially for beginner classes and salsa clubs. Check them out and see if there is a dress code. If there is one, you would be lucky. Otherwise, read the other tips below.

  1. Be careful with the hairstyle.

Long hair could really look great on a salsa dancer, especially women with beautiful locks, but it is recommended to get the hair out of the way. Dancers can make it slick back but it is better to tie the hair back. There are three main reasons why:

a) sweat from all the vigorous dancing can make the hair stick to the partner or even another dancer’s face;

b) the flowing hair can get the dancers, instructors, or audience distracted from the dance itself; and

c) the hair can get caught up on the dancers’ buttons, in case there are in their clothing.

  1. Minimize and secure accessories.

This does not mean that accessories should be completely unused. Accessories do enhance the aesthetical value of the salsa dancing, but make sure that these would not hinder the performance. The following things should be taken in consideration with regard to accessories:

a) Nails: trimmed near the tip; no fake nails

b) Earrings: should be used with dependable earring backs

c) Watches, Rings, Bracelets, Bangles: completely taken off

d) Hair Accessories: minimized and attached firmly

e) Eyeglasses: could be exchanged with contact lenses; if not, should be with chain

  1. Keep the clothes tight and secure.

This tip would be subjective and relative depending on the Salsero or Salsera’s level and preferences. Listed at the bottom are some reminders on the clothes:

a) Shirts: okay as long as it does not get too sweaty; bring an extra

b) Jackets and Sweaters: keep them closed for security

c) Open backs: can be disturbing when partner touches sweaty back

d) Strapless: assure that it won’t end in wardrobe malfunction

e) Bat Wings: can hinder partner’s hand movement to shoulder blade

f) Skirts and Dresses: should not have awkwardly short length

g) Cuffs (pants): avoid entirely, keep pants slick and tight but still comfortable

h) Shorts: can be used by women during warm seasons, rare for men

  1. Pick the right pair of shoes.

For both men and women, the type of shoes would depend on the season, venue, and sport. The usual sneakers, slip-ons, and flip flops should be avoided in salsa dancing. Rubber-soled shoes are entirely avoided because it can make turning more difficult because of the increased friction. Instead, opt for shoes with leather soles or suede at the bottom. In addition, women should wear low and comfortable heels. Stilettos can harm the dancers in the venue.

  1. Observe appropriate hygiene.

Salsa dancing involves a lot of body contact, especially with hands, shoulders, hips, and thighs. Make sure to take a bath, put some deodorant on, and do some tooth brushing. It would also help to chew minty gum or candy to make sure that there will be no stinky breaths. Applying lotion can be allowed as long as it would not affect the interactions. Also, managing sweat can be easier with extra clean clothes and a towel.