Cuban Salsa History

Salsa music is born from a mixture of music from the Spanish conquerors, the African slaves and the American jazz.

One of the musical is the contradanse, danced in Versailles, France and then passed on to the Spanish Court. From there it went to the Caribbean during colonisation. Another big influence for Cuban salsa is the African rhythm. African slaves kept their religious rituals (santería), many of which included dances. North America also influenced salsa in the Batista dictatorship, bringing American artists and the influence of jazz into Cuba and into salsa music. 

However, the salsa that we know nowadays, was born in the 70s. We find other Cuban rhythms within salsa, such as danzón, son, chachachá, mambo, conga… With this incorporations, other musical instruments are introduced too, like the piano, trumpet or saxophone.

Cuban and Puerto Rican expats in New York as well as the commercialisation of salsa, made this genre quickly develop in the 70s. First across America and then all over the world. The excess of commercialisation at the end of the 70s, turned salsa into a repetitive formula and people were not interested in music without any novelty. The 80s also brought merengue and disco music, which did not help the expansion of salsa music.

During this period, salsa left behind strong sounds and fast unloads (hard salsa) and started using a more melodic sound, allowing to dance at a slower pace (romantic salsa). Nowadays both types co-exist and are danceable. 

It is also worth mentioning that salsa in Miami grew notably with voices like Celia Cruz. Carnival and the promotion of salsa in Miami comes from those Cubans who exiled because of the political regimen of the Castro brothers. In Miami, salsa is a symbol of Cuba without the Castros.

Salsa music has a set structure: introduction, melodic phase, rhythm or percussion phase, melodic phase and final phase. Normally, one of the musicians play a specific rhythm (la clave – the key) and the rest joins in, forming a polyrhythm. The most common claves are those of rumba, son, samba, all descendants of the African clave.

In terms of the dance, the Cuban style has more freedom in steps and figures. It is a free and spontaneous way of understanding dancing and it is typical from Cuba. There is also Linear Salsa, more usual in academies or dance schools.

Linear Salsa is also known as LA style due to its origins. It is danced in an imaginary straight line in forward and backward movements where him and her interchange positions, doing more complex figures than in Casino Salsa. It can look more elegant and it is considered as ballroom dance.

Cuban Style, also known as “casino”, has its origin in La Habana’s Casino Deportivo, thus the name. Originally Cuban salsa was just called “casino dance”. At the end of the 60s, it recovered popularity and so far, it has not stopped gaining popularity.

It is danced in a circle where changing places or turning are very frequent. Except very few specific figures, almost all “rueda” (wheel) figures can be done in pairs. The basic Cuban steps consists on one step backwards, stepping in the floor with the other one and back to the original position. After a short pause, it is repeated with the other feet. The step backwards should not be exaggerated, it is only done to facilitate the hip’s movement.

The Cuban style has more rhythm and it is not oriented towards competitions, unlike other ballroom dances. It is, in its own way a ballroom dance, but with rolled-up sleeves and it is still evolving.

I feel like Linear salsa, due to its tradition as a ballroom dance, made higher class people see it as something elegant and of their same class. However, Cuban Salsa is danced with anyone, anywhere and it doesn’t have as much structure or choreography as Linear Salsa does. Therefore, traditionally, it is seen as a lower class dance.

Both salsa styles are hypnotic to see and fun to dance. Each has its own difficulty. Some people may prefer improvisation and others might need a choreography. The beautiful thing is to share the music, and if you dare, the dance.

Side effects of travelling

“Oh, I don’t do that anymore, because when I was in X country #1…” “Oh, in X country #2 I found this thing that…” “In X country #3, things are way better…”(*read with annoying posh voice”) 

If you are anything like me, the above sentences would make you roll your eyes so hard it hurt. Or at least judge in a “selfie from below” angle the person saying those things. I used to be from the judging team. But I’m afraid I have slightly converted (hopefully I am not that posh/annoying) into one of those people now. 

This past year I have been travelling quite a lot, and first of all I feel privileged, lucky, grateful, humbled, all of the above and more for the amazing experiences. However, I also missed home. A lot of people only see the glamorised version part of travel that is trying new foods, meeting lots of new and interesting people, seeing amazing scenery… But we are not taking into account that maybe one day you’re not having the best time and just want a bit of your own country’s comfort food, or your sofa and a film or simply to vent out with a friend in your own language. 

And then you come home and you finally get the dish you’ve been craving for the second half of the trip… and it’s not as good as you remember, or it doesn’t give you the same sense of comfort that it used to. You meet up with your friends, but you don’t feel you can vent out as naturally as you used to, or you suddenly don’t find as many common interests as you used to. You go to your favourite spot in the city, but you don’t feel the same sense of belonging you used to feel. 

Travelling changes you and it changes the way you think. How could it not? You see different ways of living, different people, different foods… You are not the same you used to be and you feel a stranger in a world that used to feel like home. 

For me Spain and UK were places I considered to be my home. However, when I went back to Spain from living in London for 4 years, I didn’t fully understand how the supermarket aisles worked anymore or what to buy, I didn’t like how uncomfortable the metro seats are, I thought people talked way louder than they should… And then visiting London I hated the pollution I used to not even notice, somehow found the accent annoying at times, the fake politeness would get on my nerves… 

It is said that second times are always worse than the firsts… I reckon they are not worse, you are just more aware than you were before, and with a broader perspective comes… bigger responsibility(?). Sorry, that was my inner nerd speaking 🙂 When you have a wider perspective, some of the innocence when you see things for the first time is gone. You are left with the beautiful picture, sure, but the sense of awe is not there anymore. I am aware that change is a constant of life and that it makes us grow and become who we are. But it can be scary and confusing. Other people love it… And that’s okay too.

Are you saying you would have stayed in your country had you known the consequences? No.

So you are okay with being not particularly good with change but not living in your own country? Yes. Because life is short and the world too big for me to stay at one place only.

Isn’t it scary and hard? Yes. But so it is following someone else’s life path. I’ll tell you what though, you do you, I’ll be all over the globe doing me.