When I started dancing salsa, I had no idea that there were different styles of salsa. I was confused when asked “On 1 or On 2?” when I first ventured to a salsa social in downtown Toronto. In addition to salsa on 1 (Los Angeles style or LA style) and salsa on 2 (New York style or mambo salsa), there is Colombian style (Cali style, salsa caleña), salsa choke (from Colombia), Cuban style, rueda de casino (from Cuba), Miami style (classico Cubano, casino), and Puerto Rican style. This blog will focus on salsa on 1 vs salsa on 2.
Both salsa on 1 and on 2 are “en linea” styles of salsa or danced along a line. Salsa dance is based on 8 counts or two bars of salsa music which is in 4/4 time (4 counts per bar). Dancers generally move forward and back and exchange positions, using a move called a cross-body lead, along a line during those 8 counts. This line can change orientation throughout the dance. In the cross body lead, the lead will move to where they are in a 90 degree angle in comparison to the follow, clearing the way for the follow to go to the other side. Both salsa styles have many turns, and many of the turns are incorporated with the cross body lead.
Salsa on 1 was developed in Los Angeles by the Vazquez Brothers (Luis, Francisco and Johnny). The “on 1” in the name denotes that the dancers break on the first beat of the music. So in salsa on 1, the dancers break, or change directions, on the first count in each bar of music. Leads break forward on 1 with their left and back on 5 with their right. Follows break back on 1 with their right and forward on 5 with their left.
Salsa on 1 is usually the style of salsa that beginners start with because it is the easiest style to learn. The steps go with the melody of the song, so it’s more intuitive for beginners to know where count 1 is. The rhythm is “quick quick slow” with steps on 1 and 2, followed by a pause on 3 and 4 and then steps on 5 and 6 followed by another pause on 7 and 8. The pause is not a stop in the dance but a pause in the stepping (the “slow” portion) so the body still moves forward or back depending on the direction of the movement. The slow counts happen on the last two beats of each bar of music. The more modern salsa songs where the melody is more prominent is easier to connect to when dancing on 1.
Salsa on 2 was made popular by Eddie Torres in New York City. In salsa on 2, which was established before salsa on 1, dancers break (or change direction) on the second beat of the music. The quick quick slow rhythm starts on count 2: step on 2 and 3 (quick quick), pause on 4 and 5 (slow), step on 6 and 7 (quick quick), and pause on 8 and 1 (slow). The “slow” happens across two bars of music, starting on the last beat of one bar and ending on the first beat of the next bar. In salsa on 2, it is the follows that break forward on 2 with their left and back on 6 with their right. Leads break back on 2 with their right and forward on 6 with their left.
Salsa on 2 timing connects better to the percussion instruments of salsa songs like the congas, clave and timbales which emphasize the second beat of the music. Classic big band or orchestral productions of salsa music work well with salsa on 2. Unlike salsa on 1, there are are many different ways that you can dance on 2: son cubano, classic mambo, cha-cha-cha, mambo on clave (Palladium Era), modern mambo, and modern take on clave. Each way of dancing on 2 plays with the musicality of the song, highlighting different instruments in the music.
There is a different feeling when dancing salsa on 1 vs salsa on 2 and that has to do with where the “slow” count happens when doing the steps. As mentioned above, cross body leads are used to exchange positions in salsa en linea, and many turns are incorporated in the cross-body lead immediately after the break steps. In salsa on 2, the slow count is after the break steps, giving the follow more time to complete turns. Salsa on 1 has a faster feel because the slow count happens before the break steps when the turns occur.
In summary, the main differences of salsa on 1 vs salsa on 2 are as follows:
- Salsa on 1 breaks (changes direction) on counts 1 and 5 (the first beat of each bar of salsa music) whereas salsa on 2 breaks on counts 2 and 6 (the second beat of each bar of salsa music).
- The slow count in salsa on 1 happens at the end of the musical bar, 3-4 and 7-8, whereas it happens between bars in salsa on 2, 4-5 and 8-1. This changes how salsa on 1 looks and feels compared to salsa on 2.
- Salsa on 1 steps connect more to the melody whereas salsa on 2 steps connect more to the percussion instruments of a song.
- There is only one way to dance salsa on 1 whereas salsa on 2 can be danced in different ways depending on which instruments are being highlighted.
Dancing salsa on 1 vs salsa on 2 is a preference, and one isn’t better than another. Both styles of salsa can also be danced to a wide variety of salsa music. Learning different styles of salsa will make you a better and more adaptable dancer on the dance floor.