When speaking about dance styles it is important to keep in mind that one is not better than another, they are simply different and everyone chooses their style according to a range of factors:

Place where you live
Places you like to go to dance

Personally I respect all styles of dance and for me the most important thing is to have fun when you dance salsa.

I would like to begin by talking about my personal experience and the different styles of salsa that I have learnt and taught over the years:

  • Salsa on 2, or mambo (New York or Puerto Rican)
  • Cuban style
  • Salsa on 1
  • Colombian style

I have been lucky enough to have learnt a variety of styles. For me it is like speaking different languages: wherever I go, I can dance with everybody irrespective of where they come from or what their dance style is. It is great to go to different places and be able to share music and feelings from all over the world.

I will explain some of the salsa styles in more detail. Please note, this list is not in order of importance or preference

Mambo or Salsa on 2 (New York or Puerto Rican)

Currently, this is the style I mainly teach and on which I have concentrated in the last few years. Here I explain the basis of salsa on 2. This style is danced all over the world, in New York, some parts of Europe, Japan, Mexico, and some parts of Canada, just to mention a few places, and it is becoming more and more popular. It focuses mainly of the sounds of the conga and the clave in salsa. Some other salsa centers like Puerto Rico also dance on 2, but there the basic step for the lead is with the left foot stepping forward on 2 (second beat), where as in New York the lead steps back on 2.

Cuban Salsa

Like its name, this type of salsa comes from Cuba and was the first style of salsa I learnt when I first began to take classes. It is also known as ‘rueda de casino’ (or just ‘rueda’ or ‘casino’) where a circle of 2 or more couples is formed and partners are swapped according to the figures called by the ‘leader’ of the ‘rueda’. In this style everybody dances the same figures, and each figure has a specific name. This style is very popular in the US, especially in Miami and also in large parts of Europe.

Salsa on 1

After having learnt Cuban salsa, I started to learn salsa on 1, which basically is distinguished by stepping forward on the first beat of the music with your left foot (Lead). This style is also known as LA Style, since it was created there and is now recognized as such all over the world. Salsa on 1 is very popular in Europe and large parts of the US as well as the rest of the world.

Colombian Style Salsa

No need to mention where this style was created. However, in spite of the general term Colombian salsa, in Colombia there are different styles of salsa in different cities, for example, the Cali style from Cali, and so on for other cities in Colombia, each with its own particular style of salsa. In general Colombian salsa is known for extremely fast footwork and spectacular acrobatic moves danced in time to the music.

  • mike

    #1 you are lying when you say NY Style on 2 is danced all over the world! outside of NY you may find small pockets of people who were tricked into learning this style from people like yourself.

    • Sorcerer

      That’s nonsense. In Europe lots of people dance on 2. Most on 2 dancers here can also dance on 1 by the way. There are definitely more on 1 dancers. In cities you see a lot of LA style, in smaller towns more Cuban, at least that’s my experience.

    • Renlion

      I’ve been to Malaysia, UK and South Africa.. On 2 dancers everywhere 😛

    • Stephanie Imkindofabigdeal Per

      In Miami, We have all styles available. And when our dance teams go to congresses around the world all styles are danced. So you are wrong. No one is “tricking” anyone into a certain style. What an abserd thing to say.

      • jay jay

        on 2 is the correct way…true to other latin dances (like cha cha, rumba, mambo) and the music…on one is for losers who can’t figure out where the 2 beat is…..

  • Ahora Si

    If you want to dance in the club then learn on 1. If you want to dance to the music learn on 2. People say on 2 is more difficult but that is not true. It’s something they use to rationalize. Clap 1 3 5 7 to a salsa tune then clap 2 4 6 8. On the beat is stiff and has little room for movement. If you don’t nail it perfectly then you will be rushing or dragging. Usually rushing. Offbeat is relaxed and has room to “lay back” on the beat. Musician’s call it “in the pocket” There is a long running musicians’ joke about the stiffness of the on beat feel. It’s not very PC so look it up. It doesn’t swing. Swing isn’t just jazz. It’s the phenomenon that occurs from off beat feel. So… dance however you want. I don’t care. Facts are facts. BTW I teach musicality to Salsa dancers. I can help you regardless of how you break and I not going to bust your chops for that. Email if you have an interest. nuevomontuno@yahoo.com

    • Ahora Si

      should have stated the clave pattern against the off beat pulse creating the “push/pull” of the “swing” feel.

  • Stup End

    Time is not style: dancing On1 (even correctly from a musical point of view) is not equivalent to dancing L.A. Similarly, dancing N.Y. Style is not simply dancing On2 (or On6, seen from a Puerto Rican point of view). For example, most Cuban dancers dance On1 (sometimes On3 or even On5), but they are not dancing L.A. style, of course.

    On2 dancing is much more difficult than On1 (for a non-african trained ear). Nowadays, salsa music is controlled by the melody and harmony instead of percussion (as it used to be in the past). If you listen to current Salsa (say, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Willie Rosario or Jesus ‘el niño’ Alejandro) the tumbadora, timbales and bongoes are there, but not as emphasized as it used to be in, for example, Cachao’s or Machitos recordings. By the way, in the past people used to dance with live music (this is important). When people refer to the Palladium days, they always forget that this was live music (that is, tumbadoras, timbales, bongoes taking the lead). Now we dance with DJs instead (most of the time). Recorded salsa music changes a lot, and melody becomes the main path to follow, I am afraid to say, where the musical phrase is emphasized on odd beats (1/3/5/7), and not on the tumbadoras’ 2/6.

    I’ve been dancing for more than 16 years (and taught salsa between 2003 and 2012), in Spain, UK, Italy, Germany and France. My statistics say that On1 is a more common pattern in terms of mainstream social dance (I am talking about ordinary people who are in salsa for social reasons, not to the salsa-mambo experienced dancer who buys Cal Tjader’s vinyl records).

    NY-On2 (E. Torres) was developed in the 70s/80s, whereas LA-On1 (Vazquez/Moreno) was developed in the late 90s. However, the first popularized salsa timing that took place in Europe was On1 (by the late 90s or so). This is a proof of the On2 difficulty.

    You should learn first the timing dance that naturally you are capable of identifying.

  • Ryan

    Question for the experts!: I am from Los Angeles area and am traveling around South America for 4-6 months and want to learn Salsa. I am starting off in Peru (cusco/Lima) for two months, and then Colombia (Bogota/Medellin) for two months, and then work my way up Central America back to California. From reading above, I can see that Sala on 1 is what is being used in Southern California, but I’d also like to be able to hang in Colombia and be able to dance with anybody in the club. Given that, which version do you suggest begin with and commit to? Disclaimer: I am a complete beginner. Thanks!

  • LUFE

    What a croc! Dancing on 1 is native-style dancing, the kind you learn in apartment parties, going to quinceañeras or dancing with old folk at family gatherings. On 2 is school training, hence why it is danced by foreigners or people who seldom grew up with the music. It’s been coded so that people who pay for lessons can dance. I have always thought that on 2 is fake dancing. It’s like growing up speaking Spanish versus paying for lessons. On one dancers will make fun of on 2 dancers, because on 2 dancers never grew up dancing like us on 1 dancers.

    • jay jay

      actually, it’s just the opposite…..natives in puerto rico always dance on 2, only the newbies, who don’t know any better dance on one……people who know how to dance laugh at the on one newbies just like they do newbies who dance cha cha on one……