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Salsa Steps


  • Salsa Steps

    Breaking the "Breaking" Mystery of Salsa Timing How to Dance on the "One", the "Two", and More...

    Below are diagrams that were created by Mr. Eric Freeman and myself (Edie).

    Please feel free to print this out and distribute to your local dance schools and friends.

    Due to the hundreds of emails we've received on the subject, we have FINALLY decided to DOCUMENT how to dance Salsa on the "One", the 'Two", the "Three", etc...
    Click Here for a Description of the different Salsa dance styles throughout the world. This will surprise you! The list is growing, so please let us know if you have yet another Salsa dance style from your part of the world!

    NOTE: These are uni-sex dance steps -- meaning -- we are not attempting to distinguish the leader and follower roles. Suffice it to say, that however one dancer is stepping, the partner is doing the opposite. For example, when the man breaks forward with his left foot, the woman is breaking back with her right foot. If it is customary for the woman to start forward and the man back (as in on"two" in New York style), then our diagram is showing the womans's step. If you start with the man breaking forward first, then we are showing the man's step. We simply aren't including this level of detail. The Black foot is the step you take on that beat. Animated Gif images, created by Mike Bello, the Mambo Fello.
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    Animated Dance on the "One"
    ... Also known as the Flashy "LA Style" - created by the Vazquez family in the 90's
    ... Also known as "Hollywood Style"

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    Animated Dance on the Classic "Two"
    ... Also known as The Power Two,
    ... Also known as Ballroom "Mambo".

    Note: It should be noted that the Razz M Tazz dance company out of New York dances on the "two", to the "4,5,6" beats of the music. However, their style differs tremendously from the typical "Ballroom Mambo" that is typically taught at professional ballroom dance studios. Their style has a thick hustle influence, whereas the Ballroom Mambo does not.
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    Animated Dance on the "NY Two"
    Also known as the Eddie Torres Nightclub Style "Two"
    Also known as "Mambo Typico"

    Per Eddie Torres, the above diagram depicts Ladies Timing
    (how the lady steps). The etiquette of starting the dance is that man breaks forward on the sixth beat, and the lady ALWAYS breaks back on the sixth beat. Also, note that the word "Pause" should be understood to mean an "override". You're not really pausing. The two feet never really touch the ground at the same time. This is where you develop the "figure eight" motion with our hips. You never really stop, or pause. Note: It should be noted that dancing on "Two" is often referred to as "Dancing On Clave" However, after analyzing the bars of the music, dancing to the Beat of the Clave can be either on the One or the Two beats of every measure. The emphasis step simply starts on the hit of the Clave beat, whether it be on the "One" or the "Two". Click Here for a more detailed description of what we're talking about.
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    Animated Dance on the

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    Animated Dance on the

    A note from the Salsa FREAK herself...
    Check this. This cracks me up. After dancing from New York to LA, taking classes, and hanging in coffee shops with some of the biggest Salsa/Mambo fanatics/addicts in the world, the following are comments that I've heard VERBATUM:
    • "I'm not as creative on the "one". - Salsero from New York
    • "I'm not as creative on the "two". - Salsero from LA

    • "The "one" definitely looks more appealing." - Salsero from LA
    • "The "two definitely looks more appealing." - Salsero from New York

    • "I truly, truly believe, in my heart, not being biased at all, that the absolute best dancers, are in LA." - Salsero from LA
    • "I truly, truly believe, in my heart, not being biased at all, that the absolute best dancers, are in New York." - Salsero from New York

    • "I'm sorry, but I tried the "two", I just can't feel it." - Salsero from LA
    • "I'm sorry, but I tried the "one", I just can't feel it." - Salsero from New York

    • "When you're on the "one", you're more in tune with the heart and soul of the music. The two is a beat off the real rhythm." - Salsero from LA
    • "When you're on the "two", you're more in tune with the heart and soul of the music. The one is a beat off the real rhythm." - Salsero from New York

    • "You can put more styling and techniques on the "one" than the "two"." - Salsero from LA
    • "You can put more styling and techniques on the "two" than the "one"." - Salsero from New York

    I'm dying laughing right now at the complete ridiculousness of this whole argument. You get used to, whatever you get used to. You dance to, whatever your partner puts you in... that's it! It's that simple. You stylize whatever you stylize to. It's wonderful knowing BOTH types of rhythms and dancing, BOTH the one and the two. When I dance on the "two", I hear the song differently then when I dance on the "one". The song is almost an entirely different sounding song!

    You see, THAT'S THE BEAUTY OF THE MAGICAL RHYTHM OF SALSA and MAMBO. It's so intricately formed musically, that you have the freedom to play around with the notes. You can dance contra tiempo, on tiempo, off-beat, on-beat, whatever! It just depends what schools you came from, and how you learned. I'm telling you, if you're open minded enough, you will enjoy this dance so much, and NEVER stop learning all the different ways you can dance to it. In some dance circles, it is believed that Salsa is danced on the "one", and Mambo is danced on the "two". Salsa is just another word for Mambo. Salsa is also a sauce (thank you Tito).

    Mambo can also be considered type of music, or a specific phrase of the music piece. However you dance, to either or, is your choice. If you feel the pulse of the congas, cowbell, and clave with your partner, it shouldn't matter one bit if it's on the one, the two, the three, the four, the five, the six, the seven, or the eight. Whatever beat you break on (start on), you're basically dancing to that rhythm. My own opinion about this whole argument is, WHO REALLY CARES??? As long as you're having a BLAST with your partner, no "beat" is "better" than any other "beat". Big deal!

    What I highly encourage all of us to do as Salseros, is to learn to dance on ALL the beats of the music. It makes the dance more challenging and fun! Besides, what would happen if you saw a REAL CUTY dancing out there, you get the nerve to ask them to dance, and BOOM. Like a ton of BRICKS they're dancing on a different beat. Uh oh. You see? Like learning a different language, and if traveling to a different country, I always say, "When in Rome, do as the Romans". This translates to "When with your Partner, dance with your Partner on whatever beat they put you on."

    What really makes my evening is when I've danced a song on the "two" and then another song on the "one". Heck, I danced with Eric Freeman on the "five" on the top of some mountain in Colorado, with Jacques (our Paris World Correspondent) on the "2" in the Louvre in Paris, with Joel, my Salsa Brava dance partner, on the "one" and ended up on the "three" in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome, Italy, and with Stacey Lopez on the "four" in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I have yet to find someone who will dance with me on the "eight"....

    How memorable and challenging this is! Now whether we end up on the six, the three or the five, well, that's how we ended up... BIG DEAL. I get a rush just being lead around, held, spun, dipped, and grooving the night away...

    Edie, The Salsa FREAK!! is one of the most recognized and respected Salsa Writers/Instructor/Performers in the world. In the past twenty years, she has traveled to 63 countries teaching the world to dance, and has been the first American to teach in 18 of those countries. She now lives in the high mountains of beautiful Colorado with her wonderful husband, Nick. You may contact her at


    Hi Eric, Hi Edie,
    I am yet another fan of both salsa and salsaweb. Your latest overview of breaking on X corresponds with my on views on this 'delicate' matter, keep up the good work! There is so much confusion on this issue. Breaking on 1,2, and 3 is taught in Amsterdam, depending on the teacher. There are teachers who teach "Son" as a separate style, which is then done on 2 instead of 1. I have also had a Cuban teacher who sometimes switches between 1,2, and 3 in a single (solo) pattern, a real challenge! In the club scene, breaking is performed mostly on 1 and 3, and a few on 2.
    My guess for Amsterdam is:
    On 1 : 50%
    On 2 : 10%
    On 3 : 40%
    On 4 : ? greetings,
    Edwin (3 is most comfortable, but can do 2)
    Dear Eric and Edie,
    I have to say that I very much enjoyed the article about breaking steps. It's AWESOME, great work!!! The part of dancing on the tree is completely right, we also dance like that. When we begin dancing we step underneath the body on count "1" & "2" in order to break on "3". On Curacao we have one small (actually a BIG) difference. In Peurto Rico we found out that we were the ONLY ones where the men breaks with his RIGHT foot. Everybody else was breaking with the LEFT foot (disregarding if they would break on the "1", "2", "3", or "4"). I found that VERY STRANGE and I was puzzled and kind of dissapointed the whole congress for just one reason: we could not dance with everybody, only the ones that could "adapt" to breaking with the "other foot". I was kind of angry to myself that I never seemed to have notice this difference that was keeping me from learning new moves and socialize with other people. After we came back from the congress I was determined to find out WHY my parents, old great salsa/mambo dancers of the island, why actually the WHOLE ISLAND danced on the "3" with the RIGHT foot forward. After talking to several people and watching very old tapes of our Local Television Company I found out that we dance like that because of a cultural dance called the "TUMBA". The tumba is known as our national carnaval music! The tumba has "more or less" the same rhythm patterns as the salsa/mambo and has been around since the end of the 19th century. This tumba of course came with it's own style of dancing. So when Mambo arrived in Curacao in the late 50'ties we adapted the style of dancing tumba into the style of dancing salsa. I just fitted at that time. That's why Edie you like watching our group dance as we move our hips and buts, that is exactly what we do in the tumba!!!!! Still there was one mistery. Why did I never noticed the difference while living for 9 years in Holland? The answer was quite easy. As Curacao is a part of the Dutch Kingdom, it was the same people from Curacao that during the big migration brought salsa/mambo to Holland. That's why Leo & Monique from Holland (remember them from the congress?) also danced like we do!! I would very much like to know Edie if there are more people in the world (apart from Curacao, Aruba and Holland) that break with the RIGHT foot. It doens't matter if they dance on the "1", "2", "3" or "4", it just has to be the RIGHT foot!!! Maybe you could publish my request! I would also like to know how you did manage do dance with me at the congress as everything I did was from "another perspective". Did it feel good?, did it take time to adapt?, did you feel the difference at once? Edie, keep up the good work, you're my hero. Remember, the day I open my own salsa club you will be my guest of honour!!!!!! Love,
    Dear Eric and Edie,
    My name is John. Thanks for pulling all this together, I like the diagrams, but none of them seems to look like the NY two as I understand it. This is the best description I've found:

    From: [email protected]
    Subject: Re: Salsa vs Mambo Question...
    Date: 9 Nov 1996 03:12:02 GMT

    I am not an expert by any means. However, I think that now (thanks to the lessons I've taken) Instead of having two left feet, I now have one left foot )

    Dancing on two is The Best way to dance both Salsa or Mambo (BTW It is my opinion that although Salsa & Mambo are the same things, I feel that mambo has more of "a sound" that salsa). Dancing on two is also alot easier to apply, and it looks alot smoother.

    The mens timing is: left short step back (1), right long step back (2), left foot in place step(3). Right foot in the air(4), to right short step forward(5), left long step forward (6), right foot in place step (7). Left foot in the air (8) go to (1).

    The ladies timing is exactly the samething like the mens timing, however the mens (2) is the ladies (6) and, the mens (6) is the ladies (2). This means that where the men go back on the (1) with the left foot, The ladies go forward on (1) with the right foot.

    Now HERE is what makes dancing on two so easy. The Slap of the conga always lands on (2) and (6). So like american disco where you follow the thump of the bass and match your feet and your body movement to that thump; you match your (2) and (6) to the conga's (2) and (6). Better Yet!!! if you follow the bongoceros' cowbell or the timbal's cowbell you will hear that the ("Clonk-cli-cli-Clonk-cli-cli-Clonk-Clink(2)-Clonk" ) Clink on both bells lands on either (2) or (6) depending on the arrangement (3-2 Clave or 2-3 Clave.....PLEASE NO FLAMING ) ). I hope this makes sense.

    Because the (2) and the (6) are so firm, the dance looks very smooth and It feels very smooth - It Feels comfortable specially after the turn patterns. The people that I've seen dancing on One have (for some wacky reason) an obnoxious kick. It drives me nuts!!! Hey I used to dance that way
    Nestor A. Louis

    PS - Eddie Torres took 2 hours out of his personal time to explain this to me.
    He is a Great Guy!!!
    ...From John:
    If we allow a brush or tap where Nestor says "Right foot in the air(4)" and "Left foot in the air (8)" this shows what seems to me to be the essential difference, namely that the tap is done on the fly, during a continuous motion of that foot, rather than at the static centre.

    I haven't tried this with a partner yet, but I can see the attraction since it gives the possibility of accenting the 1 &/or 2 (and the 5 &/or 6) in the same bar, or not, as you wish, and the tap is a fluid motion rather than a pause. There's no return to centre as in the other variations.

    The quote above is from a compilation of postings on

    To answer your questionaire; here in Cambridge, England, I have taken Salsa classes from three teachers so far, from Venezuela, Cuba and Chile respectively. All teach predominantly the style in which we break back with both left and right feet on the 1 & 5 (men).

    The teacher from Cuba says the forward break on the left "...doesn't exist in Salsa", "...never invade the lady's space". The Venezuelan left town last May, a couple of months after I started learning, but neither he nor the Chilean has shown how to lead a turn _during_ a woman's forward break, (I hadn't seen that until I got Josie Neglia's videos). They both teach us to lead turns only after or with a backward break, i.e. forcing a continuation of the backward break into a full turn, which some of the women still complain about - "I'm on the wrong foot!" - "But he told me to do it!". The forward break seems to be introduced just for an interlude of dancing in closed position.

    Tomorrow night there's a party! With a class beforehand, and none of us knows who the teacher will be; neither of our two regulars, we know that much. Maybe I'll have something new to report after that.
    John To John, from Eric:
    Dear John,
    The steps are both for women and men. We didn't make it "gender" - related.
    - Eric
    Hi Eric,
    Yes, I looked again, you're quite right. Man and woman's steps are the
    same of course, just displaced four beats. Well that's a relief, I thought
    for a moment we were into a third version of beaking on two :-) Though at
    this stage for me it's a tad academic as most of the time my brain's
    occupied thinking out the next step. I need to get real-time fluency
    rather than relying on prepared sequences before I experiment changing the
    basic, especially as it will mean showing each partner the new basic too;
    no-one around here does the NY two that I've seen. Something to look
    forward to, anyway. The clockwise turn on a forward break looks good in Josie Neglia's video, I
    expect I can find someone to give that a try since we already do that step,
    though only as an interlude between turns, I always thought there ought to
    be more to do with it.

    From Maarten van de Kant [email protected] I have read some of the messages about dancing and breaking on different beats. People have mostly writing about dancing on the �one� and �two�. Where �one� is the first of four beats which together make up a bar and the �two� the second beat in a the bar. (Please edit this message freely when I am boring you to death) The fist beat for all clarity is the beat which gets extra emphasis so counting the music beats would go something like this "ONE two three four | ONE two three four | ONE two three four | etc.." �|� separates bars. Most people alternate their feet each bar. Meaning that when they start or enter one bar with their left foot they will start the next bar with their right foot (There fore identifying 4|5678 in stead of 4|4 can create more clarity). Merengue, if I may use that word, has only two beat per bar (12|12|12|12|) and every bars is usually started with the same foot. Assuming that we only dance (step) on three beats in a bar (i.e. dancing with out a tap and with a hold) then there is no other option then to entry a bar on �one� the first, or �two� the second beat in the bar. This is because there are only for timings (4) where you can pause or hold, see table
    hold on there for dance on beats dancing on the
    1 ..234 ballroom two �two�
    2 1..34 �one�
    3 12..4 �one�
    4 .. (London, NY") �one�

    In stead of pausing/holding you can also tap or kick. Now the matter of breaking. I think of breaking simplistically as: putting your foot away from the other (i.e. forward, back, aside, crossed over the other) and transferring your wait on it and there by giving it an emphasis. For reasons of simplicity lets say there are only three (absolute) positions on the dance floor each individual foot can be on; forward(^), normal(-), back(_). Both feet next to each other would be left(-), right(-). This is what I assume is the starting position before you here any music. Now dancing on and braking on 1, which we is taught here in London is like: The London one
    beat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    foot L R L R L R
    position ^ - - _ - -

    Dacing on the 1 breaking on the 2 is: New York 2
    beat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    foot L R L R L R
    position - ^ - - _ -

    Dancing on the two breaking on the 2 is: Ballroom two
    beat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    foot L R L R L R
    position ^ - - _ - -

    Amsterdam style dance on two break on FOUR (using a late 2) stretching the F-O-U-R over 1 and part of two. Amsterdam four
    beat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    foot L R L R L R
    position - - ^ - - ^

    From this it is easy to make permutations of ones and twos
    beat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    foot L R L R L R
    position ^ - - _ - - London
    position - ^ - - _ - NY 2
    position - - ^ - - _
    The 2 Club
    foot L R L R L R
    position ^ - - _ - - ballrom 2
    position - ^ - - _ -
    position - - ^ - - _ Amsterdam, very nice

    A double spin will move the from 1 to 3 and from 2 to 4. but you can also and you can also kind of break twice:
    beat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    foot L R L R L R
    position ^ ^ - _ _ -

    Substituting the hold with a tap is another possibility. The tap like the other steps can be put in three any positions (^-_) try for instance.
    beat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    Tap/kick * *
    foot L R L R R L R L
    position ^ - - ^ _ _ - _

    I hope you will realise that you can bring this schedule to your club, because it would look rather silly. To dance you need to feel the music. This is merely to point out where to feel if you didn�t know already. Good luck, Maarten London If any body could explain a Clave to me using these table I�d be very grateful.
    In case no one has sent the details to as you to where Toronto generally breaks, we break on 1 (90% of the salsa population). I prefer to break on1 because I like to put the tap where the congo is (I think) which is on 4. - Teddy
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