Chicago Salsa Dancing Lessons

Meet our Chicago Salsa Dance Instructor

Dennis PaSamba – Master Instructor

Dennis travels all over the world performing and teaching Salsa, Tango and many more dance styles. Learn more about Dennis PaSamba.

All about Salsa Dancing

Most people think of a tomato-based spicy sauce when they hear the word “salsa,” but for dancers that is not the case. Instead, they think of a fast-paced dance style that involves a lot of spinning and twirling.

Salsa is a relatively new style of dance that’s appropriate for either a ballroom or a club. It originated in the Caribbean, but has evolved into many variations, including Los Angeles, New York, Casino, Rueda de Casino, Colombian and Ballroom. Each variation has slight deviations in its steps, timing and movements, but they all stay true to their salsa dance roots.

Salsa Dancing’s Rise in Popularity

Salsa, like many dances, was born out of a particular style of music. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Cuban musicians began blending together elements of Spanish and African music to create what later became known as salsa music. It didn’t take long for a dance style to develop to go along with the music. Salsa dance joined together the moves of other Caribbean dance styles, such as Mambo, Puerto Rican Bomba and Flamenco.

The dance truly came into its own in the 1970s in New York, largely due to an influx of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants settling there. It was popularized at the time by a group of well-known musicians and dancers. It also was heavily promoted by Fania Records, which was sometimes called the “Latin Motown” due to its ability to popularize Latin musicians the same way Motown Records popularized African American musicians. Since then, salsa has become an incredibly popular dance style that is known and loved throughout the world.

Where the Name “Salsa” Came From

Nobody knows for sure how salsa dance got its name, but there are several interesting theories. The name may have been part of a marketing effort to create an association between the dance and the spicy sauce. It also could have been a reference to the dance’s mixing of various styles, much like the sauce’s mixing of various ingredients. Another theory is that musicians would shout the word “salsa” as they played that style of music.

Some believe in a more detailed origin story, claiming the term was invented for salsa music back in 1933 by a composer named Ignacio Pinerio. The idea for the name supposedly came to him while he was eating bland food. He missed the Cuban spices he was used to and so he called his music salsa as a protest against flavorless food.

We may never know the truth of the matter, but salsa certainly is a fitting name.

Salsa Dancing’s Biggest Stars

As is the case with any form of entertainment, stars are born. Some of the biggest names in salsa dancing include Eddie Torres, Magna Gopal and Johnny Vazquez. Arguably the most well-known dancer is a man named Frankie Martinez. He started his career training for ballroom dance in New York, but he felt more drawn to the less-formal nature of salsa dance. Martinez quickly became known for his innovative dancing and choreography, and he eventually created his own organization, the ABAKUA Afro-Latin Dance Company. Students can go there to learn salsa dance, the Cha-Cha-Cha and Afro-Caribbean dance. Martinez continues to perform and teach workshops throughout the world.

The Difference Between Salsa, Tango and Merengue Dances

Salsa, tango, and merengue dances all have several similarities. The most apparent is that they all are partner dances. People often are drawn to these dances due to their social nature; they are great activities for couples to do together. But there are significant differences to consider when deciding which of these dances to learn.

Tango is generally a more intimate style of dance; partners hold each other very closely as they glide across the floor. It’s like they say: “it takes two to tango.” And tango dance involves slower movements, whereas salsa moves at a much quicker pace.

Merengue dance follows a basic one-two step that is simple to follow. It’s similar to marching. Salsa dance, on the other hand, uses a three-step pattern and involves more intricate music.

While all three of these dances are fun and festive, they each are unique in terms of their steps and movements. Seeing people dance in each style highlights the specific differences. You also can experience them all for yourself by taking lessons.