Salsa Dancing Styles Explained

When it comes to dancing, you know one thing for sure – you want to dance the Salsa. What you’re not sure about is what style of Salsa you should learn. This guide to Salsa dancing styles will help you decide.

Salsa dancing styles are explained with words and videos.

The best Salsa dancing style for you depends on where you’ll be dancing. 

Will you be going to Latin clubs?  If so, are the clubs in New York, Los Angeles, or Miami?  It’s important to know each city has its own distinct style.  For this reason, you’ll want to learn the style that is danced in that city. 

Will you be dancing at home or at house parties in the neighborhood?  If so, you’ll be dancing the more authentic Salsa that many people grew up doing.  

Salsa Rueda – Cubana

  • Salsa Rueda originated in Cuba and is similar to square dancing. 
  • The Cuban Salsa style is circular with partners traveling around each other.
  • Dancing in the round and switching partners are the main components of Rueda.
  • In order to dance Salsa in a circle, Rueda requires two or more couples.
  • The ‘caller’ selects common patterns for the couples to dance.
  • Salsa Cubana feeling and expression are more of a relaxed street style – not screaming “look at me“.
  • Cuban Salsa is danced on ‘1’ which means they break on the first beat of the music.

Rueda (click to see Salsa Rueda Cubana in action)

Salsa Rueda – Miami

  • Miami Rueda is more complicated than the Cuban Salsa Rueda.  Furthermore, it can have as many as 300 patterns.
  • Some patterns feature the intricate use of the arms in turns (using pretzel moves) requires flexibility and outstanding partnership skills.
  • Miami Rueda uses the slot style.  As a result, there is the appearance of moving in and out of the circle.
  • Arm styling is flashy in the same manner as Hustle and Disco.
  • Like Cubana Rueda, Miami Rueda dancers also dance on ‘1’.


  • Cumbia originated in Colombia.
  • The slower music results in slower dancing.
  • As opposed to some other Salsa styles, Cumbia is not at all big or showy.  
  • Cumbia is a more romantic, intimate dance, therefore, it uses body contact.

Miami Style 

  • Miami style Salsa is closely related to the Cuban style. (Go figure!)
  • It uses circular movements and cross body leads.
  • The partners rotate around each other.  
  • Turns, spins and arm styling make this type of Salsa stand out.  
  • Similar to Miami Rueda, the use of pretzel moves requires flexibility and outstanding partnership skills.
  • The Guapea basic is danced between combinations.  In Guapea both partners step back, then forward towards each other making contact with their free hand.
  • Dance Miami style on ‘1’.
Miami Salsa Dancing Style

Los Angeles Style 

  • LA style is danced as a slot dance using cross body leads to switch sides.
  • Showmanship is number one in styling this dance.  Because of this, it’s very flashy, just like it’s namesake.
  • With that in mind, for flair and musical expression, dancers use tricks such as lifts, drops, and dips.
  • Shines are solo steps, done individually, and are prevalent in this style of Salsa.
  • Dance LA style on ‘1’.

New York On 2

  • In order to achieve a more linear feel, this style is performed in a slot.
  • Dance NY on 2 in a smooth, easy manner.  As a result, it feels elegant rather than rushed. 
  • Spins, fancy footwork, and Shines are part of the style of NY on 2.
  • In this style you’ll be breaking on the ‘2’ beat, hence the name, NY on 2.

Puerto Rican Style

  • Puerto Rican style Salsa dancers love to express themselves with complicated and speedy Shines.
  • Dancing in the slot produces a neat, polished result.
  • Many old-school PR dancers prefer the circular movement, much like the Cuban style.
  • Dancers put their whole body into the music, with lots of hip action and shoulder shimmies.
  • PR style Salsa dancers have the choice of dancing on either the ‘1’ or the ‘2’.  When breaking on ‘2’, the leader is breaking forward on the second beat.

Which type is best for beginners?

Many people choose to begin with the LA style, minus the tricks, of course.   For sure, it’s a great place to start. Here’s why:

  1. This style of Salsa breaks on the ‘1’ beat and most people find it easier to get started on the first beat of the music.
  2. LA Salsa is danced on the slot.  Dancing on a track gives it more structure.  Therefore, it makes it easier to stay oriented to your partner.
  3. You’ll start out with 3 or 4 basic steps and 3 or 4 basic turns.  With a modest introduction, you’ll have enough material to dance whole songs with good variety.

For more information on Salsa, read this Dance Safari post, “How Long Does It Take to Learn Salsa?”

Long Live Salsa!

Don’t put it off for another day – get out there and learn to dance Salsa. Go to a studio, take some group classes, watch YouTube videos or whatever. You’re missing out on a whole lot of fun, so get a move on and get your Salsa dancing groove on!



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