Salsa Dance Terminology

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Tim Bottman's picture

All the basic terms used In Salsa

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folkloric music typically associated with Christmas


a danza director who decided how many couples would dance on each dance and the position of each dancer


a slow, lyrical musical genre, referred to as a ballad in English, that is sung and danced and completely different from the Spanish counterpart. The bolero appeared in the last part of the 19th century. For a complete description, see the bolero genre page


a music genre for dance unique to Puerto Rico but with roots in Africa ; also a barrel-shaped drum of Afro-Puerto Rican origin, similar to but shorter than the Cuban tumbadora ( conga drum). See complete description on the bomba page.


a brass musical instrument that sounds similar to a trombone; typically used in danzas See complete description on the instruments page.


a percussion musical instrument consisting of two small drums attached to each other and played while held between the knees. The bongos were developed from similar African drums. Originally, the bongo's drum heads (skins) were tacked-on, but later a system of tuneable hardware was attached. Bongos today are made of fiberglass as well as wood See complete description on the instruments page.


a musical instrument adapted from classical Spanish guitar and often used to perform a seis"


low-pitched bomba drums providing supporting rhythm in a bomba


a type of drum, also known as the tumbadora, adapted from Africa ; originating as a solid, hollowed log with a nailed-on skin. Eventually, tuneable hardware was added and today, conga drums are made out of fiberglass as well as wood. See complete description on the instruments page.


A very rhythmic genre of music for singing and dancing, and derived from the early Cuban danzón-mambo. It was created by violinist Enrique Jorrín, who named the style upon hearing the scraping sounds of dancers'feet. The cha-cha-chá eventually became a separate musical style based on the montuno section of the danzón with congas.


A specific style of instrumentation developed around 1940, derived from the septeto ensemble, consisting of guitar, tres, contrabass, bongos, three vocalists (who play hand percussion such as maracas and claves), and two to four trumpets. The piano and the tumbadora were added by legendary tres player Cuban Arsenio Rodriguez


It is the name given to two sticks palyed against each other to provide rhythm in many Latin music genres. It is also the name of a particular rhythm that is produced with those sticks.


Two round, polished sticks which are used to play the clave patterns


a music genre and precursor of the danza, meaning: counter dance" (a word derived


The principal pattern in the Puerto Rican genre (and rhythm) known as bomba


a music genre from Colombia popular dance rhythm from Colombia but also popular in Chile , Mexico and other Latin American countrues.

Often mistakenly classified as salsa

played with a different rhythm that is not based on the clave. The cumbia is played in 4/4 time with a heavy beat one and accentuated beats three and four


a music genre for dance, developed in Puerto Rico and derived from the waltz. See complete description on the danza page.


a music and dance genre developed in the late 19th century, which is derived from the European court and country dances, as well as the contradanza and the danza.


A ten-line, octosyllabic verse, typically the main part of what is known as jibaro" or folk music. It is probably the earliest music genre that blends African rhythms with the lyrics and melody from the traditions of Western Europe"


an impromptu jam session, improvisation


sticks struck on a resonant surface; see also: clave


a musical genre developed in Cuba and a precursor to salsa, featuring a polyrhythmic structure using a 2/3 clave, and danced by male-female couples (in its traditional folkloric setting). The typical instrumentation includes: tumbadoras (congas) or cajones (boxes), palitos (sticks) or cucharas (spoons), claves, and marugas (shakers).


A lively and highly danceable music style with lyrics, originating in Spain . Characterized mostly by its rhytm, it is generally played with a bolera section in 2/4 time and a clave section in either 6/8 or 3/4 time, although the order of these sections is sometimes reversed. Typically, a guaracha ends with a sensual rumba section. La Negra Tomasa composed in the 1940's, is an interesting (only vocals and percussion), example of this genre. Another example is Corneta sung by Daniel Santos. The guaracha came to Puerto Rico from Cuba in the mid-19th century, and developed into the jíbaro style that most closely approaches contemporary Latin dance rhythms.


a notched, hollowed-out gourd, which was adapted from a pre-Colombian instrument, played by scraping with a metal tool with multiple tynes


precursor to the danza, from the name of Cuba 's capital city, La Habana. The habanera was danced by couples in a very free, improvisational manner


a term used to describe a Puerto Rican peasant; anyone from the countryside


a musical genre from Cuba and precursor to salsa; also referred to as montuno. The mambo was a dance style popular in New York City from the 1930s through the 1950s, and is strictly instrumental.


percussion musical instrument made of a gourd filled with pebbles or dried beans and mounted on handle; used in pairs


the second part of the danza, consist of anywhere from 16 to 132 measures, but also refers to the a musical genre from the Dominican Republic but quite popular in Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America . Typically, it is accompanied by a small accordion, a two headed drum called the 'tambora', and a singer who plays the güiro, and has a syncopated duple meter.


a section of music, originating from Cuba and a precursor to salsa. It features a call and response between the lead singer and chorus; the piano often has a repeated vamp" or musical line"

nueva ola

meaning new wave"


The 1960s incarnation of the chachachá, still played by the charanga bands. Its signature is a conga pattern called caballo"."


a small hand-held drum, similar to a tambourine, and used in folk music genres such as the plena


lively holiday parties that stroll from house to house singing aguinaldos and usually accompanied by musical instruments


the first part of the danza, which usually consisted of 8 measures, and lacked a rhythmic base but served as a tonal introduction


a musical genre developed in Puerto Rico ; see complete description on plena page


a musical instrument adapted from classical Spanish guitar


It is a generic name for commercialized versions of guarachas, plenas and sons performed primarily for non-Latino audiences of the mid 20th century United States. In Cuba , it refers to a secular folkloric music and dance style (of African origin) as well as a kind of 'attitude'. Often these are accompanied by conga drums, claves, a lead singer and a chorus with call-and-response singing both in African and Spanish languages. For more detailed information, see the rumba page


a musical genre developed in Puerto Rico combining musical genres and traditions from American jazz, Cuban son and African rhythms

salsa vieja

the earliest salsa music; salsa that was performed during the earliest period of salsa music and usually associated with pioneers such as Larry Harlow, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Roberto Roena, Willie Colón, Pete El Conde" Rodríguez


someone who sings or performs salsa music


Santería is a Spanish term meaning saint worship and describes a religion originated by the Yoruba people in Africa but practiced throughout much of the Caribbean including Puerto Rico . The term was used to disguise the religeous practices from their Catholic masters. See El Boricua page for more detail.


a musical genre from the Cuba that is intended to be danced. It developed in the eastern part of Cuba (Oriente province) and reached Havana , in the west, around 1909. Its musical structure combines African and Spanish elements. Although there is a great variety in its instrumentation, it is traditionally played by a tres accompanied by a güiro and bongos. It is the foundation of modern salsa. There are several hybrids of Son, including Son-montuno, Afro-son and Guajira-son.

son montuno

A son that begins on the coro section, so there is no largo or verse" to it. According to musicologist Andres Alen and his brother Olavo


high-pitched bomba drums providing dialogue with the dancers in a bomba


the name of the indegenous Indian tribe that populated Puerto Rico during pre-Colombian times


a general term describing any of many different types of drums


percussion musical instrument


a musical instrument adapted from classical Spanish guitar; also referred to as a triple, which has three pairs of strings;


a musical instrument adapted from classical Spanish guitar; also referred to as a trés""


a type of conga drum from Cuba ; larger than the bomba.


a five stringed musical instument similar to the lute and quite common in Spain and other parts of Europe , reaching the height of its popularity in the 16th century. The vihuela is tuned A-D'-G'-B-E and today is only used in mariachi bands.