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History of Salsa

Updated: Feb 22

As an Afro-Caribbean/ South American woman the rhythms and sounds of the region have been a compass to who I am as a person and the foundation of my movement as a dancer. This is the essence from which I teach connection to the music, rhythm and the possibilities of movement within the body.

Within the music lives a history, a history I am lucky to be biologically connected to through my ancestors and blessed to share with others. The history of what we now know as Salsa, both dance & music encompasses many influences which is responsible for the variety of sounds we hear within the music and movements expressed in different regions of Latin America.

The Roots of Salsa: Where and Why It Began

Salsa is rhythm and cultural diversity. It’s the desire for equality, with origins that are anchored in the Afro-Latin musical traditions. The “New World”, aka the America’s we know of today is a result of the Spanish, British & French, bringing enslaved West Africans to the Caribbean where the original America’s/natives resided.

The combination of the African rhythms, reconstructed instruments & European instruments created a new form of music in the Americas. Combined with a need to for self-expression during slavery & colonialism many Africans & natives had an immense need for an emotional and mental outlet, which led to these beautiful ways of worshipping, celebrating, & morning what life had to offer. A combination of indigenous Columbians & plantation slaves in Columbia created Cumbia, the slaves in Puerto Rico constructed a beautiful dance form called Bomba, Cuban slaves gave us the Rumba. Colonial region of slaves had their own form of self-expression to cope with their lifestyle & conditions. Brasil gave us the Samba, with heavy influences from Congo & Angola {West Africa}.

Brazil’s Samba added a carnival-like exuberance to the Salsa dance. The syncopated beats of Samba meshed with Salsa’s existing percussions to create a rhythm that encouraged dancers to move with enthusiasm and precision. Samba is known for its hip movements known as“samba hips” or “samba bounce.” When this movement is added brought into Salsa it added a sensual and playful element to the dance floor. Samba-inspired costumes created a carnival-like atmosphere even while its lyrics addressed issues like poverty and racism.

The Jamaican Influence

In Jamaica, Afro-Caribbean musical traditions like mento and reggae developed over time. These musical forms also incorporated African rhythms and European instruments, which influenced Caribbean music in general.

This was an influence for the Spanish-speaking neighbors and these interactions included the sharing of musical and dance elements. Their overall desire for civil rights was a big influence on the development of Salsa in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.

Salsa Emerges in Mid-20th Century New York City

Fast forward to the post-World War II era where there was a huge wave of immigration from Latin American countries to New York City. Most of the immigration came from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Columbia. This influx of cultures and diverse musical traditions converged on East Harlem, the South Bronx, and Spanish Harlem gave rise to modern Salsa.

The melting pot of cultures in New York City was crucial to innovation. The blending of

Afro-Latin music with American jazz and R&B was the basis of modern Salsa’s distinct sound. Artists like Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and Machito began creating the musical arrangements and dance styles that would define Salsa.

The culture of urban New York City allowed Afro-Latin communities to use Salsa to express their identity and solidarity. This is how Salsa emerged as a symbol of cultural pride.

Salsa as a Form of Resistance

During the civil rights movement, Salsa artist used their music as a form of protest. Lyrics in

songs like Ruben Blades’ “Plastico” and Ismael Rivera’s “Tu Vox” had powerful messages about materialism having dehumanizing effects and the need for social change.

Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) union to

advocate for the rights of farmworkers. Many of these farmworkers were Latinx. Salsa music

was used by the UFW as a way to increase cultural pride and it was used at rallies and

gatherings to inspire the community.

Celia Cruz was known as the “Queen of Salsa” and she advocated for social and political

change. She fled to the United States after the Cuban Revolution. Her music symbolized hope. Celia’s songs “Qumbara” and “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” gave a sense of empowerment and celebrated Afro-Latin identity and pride. She advocated against discrimination, much of which she experienced in Cuba. She was against apartheid in South Africa and her music and advocacy showed that Salsa was not just a form of entertainment.

Salsa in the 21st Century Salsa has proven to be adaptable. Genres such as hip-hop, reggaeton, electronic music, and even pop have combined with Salsa. This combination has created subgenres like “Salsaton” and “Salsa Urbana.” Artists like Marc Anthony and Daddy Yankee successfully blend Salsa with modern genres and this gives Salsa a more diverse audience.

Salsa artists in the 21st century still use their music for social and political issues. La India, known as the “Princess of Salsa” has used her music to address issues of domestic violence and female empowerment. Her song “Soy Diferente” (I Am Different) is an anthem for self-acceptance and empowerment. Ismael Miranda released a son in 2009, “Un Monton de Estrellas” which is a tribute to Puerto Rico’s struggle with economic challenges and political status. Victor Manuelle wrote a song, “Algo Le Pasa a Mi Heroe,” that is a reflection on the challenges faced by veterans returning from war. Tito Nieves’ “De Mi Enamorate” is about immigrants and their contributions to the United States.

Salsa is now one of the most commonly learned dance styles in the world. The digital age has allowed Salsa music to reach more people through streaming platforms and social media.

The Global Reach of Salsa

Salsa’s global reach has been remarkable. It goes beyond boundaries and has become a

symbol of unity and celebration worldwide. There are international dance festivals from New York to Tokyo. Festivals like the New York Salsa Congress bring everyone together.

Salsa is now in mainstream media. Movies, television shows, and commercials feature Salsa

dance sequences and music. “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” is set in Cuba and has

prominently featured Salsa dance sequences and music as part of its storyline.

We have traced the roots of Salsa and discovered a history of resistance and cultural unity.

Salsa & other forms of Afro-Latin movement/dance styles were born from the combination of Afro-Latin traditions in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Brazil & other countries in the Americas. It reflects the resilience of marginalized communities throughout history and its global reach knows no borders. Salsa is more than the music and movements. Powerful and undeniably influential, salsa will steal your heart and open your mind. The Dancing Designer’s Salsa Experience is more than just a dance class – we celebrate the roots, the history and the cultural impact of this iconic dance. You’ll dance with abandon and see for yourself that salsa is so much more than music and movements – it’s freedom.

Are you fascinated by the rich history and vibrant culture behind salsa music and dance? Experience the magic firsthand by joining us for a salsa dance lesson! Step onto the dance floor and let the rhythms of salsa transport you through time. Click the button below to book your salsa dance lesson today and embark on a journey through the captivating history of this beloved dance style. Let's salsa!

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