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What is “Salsa”?

Salsa is a syncretic music and dance genre which was developed into the form we know today by Caribbean immigrants in New York City in the mid 1900s. Amara Arts offers private salsa instruction, practice sessions, and accompaniment to social dance events!

Originally called “mambo”, the word “salsa” came about as an umbrella term for Latin American popular dance music.

Once Fania Records started using the term, it stuck! It is a fusion of various musical styles over time, land, and oceans. West African drums, rhythmic patterns, call and response singing, and polycentric body motion (especially the knees and pelvis) came through the Trans Atlantic Slave trade. European instruments, the Spanish language, and twirling flamenco hands, came with Spanish colonization of the Americas. Maracas, güiros (and sometimes flutes) are major instruments in the salsa sound - they come from the Indigenous peoples of Central America and the Caribbean who have lived in the Americas for thousands of years (and still do today).

Salsa music typically features:

  • Percussion instruments such as claves congas, timbales, pianos, and bongos

  • Brass instruments like trumpets and trombones

  • Voices, most often singing in Spanish (since salsa was born out of Spanish-speaking immigrant communities)

  • Salsa lyrics often deal with themes of life, relationships, or social issues.

Salsa music is traditionally played in a specific rhythmic pattern, known as a "clave." Clave means “key” and it is also what we call the carved wooden sticks we play the rhythm on. Salsa music and dance prominently features improvisation and soloing, so be ready to express your individuality if you plan on learning to play, sing, or dance!

I know we’re in the Midwest and not in New York, L.A., or Miami but there are a few places to meet salsa dancers, social dance and take class in Saint Louis, Missouri! There are clubs, studios, and friends who have house parties all around!

Four Tips for Learning Salsa

  1. Learn the BASICS

  2. Turn up the music and dance every day! REPETITION is key to learning any dance. Folks who are “naturally” rhythmic have just had more chances to learn informally - informal learning is still learning and practicing! Make sure to give yourself opportunities to practice what you’ve learned.

  3. SIMPLIFY: When learning complex combinations of motion, it can be helpful to break them down into smaller segments and learn each part separately before putting them all together (like lego pieces)!

  4. USE YOUR MUSIC: Salsa is a dance that is closely tied to the music, so listen a lot and use the music to help you feel all of those rhythms.

Most importantly, MAKE FRIENDS! Salsa is a social dance that draws folks together and allows you to connect deeply with other humans through touch so use it to build respectful, fun-filled friendships!

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