Part 1 – Is Salsa Changing?

I read this very interesting article about the evolution of mambo to salsa in New York and how salsa in changing. Take a quick read by clicking here. There were many interesting points that were brought up in this article that I wanted to comment on…this may take a few posts to get through!

The first theme that was discussed was how salsa has drastically changed since the era of Hector Lavoe and other famous salsa artists in the 70s and 80s. Salsa was grittier back then, danced in smoky clubs where alcohol and drugs were in abundance. The dance was less about the sport and more about the social aspect, a way for those of Latin heritage to unite, socialize and party together. The moves were basic and the rhythm was whatever you were feeling at the moment to that particular song. There was a freedom to this way of life that is not as evident these days in the New York salsa scene.

With the introduction of Eddie Torres to the mambo scene and the creation of dancing on “2”, salsa became more structured and emphasis was placed on dancing on beat in a similar linear manner. Dance lessons became more popular and learning to dance “properly” was emphasized.

With all the changes, salsa clubs in New York have become less popular. Instead, salsa studios, weekly socials, parties and congresses have taken over in popularity. The dance has become more competitive, athletic and sporty. It is taken very seriously and the days of drinking, smoking and even drugs in the salsa environment are fading quickly.

I can definitely see these changes in Toronto also. Although salsa clubs in Toronto are more popular then ever, the tone has changed in the 7 years I have been dancing. When I started dancing the clubs were filled with mostly those of Latin background. The dancing was much simpler, really fun and very social. There wasn’t a big challenge to the dance style though and the rhythm of many dancers was all over the place and difficult to follow.

Fast forward to 2007 where salsa clubs are just a packed but with every type of dancer – background, size, age and skill sets vary considerably. Dancers focus on varying up their turn patterns and sticking to a certain beat. The skill level is much higher with amazing multiple turn variations. There is less drinking, no smoking and more focus on dancing.

I don’t really think one is better than the other. I am a non-smoker, non-drinker so an environment that caters to this appeals to me. I like the challenge of more complicated dancing and I really want my partner to dance on time. However, I also loved dancing in a free, structure free environment where no one cared about rules and just let go.

Hopefully we can keep alive the free, social and fun factor of the past and merge it with the clean living, athletic structure and continue to enjoy all that salsa dancing has to offer!

(Continued tomorrow)