Salsa New York Style is the most widely danced style in international Salsa Congresses, because it was developed by great professional dancers. It’s a show style, although it is danced at every social Salsa Dance Party these days, together with Salsa L.A.-Style and Salsa Cubana.
Salsa New York Style is a linear form of salsa, where dancers move in a slot, similar to Salsa L.A.-Style. Unlike to other styles of Salsa, however, Salsa New York Style is danced on the second beat of the music (“on 2”), and the follower – not the leader – steps forward on the first beat of the music. Often there is also a greater emphasis on performing “shines”, which means dancers performing a short solo dance within the partnerwork, with intricate footwork and styling – a phenomenon that likely has origins in Swing and New York Tap.
One of the most influential personas in Salsa New York Style is Eddie Torres (known as “the Mambo King”), who is credited with helping to formalize the “On2” Salsa timing (based on mambo) and helping to popularize it, by teaching this special style in dance studios throughout New York and publishing early instruction tapes.
Salsa New York Style emphasizes harmony with the percussive instruments of salsa music, such as congas, timbales, and clave, since many or all of these instruments often mark the second beat in the music.
A bit of history
The mambo dance, that was spearheaded by Pérez Prado and was popular in the 1940s and ’50s in Cuba, Mexico and New York, is completely different from the modern dance that New Yorkers now call “mambo”, which is also known as salsa “On2”. The original mambo dance contained no breaking steps or basic steps at all. The Cuban dance style was not accepted by many professional dance teachers. Cuban dancers would describe mambo as “feeling the music”, in which sound and movement were merged through the body. Professional dance teachers in the US saw this approach to dancing as “extreme” and “undisciplined” and thus deemed it necessary to standardize the dance, to present it as a salable commodity for the social and ballroom market.
In the 1940s, Puerto Rican dancer Pedro Aguilar, known as “Cuban Pete”, and his wife became popular as the top mambo dancers of the time, dancing regularly at “The Palladium” in New York. “Cuban Pete” was named “the greatest Mambo dancer ever” by Life magazine as well as the legendary musician Tito Puente. Pedro Aguilar was nicknamed “Cuban Pete” and el cuchillo (“The knife”) for his mambo dance style.
The modern mambo dance from New York was popularized in the late 1960s into the 1970s by George Vascones, president of a dance group known as the Latin Symbolics, from the Bronx, New York. George Vascones continued the mambo dance tradition which started two decades earlier during the “Palladium era”. It was followed in the 1980s by Eddie Torres, Angel Rodriguez of RazzM’Tazz Mambo Dance Company, and others, many of whom were 2nd generation New York Puerto Ricans. This style is sometimes danced to mambo music, but more often to salsa dura (old-school salsa). It is termed “mambo on 2” because the break, or direction change, in the basic step occurs on count 2. The Eddie Torres and Razz M’Tazz schools each have different basic steps, even though they share this same basic feature. Eddie Torres describes his version as a “street” style he developed out of what he saw on the Bronx streets. The RazzM’Tazz version is closer to the Palladium Mambo (from the Palladium ballroom in the 1950s), whose basic step was in turn derived from Cuban son, with which it shares its timing (2-3-4 – 6-7-8, with pauses on 1 and 5) both styles derived from the American Mambo with the freestyle steps based on jazz and tap steps.
Let one of the Salsa Legends Frankie Martinez his point of view.
Frankie Martinez is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most revolutionary salsa performer/choreographers of our time.