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A Brief History of Salsa

History of Salsa

 In attempting to explain ‘what salsa is’ or ‘what is the history of Salsa‘ you have to make a subtle but important choice….i.e. to explain where the word came from or do you want to know where the technical influences of the dance come from.  In reality, they’re both interesting questions but we are going to first focus on where the word came from…..briefly :-) In the 1960’s, Latin music was popular in the US but it was nothing like what we know today.  The music being played was either heavily influenced by the jazz artistry of the time, or it was a blend of Mambo and Chá-Chá which was pretty much indistinguishable to most people. Certainly, there was a core group of aficionados who knew they liked it but they tended to be Latinos themselves and there wasn’t much outreach going out to the non-Latino general public with the music genre.  People either knew what it was and liked it or they didn’t…if they had a chance to hear it at all. The music didn’t have smart promoters behind it who knew how to create an image, build a brand and generate sales and public interest like other music genres did….like Rock ‘n Roll, Big Bands, Country and Western.  That is the way it was until Izzy Sanabria came along. Izzy was actually a graphic artist for Fania Records, the Latin version of Motown Records plus he also produced “NY Latino Magazine” and MC’d for The Fania All Stars Band. Izzy realized that all this great Latino music needed some unifying idea or concept, something that would capture the spirit of what it was and what it meant to those who loved it.  Something that the public could wrap their minds around and something that could be a vehicle for promoting it to the non-Latino general public.


He chose the word “Salsa”.

His choice of the word Salsa does kind of make sense.  Certainly salsa music is ‘saucy’ or ‘hot’ or….something like that, not to mention a blend of different ingredients.  But the actual flavor of the word to Latinos is more in the sense of “Punch it!” or “Hit it”!….sort of like jazz musicians say when they get excited about their music or like “Epa” {ehhpah} shouted in clubs! Today of course the music is intertwined with the fun of the dance itself which has been embraced by non-Latinos all over the world. All around the world there are different variations of the mechanics of the dance.  Bottom line though….it is what it is…wherever it is…and that is probably the way Salsa is supposed to be.




Certified professional dance instructor/choreographer living in Newport News, VA Commutes to Richmond for over 15 years to teach. I enjoy helping people discover the power of dance in their lives. Regardless of your ability remember this, "anyone can learn to dance," and here's why you should say "Never": It can transform your life in ways you never thought possible. Introduce you to people you'd never meet and shape your confidence like never before.

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