*FYI – I am not talking about your soul-mate or Neo in the matrix, though I must admit that both of these would make for interesting articles. Maybe I will write about it at a future stage. Anyway, if you ask some people out there they will tell you that finding the 1 in Salsa music sometimes can be just about as elusive as finding your soul-mate. So let’s touch on some hints and see if we can get some people out there dancing to the right beat.*
As a beginner and even sometimes for an advanced dancer, finding the beat can be one of the hardest parts of Salsa and is an aspect where a lot of people struggle. I personally was lucky that I used to dance Hip Hop before I started dancing Salsa; so learning to listen to the music while dancing was not as challenging for me.
However, if you are having a problem finding the 1, this article is for you.
This post will be split into 2 sections:
1. Salsa Music Explained – I don’t think you can find the 1 in Salsa if you do not on some level understand how the music works. Once you understand how the music works, you will be able to break it down. *Disclaimer: This is a very technical post.*
2. How to find the 1 – Tips and Techniques on how to find that elusive 1.
Before I go into the music, I would just like to put something out there. You will sometimes get people who say it does not matter which beat you are dancing on or even if you are dancing to a beat at all, just as long as you are pulling out turn patterns. If you subscribe to this theory, leave this post now because I wholeheartedly disagree with this preposterous idea. You might as well do away with the music all together with that line of thinking. Salsa is about dancing to Salsa, without the music there is actually no point. I believe you need to put in the time to learn to find the 1 (or 6 if you dance on2 ) and for those people that are willing to put in the time, well let’s get to it….
Salsa is essentially Cuban music derived from a modern style of playing the Cuban son and mambo, with touches from other genres of music. At its root, however, salsa is a mixture of African and Spanish music, filtered through the musical history of Cuba, and adapted by Latin jazz and Latin popular musicians.
Now, no doubt when you learned the Salsa basic step, you were taught to go 123 … 567…. You paused on 2 counts (4&8) and that is because Salsa music is made up of 8 counts that form a Measure which is a salsa basic. The reason for the pause is that in Salsa music most phrases (sentences) are 8 beats long, which are divided in two bars of 4 beats. A phrase in music could be thought of as a sentence. It contains a developed “idea”. The tension that is built in the first four beats is resolved in the last four beats. This is also called a “call and response” pattern. The first bar makes the call and the second bar makes the response. So we have a phrase that is eight beats long. Another way to think of a phrase is to view it as a self contained musical pattern that can be repeated many times.
Most songs start with a short instrumental ‘intro‘ before the lead singer starts the main part of the song which contain the verses and choruses (usually sung by back-up vocalists) and it will end with an ‘outro’. Use the intro to get into your starting position, Open or Closed (Dance) Hold, and your feet familiar to the beat of the music. I recommend you only start dancing & using your turn patters and moves once the main part of the song starts. Use the Outro for a nice finishing move. When the song ends = Stop dancing! Don’t insist on executing a complex turn pattern once the song is over. (DANCE TO THE MUSIC)
What is also useful to know about Salsa Music is that it is usually very structured. We have just discussed the concept of – intro, 1st verse, chorus, 2nd verse, chorus …… & the outro. Each of these individual sections (e.g. 1st verse) will be made up of an even number of 8 counts usually ranging from 4 – 12 measures of 8, but some songs can have longer or shorter measures.
The clave is the root of all salsa music and it is a great way to find the beat. Now the clave is an 8 beat count, usually broken down in what is known as a “3/2 Clave” beat or a “2/3 Clave” beat.
A 3/2 Clave emphasises 3 beats in the first 4 counts and 2 beats in the last 4 counts (1&4…67…) while the 2/3 clave does the opposite (23… 5&8).
Traditionally a wooden instrument made up of 2 sticks called the Clave is used to make the Clave beat. If you pay attention you will notice that you will start to hear the clave, and how it controls the flow of the 8 count. It is extremely clear in traditional son or rumba music. Keep in mind that although the music may be playing a “3/2 Clave” or a “2/3 Clave” you will continue to step on 1,2,3..5,6,7.
One of the reasons why you may find yourself dancing the ‘right’ steps on the ‘wrong’ beat (usually the 5) is because some artists add an extra bar of music somewhere between the normal eight count in the piece of music you are dancing to. These Musical Hiccups are not in every piece of Salsa music, some composers add them to make their music more interesting to listen to, but that makes it more difficult to dance to.
This extra bar is usually four beats long. An example of a count that contains a musical hiccup might go like this: [1, 2, 3,4,5,6,7,8], [1, 2, 3, 4], [1, 2, 3,4,5,6,7,8], The music doesn’t usually give any warning when it is about to go ‘crazy’. When a hiccup occurs (usually at the chorus) it will occur again somewhere else down the line and the music will resume back to its normal count.
As hiccups are something to be aware of, it would be to your advantage to get familiar with how they sound so you can spot them when they happen and you have 2 options available to deal with it:
1. Cheat your footwork and get back to stepping on the right beat. (Only advisable for advanced dancers with a solid lead and really good musicality)
2. Continue dancing on the ‘wrong’ beat, the music will eventually hiccup again and rectify itself. (This is the most advisable course of action.)
This is the End of part I…… Click here to read Part II