On 2 Salsa Beat – How to Dance On 2

How To Dance Salsa On2

There is no right or wrong way of dancing salsa. The most important thing is to be able to enjoy dancing Salsa with your dance partner. Listen to the salsa beat, pick a style, and throw down!

But given the fact that some people dance On 1 and other people dance On 2, it’s important to dance well in both styles. In Salsa congresses, I have noticed how certain dancers only dance with a specific few dancers of the same style. Let’s not limit ourselves to dancing on only one style.

So how do you dance On 2?

Short Answer:

In musical terms, assuming an 8 beat measure (or 2 repeating 4-beat measures), the simple answer is trivial: On 1 you break on the first salsa beat, On 2 you break on the second salsa beat. This is the I-don’t-feel-like-explaining-it or I-really-don’t-know-the-answer answer. But the real answer has various layers in depth.

Succinct and Complete Answer:

If we expand a bit more, the answer can be contained in the following diagrams.

One measure of salsa is danced on 8 beats.

| 1 2 3 4 | 5 6 7 8 |

This 8-beat rhythmic pattern repeats throughout any given song.

| 1 2 3 4 | 5 6 7 8 | 1 2 3 4 | 5 6 7 8 | 1 2 3 4 | 5 6 7 8 | 1 2 3 4 | 5 6 7 8 …

You actually only step on the 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7th salsa beats. The 4th and 8th are pauses in the step.

| 1 2 3 pause | 5 6 7 pause | 1 2 3 pause | 5 6 7 pause |


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You can break down any song in this manner. The ability to listen to the salsa beat and being able to count the salsa beats is very important. I will make another post regarding this. In the meanwhile, let us assume that we have this ability. So let’s move on to the dance steps.

Men’s and Women’s Basic Salsa Step
Men's Basic Salsa Step Diagram Women's Basic Salsa Step Diagram

Update (May 30th, 2008):

I have posted a new video of Jai Catalano explaining How to Dance On2. The video is an excerpt of the ESPN 2007 World Salsa Championships. Men’s and women’s basic step.

Excerpt: from SalsaNewYork.com
ON 2 Basic Step – In our basic step, the man’s left foot goes back and the woman’s right foot goes forward on the 1st beat of this so-called 8 beat measure or bar. We step with our feet on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th, 6th, and 7th beats of the measure . We do not step on the 4th and 8th beats. We actually “break” our movement, in other words we change body direction, on the 2nd and 6th beats of the measure. We call it “breaking on 2″, or “dancing on 2″, or “bailando en dos”. This is mambo, danced forward and back, in a line or slot, not side to side or in a circle or square. You can see this step precisely demonstrated and broken down into its separate elements in the Eddie Torres Teaches Salsa videos.

Our basic step is as follows:

1st beat of the measure – The man steps back with his left foot. The woman steps forward with her right foot.

2nd beat of the measure – The man steps farther back with his right foot, then changes direction, starting to lean forward with his body = “breaks forward on 2″. The woman steps farther forward with her left foot, then changes direction, starting to lean back with her body = “breaking back on 2″.

3rd beat of the measure – The man steps in place with his left foot, while his body is moving forward. The woman steps in place with her right foot, while her body is moving backward.

4th beat of the measure – No steps.

5th beat of the measure – The man steps forward with his right foot, in front of his left foot. The woman steps backward with her left foot, behind her right foot.

6th beat of the measure – The man steps farther forward with his left foot, then changes direction, starting to lean backward with his body = “breaks back on 6″. The woman steps farther back with her right foot, then changes direction, starting to lean forward = “breaks forward on 6″.

7th beat of the measure – The man steps in place with his right foot, while his body is moving backward. The woman steps in place with her left foot, while her body is moving forward.

8th beat of the measure – No steps.

Technically, it is proper to start the dance in the following way: You walk onto the dance floor with your partner, set up the standard partner position frame, and then begin on the 6th beat of the measure, with the man stepping forward with his left foot and the woman stepping back with her right. On the 7th beat, the couple changes direction, with the man rocking back onto his right foot and the woman rocking forward onto her left foot. They then go right into the basic step pattern which is maintained through the rest of the song: the man’s left foot goes back and the woman’s right foot goes forward on the 1st beat of the measure, and the pattern continues as described above in detail. Although this is technically the proper way to start, most New York dancers simply begin on the 1st beat of the measure as described above, sometimes not even setting up the partner position first.

Update (May 30th, 2008):
I have posted a new video that explains How to Dance On2, men’s and women’s basic step.

15 People have left comments on this post



» Camila said: { Mar 30, 2007 - 08:03:01 }

Wow..If I did not already know how to dance on2, this article would certainly be a great starting point.
Nice diagrams:)

» Stephanie said: { Apr 5, 2007 - 08:04:50 }

Thanks! This is perfect…I’m Colombian and adore my salsa and have been dancing it all my life. My husband is Puerto Rican, is a salsa fanatic and plays the bongos…but doesn’t dance salsa! Isn’t that weird?? lol…well I taught him the basics and he’s getting pretty good but this will help. See you tonight at HUEPA!!

» Ken said: { Apr 15, 2007 - 01:04:21 }

Dany,

I have this book called “Technique of Mambo-Salsa”, by Valdemaro Santi, that describes the traditional forms of Mambo as follows:

“1) music with relatively slow tempi and with strong accents on the beats _2_ and _4_ or _2_ and _4 and_; the basic movement starts on beat 2.

2) music with moderate tempi and recognisable accents on the beats like above; the basic movements (sic) starts on beat 2 or if one chooses on beat 1 (simpler).”

The basic footwork for what he calls the Single Mambo is the same as what you presented, except that the steps for beats 1 and 5 come early, on beats 8 and 4 respectively. The basic footwork for what he calls the Triple Mambo adds steps on “and 1″ and “and 5″, which makes it recognizable to anyone who knows it as the Cha-Cha-Cha. In fact, he says “[g]enerally the Single Mambo pattern suit for (sic) Son-Bolero and Mambo-
Bolero music; the Triple Mambo for Cha-cha-cha and the Double Mambo for Salsa”. (The original book was in German and the translation is a little rough.)

What it boils down to is that what Santi calls the traditional (Single) Mambo timing is the Cha-Cha-Cha without the last 2 “Cha”s, while the New York style timing is the Cha-Cha-Cha without the first two “Cha”s. What’s notable is that both styles break on the 2, as does Cha-Cha-Cha itself. (In fact, I thought I heard somewhere that Cha-Cha-Cha was a dumbed down version of Mambo for the NorteAmericanos.)

Regards,

Ken

» Steve said: { May 21, 2007 - 08:05:39 }

Using google to search for the old “Ritz” in Edison, I found your scarlet mambo website. I am a little confused about the status of the place in Edison, particularly what, if anything, is happening there on Saturday night. Any info about the current schedule or where I can find it would be appreciated. Are there any other places in the vicinity?

Thanks

Steve

P.S. Being both a dancer and a musician I was intrigued by your explanation of on two, etc. Wearing my musician’s hat, I would quibble with your assertion that a measure has 8 beats. A measure has four. True, the rhythmic pattern, the clave, is two measures or 8 beats. When I dance, I sense the clave musically, though I still mentally count to four. In terms of my counting, I break on two with either my right or left foot. Do you religiously break on two with your left foot and your right foot on six? If I do, and perhaps I do, I am not conscious of
it. It doesn’t seem to hurt me. Are there situations in dance (e.g., hesitations) that might cause you to break with your right on two? Or would that be a no-no for you?

In any case, it’s easier reconciling dance and music in salsa/mambo than in hustle, where the dancer counts to 3 (or 6, depending on your instructor) and the music has four beats per measure. It takes 3 measures for the musical 1 and the dancing one to coincide. I am one of those who count to 6, which I rationalize in terms of the strong musical beats being correlated with dancer’s even numbers (2,4,6), a relationship that is obliterated by the 3 count.

» Dany J said: { May 21, 2007 - 09:05:45 }

Hey Steve, I will answer your questions in separate parts.
1. The Ritz is still open, but now it’s called “NV”. We taught there weeks ago, but not anymore. They have Latin nights there on Saturday. I usually frequent Nova Terra on Thursday, Fridays or Saturdays (New Brunswick) and various socials in New York.

2. I have addressed the musicality of the 8-beat salsa measure on this post: Musicality of Salsa: Why an 8-beat measure?

3. Dance. So finally, after talking so much about the music, we get to talk about the dance.

Let me make clear that the step diagrams above refer to the “Salsa On2 Style” (aka New York Salsa Style, Eddie Torres Style, Mambo, New York Mambo, etc). This is the style that is taking over the world at Salsa Congresses! On 1 is very popular still but On 2 is becoming the style of choice for many dancers around the globe.

My diagrams are different to the Ballroom Mambo style which is danced on the 2 3 4, 6 7 8.

In the Salsa On2 Style (New Mambo), when dancing with a partner it is understood that gentlemen break on the 6 (with the left foot forward), so inversely women break on the 2nd salsa beat (with the left foot forward).

Technically, men should start the dance on the 6th salsa beat by breaking forward with the left foot, and then continue dancing as shown in the diagrams above. In reality, it has become accepted for men to start dancing on the 1st salsa beat with the left foot stepping back, then on the 2nd salsa beat breaking backwards with the right foot.

In short: In the New York Salsa On2 Style (Mambo), by convention (and definition of the step) Men go forward on the 6th, NOT the 2nd salsa beat.

I don’t know why this is, since virtually in any other dance men start by going forward on the 1st or 2nd beat.

The only time it becomes acceptable for men to go forward on the 2nd salsa beat is when they learn shines and footwork. In a typical salsa class, there are women and men together so everyone learns the material by going forward on the 2nd salsa beat. Men then must invert the shines when they dance with a partner on the dance floor because we must break forward on the 6th by convention. In the end, women or men would have to invert their count when dancing with a partner, so I guess it falls on the guy to do the head-scratching when trying a new shine.

4. Hustle. I had always been confused by the Hustle when I saw people dancing. You just cleared it up for me. Thanks. In the past, I had noticed how the steps and the music only agreed in timing every 3rd measure. I drove me crazy trying to figure out the basic step. It didn’t make sense to put a 3-beat basic to a 4-beat measure. I guess it does!

» Steve said: { May 21, 2007 - 09:05:35 }

I think the numbers of the steps in your figures should be corrected changing 1 to 8 and 5 to 4, since they come “early.” I think I misinterpreted that your one as a prep step, analogous to the prep step frequently used in “Triple Mambo.” His distinction between Double Mambo/Salsa and Single Mambo, however, is beyond me. Does Double refer to the fact that some dancers tap or kick on one of the beats without weight transfer in salsa (this is on 4 for those breaking on 1, which some understand to be the rhythmic differentiator between salsa and mambo).

» Dany J said: { May 21, 2007 - 09:05:23 }

I am guessing that you have experience dancing the Ballroom Mambo style, which is danced on the 2 3 4, 6 7 and 8th beats. So you would be correct on your correction to change the 1 to 8 and 5 to 4 on the diagrams.

I think this will clear up any confusion. The ballroom Mambo style is different from the New York “Eddie Torres” Salsa On 2 Style also known as Mambo.

To clarify: the diagrams above refer to the style known as:
New York Style Salsa
New York Style Mambo
Eddie Torres Salsa Style
Salsa On 2 Style
Mambo Style
Mambo On 2

Eddie Torres has been teaching this salsa style since the late 70′s I think. I don’t know if he invented it or if he formalized this style. I have to do more research on the origins of this style. You can find more information on this style at http://www.salsanewyork.com. For a demo video of the New York Style Mambo, you can see our performance video, or you can see a video of Eddie Torres explaining the basic steps of the Ney York Salsa On2 Style.

I found a webpage which contains more information about the Ballroom Mambo style along with a video demo.

I have to do more research on Ken’s material about the double and triple mambo. My guess is that those styles refer to the evolution of mambo and cha cha. The triple mambo is the cha cha, I think. The double mambo is the ballroom mambo I think. And the single mambo… well who knows. But I will find out.

» Philip said: { Jun 6, 2007 - 10:06:56 }

All this technical stuff leaves me totally cold. The important issues from the man’s point of view are:
- to be able to step to the rhythm of the music
- to be able to lead the lady confidently & accurately
- to have fun
From the lady’s point of view the important things are:
- to be able to follow the man’s lead
- to have fun

All the rest is just mambo jumbo!

Philip

» Daniel said: { Aug 1, 2007 - 01:08:58 }

Hi,

I have just started on2 classes and i have a question about the beat. Is it accurate to say that in On1 u dance on the melody but in on2 u dance according to the beat? the Clave of the Thumba?

» Dany - ScarletMambo said: { Aug 2, 2007 - 05:08:01 }

Daniel,

No, it’s not accurate to say that on1 you dance to the melody, and on2 you dance to the beat (clave and tumabo).

Your statement stems from the fact that on1 dancers tend to listen to the melody to find the 1st beat of the measure, but you can listen to any instrument to find the 1st beat.

Also, On2 dancers seem to pride themselves in dancing to the clave, but this fact is also technically incorrect.

Let me explains.

The clave hits on the following beats.
Clave: 1, 2&, 4, 6, 7.

The tumbao hits on the following beats.
8, 8&, 2… 4, 4&, 6.

On1 dancers dance on the 1,2,3, 5,6,7
On2 dancers dance on the 1,2,3, 5,6,7

This means that both, on1 and on2 dancers, hit the same numbers of counts on the clave and the tumbao.

The difference between the two styles is the breaking step (left foot forward).

» Lene-Catrin said: { Nov 27, 2007 - 12:11:33 }

Hi!

I ended up on this page because Im looking for where to find the 1, the 2 and so on in the music- as you explain above with the clave and the tumbao. What about the songs where this is not very clear/easy to hear? Do you have a link or short comment on how I can excplain my norwegian-very-unfamiliar-to-salsa-rythms-students how to find the 1?

(Well, I prefair dancing on 2 but in this tiny isle of Lofoten where we are trying to start a salsaclub we just had to choose a style, and it became LA…)

Catrin

» Dany J said: { Nov 29, 2007 - 02:11:11 }

Lene,

you have asked a very important question. “How to find the 1-beat on salsa?”

It’s not an easy answer because there are different ways to hearing it and everyone has his/her own way of feeling it. And you are right, for some songs it is more difficult to find it. For the harder songs, you will have to develop your ear in order to hear the beat to all songs. You can practice this everywhere, while driving or walking to work, etc.

I don’t want to go into very in-depth answer about the tumbao and music theory about how to find the 1-beat, because it probably will confuse you.

Instead, listen to the following clip, it’s very easy to find the 1-beat in this song.

Buenavista Social Club- Candela

Also, take a look above at the post because I have added a video demonstrating the basic step On2, it has some counting that will help you find the 1-beat.

Dany J

» MARIA said: { Dec 11, 2008 - 04:12:41 }

GREAT SITE!!! love it! thanks!!!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Maria

» Aaron said: { Sep 6, 2011 - 03:09:19 }

Thanks for the great explanation.

I have a question about the timing of the 1 in ON 2 style.

A teacher recently told me that after the first one step, the following steps are a little rushed so actually land on the syncopated 8-AND and 4-AND. So the steps would be 8-AND, 2, 3, pause, 4-AND, 5, 6 pause.

Is something you have heard of before?

Thanks!



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