What kind of salsa do you dance? – Intro to North American Salsa Styles

Just like salsa music has many distinct styles, salsa dancing can also vary in style from place to place and dancer to dancer. In this blog series, we will go over the different styles of salsa around the world; let’s start with the North American styles, since they are closest to the way we dance in the Ottawa region.

New York Style Salsa
New York style salsa was created in the 1960s, around the same time salsa music started to become popular in the United States. It is also here that we truly begin to differentiate between North American and Latin American dance styles; North American salsa, due to its ballroom influences, is danced in a line (linear), while the salsa styles of central and South America (such as Cuban style, Rueda, etc) are danced in a circular pattern. New York style salsa emphasizes on shines, harmony with the music, and connection between partners. New York style salsa is also danced “on 2”.

Below are a few scenes from an improvisational contest (also known as “Jack and Jill”) showcasing New York style salsa at Club Picasso Italy.

L.A. Style Salsa
It is presumed that L.A. style salsa was developed either at the same time as New York, or shortly afterwards. Like New York style, L.A. style is also danced in a linear pattern, but there are two key differences that make L.A. style salsa special; first, L.A. style is all about theatricality and bold, dramatic styling – lifts, tricks and even stunts and aerial acrobatics are often used (things that you’re likely to associate more with the performance side of salsa than the social dance side). Secondly, L.A. style is danced “on 1”, where the lead takes his left foot forward on beat 1, and at the same time the follower takes her right foot back.

As an example, here is a video from the 2011 World Latin Dance Cup semi-finals with Alfonso Caldera (one of Jeff’s old teachers) and Jessica Shatzko. This is a good example of the L.A. style flare. Notice the very exaggerated styling, and numerous kicks and acrobatics!

So what in the world am I dancing?!
At Azúcar! Latin Dance Company, we teach our students the most common style of salsa danced in Ottawa: New York style, On 1. This is also the most common style in many other places I’ve danced at: Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec. This style has also become the norm in many other places across the world.

We are also hoping to offer a salsa on 2 workshop in the near future, as well as special workshops from guest instructors for many other salsa styles, including Cuban, L.A., and more!

Next week, we’ll talk about the different Latin American salsa styles. In the meantime, if there’s an aspect of salsa music, culture or history that you’re curious about, leave a comment below!


In your Shoe bag – Dance shoe accessories

This is Part 4 of our Ultimate Dance Shoe Buying Guide. Check out Part 1 (ladies’ shoes)Part 2 (men’s shoes) and Part 3 (shoe-shopping checklist) as well.

Once you have your dance shoes, you might also want to invest in a few accessories to help carry and care for your new purchase. Below are some of the accessories you’ll find in most stores, and our recommendations.

First off, there are two accessories that I believe all dancers should have:

  1. Shoe bag. Ballo shoes and most ballroom shoes come with their own bags, and some brands include better quality bags than others. The bags we’d love to get with our shoes would be sturdy, dirt-resistant, and machine washable. They’d have individual shoe compartments and a separate pocket for a shoe brush, and would last for the life of the shoe. Unfortunately, most bags you get with shoes are simple thin cloth numbers with barely enough thread to hold them together, so you might want to get a better-quality shoe bag.
  2. Suede brush. This is a wire brush that you use on the sole of your suede-soled dance shoes. As you dance, dust and dirt gets stuck in the nap of the suede, and the pressure we put on the sole flattens the nap, making the soles very slippery. Brushing your soles removes dust and dirt from them, and fluffs up the nap to give the shoes a bit more traction.
    Note: if your shoes do not have suede soles, don’t brush them. Just saying.

Other accessories are optional, and purely based on personal preference. Here are a few of the most common ones:

For the guys:

  1. Shoe trees. Some dancers swear by them – they help shoes keep their shape when they are stored. Others consider this more trouble than it’s worth. It comes down to personal preference – if you have an expensive pair of shoes that you want to protect, then trees might be a good idea. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth the effort of putting them in every time you take your shoes off.
  2. Shoe care kit. Whether you have leather ballroom shoes or athletic-looking Ballos, you need to keep them looking their best. This includes cleaning them (with soap and water, a specific cleaning solution, or a cloth and some hand cream, depending on what your shoes are made of), conditioning them and protecting them from the elements. Make sure you know what your shoes are made of, and build your own care kit accordingly.

For the ladies:

  1. Heel protectors. These are little plastic cups that fit over the tip of your shoe’s heel. They come in different sizes, for pointy heels and flared heels , and protect your heel tips from wear. I swear by them – my heel tips always wear unevenly and need replacing every few months. You can get a set of heel protectors for under $5, they will last you for years, and they save you spending 4 times as much having your shoes re-heeled. I would use these on all my regular shoes too, if I could.
  2. Shoe straps. If the shoe style you love isn’t as secure as you’d like, you can buy straps that either attach to the shoe, or just slip over the shoe and around the top of your foot. You can get clear straps, you can get them in the most popular dance shoe colours, and some come with rhinestones so you can use them to change up the look of your shoes. My personal opinion? If you need/want them to keep your shoes from flying across the room, by all means. Otherwise, I prefer my footwear to be as light as possible, so I’d skip them.

Shoe cushions, shoe embellishments, special cleaning products, anti-slip products etc. Dance shoe manufacturers are always coming out with new accessories to address specific problems or needs; you often see products such as cushions to relieve foot pain and tighten the heel cup for more stability, rhinestone-embellished clips and buckles to add more sparkle to shoes, and a variety of other products. None of these are must-haves, but knowing what’s available is useful, should you ever need these products, so have a browse!

Azúcar! News – Week of October 29, 2012

Monday is news day on the Azúcar! Blog. Here are your latest school updates and news from around the Ottawa salsa scene.

Last Saturday, Salsaria held a special Halloween salsa social. Check out Salsaria’s Facebook page to see some great photos from the event. Some of us were there, dressed to impress!

FREE beginner trial class and social this Saturday!
Still debating whether to try salsa? Have a friend who’s interested? This Saturday, we’re holding one completely free merengue and salsa intro class for absolute beginners, in our Azúcar Studio (111A Rideau Street), from 7 to 8pm.

Afterwards, we’re heading to Discoteka around 10pm to practice our new dance steps and give everyone a taste of what social dancing is all about!

For more details, check out our Facebook event page.

New Intro to Salsa A & B sessions starting on November 7th
If you missed our September session, or if you know someone who’s interested but hasn’t had a chance to explore salsa yet, this is the time to let us know! Our new 7-week Intro to Salsa A session will take place Wednesdays (6pm to 7pm) and Saturdays (10am to 11am), in our Azúcar! Studio, starting November 7th. Price: $80 for 7 weeks; you can choose to come to one or both weekly classes!

If you know a few basic moves already (basic steps, right and left turns, cross-body lead and inside travelling turn at a minimum), you can sign up for our 7-week Intro to Salsa B class, which also start on November 7th. Class times are Wednesday from 7 to 8pm and Saturday from 11am until noon. Price: $80 for 7 weeks; you can choose to come to one or both weekly classes!

Special promotion: register for any 7-week Intro class between now and November 3rd and receive a $10 discount!

Quick Tip: How to use a suede brush

This week’s Quick Tip looks at how to properly brush your suede soles to get the best results and prolong the life of your shoes:

  1. Before you put on your shoes at the start of the night, check your soles to see if they need to be brushed.
  2. Use the side of the bristles (or of the brush) to scrape any loose dirt and dust off the soles.
  3. Make sure to keep your hands out of the way of the brush. Brush cuts are not fun.
  4. Brush the sole from the toe of the shoe towards the heel. Brushing your shoes in the same direction each time tends to make the nap (fuzzy part of the suede) last longer.
  5. Brush the sole so that you get an even nap across the entire surface. Try to avoid leaving slippery spots, or over-brushing one area.

Get to know your teachers – Send us your questions!

If you’ve been reading this blog diligently, you might have got to know 4 of your teachers a little better over the past month. Jeff, Ana, Ali and Darnell have all posted their profiles on here, and there are more to come!

Today we’re taking a short break from that to announce the next feature of our blog, which will be coming soon. It’s called Teacher Polls, and will give you even more opportunities to get to know the salsa-obsessed people who make you count weirdly every week.

How does it work?
Every week, we send our teachers a question; they answer it, from their own perspective and experience, and we collate the answers and put them up here for all of you to enjoy.

Submit a question!
If there’s any burning question on which you’d like our teachers’ opinion, from their favourite type of dance shoes to their most embarrassing moment on stage, leave it in a comment below or email it to us at info@azucarottawa.com.

Artist of the month – El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

Taking a break from the Intro to salsa series, today I will present to you to one of my favorite classic salsa bands – El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico!

Salsa style: Mostly salsa clasica and salsa dura
Years active: 1962 to present
Nickname: The University of Salsa

El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico (or El Gran Combo for short), is a salsa orchestra based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is considered to be the most popular salsa group to have existed, and is definitely one of the most successful.

The members of the band have changed numerous times over the years, and due to the number of well-known salsa musicians and musical groups the band has nurtured and developed, the band is also fondly nicknamed La Universidad de la Salsa (The University of Salsa). Some of the well-known musicians include Andy Montañez, Hector Santos, Elias Lopes, Jerry Rivas, and many more!

On November 11th, 2012, El Gran Combo will be celebrating its 50th anniversary, and will hold a grand world tour that will take the band to five continents. (No news of the tour coming to Ottawa yet, but here’s hoping!)

Here is a good selection of their more well-known works:

Acángana (1982)
One of the classics! The album by the same name became the number one hit in New York, Puerto Rico, and Panama!

¡Ámame! (1989)
El Gran Combo’s take on salsa romantica.

Sin Salsa No Hay Paraiso (2010)
A song from the latest album, still going strong!

As Halloween is approaching, I would like to end this article with one of my favorite songs from El Gran Combo – La Muerte (Death). The song is based on quite a morbid (pun not intentional… initially) subject, and is sung from the perspective of Death personified. The song talks about the inevitability of dying, and describes the people who are fleeing from it. While this is quite an unusual topic to sing about, it is a pretty straight concept – Death is scary, but it fascinates us.

El Gran Combo took this idea and ran with it. They brought Death to life (I need to stop with the puns) with their music; they made it dark and mysterious, yet pulsing with energy and excitement. The song humbly begins with a single repeating piano melody paired with subdued percussion rhythm in the background. Suddenly, the brass comes in, creating a stinging contrast to the ongoing melody. This is then propped by the wall of bass at the bottom, rounding out the entire ensemble; and before you know it, the song is coming in full swing, so start the vocals:


Ohhhh the goosebumps. I’ve heard this song many times for years and I still get them. Instead of creating something downright disturbing, El Gran Combo crafted a masterpiece of campy salsa music. The entire piece, from its teasing intro, to the catchy chorus, the instrumental solo, and even the back and forth between the main singer and the backup, is nothing short of perfection. Think Tim Burton, but with a serious Latin twist.

Is there an artist or the band you’re curious about? Let us know in the comments and you might see them featured here next month!

If the Shoe fits – A checklist

This is Part 3 of our Ultimate Dance Shoe Buying Guide. Check out Part 1 (ladies’ shoes) and Part 2 (men’s shoes) as well.

Once you decide to invest in a pair of dance shoes, it’s time to hit the stores in search of your perfect pair. To help you in your search, below is a checklist to make sure you walk out with shoes that will make you want to dance.

  1. Shop for shoes in the afternoon. Our feet and ankles tend to swell throughout the day, as they carry us around, so they will be “smaller” in the morning and “bigger” in the afternoon and evening. Shopping in the afternoon guarantees that your shoes won’t stop fitting right when your feet swell as you dance.
  2. Bring the socks you would wear with your dance shoes. For men, this usually means thinner dress socks rather than sports socks. For ladies, this can mean nothing, trouser socks, fishnets or whatever you prefer. If you normally wear orthotics or other insoles in your shoes, bring those too.
  3. If it’s your first time shopping, try more styles rather than fewer, to get a feel for how they fit and how they perform.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask if a style comes in different a different colour, different material, or different heel height. This also applies to men’s styles.
  5. If your normal size doesn’t seem to fit perfectly, try a size above or below, and ask if they carry half-sizes. Some dancers prefer buying their shoes a half-size smaller, to allow for the shoe to stretch without becoming loose. This is purely personal preference, but be aware that leather will stretch by almost a half-size; fabric will stretch too, but the extent varies.
  6. Fit the length of your foot first – your toes should reach the tip of your shoes (there should not be a gap in front of your toes) without feeling cramped (for closed toe styles) or spilling out (for open toe styles). Then, if you have narrow or wide feet, ask if they have narrow or wide styles – or adjustable styles.
  7. Walk, jump and dance in every pair you try.All dance stores have a section of wood or laminate floor, which is there for dancers to try their shoes in earnest. Try a few dance moves, and pay attention to how you feel in your shoes.Do they feel secure on your foot? Are they too tight or too loose? Can you shake or kick them off?
    Your shoes should feel like an extension of your feet and you should feel confident that they will stay on without hurting you.Can you walk and spin easily and confidently in them, or are you holding on to the walls for dear life?
    Ladies, let’s face reality for a moment: most of us have shoes that look amazing so long as we don’t take more than 2 steps in them. Your dance shoes should not be among these. Dance shoes are made for you to dance in, and to make you look good doing it. Shoes that impede your moves or that you’re not comfortable in are counterproductive.

    Are the heels stable? Do they wobble when you pivot and shift your heel left and right?
    Pointy heels can have a bit of a wobble, but not so much that you’ll be worried about them slipping or breaking off. Well-made dance shoes will have stable heels, even if they are pointy. Most of your dancing will be done on the ball of your foot, but you need to know that if you have to put your heel down, it will land properly, won’t slip, and will hold you up.

    A note on ballroom shoes for ladies: some discount brands that don’t have a steel shank in their shoes will feel like a glove the first time you put them on, while higher-end brand shoes may feel a bit stiffer to start with. The flip side is that shoes without a steel shank will not last as long, their soles will collapse over time, and your foot won’t be supported (leading to foot pain. We don’t like foot pain.). Good quality shoes take a bit of time to break in, but they will last you far longer and only get more comfortable with wear.

We’d love to hear YOUR shoe-fitting tips. Do you have a trick that’s saved you from buying the wrong shoes? Leave ‘em below.