The Basics of Salsa Timing

Salsa music and salsa timing traditionally utilizes a 4/4 time signature. Musicians often play in groups of eight beats (two measures of four quarter notes). In salsa dancing the dancer uses two measures of the music to complete one cycle in their basic dance. One measure is for the left side and the other is for the right side of the body.

The way we count is 1, 2, 3…..5, 6, 7….. The 4 and 8 are used to gradually transfer the weight from one leg to the other. We also call this pattern quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow.

While percussion instruments layer several different rhythmic patterns simultaneously, the clave rhythm is the foundation of salsa; all salsa music and dance is governed by the clave rhythm. The most common clave rhythm in salsa is the so-called son clave, which is eight beats long and can be played either in 2-3 or 3-2 style.

Salsa timing: The 2-3 Clave

Salsa timing: The 3-2 clave


The way the dance steps fit into the music is called the "step timing" or "timing". The timing of the dancer's steps to the music is very important. Not only in order for the dance to fit into the music, but also for the dancing couple to understand each other and dance synchronized. There are numerous timings popular in salsa today. Salsa can be danced in various styles by accenting different beats in the music.

For more information on different salsa dance styles , check out our page on Salsa Styles .

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Traditionally in salsa dancing the man leads the woman. This makes the woman the follower. Together the man and woman are known as dance partners. The man guides the woman by giving her different impulses. Man mostly lead with the arms. This is why it is important to always have a light tension in the arms. If there is no tension in the arms, the leader can not give an impulse to the follower. The impulses can also be describes as checks given at the right time to let the follower know when to turn, cross-body or perform any other salsa move.

For more information on salsa instructions visit check out our information on how to learn salsa dancing.

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