The Differences between Cuban and New York LA Style Salsa

Over the holidays I had been teaching private Cuban Salsa lessons to a NYLA trained follow.  At our local Salsa dance club here in Edmonton called On The Rocks, the Cuban leads are more numerous than NYLA leads and my student was having trouble following Cuban leads.  By having to clearly delineate between the two for my student, it became clearer what the differences are and it comes down to four things:

  1. Circles – Cuban salsa dancing is about moving your follow around in circles.  For example, Setenta starts with the lead and follow trading places, and unlike NYLA, the follow ends facing perpendicular to the NYLA “line”.  From a follow’s perspective the difficulty is that the entire first eight count to Setenta means walking out a circle.  On 1,2,3, the follow turns to the right and gets into the hammer lock and on 5,6,7 the lead, pushing the follow’s hip, moves them around until they have switched positions.  In Rueda de Casino, the follow needs to walk such that they are down stream and face the lead so that the following enchuflas allow the lead to end up on the right side for Guapea.  However, in social Cuban dancing, the lead may take the follow around three-quarters of a circle or more, over multiple eight counts, before undoing the hammer lock.  That pull on the hip to start the follow walking around is what strictly NYLA dancers misinterpret as a lead to unravel the hammer lock.  Which leads me to:
    • Step out the turns – NYLA dancers love nothing better then to run through a triple spin on 5,6,7 where as Cuban dancers take it slower and with accentuated hip motion, walk out a single turn.  The typical problem beginner NYLA dancers face learning Cuban is that they turn much too fast and without knowing where the next “one” of 1,2,3 is, end up out of sync.
  2. Prep on seven – The basic NYLA prep is a downward rotation with the follow’s right hand and happens on 1,2,3 but the Cuban prep is on 7 with the follow’s hand going their left.  NYLA dancers expect to “follow the hand” and step to the left on one instead of preparing to turn on 1,2,3.  For a beginner NYLA dancer learning Cuban, that misstep means they get out of sync.
  3. The “Slot” – “Neutral Position” or “the pocket”.  This is where the follow ends up on the right side of the lead, unlike NYLA, where the follow is either in front of or behind the lead.  The “Pocket” is where Cubans start all sorts of moves, from Dile que no to Sacalas to Pasealas.  It is also the position that Cuban follows should end up when doing a vascilala, e.g. where they are prepped on seven and then turn in place as walk around to the right.
  4. Body motion – NYLA follows are about flowing arms and hands with accentuated flourishes.  Cuban follows are about continuous figure eights with the hips, two per eight count.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments below.

Although a fairly common ability, I have danced both NYLA and Cuban for years now and like them both.  What is more uncommon is that I also have training as a follow in both NYLA and Cuban.


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