However, what people unfamiliar with salsa don't realize is that there are many different types of salsa dancing. As salsa dancing has spread around the world, different cultures have created their own versions of salsa, with the main similarity being that they are all danced to the same music.
If you take lessons or go out dancing here in the Bay Area, or anywhere else in the world, you are sure to encounter a few of the different types of salsa. Here is an overview of the different styles of salsa dancing:
1) LA Style Salsa
LA-style salsa is a style of salsa developed by the Vazquez brothers in Los Angeles, California. The style of salsa is danced 'On1', where the break steps are taken on the '1' and '5' beats of the music. LA-style salsa is known for the flashy moves and dramatic movements executed by the guys. It's an exciting and showy form of salsa that's popular in LA and around the world.
LA-style salsa is the most common form of salsa dancing you will find if you go out dancing almost anywhere in the Bay Area, outside of San Francisco.
2) New York Style Salsa
Another common type of salsa you will find in the Bay Area is New York style salsa, also known as 'Mambo'. Like its name suggests, NY-style salsa was first developed in New York, and unlike LA-style salsa, New York-style mambo is danced 'On2', with the break steps happening on the '2' and '6' counts of the music. Mambo is known for its very relaxed and elegant style, and was popularized by Eddie Torres, the "Mambo King".
New York style, On2 salsa is very popular in San Francisco, where many of the best New York style salsa instructors make their home, including Luis Aguilar, a two-time World Champion in On2 salsa.
3) Cuban Salsa
Another popular form of salsa is Cuban salsa. Cuba is considered by many to be the birthplace of salsa, and the form of salsa that is danced there is unique from other salsa styles in many ways. Instead of being danced in a line or 'slot' like LA or New York salsa, Cuban salsa is danced in a circular motion. Cuban salsa also often has a more urban, 'street' flavor compared to dancing in other countries which have been more influenced by ballet, jazz, and ballroom dancing.
Cuban-style salsa lessons can primarily be found in San Francisco and the East Bay, as well as a few places in Santa Cruz. There is also a big Cuban salsa festival held in San Francisco every year.
4) Salsa Rueda
Salsa Rueda (also known as "casino de rueda") is another form of salsa that has its origins in Cuba. The unique thing about rueda is that unlike other forms of salsa dancing, which is danced by couples, salsa rueda is danced by a large group of dancers who all dance together in a circle. One leader calls out moves to do, and everyone in the circle executes the move at the same time. It's a much more communal form of salsa that requires teamwork and promotes group bonding.
Salsa rueda lessons are few and far between in the Bay Area, but can be found in many of the same dance schools that teach regular Cuban-style salsa.
5) Colombian Salsa
Colombian-style salsa, also known as Cali-style salsa, is a form of salsa that developed in Cali, Colombia. Colombian salsa has its origins in traditional Colombian cumbia as well as swing dancing, and is known throughout the world for its incredibly fast footwork and exciting tricks. Colombian salsa is all about speed and precision, and Colombian dancers often dance to salsa music that has been sped up to a rapid pace.
Colombian salsa is danced almost exclusively in Colombia, although occasionally you can find Colombian salsa instructors teaching workshops in the Bay Area, or performing at the San Francisco Salsa Congress. Outside of those rare occasions, the only way to learn Colombian-style salsa is by visiting Colombia or through online sources such as ColombianSalsa.net.
The above are the different styles of salsa dancing you can expect to find in the Bay Area. Hopefully that will clear up any confusion for anyone who is looking to get into the dance, but is unfamiliar with the different options that are out there.
For even more information about the different salsa styles in the Bay Area, see this guide from Salsa By The Bay.