You are excited to dance salsa. A new hobby beckons and you have visions of yourself spinning around the dance floor with style and passion.
Then the music starts, and you are lost in a seemingly chaotic mixture of rhythms and sounds you’re not used to hearing. Where do you start? How do you find the “one”? And is this song really as fast as it seems?
Fear not—there are plenty of beautiful salsa songs that are ideal for the beginner’s ear. Their easy rhythms and clear beats which will get you dancing confidently in no time.
Why Is Salsa Music So Challenging?
When you are learning a new dance, a clear and simple rhythm makes it easier to focus on moving your feet and getting the timing right. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple with salsa.
The word “salsa” literally means sauce. There are many different types of sauce, and a surprisingly large number of ingredients are used to make one. Salsa songs are no different: the music is a blend of many different instruments and rhythms. Each one creates a different layer which you can focus on and dance to, or you can pick out the standard 1,2,3 and 5,6,7 and dance to that.
Some songs are busy. They might not be fast, but they feel it. This means some slower songs are harder to dance to at first because of the complexity of the rhythms. Meanwhile, a faster song may have a simple, clear beat that makes it easier to follow.
Choosing the right songs as a beginner dancer will make your salsa journey far less daunting. They will give you time to focus on your footwork, your timing and your movements.
Credit: Nicole Glass Photography / Shutterstock.com
How to Find the “One” in Salsa Music
If you’re struggling to find the “one”, or the first beat, you’re not alone. This is the strongest beat, yet it can be elusive to the untrained ear. The good news is that the more salsa music you listen to, the easier it is to find.
In my experience, it normally takes between six weeks and six months to be able to hear the one. Don’t let this panic you. Your instructor will count you in and call out the one throughout your practice. On the social dance floor, watch everyone else: you’ll see the majority (if not all) of the people dancing on the same rhythm, so start by copying them. Before long, you will recognise the beat yourself and instinctively know when to start dancing.
Learning the different instruments and their rhythms will help you to understand the music. As a new salsa dancer, it helps to focus on a particular instrument to find the one. The congas are easy to hear, even if you have little or no musical knowledge. Listen for the double tap. You will hear this on the 4, 4.5, 8, and 8.5, right before the 1 and the 5.
Try listening to the congas in this video from Bon Sueno. They’re the yellow rhythm at the top:
Not sure if you’re listening to a one or five? The one is always the stronger beat, so that will help you notice the difference. It may take a little time to get it right, and even more time to be confident in your judgment, but don’t worry—you just need practice.
There’s a great app you can buy called Salsa Rhythm (Google Play, App Store). It allows you to listen to different instruments, with or without the count overlaid. This makes it invaluable for familiarising yourself with the different instruments you’ll hear in salsa music, as you can play them individually and then gradually layer them to get the full salsa experience.
The app allows you to adjust the tempo, or beats per minute, too. You can slow it down to practise new footwork or body movement, then gradually increase the speed as you repeat the moves.
As you gain confidence in finding the beat, you can then start to focus on more complex rhythms. The beauty of salsa is that you never stop learning and can always improve your dancing.
10 Salsa Songs for Beginners
Here is a list of 10 of my favourite songs for beginners. I find new dancers can relax and enjoy these tracks. They are not overly complicated, they all have a clear one, and it’s easy to pick out the main beats.
That said, these “beginner” songs are just as useful for the experienced dancer. They’ll give you the time you need to express your musicality and your individual style. Come back to them once you are more confident with your dancing, and see what you can do with them.
1. “Chan Chan”, by Buena Vista Social Club
This is the slowest of my choices. It’s a useful track for practicing your basic steps when you are first learning, as well as for more complex step patterns and moves. It has an authentic Cuban feel to it and will transport you to Havana, where the original Buena Vista Social Club was, with the first few beats.
2. “Caminando”, by La Excelencia
“Caminando” has a gentle rhythm and a lovely, traditional feel. Its clear beat makes it easy to dance to.
3. “Clocks”, by Coldplay
This is another slow tune with a great tempo for newer dancers. It has a clear beat and a rhythm which is easy for beginners. Modern remixes often lose the salsa feel and many new dancers who become accustomed to them can struggle to dance to authentic Latin tunes. Yet “Clocks”, in my opinion, is a good remix which manages to capture the salsa feel while keeping the complexity to a minimum.
4. “Havana City”, by Los Van Van
This is a traditional Cuban song with a gentle, easy rhythm.
5. “Lekela Muadi”, by Tshala Muana
“Lekela Muadi” has a beautiful melody. It starts off gentle and slow, but the tempo soon increases. Newer dancers generally find its distinctive beat easy to follow.
6. “Ay Mi María”, by Bloque 53
“Ay Mi María” is a little faster and has a more upbeat tempo. It’s a fun tune to dance to, with clear beats and an easy-to-find one.
7. “Hong Kong Mambo”, by Tito Puente
This fabulous mix of rhythms sounds busy at first, but don’t let that put you off: it has a steady, clear beat that is easy to follow. It’s a great song to experiment with once you are more confident, and it has a real feel-good vibe to it.
8. “La Llave”, by Grupo Latin Vibe
“La Llave” is a good example of a track that feels faster than it actually is. The rhythms are quite complex and layered, yet the tempo is actually a relaxed speed for dancing.
9. “Pobrecita”, by La Maxima 79
Don’t let your ears deceive you: this is another track that sounds more challenging than it is. It’s fun to dance to but has an easy-to-follow beat. As you become a more confident dancer, it also has some great breaks in it for you to play with. However, they don’t interfere with the basic rhythm, so you can safely ignore them until you’re ready.
10. “Bailando”, by Enrique Iglesias
“Bailando” is another modern remix, but it has a strong salsa beat with all the traditional rhythms.
Now you have some idea of how to find the one, and some easy songs to practise to, your salsa journey can begin smoothly. It won’t be long until you find yourself confidently dancing salsa all night long!
Feature photo credit: Ruslan Lytvyn / Shutterstock.com