A Dancer’s Guide to Salsa Romántica: Origin, Influence, Style

Couple dance salsa romántica at a party
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You’ve fallen in love with salsa—the music genre and dance style both—but do you know about its subgenres?

If you’re a new dancer, chances are you’ve been listening to salsa romántica, also known as salsa rosa or “pink salsa”. It’s a softer, lighter form of salsa that still allows you to dance your heart out. And while it’s undeniably salsa, it’s characterised by its Latin pop influences. It has also earned its place as the most commercially successful form of salsa music today, although it’s not without its detractors.

What’s the history of salsa romántica? What sets it apart from salsa clásica? And what does all this mean for you and your dancing? So many questions, but lucky for you, the answers are just a scroll away.

Salsa Romántica 101: What Does It Sound Like?

Salsa romántica is easy to recognise once you know its key traits. Look for a softened orchestra, slower tempo and less musical improvisation. If a salsa song has these three boxes checked, chances are it’s salsa romántica.

Take note of the lyrics, too. As the percussion became more toned-down, the vocals took centre-stage. And they also had a different message. Salsa music, especially traditional salsa, often contains social commentary. Yet when salsa romántica emerged in the’80s, it became known for its lovey-dovey lines.

Couple dance salsa romántica at a party

Credit: Alex Goncharov / Shutterstock.com

The Emergence of Salsa Romántica

When salsa romántica first appeared in the 1980s, pop and rock music dominated the charts. Every time you turned on the radio, the week’s newest and catchiest song from the likes of Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Gloria Estefan and Daniela Romo would blast through your speakers. Add to that the increasing popularity of merengue in the US, as immigration from the Dominican Republic increased, and traditional salsa was falling further and further down the charts.

Fania Records, a company that had popularised salsa around the world, was struggling. It had published some of the biggest names in salsa and transformed the Latin dance and music scene, but it wasn’t able to compete with these popular genres.

Yet despite the grim outlook, salsa didn’t disappear. It evolved.

Shortened, radio-friendly songs of three to five minutes emerged, incorporating many features from popular music that would hook the non-salseros. Hello, salsa romántica.

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This new type of salsa not only snagged a spot or two in the charts, but caught on in night clubs. Salser@s and non-salser@s alike were dancing their nights away to the slow beats of this salsa subgenre. The public’s preference for salsa romántica led to more and more bands opting for this lighter, slower style throughout the ’90s. A countermovement of classic salsa lived on, rebranding itself as salsa dura (hard salsa) or sometimes salsa gorda or salsa brava—but salsa romántica has dominated the charts ever since.

The Bands and Singers Producing Salsa Romántica

One of the earliest salsa romántica artists was Frankie Ruiz. In 1985, he left his orchestra band and went solo. While unfortunate for his former mates, it worked out well for Ruiz. His first-ever solo album, “Solista….. pero no Solo” became a huge hit as soon as it was released.

Soon after Frankie Ruiz went solo, Gilberto Santa Rosa followed in his footsteps. Not only did he leave his orchestra band, but he started delivering salsa romántica hits after hits.

Marc Anthony is arguably the most famous name in salsa romántica. His first Spanish-language album, Otra Nota, sent waves around the salsa world when it was released in 1993, and he continues to release new albums today.

There are far more romántica artists than just these few salsa giants, however. Luis Enrique, La India, Eddy Santiago, Tito Nieves, Victor Manuelle… they are all famous for their salsa romántica. Many artists will release both salsa dura and romántica. And then there are songs that salsa enthusiasts will spend hours debating whether it’s truly a salsa romántica.

How Has Salsa Romántica Changed Salsa?

Salsa romántica made salsa popular in a time when it was fading out of fashion, and it continues to outperform salsa dura in the charts. It gets beginners and experienced dancers alike onto the floor. And for many of us, it will have been the first style of salsa we listened or danced to—even if we didn’t know it at the time.

Yet even though salsa romántica has become even more popular than classic salsa, that doesn’t mean everyone’s a fan. Some salsa enthusiasts criticise it, calling it a limp version of salsa that lacks the spice and flavour of salsa dura. They complain of a “mundane” song composition and “lack” of musical creativity, along with the lighter lyrics—less politics and working-class identity, more love and partying.

There’s no denying that some traditional elements of salsa music take a backseat in salsa romántica. As Sheenagh Pietrobruno says in Salsa And Its Transational Moves, in the ’80s and ’90s, “Salsa became a pop-influenced, whitened Hispanic Caribbean music, its African-Caribbean side rendered virtually invisible”.

Meanwhile, Juliet McMains in Spinning Mambo Into Salsa questions if the emergence of salsa romántica led to the reduced demand for live salsa bands—whose improvised solos weren’t wanted by dancers—in the ’90s.

Yet this isn’t to say salsa romántica’s development was a bad thing. It came out of the musical influences of the era, merging traditional Latin rhythms and sounds with the type of music that younger generations were listening to. Today, salsa romántica songs are produced by Latin artists and danced to by Latinxs, as well as by other people around the world. And many salsa dancers, even those with a taste for salsa dura, are fond of salsa romántica.

There’s plenty of room in the salsa scene for all styles, and salsa romántica has lots to offer.

Two women dance salsa romántica together

Credit: Alex Goncharov / Shutterstock.com

From Dura to Romantica: Adapting Your Salsa Dancing

Salsa dura is the opposite to opposite of salsa romántica in ways more than one. There’s an emphasis on the instrumental part, with extra brass and solos. More often than not, this salsa style includes a descarga (discharge), a section in the song where musicians let loose with an improvised jazz section. Because of all that, salsa dura is danced as dynamically as its music. Dancers have the opportunity to be creative with their shines during the descarga.

How does one go from high-energy salsa dura to the softer salsa romántica? First, take it down a notch or two. Connect with your partner and the music, enjoy the melody and the lyrics, and embrace the slower nature of a romántica song. 

And remember, there’s no golden rule to how you should dance to a song. Adapt to the music, your partner, how you feel—and have fun.

Feature photo credit: Alex Goncharov / Shutterstock.com

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Usually tucked away in a cafe anywhere she goes, Azra Syakirah is a fashion designer and entrepreneur living in Tokyo, Japan. Born and bred in Singapore, her heart belongs to the world. In her spare time, she loves letting loose by dancing bachata. Also a language enthusiast, she virtually scribbles her thoughts on a blog as well as freelances as a writer. Follow her adventures on Instagram or check her website for all things creative.