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Why Are You Dancing On That Time? (Salsa Timing Conventions)

After posting a video about all the different salsa timings that exist (on1, on2, on3 and on4), a bunch of people reached out asking…

“Hey Robin, when you’re demonstrating this why are you breaking forward on that count?”

I get these questions all the time. So here’s the answer…

Salsa Timing Conventions

The first thing you need to know are timing conventions differ around the world and there’s no right or wrong. There’s only what someone is used to.

The conventions can differ if you’re dancing with a partner or not so let’s start with a partner.

These are by far the most common conventions you’ll find…

Salsa Timing Conventions With a Partner

Dancing On1 with a partner

  • The lead breaks forward on1
  • The follow breaks back on1

I’ve never heard of dancing on1 being taught any other way. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find people dancing that way, especially latinos who grew up in the culture, but never took classes.

Also, if the music has a timing switch and the lead starts breaking forward on 5 instead of 1, that’s not wrong. No big deal. As long as you’re still breaking on the 1 and 5, you’re on time.

This happens when musicians change where the 1 and 5 are. If this happens and you want to get back on the 1, because you feel strange, here’s a video about timing switches in salsa music and getting back “on beat”.

It’s important to know that breaking forward on 5 as a lead isn’t wrong. It’s just most common do to so on 1 (if you’ve taken salsa classes).

Dancing On2 with a partner

The New York style:

  • Lead’s break back on 2, inviting the follow to step forward to start the dance
  • Follow’s break forward on 2

In some other places in the world you can find the opposite:

  • Lead’s break forward on2
  • Follow’s break back on2

In Puerto Rico you can find people who dance both ways. It all depends where someone learned.

Dancing On3 or On4 with a partner

These timings typically aren’t taught, but are possible, so i’m not aware of any conventions. I explain more about dancing On3 and On4 in this video.


 Timing Conventions for Shines (Dancing Solo)

During a social dance…

When you let go of your partner to dance freely, anything goes.

There are no rules.

Dance on any beat you like, change timing, it doesn’t matter.

As a lead, when you’re going to re-collect your partner, you’ll want to go back to the timing you were previously using when dancing together.

Dancing On1 in salsa classes

  • Leads and follows break forward on1 (the lead’s timing in most places)

I’ve never heard of people breaking forward on5 to do shines in classes, but it’s not to say it isn’t possible somewhere.

That said, you may find it in ladies styling classes as they’re likely focusing on doing shines on the follow’s count (breaking back on 1, forward on 5)

If you’re interested in learning salsa ladies styling, check out our program here.

Dancing On2 in salsa classes

This may vary based on where you live, but it’s the most common convention around the world, including salsa congresses:

  • Leads and follows break forward on2 (follow’s timing from New York)

This is where a lot of confusion comes in, especially for leads who have danced on1 and are used to breaking forward on the lead’s timing in class.

All of a sudden when they start dancing on2, or they see a video of me dancing solo on2 I’m breaking forward on2 because the convention when doing shines in a class is for lead’s to break forward on 2, using the follow’s timing.


Key Takeaways

Hope that clears up some confusion!