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Salsa Timing: The Difference Between Salsa On 1 and On 2

There are a lot of questions and myths out there around the difference between salsa on 1 and on 2, so we’ve collected the facts here for you.

We hope this article will allow you to have more educated conversations on salsa timing, and help you decide which timing you enjoy more. It’s OK to love both!

Before we dive in, here’s some quick background…

On1 salsa timing is commonly known as LA style salsa, which was developed by the Vazquez brothers focusing on sharp hits in the music, flashy moves and acrobatics.

On2 salsa timing is commonly known as New York style salsa.  There are a few different ways to dance On2. Most notably there is the original mambo timing from the Paladium era 2-3-4, 6-7-8 (known as “contratiempo” in Spanish), as well as dancing to beats 1-2-3, 5-6-7 (known as “a tiempo” in Spanish). Dancing On2 to 1-2-3, 5-6-7 was popularized by Eddie Torres. The common denominator between all ways to dance On2 is that your break steps are on 2 and 6.

Let’s dig in and find out why these timings look and feel different.

The Difference Between On1 and On2 Salsa Timing

Since there are various ways to dance On2 but only one way to dance On1, we need to compare dancing salsa On1 to salsa On2 using the timing they share: a tiempo to beats 1-2-3, 5-6-7.

In salsa, the basic step is done to a quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow rhythm on beats 1-2-3, 5-6-7 of an 8 count. On beats 4 and 8, no additional steps are taken. That’s why counts 4 and 8 are considered the “slow” portion of salsa rhythm. This “slow” portion of the basic step is what sets On1 and On2 salsa apart.

Since On1 and On2 are different timings, they require you to step forward and back on different counts. This causes the “slow” count to land at a different place in your salsa basic, making On1 and On2 salsa feel subtly different.

Watch the video below and read on for the detailed differences between these two timings and why dancers prefer one over the other.

Tip: tap the gear icon on the video player to change the quality and speed.

Want to learn how to convert your salsa dancing from On 1 to On 2? Try the full Salsa Course free for a week and dive into the “How to Convert from On 1 to On 2” module.

1) How Your Steps Differ in On1 vs On2 Salsa

When you change directions in your salsa basic, we call those steps your break steps. The break steps are done on specific counts, and that’s how you can tell which timing you’re dancing on.

When dancing salsa On1 timing:

  • Leads break forward on the 1 and back on the 5
  • Follows break backward on the 1 and forward on the 5
  • The slow counts are immediately before your break steps

When dancing salsa On2 timing:

  • Leads break forward on the 6 and back on the 2
  • Follows break backward on the 6 and forward on the 2
  • The slow counts are immediately after your break steps

2) The feel of dancing salsa On1 differs from On2 because of where the “slow” count lies

Put simply, On1 feels faster and more staccato, whereas On2 feels more laid back and smooth.

Why, you ask?

To answer that, you need to understand a few fundamental facts about how salsa is structured:

  • Salsa is structured around the cross body lead movement
  • Within the cross body lead, turns tend to happen on or immediately after the break steps
  • If a slow count occurs while the follow is turning, she has more time to complete her turn

Since we know the slow count falls right after the breaking steps On2 and we just learned that’s when turns most frequently occur, we can conclude that dancing On2 typically gives you more time to turn.

Dancing on 1 feels faster because the slow counts fall immediately before the breaking steps (the end of the cross body lead). At this point most of the turns are usually complete so the follow uses the slow count to slow down and exit her turns, as opposed to having more time to execute them.

This difference in placement of the slow count is what creates the contrast in feeling and visuals between the two salsa timings, On1 and On2.

Now that you know why On1 and On2 salsa timing have a different aesthetic, let’s look at one of the major reasons salsa dancers develop a preference for one or the other.


3) Each salsa timing, connects to different aspects of the music

Salsa timing didn’t just come out of nowhere. There’s a reason for the timing of the break steps, and each timing has it’s pros and cons.

Dancing salsa On1 connects to the phrasing or melody, usually within sets of 8 counts, whereas dancing On2 connects more deeply with the band’s instruments. Now, let’s look at the benefits of those musical connections to see why they appeal to people.

Why people favour salsa on1

A lot of people favour On1 because it’s easy to connect to as a beginner. Music naturally loops and our bodies are able to hone in on those loops, starting on the 1 and ending on the 8. An 8 count is typically the shortest amount of time it takes to create a complete musical sentence, and one that often repeats itself. This musical sentence is often called phrasing or the melody. All you have to do to dance salsa On1 is be able to identify the melody and jump in when the 1 comes around.

Dancers also love On1 because the melody and the vocals of the song follow this beautiful loop between counts 1 and 8, so it makes you feel very connected to what’s going on. Of course, this depends on what songs are being played. Modern songs don’t tend to have the “big band” sound with all the rich instruments that a lot of older salsa classics have, and that’s why the phrasing or melody stands out more.

Dancing On1 also connects directly to the cowbell which emphasizes 1-3-5-7. Since it’s such a prominent sounding instrument it’s easy to follow.

Why people favour salsa on 2

When it comes to dancing to the music produced by the big bands and orchestras of past decades, a lot of dancers prefer On2 for the many ways you can connect to the instruments.

The instruments that fall nicely in-line with On2 timing include the bajo (bass), conga, and clave. We go into detail of the timing of these instruments and how to dance on them in our salsa program—you can check out the salsa course details here or start a one week free trial here.

The different ways you can dance on 2

There are also different ways of dance salsa on 2, depending on which instruments you want to connect with and the section of the song:

During the intro and verse of the song, when the Bajo and Conga (4th) beat is dominant you can dance contratiempo to counts 2-3-4, 6-7-8. This way of dancing on 2 has a staccato feeling, very similar to dancing On1. This was the popular way of dancing during the Paladium era, and it still makes perfect musical sense today.

During the Montuno section (the second half of the song) when the Campana is accenting the core beats (1-3-5-7), you can dance Modern Mambo a tiempo to counts 1-2-3, 5-6-7. This is the most common style of dancing On2 you will see, and the style developed by Eddie Torres.

If the clave rhythm becomes dominant you can also choose to dance on clave.

Although each way of dancing On2 steps on slightly different counts, the common denominator is that they all break forward and back on counts 2 or 6, which match the slaps of the Conga.

Because of the depth of connection to the music and the variety of ways you can dance On2, it really strikes a chord with salsa geeks and music lovers who want to bring the instruments to life through their dancing.

If you want to learn more about salsa musicality, the different ways of dancing On2 and how to convert from dancing On1 to dancing On2, consider joining our salsa program. We’d love to teach you all about musicality!


In closing, the more educated you become, the more informed your opinion can be toward preferring to dance salsa on 1 or on 2. Some people even love both equally.

It’s important to realize that being able to dance salsa on 1 and on 2 gives you far more options while traveling the world and enjoying various dance partners. As a lead, you can accommodate your partner’s preference, and, as a follow, you’ll be able to adjust to whatever a lead decides to dance.

Remember these key takeaways:

  • When dancing On1, your breaking steps are on the 1 and the 5
  • When dancing On2, your breaking steps are on the 2 and the 6
  • On1 and On2 look and feel different because of where the slow count lies
  • On2 timing feels smoother because you tend to have more time to turn
  • On1 timing connects more to the phrasing, melodies and cow bell
  • On2 timing connects more to the bass, conga, and clave
  • You can dance On2 a few different ways depending on which instruments are prominent
  • The timing you choose to dance on is just a preference, neither is better than the other!

Be open minded, educate yourself and experience the different timings for yourself, then decide which one you enjoy more. An incredible world of music and dance awaits!