There are two core concepts that differentiate salsa from other latin dances: its timing and rhythm. Salsa timing refers to the counts, or beats, of the music that you step on, and salsa rhythm refers to the body movement you create between each step.
Types of Salsa Timing
1. Basic Salsa Timing
Basic count is the most common timing you’ll use in salsa. It’s the default timing you’ll use for all of your basic steps and during most of your partner work.
In “basic count” salsa timing, you step on counts 1-2-3, 5-6-7. Notice how there is no step on 4 or 8? That’s because the rhythm of the movement is quick, quick, slow; quick, quick, slow. Counts 4 and 8 are used to draw out your movement and make it longer, allowing the “slow” part of the rhythm to be fully expressed.
2. Core Beat Timing
Core beat timing is usually used for shines (when you let go of your partner and do solo footwork). Since you won’t be focusing on dancing solo as a beginner, it’s more important that you understand this concept as opposed to practice it. In core beat timing, you step on counts 1, 3, 5, 7. By doing so, your rhythm becomes “slow, slow, slow, slow” as you have 2 full counts to complete each step.
3. Full Count Timing
Like core beat timing, full count timing is typically used when doing solo footwork (aka “shines”) in salsa. Full count occurs when the dancer steps on all counts: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. As a result, the rhythm becomes “quick, quick, quick, quick, etc.” A perfect example of full count timing is the dance of Merengue, where you step on every count, switching between your left and right foot on each step.
4. Syncopated Timing
Similar to core beat and full count timing above, syncopated timing is most often used to do shines. Syncopated counts are quite different than the rest of salsa timing as they are basically an interruption of the rhythm. In other words, they are a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur. What makes syncopation different than other timings is that it involves half counts and plays within the gaps of a song’s regular rhythm. A typical syncopated count could look like this: 1-&-2-&-3-&-4… etc.