Is Salsa dancing (globalized slot version) is an American art form?

Discussion in 'Just Dance' started by MAMBO_CEC, Sep 13, 2015.


    MAMBO_CEC Sabor Ambassador

    I found this topic on Facebook by Jimmy Yoon (DC salsa dancer extraordinaire) very provocative. Jimmy Said the following: I quote:

    James Yoon

    In my classes over the years, I've asserted the fact that the salsa that we do (which is popular the world over) is an American art form. And this is always confronted with a slightly sour look by some of my students. As a matter of fact, I don't know why salsa is considered a "Latin" dance to begin with. Why is this?

    All of the evidence points to our dance being developed in NYC, from a combination of top dancers of the era (who learned Cuban son from the "rhumba" craze a decade prior) in collaboration with ballroom instructors, in order to make "the mambo" more palatable for a white audience, which in turn made it more digestible to America at large. This tradition continued, with a steady stream of influence from vernacular jazz, swing, and hustle over the decades.

    Salsa dancing (our version, the globalized slot version) is an American art form. It's as American as California rolls or fortune cookies. Break dancing, house, popping, locking, boogaloo, etc, are all considered complex American heritage dances, stemming from urban community centers. Our salsa dancing was birthed from the clubs in NYC.

    I'm of the opinion that we should celebrate and honor the fact that our salsa dance is a beautiful American art form. The fact that it's not really "Latin" is a hushed taboo that's not really vocalized. I believe we should acknowledge and celebrate the fact that what we do is, in fact, American. Nothing wrong with that. I'm proud.

    I'm neither Cuban, nor Puerto Rican, nor Dominican. I'm neither black nor white. I have no cultural stake in this dance from an ethnic perspective. I am simply a dance educator, interested in advancing the truth (to the best of my ability).

    If you have any evidence to point otherwise, then I'd like to read it to further my own understanding."

    Discuss, with the hope that we can keep this civil....
  2. SnowDancer

    SnowDancer Clave Commander

    I agree with him that it is an American art form, but not that it's not Latin. It's the Puerto Rican community in NY that developed both the music and dance, which both have their roots in Cuba and Africa.
    DJ Yuca, csamva, Offbeat and 2 others like this.
  3. Live2dance

    Live2dance Shine Officer

    Am I right to assume that "slot" is the "linear" form? If yes then I would not be surprised by his quoted comment above. I said it before that linear seems to be close to BR. Personally am happy that am not associated with that style (though to be fair I mix it with other styles in my dancing).
  4. terence

    terence Maestro 'Descarga' Cachao

    Pretty much everything he wrote, is correct . He did not however, go a little deeper into the roots of what is danced today. And the assumption that what we dance was developed in NYC, is a little off..... Reason ?.. much of the variety we use, is from East and West coast swing ( developed in Calif. ) throw in Bolero, and you essentially have the ingredients for Mambo, which BR sold to the general public ( thru TV program ) out of which grew Salsa .

    The street style was of course born in the barrios, but even they used/copied from other sources.

    The only true form left, is Son, and even that has been slightly corrupted, step-wise.
  5. terence

    terence Maestro 'Descarga' Cachao

    Slot is essentially linear, but does use circular actions. I do dance, and teach several styles ( by necessity ) but my preference is for Son .
  6. Smejmoon

    Smejmoon El Sabroso de Conguero

    Use of word "Latin" to describe non Latins is also an American art form. :D
    Richie Blondet likes this.
  7. Smejmoon

    Smejmoon El Sabroso de Conguero

    Seriously though, nationalism in art is kinda ridiculous and ignorant, be it Cuban, American, Nuyorican or from somewhere else. If you're looking for something original in US or Caribbean, you're looking the wrong way. Salsa be it dance or music are full of copies and hybrids and result of multiple influences and thieveries.

    Maybe this act of borrowage is something that certain american communities would like to patent, and I'd agree,if I would not know of Gypsies and Jews; the travelers of Europe and great musical intermixmasters.
  8. Ciaran Hegarty

    Ciaran Hegarty Descarga

    I disagree. Most art is created within the context of the nation that the artist inhabits, and it's the unique social, political and cultural climate of that nation that shapes that artistic output and lends it a particular flavour. Some of what I'd consider to be great American art forms - Jazz, Rock n'Roll, Rap, Basketball (yes, Basketball) - might have roots and history outside of America, but what's unique about them is how they were shaped by the particular conditions within American society at the time of their birth and growth.

    As far as the point made by the OP, I don't really understand why Americans would get upset by an assertion that New York style salsa is an American art form, but then again I don't have anything like a proper understanding of the sensitivities that surround race and ethnicity in the US. It often seems to happen that where Americans will look at other Americans and see black, white, yellow, pink, American, un-American or whatever, somebody from the outside looking in will only see American.
    GroovyMambo likes this.
  9. Smejmoon

    Smejmoon El Sabroso de Conguero

    Which is true of course with regard to each particular instance. Kaunas ┼Żalgiris is Lithuanian art form, Irakere is Cuban art form. But once you talk about basketball or salsa, this makes little sense to apply nationalist labels.
    What does this mean 'most art'? How do you quantify art and why? Everyone is unique and we all are copies and influences at the same time.

    I agree that salsa is an American art form. As long as it's done in the US. (Which I guess what OP thinks American means)
    wol likes this.
  10. Azalea Isis

    Azalea Isis Changui

    I would agree that New York slot style salsa is an American art form. But I would also can it a Latin dance since it originated in the Puerto Rican community (from what I can tell) and the music is Latin.

    However this New York style salsa is not all that different from the Cuban style salsa that I encountered while travelling in Europe. I could easily follow the Cuban style. The differences being the basic is more circular and the patterns involve less spinning. The timing is on 1 not on 2.

    Also I am curious, since I have never been to Cuba or Puerto Rico, what kind of salsa is danced there and how does it compare to New York style?

    I am enjoying this thread. Very interesting topic.
  11. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    Linear is not close to BR. There are 1000s and 1000s of salseros throughout the world who dance in a slot and some look very ballroomy, but that does not mean it is an intrinsic part of dancing in a slot.

    The vast majority of casineros I know of are far more interested in taking lessons, learning moves etc than they are in timba or salsa music - which means that conceptually the casino scene, like the slot scene, is like the ballroom world i.e. it's all about lessons rather than music. So you could argue that both scenes are close to ballroom.
  12. DJ Yuca

    DJ Yuca El Sabroso de Conguero

    He doesn't seem to have put much thought into this, or done much research. Salsa dance is not really Latin (or "Latin" as he calls it - I'm not sure why the use of quotation marks)? Yeah right. Why? Because it comes from NY. Oh right, that explains it then.

    He doesn't seem to realise that it is possible for something to come from the US and be Latin. It's pretty basic really.
    Big10, kbitten, timberamayor and 4 others like this.
  13. Offbeat

    Offbeat Maestro 'Fania' Pacheco

    I agree with the Jimmy and have often thought it that way myself. Where I depart from him is in saying there is nothing 'Latin'. Linear/NY Style dancing is both American art form and has latin origins/influence/etc whatever we want to call it. I am not sure what Jimmy's assertion is in saying that it is not 'Latin'. It was birthed in NYC clubs, but by mostly NYuricans (and other Latin heritage population). That there is the 'Latin' influence. As far as the music to which it is danced - that music is definitely and distinctly based on afro-cuban rhythms. The music may have borrowed from Jazz and other American influence but its basic underlying rhythm remains afro-cuban and therefore can't be said to be American art form.

    Therefore we dance American art form of a dance with its roots in afro-cuban dance forms of carribean and to the latin music based on afro-cuban tradition, which is a non-American art form :)
    Smejmoon and SnowDancer like this.
  14. GroovyMambo

    GroovyMambo Sonero

    I completely agree. I don't have a problem with NY salsa dancing (or even NY salsa music) being considered 'American' as long as the contributions of the immigrant Latino communities don't get whitewashed. Of course, NY salsa dancing is different from Cuban dance; especially clear when one compares NY slot style to Cuban casino. Jimmy's statement won't piss off non-Latino Americans (most don't care for salsa dance or music), but it might ruffle Nuyoricans' feathers... Jimmy appears to dissociate music and dance or at the very least uses an extreme, mutually exclusive definition of what it means to be American vs Latin. Would he consider NY salsa Latin music? The music has also been heavily influenced by non-Latin sources to the point that it differs substantially from traditional Cuban forms. I wonder if he has discussed this point with prominent dancers and musicians from back in the day.

    I agree with Jimmy's assertion that the globalized version of dance has been modified to a large extent to cater to non-Latinos. However, I do not think that it has completely lost its Latino essence. To me, the global dance style (which I dance) reflects a commercialized, watered down version of what the dance was meant to be and is not an accurate depiction of what non-studio trained dancers would practice socially. The same has happened to other dances (e.g., tango, bachata, kizomba). To me this doesn't make it non-Latin.

    This has been true in my experience. In the UK, I'm considered American, plain and simple. In the US, I'm Puerto Rican, Latino or Hispanic-American but never American.
  15. Azalea Isis

    Azalea Isis Changui

    This makes me feel sad. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    My ancestors have lived in America so long that I am a mixture of so many different cultures. And I do consider myself just plain American. I do think that when people have lived here for many generations that this tends to happen especially if there is a lot of intermarrying and the native language gets lost. But it isn't always the case, such as with African Americans for example.
  16. bailar y tocar

    bailar y tocar Clave Commander

    Disconnect alert.
    This is not necessarily a two way logic connection. (This guy is probably a computer type, they seem to argue like that a lot).

    If something starts out in a particular city and culture, i.e. NYC, that happens to be located in a particular country, i.e. USA, then the country can get the attribute as part of its culture but it does not mean that all of the country is part of that cultural development.

    New Orleans Jazz is part or American cultural heritage but it is still New Orleans Jazz. One does not refer to New Orleans Jazz as American Jazz when speaking of types of Jazz in the US because then there would be no room for the other American cities that were critical to the development of Jazz.

    Same with salsa. There is NY Salsa, LA salsa in the US. There are other versions from other countries. To lump the NY and LA salsa into a generic "American" salsa implies that Peoria IL or any other place had a major contribution in its development.

    Its NY Salsa ... not American Salsa.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2015
    Smejmoon likes this.
  17. Sabrosura

    Sabrosura Maestro 'Sonero' Lavoe

    Agreed, and I'm all for the recognition of the role of New York in the history of salsa. But, isn't this the case with all art, indeed all human accomplishments and cultural outputs? Cuisines, technology break-throughs, etc. all come from specific cities in a certain country, yet pizza is viewed as an "Italian" food, not a Neapolitan one...and, going back to dance, rumba has always been referred to as "Cuban"/from Cuba, both within and outside of Cuba, even though, as every Cuban knows, rumba was born in Matanzas. Same for son, which comes from Santiago, but is always referred to as "cubano", not "santiaguero".
  18. terence

    terence Maestro 'Descarga' Cachao

    On similar lines... Chow mein was invented by an American...
  19. Live2dance

    Live2dance Shine Officer

    This is not the reason am claiming the close proximity of BR and linear (not slot that I never heard of before). My claim is purely technical and I feel that Terence and Vit's historical background also fits. To clarify, BR technique in Cha (in particular because of its speed) but also Rumba dictates that when forward breaking you do not transfer the full weight on the forward step of the basic (i.e. on 1). We discussed about this before in another thread. This is because you are meant to bring the lady back on 2. So assuming that you are the lead, stepping on 1 with the left foot forward then on the count of 1 your weight is inbetween the two legs and hence you cannot lift the other leg. Therefore, your step on the count of 2 is forced to be a replacement of the right foot. This means that if you apply BR technique to salsa then on the first two counts the lead cannot rotate. On the count of 3 the lead has several options with the left foot
    - step forward : if he does that with a beginner follow they will smash into each other
    - close feet: that would block the follow and initiate a spin for her
    - step to the side: again it will mostly block the follow and initiate a CW turn.
    - step back : it will continue on a basic step
    - rotate on 2& and step to the new side on 3: this leads the lady to a cross body move.
    There are other options too but not common for basic.
    So you see that using the BR technique in salsa results in a fixed situation for the first two counts and then you either dance basic, or make spins on the spot or you go to cross body. And this is what I see in linear, a continuous use of BR forward breaks resulting in continuously bringing the lady back "in the line" and a lot of cross body action.

    On the other hand cuban style salsa, as it is based on merengue, allows to apply the full weight on the count of 1 thus the lead can start rotating as he wishes from the first count. Hence the more rotational flavor of cuban style.

    People can shoot me down but this is what I see.

    And am not blaming anyone. We said it before that salsa is a mix and anything is allowed. I guess my only problem is that if people want to dance BR they should dance BR instead of a BR version of salsa.

    I go for cover now... But there I said it, it feels good to take it out of the system.
    Offbeat likes this.
  20. terence

    terence Maestro 'Descarga' Cachao

    pretty much agree with the rest of your post, but this...

    Before everyone jumps all over you !
    Cuban style" salsa" ( and many think that's an oxymoron ) is a Son based dance developed thru Casino, Son and Danzon .

    And yes, I also do fall into the trap of mis-naming the dance "Cuban " style salsa .
    Once upon a time there was mambo.. it was ( and is ) Cuban based.. now ,there are many sub-sets and pretenders..

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