salsa timing with couple dancing

The Best Salsa Timing Guide You Can Use Now!

couple dance salsa using rumba moves

Good salsa timing is THE most critical aspect of salsa dancing. It implies that you have developed a strong hearing ability for the music and can match this skill with the corresponding dancing steps. Although that statement above sounds easy, it isn’t easy to implement in practice. So tricky you might give up and dance however you can, even if, somehow, you know, or rather your body knows, that you are offbeat. However, it does not need to be that way. If you follow my proposed steps, I guarantee that within a matter of weeks, you will be able to develop strong salsa timing.

How do you count in salsa music?

Any beginners in Salsa must have heard the “acronym” “1,2,3-5,6,7”. It’s so often repeated that many people don’t know what it means. In essence, a salsa song is a continuation of patterns. These patterns are what people call “basic salsa steps,”; and they are made of two measures of 4 beats each. Therefore, you will have two measures and eight beats in one basic salsa step. The reason for such patterns can be traced back to the music styles that made Salsa (Son, mambo, chachacha, rumba).


The picture below illustrates the patterns of a salsa song in terms of measures, beats, and looping cycles. The beats with brown color represent the clave’s rhythm, which is one of the most important musical instruments for salsa dancers. The sound of that instrument appears five times on a basic salsa step cycle. Following the patterns of these unique beats, you can dance “on beat”.

Salsa timing

Why is clave important to salsa timing?

You might wonder why the clave is a leading instrument for dancers. Why not the piano, etc.? The reason is that the clave is directly linked with the dancers’ footsteps. Indeed, in dances like rumba (one of the precursors of Salsa), you can see how dancers make sure their steps match the clave patterns. That’s why I recommend anyone who wants to develop perfect salsa timing to ditch traditional salsa songs for a little while and focus exclusively on rumba. Most salsa songs are polluted with distracting musical instruments, which can make you lose your salsa timing. However, in rumba, you can focus on the clave since it’s one of the few musical tools of this music. Then, once you become confident, you can transition to salsa songs. Great salsa dancers have understood and applied that principle.

Clave patterns for salsa timing
Clave for cuban rumba dance

How do I count in salsa?

We just saw that the clave was an essential instrument of salsa music for dancers and their timing. Although there are different clave timings, such as Clave for Son (3/2 and 2/3), we will focus exclusively on the pattern 3/2 for rumba since this is one of the most common patterns of salsa music. These numbers mean how often you will hear the clave on a measuring unit. For example, 3/2 means that the clave resonates three times on the 1st and twice on the 2nd measures. Check out the video below I made, which goes into detail and illustrates perfectly how you should practice your salsa timing.

How do I count salsa on 1?

Salsa timing

Salsa on 1 refers to the salsa dance style originated in Los Angeles. It just means that the dancer uses the first beat (of the basic salsa step) as his/her rhythmic pattern. Therefore, if we take the illustration we saw on the clave cycles, the dancer would start his basic dance step on the first beat. Men usually step with their left foot while ladies use their right one. The picture illustrates one of the most basic steps practiced by Salsa On 1 dancer. You can also check out my video that shows you the very basic steps of salsa on1 (both for ladies and gents).

What steps can help me improve my salsa timing

Basic rumba step

side step for salsa timing

This is the best step to help adjust your salsa timing. It’s simple, yet many people miss the beats. If you refer to the video that will follow, you can see how it is done in practice. Essentially, you do only two steps on a full basic salsa step. But you must do these steps on the beat.

Son move

This is another great dance move to help with your salsa timing. Unlike the previous one, you will do eight steps during this basic salsa step. It’s a walk forward, backward and sideways movement. I love it because you become “notes” when you execute this salsa step. It is also a great training tool for salsa timing.

Son move used in salsa

Back-steps move

basic salsa dance shuffle backward

With this back move, you trick your mind with motions it is not used to. But it can help adjust your timing.

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