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Introduction to Salsa


Lesson One—Introduction to Salsa

Lesson plan:

Review key concepts:


§          Salsa

§          Conga

§          Tumbao

§          Areito

§          Clave

§          Bomba

§          Charanga

Musical Styles of Salsa


• Rumba

• Guaguancó

• Guaracha

• Conga de Comparsa

• Danzón

• Son

• Son Montuno

• Mambo

• Chachachá

• Bomba

• Plena

• Merengue

• Pachanga

• Bogalú

• Songo

• Salsa Dura


Introduction to Salsa

 1. Using the Son Clave Lounge the Salsa virtual exhibition as a guide, have students go through the Click and Hear portions of the site, listening and identifying the various styles and instruments.

 2. Identify notable people who composed or performed salsa music using the Discography section of the Salsa virtual exhibtion as a guide.

Examples include:

a. “El Vive Bien" African secular rhythms ~ rumbas played in Cuba by the

descendants of enslaved peoples. Street music.

b. Las Alturas de Simpson ~ Said to be the first Danzon.

c. El Bombin de Barreto said to be the first Danzon that contained the Son

in its final section.

d. Sexteto Habanero ~ The first Son group recorded in Cuba 1925 by RCA.

e.  "Son de la Loma"  a popular son by Miguel Matamoros.

f. “Echale Salsita" by Ignacio Piñera ~ The first recorded use of the word

Salsa in 1937.

g. “Sabroso Mambo" rec. by Tito Rodriguez 1956 ~ Another early recorded use

of the word Salsa recorded in NYC in June of 1956. Used to mean Flavor in

the music as popularized in the mid 1950s.

h. “Hey There That’s My Baby" ~ A popular American song that musically is

actually a Cuban Song.

3. Journal Entry: Have students read the following commentary.









 Journal entry: August 2005 by


 Eliana Marcenaro Goldfarb 



Salsa for me is an opportunity to explore a part of my identity that cannot be explained by my genealogy or heritage, but rather by cultural experience. I am a descendant of Ukrainian Jewish and Genovese Italian, of German and Spanish. I grew up in Peru and studied at the American School of Lima, where we danced to modern rock (mostly in English) and wore clothes we bought in trips to the United States. Musica tropical was not comfortably accepted in my circle when I was young. Yet at 15 I left Peru on a visit to the Dominican Republic and discovered a passion for salsa dance. There was a local club where the hotel staff, the real locals, would go to. That’s where I went to submerse myself in a dance that was foreign, but at the very same time, that felt completely mine. It deeply resonated with me; I felt I could do it forever. I felt as if the dance wasn’t something I was “picking up” from my surroundings, but rather it was inside me, always, already a part of me. Salsa was part of my essence, and I only had to let it out; and I did that joyously!

I did my undergraduate as a scholarship recipient in a college in New Hampshire. The school was primarily white; the few Latinos and Latin Americans bonded closely. We celebrated what we shared, what we considered our own. We protected the components that we felt made us different and that identified us as Latinos. I took on an identity as a Latina woman that was different from my identity in Peru, but that also felt very personal and intense and beautiful. Dancing was a joyous experience, and I wanted to share it. Dancing was also the opportunity to enjoy a part of my identity that didn’t involve pain; political action and education can be painful as you remember times of suffering, of struggle, of discrimination. We worked as an organization to bring about change in the school and in our community. Dancing was the moment when we could be happy and proud of our heritage and leave behind the weight of our history. (Again, this based on culture, on growing up Peruvian and wanting to identify with the indigenous, on discovering that my blood was not as strong as my cultural roots … that I felt Peruvian above all).

I began to teach salsa in college. Teaching was a way to rediscover salsa because if forced me to articulate—put into words—something that lived deeply inside me. How can you translate a feeling, a stirring from within that is expressed as movement? Moreover, how can you articulate this to a bunch of white scholarly types?

Salsa in the U.S. has allowed me to explore being a Latina in a way that my own country couldn’t afford me. Moreover, it gave me an opportunity to explore a gender role I had not considered before. Salsa is a dance that must be shared by two people: one leads, one follows. As a dance teacher, I often had to lead; but the pleasure of being led was immense, a wonderful diversion from my carefully-planned, strong-independent-woman existence. And I have to admit, those moments of being led on the dance floor, being twirled and watching your own arms twist and bend, flipping your hips, keeping an ever-so-soft grip on your partner’s shoulder. … It is an incredible pleasure. In those moments, I return to my essence—and I am not dancing. I am being.

Talking about salsa and politics is difficult because … how can you not make it sound reactionary? I could write “By the act of dancing, I am reasserting my identity, strengthening it.” Yet, would I do it as obviously, as “loudly” if I didn’t feel threatened? I want to think that dancing salsa is a part of me that is not reactionary, that is not based on the fact that I am suffocated in layers of white-washed cultural roles, that is not a result of my place in the world, but rather a result of who I am regardless of my surroundings. (Yet even as I write this I realize it is not true; I am choosing to highlight this aspect of who I am, one piece of many, and in that choice is the political act.)

What happens when I teach? Am I “bleaching” this dance? Am I making it whiter, trying to put into words how we move, being unable to describe what it feels like and having to resort to clichés such as “sexy”, “sensual," "pleasure” or am I “browning” those around me? I want to think I have more effect on others than the other way around, but I am nevertheless very uncomfortable. (What about the fact that I have spontaneously written this in English? What about the fact that I am writing this, intellectualizing my experience, a dance that feels like a heartbeat?)

How do I feel about commercializing salsa? Well, I still like the traditional sounds better than the new “hip-hop salsa” wave. I feel modern salsa is more artificial, just like modern food … it is meant to be “easy to digest” to an audience that is removed from the core. I think it is difficult for me because I feel that the electronic sounds and hip-hop movements create a barrier between the dancing and the dancer; they distance the sound and the movement from that essence that I discovered at a local club in the Dominican Republic. I want to tell those who do hip-hop salsa: Don’t dress it up. Take in the real thing, or your journey won’t be deep enough to discover something wonderful.


                1. Discuss with students:

                Her difficulty in translating movement into words.

                Her description of the essence of her being, what does this mean?

Her perception of salsa and the influence of modern life on it.

                2. Ask students to write a personal reflection:

                At what time, or during what activity are you fully you?







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Authors: Tehani Colazo, Museum Educator; Laura Jones, NBCT; Eliana Marcenaro, Language Arts Teacher.

This project has received support from the Latino Initiatives Pool distributed by the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives.


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