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Rhythm Sense

A Break in Movement
Son Phrasing (Part 1):
Son and Mambo
Son Phrasing (Part 2):
Starting Son, and Clave
Son Phrasing (Part 3):
Son Montuno
Zarabanda: A Context for
Rhythmic Anticipation
Merengue to Salsa
Back To Dance Online
A Break in Movement

Defining the word “Break”

To help us understand the main varieties of salsa, we need first to understand the meaning of the word “break” in the context of dance.

  1. n. Music
    1. The point at which one register or tonal quality changes to another.
    2. The change itself.
  2. v. intr. To change direction or move suddenly: The quarterback broke to the left to avoid a tackler.
  3. v. intr. To vary or disrupt the uniformity or continuity of: a plain that was broken by low hills; caught the ball without breaking stride.

Let's apply the definition in dance. Suppose you were performing forward salsa walks, and wanted to change directions and walk backwards i.e. to break backwards. You could choose to change direction after:

  1. Beat one (a.k.a. breaking on one);
    Forward-back-back-(tap), back-back-back-(tap)
  2. Beat two (a.k.a. breaking on two);
    Forward-forward-back-(tap), back-back-back-(tap)
  3. Beat three or four (a.k.a. breaking on three or four respectively);
    Forward-forward-forward-(tap), back-back-back-(tap)

Breaking on three or four looks similar on paper and would be so if you were tapping your foot. However, if you were stepping through during the null weight change instead, you would be:

  • stepping through backwards if breaking on three, or
  • stepping through forwards if breaking on four
    (think about it, then try it).

Playing with phase changes and breaks
Stand with your weight on your right leg ready to move with your left.

  1. Perform a forward salsa walk for one bar of music.
  2. Perform a backward salsa walk for one bar of music.
  3. Repeat the process.

You should find that you're changing phase on beat four, and breaking on beat three or four depending on your choice of highlight i.e. tapping or stepping through.

Then, while keeping your phase change on beat four, break on beat one. Your steps should resemble: forward-back-back-(tap), back-forward-forward-(tap). This is the Latin basic as we practice it.

To complete the set, keep your phase change on four, and break on two.

Try these exercises to music, maintaining your phase change on four, but breaking on your choice of beat. Think about these questions:

  • How do the breaks affect the flow of the steps relative to the phase change?
  • Do some variations work better with particular genres of salsa music?

Finally, move your phase change to one of the three other beats, and explore the breaks again, adapting both the phase change and breaks to suit your choice of music.

Interpreting the main flavours
The Latin basic, also known as the mambo basic or basic time step, is along with the side-to-side one of the most common basic steps of salsa. It is probably the best example to use in demonstrating the differences between the contemporary salsa systems.

On one
The vanilla of the salsa world.
Phase changes occur on four, breaks on one. Begins either left leg forward or right leg back. Changing phase on beat four creates an opening for the double open tones of the standard conga pattern, whilst breaking on one emphasises melodic chord changes. I like vanilla.

On street two
Eddie Torres' New York vanilla.
Phase changes occur on four, breaks on two. Begins either right leg forward or left leg back. Null weight beats feature a step-through with the non-supporting leg. Similar to dancing “on one”, but breaking on two to coincide with the slap stroke of the conga pattern.

On ballroom two
A classic vanilla from the mambo and chachachá era.
Phase changes occur on one, breaks on two. Begins either left leg forward or right leg back. Null weight beats are unadorned. The same as dancing "on one", just offset a beat later. In every bar, the walk commences with the slap stroke and ends with the open tone of the conga pattern. The phase change coincides with the melodic chord change.


1999 Salsa & Merengue Society