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Salsa & Merengue
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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
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Transformations: Merengue to Salsa

You will need to have understood and naturalised two merengue tutorials:

  1. Lower Body Action - all sections
  2. Changing Phase - all sections

To have an idea of what we're going to achieve, you might find it useful to view some of the Salsa: Level One content, primarily the clips of:

  • Side-to-side
  • Latin basic

There are four main aspects you should grasp.

  1. Dance structure - changing phase
    In merengue, phase changes are performed by the lead and can occur at any time. Its open structure allows phase changes to be used with more freedom.
    In salsa, phase changes are performed by both partners and occur on the same beat. Learning to changing phase on specific beats repeatedly takes a little more time to naturalise.
  2. Lower Body Action - tempo range
    The merengue tempo range begins at a lower count and has a lower average, so you can employ the pedalling action to a greater extent. Salsa is more up-tempo, so there is less time to use a full hip action.
  3. Rhythm Structure
    If you're used to the rhythmic patterns and instrument ranges of merengue, you may need to spend some time “ear training” or acclimatising to salsa, especially with respect to clave and conga patterns. In salsa, knowing the role of the clave, and being sensitive to the music's resulting two-bar phrases are essential in identifying your rhythmic location.
  4. Symmetry
    Merengue is an asymmetrical dance because the same leg tends to be used at the beginning of each bar of music, whereas salsa is a symmetrical dance because a different leg is used at the beginning of each bar. This difference in symmetry has an impact on choreography and the manner in which turns are performed.

Translation procedure
Taking the example of dancing on beat one (as in Salsa: Basic Steps).

Naturalising a regular phase change

  1. Solo, on the spot, without music, vocalising a count to four.
    Practice changing phase at the end of every bar of music i.e. on the count of “four”. This implies three weight changes: one per beat for the first three beats, followed by a null weight change.
  2. Solo, merengue walk, without music, vocalising a count to four.
    The same practice except the three weight transfers in place are substituted with travelling steps in any direction, usually forwards and backwards first. Phase change still occurs on the count of “four”. You are now doing the salsa walk.
  3. Solo, to merengue music.
    The above two (salsa walk and on-the-spot) practices separately then combined, to slow merengue music. Increase the tempo of the music as you become more proficient. Try not to cheat. Apply as much of the pedalling action as possible on your steps, it will help you develop power as speed increases.
  4. Partnered, in phase, without music, to a count.
    Similar to practices 1 and 2.
  5. Partnered, in phase, to merengue music.

Ear training
For a more in-depth exploration of rhythms in salsa, see our Salsa: Ear Training tutorials.

Listen to the conga track: tumbao without clave 144bpm (in Salsa: Ear Training). Alternatively you could use a chachachá, slow son-montuno, or slow salsa at approximately 140bpm. Most of these genres have two rounded ringing sounds at the end of the bar of music. These are the double open tones played on the conga, the first of which is on beat four.

Synchronise your salsa walk to the conga pattern (called the tumbao moderno), such that your phase change occurs on the first of the two open tones i.e. beat four. Your three steps should fall in between the open tones of the rhythm.


1999 Salsa & Merengue Society