Salsa Timing: The Difference Between Salsa On 1 and On 2

Salsa Timing: The Difference Between Salsa On 1 and On 2
There are a lot of questions and myths out there around the difference between salsa on 1 and on 2, so we’ve collected the facts here for you.
We hope this article will allow you to have more educated conversations on salsa timing, and help you decide which timing you enjoy more. It’s OK to love both!
Watch the videos below and read on for the detailed differences between these two timings and why dancers prefer one over the other.



Before we dive in, here’s some quick background…
On1 salsa timing is commonly known as L.A. style, which, in the past, has often focused on sharp hits in the music and flashy moves.
On2 salsa timing is commonly known as New York style. While the old school Paladium-era dancers danced On2 to beats 2-3-4, 6-7-8, the most common way of dancing On2 these days is called “Modern Mambo,” danced to beats 4&-2-3, 8&-6-7 (Tumbao). Modern Mambo was popularized by Eddie Torres and is known for its more sauve feel and complex turn patterns. Many schools teach On2  with beats 1-2-3, 5-6-7, this usually helps students learn faster in the beginning, until they start feeling the Tumbao & Clave 
Let’s dig in and find out why these timings look and feel different.
1) The Difference Between On1 and On2 Salsa Timing
In salsa, the basic step is done to a quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow rhythm on beats 1-2-3, 5-6-7 of an 8 count. On beats 4 and 8, no additional steps are taken. That’s why counts 4 and 8 are considered the “slow” portion of salsa rhythm. This “slow” portion of the basic step is what sets On1 and On2 salsa apart.
Since On1 and On2 are different timings, they require you to step forward and back on different counts. This causes the “slow” count to land at a different place in your salsa basic, making On1 and On2 salsa feel subtly different.
  • Leads break forward on the 1 and back on the 5
  • Follows break backward on the 1 and forward on the 5
  • The slow counts are immediately before your break steps
When dancing salsa On2 timing:
  • Leads break forward on the 6 and back on the 2
  • Follows break backward on the 6 and forward on the 2
  • The slow counts are immediately after your break steps
2) The feel of dancing salsa On1 differs from On2 because of where the “slow” count lies
Put simply, On1 feels faster and more staccato, whereas On2 feels more laid back and smooth. Why, you ask?
To answer that, you need to understand a few fundamental facts about how salsa is structured:
  • Salsa is structured around the cross body lead movement
  • Within the cross body lead, turns tend to happen on or immediately after the break steps
  • If a slow count occurs while the follow is turning, she has more time to complete her turn
Since we know the slow count falls right after the breaking steps On2 and we just learned that’s when turns most frequently occur, we can conclude that dancing On2 typically gives you more time to turn.
Dancing On 1 feels faster because the slow counts fall immediately before the breaking steps (the end of the cross body lead). At this point most of the turns are usually complete so the follow uses the slow count to slow down and exit her turns, as opposed to having more time to execute them.
This difference in placement of the slow count is what creates the contrast in feeling and visuals between the two salsa timings, On1 and On2.
Now that you know why On1 and On2 salsa timing have a different aesthetic, let’s look at one of the major reasons salsa dancers develop a preference for one or the other.
3) Each salsa timing, or “style”, connects to different aspects of the music
Salsa timing didn’t just come out of nowhere. There’s a reason for the timing of the break steps, and each timing has it’s pros and cons.
Dancing salsa On1 connects to the phrasing or melody, usually within sets of 8 counts, whereas dancing On2 connects more deeply with the band’s instruments. Now, let’s look at the benefits of those musical connections to see why they appeal to people.
Why people favour salsa on1
A lot of people favour On1 because it’s easy to connect to as a beginner. Music naturally loops and our bodies are able to hone in on those loops, starting on the 1 and ending on the 8. An 8 count is typically the shortest amount of time it takes to create a complete musical sentence, and one that often repeats itself. This musical sentence is often called phrasing or the melody. All you have to do to dance salsa On1 is be able to identify the melody and jump in when the 1 comes around.
Dancers also love On1 because the melody and the vocals of the song follow this beautiful loop between counts 1 and 8, so it makes you feel very connected to what’s going on. Of course, this depends on what songs are being played. Modern songs don’t tend to have the “big band” sound with all the rich instruments that a lot of older salsa classics have, and that’s why the phrasing or melody stands out more.
Why people favour salsa On2
When it comes to dancing to the music produced by the big bands and orchestras of past decades, a lot of dancers prefer On2 for the many ways you can connect to the instruments.
The instruments that fall nicely in-line with On2 timing include the bajo (bass), conga, clave and campana (bongo bell). We go into detail of the timing of these instruments and how to dance on them in our salsa courses. 
The different ways you can dance On2
There are also different ways of dance salsa On2, depending on which instruments you want to connect with and the section of the song:
During the intro and verse of the song, when the Bajo and Conga (4th) beat is dominant you can dance Sonand Classic Mambo on counts 2-3-4, 6-7-8. These two ways of dancing on 2 have a staccato feeling because they eliminate the slow counts all together. This was the popular way of dancing during the Paladium era, and it still makes perfect musical sense today.
During the Montuno section (the second half of the song) when the Campana is accenting the core beats (1-3-5-7), you can dance “Modern Mambo,” to beats 4&-2-3, 8&-6-7 (Tumbao) or on counts 1-2-3, 5-6-7. This is the most common style of dancing On2 which top dancers globally dance now. If the clave rhythm becomes dominant you can also choose to dance on clave.
Although each way of dancing On2 steps on slightly different counts, the common denominator is that they all break forward and back on counts 2 or 6, which match the slaps of the Conga.
Because of the depth of connection to the music and the variety of ways you can dance On2, it really strikes a chord with salsa geeks and music lovers who want to bring the instruments to life through their dancing.
If you want to learn more about salsa musicality, the different ways of dancing On2 and how to convert from dancing On1 to dancing On2, consider joining our salsa courses.
In closing, the more educated you become, the more informed your opinion can be toward preferring to dance salsa on 1 or on 2. Some people even love both equally.
It’s important to realise that being able to dance salsa on 1 and on 2 gives you far more options while traveling the world and enjoying various dance partners. As a lead, you can accommodate your partner’s preference, and, as a follow, you’ll be able to adjust to whatever a lead decides to dance.
Remember these key takeaways:
  • When dancing On1, your breaking steps are on the 1 and the 5
  • When dancing On2, your breaking steps are on the 2 and the 6
  • On1 and On2 look and feel different because of where the slow count lies
  • On2 timing feels smoother because you tend to have more time to turn
  • On1 timing connects more to the phrasing and melody in the music
  • On2 timing connects more to the instruments in the music
  • You can dance On2 a few different ways depending on which instruments are prominent
  • The timing you choose to dance on is just a preference, neither is better than the other!
  • Be open minded, educate yourself and experience the different timings for yourself, then decide which one you enjoy more. An incredible world of music and dance awaits!


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