Dancing has long been a symbol for a culture’s uniqueness and two the most popular traditional dances today are Samba and Salsa. Both originated from a single culture before they became globally popular thanks to their expressive style. Today, Samba and Salsa have become the favorites for dancers who are eager to join ballroom and Latin dance competitions.
Despite originating from different roots, many people often confuse Samba for Salsa and vice versa. Having a good understanding of both dances is crucial if you want to do competitive ballroom dancing. In this article, we’ll discuss the distinguishing features of Samba and Salsa so you can better understand the difference between these two dance styles.
What is Samba?
Samba is a style of dance that dates back to 19th century Brazil where its rhythm and movements were heavily influenced by African slave dances on sugar cane plantations. After slavery ended, many of the dancers migrated outside cities where they put together dance troupes and performed in Carnivals.
There is an important distinction that must be made when talking about Samba. Today there are two uniquely different types of dances to know when talking about Samba. The first is the more traditional Carnival style Samba that you often picture when thinking of Samba. The second is Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba which is inspired by traditional Samba but has been developed into a professional Latin Dance style used in dance competitions around the world.
The solo style of Samba (also known as Samba no pe) is danced as a celebration at festivals and parties. It continues to be danced solo like the original dance, but can also be danced with a partner or in groups.
Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba and the Samba styles at carnival in South America are very different. Competitive Latin Dance Samba is always danced in pairs and is more structured than traditional Samba. It is not unexpected though as Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba was developed and has evolved to contain specific movements, beat counts, and styles in order to standardize the dance and make it one of the key Latin Dance competition styles around the world.
Traditional Samba is known for its spontaneous dance movements and the energetic music that goes along with it. One popular style of solo Samba dance is the Samba axe which was introduced in 1992. Instead of being defined by a specific step, the Samba axe is characterized by the musical rhythm that’s set to either a fast or slow tempo.
Samba and Salsa music are two of the most lively and energetic celebratory dances today. People from around the world love seeing performances of different types of Brazilian dance. Both dance and culture enthusiasts attend Samba dance performances at cultural festivals held across the globe. Whether danced solo or with a partner, Samba music excites people and gets them moving just like in festivals and street parties!
What is Salsa?
Salsa is a traditional dance that hails from the Island of Cuba. Like Samba, Salsa is extremely popular throughout the world, mainly in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. Salsa was developed by combining African and European dances where theatricality, sensuality, and acrobatics are the main focus.
The music and dance styles of Salsa can be traced back to the 1920s where musical styles such as Mambo, Son Montuno, and African' came together in Cuba. The island was known for combining many different types of Latin dance like tango and flamenco. A local studio called Fania named the combination of sound ‘Salsa’ and played it across the entire island where the locals were captivated by the new music.
Salsa’s popularity skyrocketed to South America where renowned musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente began incorporating it into their sets. The dancers followed suit and added their moves that were both sophisticated and complicated. Some styles of Salsa are fast and frantic that include whirling partner moves while others are toned down and sensual, with hints of slow rhumba or Argentine tango in them.
What are the differences between Samba and Salsa?
The obvious difference between Samba and Salsa is that they are different dance styles with different beat counts and footwork. Traditional Samba is more of a show dance than a partner dance, which is why you see men and women at Carnival dressed so elaborately in bright colors often featuring exotic feather backpacks and headdresses. While they often dance together, they are not exactly dancing as pairs but rather in unison to create a show to watch on stage or in a parade. Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba, on the other hand, is most definitely a couple’s dance in which you need to have a lead and follower like most other couple dances.
Salsa is closer Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba than to the traditional Carnival style Samba we often associate Samba with. Like Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba, Salsa is more structured in the beat counts and is also a partner dance with a lead and follower. Unlike competitive Samba, though, Salsa has always been more of a social dance and is known for being less rigid and more spontaneous. Salsa is also often more sensual than Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba. Due to its popularity, there are now many professional Salsa dance competitions around the world, but Salsa as a dance style is still not considered part of the 5 main professional Latin Competitive Dance styles which include: Cha Cha Cha, Jive, Samba, Paso Doble, and Rumba.
Lastly, the type of music used for each dance is different. Traditional Samba music is more open towards variety, hence the creation of samba-reggae, samba-enredo, samba-canção, and samba de roda. Salsa music is more structured than Samba and because of that, the music selection is more consistent in beat and style.
In summary, both Samba and Salsa are a combination of African and European dances. Traditional Samba originated from Brazil and can be danced solo or with a group of individuals. Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba and Salsa, on the other hand mostly involves dancing in pairs.
Traditional Samba’s movements are characterized by their energetic and free-flowing dance. Competitive Latin Ballroom Dance Samba and Salsa emphasizes acrobatics and sensuality. In terms of music choice, Samba is pretty liberal while competitive Samba and Salsa requires music with a more consistent beat count in order to dance on beat in pairs.
Both dance styles have their unique characteristics which made them very popular across the globe. Whether you’re looking to dance competitively or just eager to learn more about Samba and Salsa, understanding their differences will help you perform better in Latin dance