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Colombian salsa: the art of happiness, expression, and fun!

Couple dancing salsa
Sofía Machado

Sofía Machado

Colture editor but also architect, writer, dreamer, and adventurer. My mission is to tell stories that connect people and to discover, create and enjoy the amazing world we have the pleasure to live in. Instagram: sofiamm55

Colombia equals salsa, everyone knows that! And there isn’t anything more lively, colorful, festive, and fun. Salsa is an indispensable part of our identity and I’m sure every Colombian knows the lyrics of at least a couple of songs, as well as some dance steps. Truth is, salsa is everywhere in Colombia and there’s no better place to enjoy it!

Music unites people and salsa couldn’t be a better example. In Colombia, hearing, singing, and dancing salsa is an activity for the masses. it doesn’t matter if it’s in our homes, in the streets, at parties, in taxis, or in restaurants. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Colombians grow up with salsa and it’s played everywhere all the time. Salsa is culture itself, and to be part of it is also participating and knowing about our identity and customs and traditions. The city of Cali is recognized as the salsa capital of the world and Bogotá has an entire festival dedicated to it: Salsa al Parque. Colombians are passionate and energetic people and this is clearly reflected in all the different salsa styles you can find here. Want to learn a few lyrics? Want to learn some steps? Keep reading!

Where does salsa come from?

Sign of make salsa not war
© Photograph by Natalya on Hiperlink

Salsa was not born in Colombia, but specifically in New York City (surprised?) in the early 1970s. It originated as a mix of music and dance steps from Harlem, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Salsa migrated to Colombia with the sailors that brought the new trend to Barranquilla and then popularized all over due to its rhythm and energy. A couple of years later, more and more dance clubs or salsatecas (salsa clubs) appeared (especially in Cali in the working-class neighborhoods) and many musicians began to form salsa bands to become part of the new music scene. Today, Cali is considered the World Capital of Salsa and thousands of tourists and people come to enjoy the taste of this wonderful musical universe.

Lyrics and rhythms for the soul

Part of the undeniable beauty of salsa is that it tells stories through its lyrics, rhythms, and dance steps; it’s a language in and of itself. Dancing salsa in its different styles allows you to communicate without words with your partner, which makes it an excellent way to interact with different people. Colombians breathe music and especially salsa, and it’s not hard to find a lot of people who know about it and who dance and sing to it often. As I mentioned, salsa is culture itself and we express emotions through it. It’s also a kind of cathartic therapy that allows people to let go, enjoy themselves and be happy. In Colombia, salsa is medicine for the soul!

Dancing salsa Colombian-style

This is the ultimate thing everyone wants to know! Dancing salsa is not difficult, but it does require practice, and more importantly, emotion because you have to feel it in order to dance to it; that’s really the key! Colombians move very smoothly with salsa even without taking classes, but if you really want to see the experts, then you should head to the dance academies.

Couple dancing colombian salsa competitively
© Photograph by Salsa Clases Medellín

Colombian salsa is characterized by the fast movements of the legs and the countless spins and turns. It’s all about the fast footwork and feeling more playful and explosive, rather than romantic or graceful. You can either dance salsa individually or in couples, and it does take time to become an expert, but as long as you are having fun, it really doesn’t matter if you are a pro or not. We just love it and enjoy it!

Want to learn some steps?

If you really want to learn some steps, the best thing you can do is to go to a specialized school where they’ll teach you the basics and much more. Clearly, my best recommendation is Cali, but if you are in Bogotá, head to these studios:

  • Choco to Dance Studio: it’s wonderful because you have beginner, intermediate, and advanced level classes, as well as a ridiculously cheap price of $29,900 COP ($9.99 USD) for four months (unbelievable, I know!) of any class you wish. You’ll also contribute to scholarships to promote education in Chocó (one of Colombia’s departments), so, it’s one education for another!
  • Son de Habana Studio: they have three or four different salsa classes from beginning to advanced levels. The monthly payment for a class is $110,000 COP ($36 USD) or $380,000 COP ($125 USD) if you want to take more than one. The studio is actually part of the cultural house Sin Visa, so you can do many other things too (like cultural exchanges and other events)
  • Whee Dance Lessons: I recommend going to these lessons every Thursday at Meeting House. You’ll learn to dance salsa and many other Colombian or Latin rhythms, as well as sharing the experience with other foreigners and locals (for free!). It’s a hell of a good time, really!

Also, take a look at these Youtube videos that teach basic steps (intuitive and simple) that you can practice:

Want to dance for fun?

People dancing salsa and having fun
© Photograph by Ardinan Lumi on Hiperlink

Going partying would definitely be the best way to enjoy some salsa without really knowing how to. Again, Cali is the best option, but in Bogotá, there are several salsa bars where you can enjoy it, as well as the fact that most of the bars or clubs will play salsa at some point during the night (mark my words!). Try these places:

  • Salsa Camará: it has been the stage for many nationally and internationally well-known artists, so it’s a must!
  • Boricua Salsa Bar: Sixteen years of classical and contemporary salsa only means pure fun that can’t be missed!
  • Son Salomé: A magical place full of good music and good salsa for everyone’s delight!

Famous salsa artists and songs

This would be a never-ending list. Between bands, orchestras, and singers, there are thousands of amazing salsa musicians from Colombia with lots of love and talent! Here are the top five artists and songs you definitely need to listen to, learn, and dance:

  • Grupo Niche: everyone knows them and they have been around for decades.
  • Joe Arroyo: he’s so popular that he even got a biopic tv show to portray his life.
  • Celia Cruz: she’s Cuban and has a voice like no other. It’s impossible to not like her!
  • Héctor Lavoe: he’s really like the Michael Jackson of salsa!
  • Orquesta Guayacán: they just look and feel Colombian.
Grupo Niche playing on stage
© Photograph by vallehoy.com

Songs:

  • El Preso by Fruko y Sus Tesos (I can assure that there isn’t a single Colombian that doesn’t know the lyrics of this song!)
  • Cali Pachanguero by Grupo Niche (a Colombian party isn’t a party without this song!)
  • Quimbara by Celia Cruz (Celia never disappoints!)
  • La Rebelión by Joe Arroyo (there’s no chance you wouldn’t want to stand up and dance to this song!)
  • Oiga, mire, vea by Orquesta Guayacán (classic!)

If you want to listen to more salsa songs and awesome artists, click on this Spotify List and enjoy!

In Colombia, we have salsa in our blood and it’s something that must be experienced. Salsa is all about happiness, letting go, enjoyment, self-expression, and sabor (flavor). How can you miss something like this!? No matter who you are or where you are, Colombian salsa is something everyone can take part in and it will always embody the truest essence of Colombian culture!

Please take a look at our articles about other Colombian music genres, such as currulao, joropo, and cumbia, and traditional Colombian instruments to know and discover more about our music!

Was this article useful? Do you know other cool facts about salsa? Or maybe an experience you would like to share? Please share and/or comment on this article, and visit our homepage Colture to take a look at my articles and many others to find more essential information about Bogotá before and during your trip.

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