Styling and Timing

dance Sep 04, 2019

by Mike Bello

Much has been said, and is probably still being said as you read this, about styles of dancing to salsa music.

New York style, L.A. style, Cuban style, Puerto Rican style… Curaçao style, Dutch style, Chicago style and so on and so on and scooby-dooby-dooby!

Many times dancers are using the term "style" and wind up making it synonymous with the term "timing."

Oh, and, now that’s a big no-no!

Timing and style barely share anything in common.

You see, simply put, style is basically what the body does during the dance.

More pointedly, style is a specific or characteristic manner of expression, execution, construction or design.

Specific styling can relate to a type of dance like Rumba styling, Hustle styling, Swing styling.1 

This can even take the form of an individual expression, characterized by a well-known dance personality.

The following are some attributes of styling:

    1. Cuban Motion: that very snaky, sensual, rib and hip alternating lateral movement that is the very essence of the Afro-Latin dance experience.

    2. Arm movements, mostly featured by women, that have caught the nation by storm and very reminiscent of the New York Hustle from the 1970’s and 1980’s.

    3. Hand movements from the 1950’s and 1960’s, especially during performance company dance routines and done primarily by men, which has been coming back into fashion (think of the Palladium Legends).

    4. The suave demeanor of dancers where effortlessness rules.

    5. Frenetically charged dancers full of energy and applying it all on the dance floor and on their partners.

    6. Hip-Hop dance moves injected into the way partners orchestrate their dancing.

    7. Even relaxed, "street" oriented or stiff contra-body motion can be considered styling (or lack thereof).

The Webster’s New American Dictionary states that timing is "The control of the speed of the action."

Timing, then, is what occurs when maintaining the rhythm pattern of dance in relation to the tempo of the music.

When staying "in time" one is accomplishing the correct amount of weight changes at the appropriate time.

The character of timing, irrespective of where the break step occurs, can be looked at numerically in the following:

  • 8½, 2,34½,6,7 or the reverse 4½,6,7 – 8½, 2,3

  • 1,2,3 – 5,6,7 or the reverse 5,6,7 – 1,2,3

  • 2,3,4 – 6,7,8 or the reverse 6,7,8 – 2,3,4

  • 3,4,5 – 7,8,1 or the reverse 7,8,1 – 3,4,5

  • 4,5,6 – 8,1,2 or the reverse 8,1,2 – 4,5,6

Remember that the above numbers represent when the dance pattern’s, or rhythm’s, weight changes occur in the 8 beat measure of dancing to salsa music.

There is so much to discuss just on the numbers alone but in reference to styling they are not meant to represent how we look when we dance.

Examples of some of the expressions used in this topic and their true meanings are:

  • New York Styling: Classic or Modern Mambo dance pattern with a general smoothness in the dance performance. These dancers break on 2.

  • L.A. Styling: Primarily a Classic Mambo dance pattern with the break at the head of the dance phrase and much of the physical energy in the direction of the break. These dancers break on 1.

  • Puerto Rican Styling: Very much like the New Yorkers except many have less intricate turn patterns. These dancers break on 2.

Note: The above is only a small example of styling in some of the salsa locales in America and not meant to be all-inclusive.

Keep in mind that styling and timing can happen at the same time. They just aren’t the same thing!


1. Skippy Blair. "Dance Terminology Notebook," p. 68.

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