Dance Glossary for Beginners with #Videos

Speech bubbles of questions newbies might encounter in social dance.

“Do you dance On1 or On2? Puerto Rican or New York Style? Or maybe Casino? Ah, do you dance Rueda?”

“That’s not Bachata. That’s Bachata Sensual.”

“Listen to the clave.”

Uhhh…. What? You’ve sometimes just nodded and pretended you had to go to the bathroom.

This glossary is for someone just getting into social dancing and trying to decipher this dance jargon and narrow down what kind of dance they like.

Bachata Sensual:

Korke Escalona is popularly accredited for inventing Bachata Sensual by taking the traditional Bachata step and adding influences from Brazilian Zouk to the body lead and interpretation. And surprise! It’s very sensual.

Bachata (original):

This would be the music of the Dominican Republic that saw an explosion in popularity around the world with a 90s album by Juan Luis Guerra. His fame is so great that Latin Americans and long-time dancers immediately recognize his initials: JLG in advertisements, hashtags, etc. Traditional Bachata has a lot more play in the feet than Bachata Sensual.

#JLG #theman #thelegend

Brazilian Zouk:

Originating with Lambada, the music dying out, Brazilians began dancing variations of Lambada to Caribbean Zouk music and today is becoming more and more popular. It’s characterized by its unique step and cambrés.


This video is not inside of a casino although, Casino is a Cuban-style dancing likely popularized in casinos. Most of the time when someone says “Cuban” dancing, it’s actually “Casino,” that’s being danced.


Technically, the clave are just two sticks. When you hit them these don’t make fire. They do make a distinct, round sound that rings out above all of the instruments in Latin music. The claves are usually used to play what is called the “clave,” beat, which is that distinct Salsa beat that holds back on certain beats and faster on others. Obviously, the instrument is used in other types of Latin music.

Cuban Style:

See “Casino.” Today’s Cuban/Casino or Timba Salsa is very energetic. If you were to draw on the floor the area that Cuban dancers take, it would be a circle. And they dance in circles within in those circles!

Dance Congress/Festival:

A dance congress or festival is the ultimate weekend dance intensive that attracts dancers, instructors and DJs from around the world. So for hours, you have the opportunity to learn from the best of the best! You sleep, eat and breathe dance. Check out our full answer to that question in our blog.


An Angolan music and dance that has recently become popular worldwide outside of the West African country. It has a very similar lead as the Tango in the upper body (although Kizomba did not evolve at all from Tango) but has an African step. There is now an urban and fusion style of Kizomba, the video below is fusion.

L.A. Style:

This is a style danced On1 and if you were to draw on the floor the area that these dancers take up, it would basically be a line. So sometimes, this is described as en línea (in a line). Back and forth, the dancers change places with a few exceptions in between, but always returning to their line.


This is in reference to which beat the lead dancer places the emphasis on and sets the main step for the follower. In this case, the lead would indicate to the follower to do the main step on beat 1. Here, the lead steps forward with the left on the 1, prompting the follower to take a step back on the right on the 1.

If you’re a beginner, unless your instructor states outright, you are most likely learning On1, aka L.A. Style. Why? Because pop music usually also emphasizes the 1 beat and it’s easier to teach beginners, especially those who didn’t grow up listening to Latin music.

On2 (New York vs Puerto Rico):

Exactly as above, this refers to which beat the leader places the emphasis on and sets the main step for the follower. In this case, there is what has become known as New York On2 and Puerto Rican On2.

Both of them start on beat one, but in New York On2, the lead takes the first step (beat one) in place and takes a step backwards with the right on the second beat, prompting the follower to take a step forward on the two with her left.

Likewise, in Puerto Rican On2 the lead takes the first step (beat one) in place but takes a step forward with the left on the second beat, prompting the follower to take a step backwards on the two. Many of the top dancers prefer to social dance On2.


If you have taken any dance classes, you know by now that someone has to move and switch partners, so we aren’t really trying to define it here, but rather explain how you know what to do. The instructor decides and calls it out at the beginning whether it’s going to be the men or women who switch, and even the direction the “line” will move in. So be there on time to find out 😉

And try to stick to the plan. Go in the order they determined. If you are the one moving, remember who was before you and who was after you and try to not jump ahead or fall behind when switching. If you pay attention you’ll get the most out of your hour, you’ll get to meet and dance with everyone in your class and they’ll appreciate how cooperative you are.

Brush up on dance etiquette & hear dancers' top pet peeves.


Cuban music and dance style developed in the 40s and popularized in New York City. Today instructors teach a few solo, vintage-looking moves that they dub “Mambo,” however, the use of the term Mambo has become associated with dancing “On2,” and “New York Salsa.”


When you’re starting out, don’t be hard on yourself. You’ll struggle just to execute the moves on the right beat and that’s ok. Everyone was there and it is perfectly expected.

Eventually, however, you want to progress and not just step on the right beat, but really get into and express the music.

Music is an art. There is no one on the planet that does not connect to a song, rhythm or music. Dance is one of the expressions and interpretations of that art.

So, as a dancer you become an artist!

In social dancing the beauty is that sharing of the musical art that you experience and making art together.

Melodies become something that you can interpret with a long turn, or an exaggerated slide of your feet. You can start anticipating the “hits” or “resolution” in the music (great music is built on the concept of tension.. tension.. tension… and resolution) and stop when the music stops. Each song has a story and a mood that you could choose to honor.

This sensibility to the music will make you sought after on the dance floor.


Rueda means “wheel” in Spanish. This is a super social form of Salsa where more than 2 couples (it could actually be an endless number of couples) dance in a circle, or “wheel.” One person “calls out” the different dance steps that all of the couples will do in unison. The leader usually yells it and uses a hand signal that is associated with it.

These dance steps are learned in advance, and they are pretty universally known among people who dance rueda. If you haven’t taken rueda classes, it’s best not to join the circle.

One of the most obvious moves involves switching partners, so that eventually everyone gets to dance with everyone at least once, if not multiple times during one song. Most dance moves are saucy, involving giving kisses on the cheek, faking heart attacks, clapping, high-fiveing and a whole lot more fun. There’s no way you can leave without laughing.

There’s also something called a “Birthday Rueda.” Here the girl/boy is the center of attention, so if you are still learning, keep at it until your birthday! You’ll have so much fun.

The birthday girl/boy stands in the middle, while all of the dancers surround them in a circle and they take turns dancing (just a few moves) with the birthday girl/boy for the duration of one or two songs.

And our work is done. Intro dance terms… demystified.

We’ll be pulling together an intermediate and advanced dance glossary soon, so tell us:

What dance jargon just flies over your head? Or what, as an experienced dancer, do you think is helpful for a beginner, intermediate or advanced dancers to have a definition and see a video of?

Write us in the comments below!

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