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Tuesday, 02 October 2012 20:14

Counting in Salsa

Question: Is it possible to play or dance to salsa music without counting?

The band only "counts" to set a tempo and get things started. After that, counting

happens on an as-needed basis. In dancing, people use many techniques to find where they are in the music. But a common misconception is that "the count" is a fundamental part of salsa music. It is not. Just about everything in the music happens in terms of clave, which is a rhythm. You can put a count to it, but that's only to figure it out if you can't "feel it". In other words, even the percussion players aren't "counting" constantly. One example of this is the concept of a clave change. When this happens, "the count" goes backwards. Therefore, clave is the fundamental aspect of salsa that enables us to count. This is a very very interesting question, but there is no right answer! It's very personal. The key things to know are

  1. "Counting" is an analytical tool. Some people use that tool constantly to keep themselves in rhythm, which is absolutely fine. Others use it a lot less.
  2. As with any tool, the mere fact that it's being used says nothing about whether or not it is being used correctly. Can you dance without counting and be on time? Yes! Can you dance to a count and be completely off? Yes!

If you see someone dancing off beat, it's just as likely that they are dancing to a count as not -- it just might be the wrong count. And when you see someone that's right with the music all the time, don't call them a liar if they tell you that they don't dance to a count.