Dance Timing (On1 vs. On2)

What’s The Difference? And Why You Should Care.

Salsa dancing comes in two basic flavors: On1 and On2. Both styles are considered “salsa” and both styles are danced by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. However, if you plan on going to a salsa club in your city (and you should, right?), you might find one style is more prominent than the other.

So What’s The Difference?

Generally speaking, On1 tends to be a little easier to learn. This style tends to be a flashier with more dramatic poses and accents. More importantly, the feeling of the dance has more abrupt pauses or delays, which contribute to the style’s drama. On1 is sometimes called “L.A. Style” (an even more extreme version of On1) after the city of Los Angeles, so it’s appropriately named. On2 can be a bit harder to learn in the beginning, but don’t let that stop you. Generally speaking, On2 tends to be more fluid, confined, smooth, subtle and constant. New York City predominantly dances On2 and it seems that On2 has grown faster over the last 10 years than On1.

Why Does This Matter?

If you’re just going to dance in your living room or kitchen, choosing a style doesn’t matter. But that’s not the point of learning salsa, right? The point is to get out, have fun, make new friends, and dance! This is why the choice matters: for each dance, both people must agree to either dance On1 or On2. You simply can’t dance both at the same time. Also, many salsa dancers learn only one style or the other. Mixing an On1 dancer with an On2 dancer can make the dance difficult, but certainly not impossible. One person will simply find themselves trying to quickly adapt during the three or so minutes you’re dancing together. If you do find yourself in that situation, don’t worry! It makes a great topic for conversation with him/her after the dance.

A Detailed Explanation of On1

When dancing On1, you’ll be focusing on the “down” beats of the music. What are the down beats? Think of a steady base beat: thump, thump, thump, thump. The heavy, constant beat typically starts on the first count of the music and it’s called the down beat. Let’s look at an example. Listen to the song Lose Yourself to Dance. While you listen, tap your foot to the beat. Do this for about 15 seconds. Got it? Congratulations! You’ve just found the down beats! The down beats are the heavy beats to which you tap your foot or clap your hands. As I said, dancing salsa On1 focuses on the down beats, so it tends to be a bit easier when first learning. Also, because of the abrupt and dramatic nature of the strong down beats, On1 dancing naturally follows with a dramatic style.

A Detailed Explanation of On2

Compared to On1 style, On2 tends to be more fluid, smooth and subtle. There are two main reasons for this: 1) the focus is on the lighter up beats of the music rather than the heavier down beats, and; 2) the position of your feet cause you to be more fluid. I’ll explain both of these in just a minute. But first, let’s make sure we understand the “up beat”. The main chorus of Love You Like A Love Song starts about 56 into the video and has a very noticeable up beat. The rest of the song has a stronger down beat. So this time, tap your foot to the first half of the song and notice what happens at 56 seconds, when the chorus starts. Did you notice it? When the chorus starts, there is a loud synthesizer that you hear on the up beat. When Selena sings “I, I love you like a love song baby.”, notice how the words “I”, “I”, “you”, “a” emphasize the up beats. If you didn’t notice the change, try the same exercise but this time, rather than tap your foot, bounce in your chair. As the song starts, you’ll be noticing the beat as you bounce downward. Once the chorus starts, you’ll notice your bounce as you rise upward. Do it! It’s kinda fun! When you dance salsa On2, your movements tend to follow the up beats more than the down beats. Up beats are lighter and subtle, so On2 dancing tends to be lighter and subtle. Why? Because your movements interpret the music as you dance. Dancing is not only fun, its self expression. Another difference in On2 dancing is the foot position. With On2 style, your feet tend to be apart and in motion more than On1. This simple fact leads to a steady, even, and fluid style of dancing. You’ll learn more about the foot position in the other Gotta Salsa lessons.

So How Do You Choose?

If you happen to know the style that most people dance in your area, then that’s the logical choice. But hey, you’re just starting out right? How are you going to know? Well, you could ask any “salsa friends” you have or you could call local salsa studios to inquire. But more importantly, ask yourself: “Self, am I bright and flashy (On1) or subtle and cool (On2)?” Based on your answer, pick one! If you still can’t choose, then I’ll just tell you: choose On2. Experience says that On2 is danced by most top dancers and it’s easier to migrate from On2 to On1 than the other way around, if necessary.