A common question that people have when starting to learn salsa dancing is where it actually came from. The history of salsa dancing is very rich and vibrant just like the music and the steps.
Salsa dancing started in Cuba, as a direct derivative of traditional Son, a classy couples dance originating in the eastern side of Cuba. Salsa was danced to Son Montuno music (traditional Son) as well as what Cuban musicians used to call Guaracha, a music blend that would later be labelled and marketed as "salsa" by US record labels. It was in the 1940s that salsa really evolved as a distinct dance form with the advent and popularity of the Ruedas de Casino, a group form of dancing where many couples would dance in a circular formation, execute turn patterns in synchronicity and exchange partners often. Back then and up to today, salsa in Cuba is better known as casino dancing.
In North America salsa dancing didn't really start until the year 1940 or 1950. This is when many Cuban settlers made their way to New York and change the New York music scene with their unique style of dance and with guaracha/salsa music. It was in the 1970s that Fania Records, the biggest record label and promoter of Latin music in the US, started promoting this "new" kind of music as "salsa". Naturally salsa dancing craze became much bigger towards the late 1970s and 80s and fell in line with the fun and excitement of disco fever. As people across North America we getting very large into dance steps like the Latin hustle, the salsa dance continued to rise alongside disco music as well.
Before and during this time, salsa music had spread to other Latin American countries, and found new roots in places such as Puerto Rico, and Colombia, where locals created their own versions of the dance to accompany the music. Some of the basic principles and steps are the same as in Cuba, but there are also notable differences.
Here in Toronto, Salsa began to eventually move on to many clubs throughout Toronto in the late 1980s. Since then salsa dancing in Toronto has benefitted from many different influences, from the earlier Central American immigrants and their Cumbia blend, to the Cubans and their casino dancing, as well as a strong presence of NY and LA styles.
Although some of the original steps were born in the early 1940s and 50s throughout Cuba and then brought over to North America, salsa dancing retains its ever-changing nature. The steps are fluid and new elements are being added regularly.