On1, On2, Cuban, What is the difference and what does it matter?

Posted by katiesea on March 1, 2010

If you’re a beginner dancer and are trying to figure out which style to try first it, the answer is simply: it doesn’t really matter. If you’re an experienced dancer in either of these styles, learning the other style opens doors to meet and dance with more people throughout the world. You may even find out you like the new style better than the old! My favorite comparison is that of an English speaker learning a Latin language like Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, etc. If you learn Portuguese you will have the opportunity to communicate with about 200 million more people. If you then learn Spanish you can have another 300 million people to talk with. Which one is better? Wrong question, they are different but serve the same purpose. Which one should I learn first? Maybe the one that is used in the area you plan to visit in your travels, or maybe the one that sounds better to you. Once you know one of them, learning a second is much easier because of their common background.

So where do people dance On1 or On2? There are On1 and On2 dancers all over the world! Here in the US, On1 was popularized in Los Angeles with the Vasquez Brothers, and On2 in New York with Eddie Torres’s famous time step. We won’t get into the Palladium Mambo for the sake of simplicity. In Dallas, TX there is a slight majority of On1 dancers but On2 is a quickly growing trend. In fact, the best On1 dancers of Dallas have tended to learn On2 and transfer all of their On1 moves to the new timing. Some just still prefer On1.

What do you mean by new timing?

Ok, so here comes the explanation of the difference between the two styles:

The main difference is when you step (start dancing or moving) with respect to the music. The On1 dancers move (or break forward) on the first beat of the music, while the On2 dancers break on the second beat. That’s it!

Now people can go into a more complex explanation of the cadence, and the conga, and the way that the ancestors use to dance to the beats of the drums back in Africa but you know what? They weren’t there and dance changes with time and with people (just like Salsa has evolved to have these distinct timing styles), so I’m going to keep this explanation as simple as possible.

Both On1 and On2 are slot (or line) dances meaning that you’re not going to cross in between the slot (space) where another couple is dancing. You’re going to stay in your slot. In contrast, Cuban (or Miami) style salsa has the couple dancing in circles around each other and can travel across the dance floor.

Now if you go to Latin America and try to dance salsa with them, they tend to dance on the core beats (odd beats of the music) but not necessarily On1 or On2. In fact Cuban dancers (as per my experience dancing in Miami for 5 years) tend to dance on the 3rd or the 7th beat of the music. Why? Because sometime the music strongest accent comes on the third or the seventh beat and that’s when they decide and feel like they should move.

If I dance On1 can I dance with an On2 dancer and vice versa? Yes, but it will be rocky!! Each of you will have a tendency to go back to your style. To make it smooth, both dancers must agree the timing at which they want to dance. In general, it is considered nice etiquette for the lead to ask the follower which timing they prefer to dance in (-before you start dancing of course!). So guys, the pressure is on us to know both timings and make the lady feel good dancing their favorite style. The same happens with Cuban dancers trying to dance with On1 or On2 dancers (- hey, it’s happened to me).

How can I tell if someone is dancing On1 or On2? You can tell by looking. Another big difference of these two styles is the direction in which they start moving. On1 leads move forward with their left foot on the first beat of the music, where the On2 leads will step backwards with their right foot on the second beat of the music. There are some things better explained in conversation and dancing so I promise to upload soon a video talking about this very topic and showing the counts slowly (and dancing). J

See you on the dance floor!!!

~ Frederic & Katie


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