The Real Difference Between On1 & On2 Salsa

Although the majority of classes and club nights within Leeds are danced ‘On1’, recently ‘On2’ salsa dancing has rapidly gained popularity within the area. So last weekend, resident teacher Jake, went to a On2 workshop hosted by TNT Dance to find out what all the fuss is about.

At Salsa Dance Leeds we pretty much dance exclusively ‘On1’, and a lot has been made of the difference between these two styles. So we are asking the question, what’s the real difference between On1 and On2 salsa?

“The simple answer is not much, but quite a lot. Confused? Don’t worry we will explain…”

Sorry, out of necessity what follows will get quite technical.

Salsa On1

First let’s get down to some fundamentals of Salsa On1. You’ll often hear in classes the teacher counting “one-two-three, five-six-seven”. This means we are stepping on the first three counts of the first bar, and the first three counts of the second bar. So what happens on the 4th and 8th beat I hear you cry?

Well, a somewhat simplified explanation taught to beginners is that we have a pause, that we stop moving altogether.  This would look pretty unnatural, and actually most dancers do continue moving through the 4th and 8th beats.  These dancers actually employ a Quick-Quick-Slow rhythm.

So what does that mean?  A Quick Quick is 2 steps to 2 beats of music (stepping on each beat) and a Slow is 1 step to 2 beats of music (stepping on the 1st beat of the Slow).  In On1, the Quick Quick steps are beats 1 and 2, and 5 and 6; while the Slow steps are beats 3 and 4, and 7 and 8.

Importantly, while performing the mambo step in partner work, the lead steps forward on count one with his left foot, while the follow steps back with her right.

Salsa On2

With Salsa On2, the main technical difference lies in the timing of the steps.

The lead actually takes his forward step on count six of the music, which is five beats later than his On1 counterpart.

Also, the Quick Quick steps are 2 and 3, and 6 and 7; while the Slow steps are across beats 4 and 5, and 8 and 1. Some On2 dancers actually place the foot down on 4 and 8, while others step on 4& and 8&.

The Difference Between On1 and On2

So what’s the difference between On1 and On2? Well in fact, there are more similarities than some would have you believe. The steps and moves are very similar across On1 and On2 – it is simply the timing that varies.

It really is a matter of personal preference because the difference in the timing gives light to the most important difference of all – the feeling of dancing On1 or On2. Because the Slow part of the Quick Quick Slow rhythm is at a different point in the music, this gives the two styles a considerably different emphasis, and also, a different connection with the music.

It’s also worth noting that preference for On1 or On2 often varies along geographic lines. LA Style salsa with it’s high energy dips, tricks and spins is usually danced On1. Whereas New York salsa, with it’s emphasis on technique and musicality is usually danced On2. There’s also an argument to say On1 is easier for beginners to take up. I’ll leave that up for debate – comments are open!

What I will say, is that you should try both and decide for yourself. The TNT Dance workshop last Saturday was exceptional, not only for the On2 tuition but also the elements that both On1 and On2 dancers can benefit from.


  • musicality
  • timing
  • body isolations
  • leading and following
  • multiple spin technique
  • shines


TNT Dance are a London based crew and their next Mambo workshop (read Salsa On2) is 27th October 2012 at the Dance Studio Leeds. For more details, check out the TNT Dance website and decide for yourself!

Just promise us that you won’t abandon On1 completely and will still come see us at Distrikt in Leeds for your fix every Tuesday evening!

About Jake

Jake is the founder of StreetSalsa, he regularly contributes to several blogs on the subject of salsa and teaches in and around Leeds.

12 comments on “The Real Difference Between On1 & On2 Salsa

  1. Your breakdown of the differences is quite simple. I did struggle with On2 at the ladies’ styling bootcamp though. Been dancing On1 maybe a touch too long for me to not notice the difference and I couldn’t just ignore my feet and concentrate on my arms like I hoped to. Perhaps if I persevere(?)

  2. I know what you mean Michelle, at points during the workshop I really found myself clicking onto the On2 rhythm, but later into the workshop as the concentration started to slip I found myself increasingly falling back On1! Toan at TNT Dance assured me that if you just keep practicing it will click – I’d really like to be equally fluent in both so I’ll be taking any opportunity I can to dance On2 so look out for me on the dance floor!

  3. Interesting post, but inaccurate. There most definitely IS a pause on 4 and 8 in salsa danced On1. Or if you’re feeling a bit Cuban then you can put in a foot tap on the spot.
    Actually this is one of the things I have noticed about your classes, that you have lost the pause, and in fact a lot of the dancers in your classes ( sometimes including the teachers!) seem to have lost the pause and salsa timing completely and smear the 6 steps over the 8 beats. This is partly a consequence of dancing salsa to non salsa music!
    So… One of the major differences between On1 and On2 is that for On2 you have more flexibility to play with the rhythms, and it feels a bit more relaxed because you don’t have to make the 3 steps in 3 beats as strictly!

  4. Thanks for the comment Trev, but I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one! The accomplished teachers and dancers that I’ve seen don’t stopping moving altogether at the end of the third beat for a distinct pause (On1). They dance a Quick Quick on beats 1 and 2, while dancing a Slow on beats 3 and 4.

    Now you certainly are right about one thing, the six steps shouldn’t be ‘smeared’ over the eight beats. I think has little to do with the type of music and much more to do with the tempo. I think it can happen during a really fast track, but by and large our dancers get it pretty spot on.

    Your comments about our teaching style are welcomed but I’d prefer it if you could put aside the sweeping generalizations about our dancers – I don’t think it helps to build the confidence of people just starting out and in fact only succeeds in building the reputation that salsa has for being snobby and elitist. In the Lindy Hop community you simply would not hear somebody pass judgement on beginners who may well be attending their first lesson and hitting the social floor for the first time. In the swing dance scene people actively embrace mistakes and provide a supportive environment in which people can learn.

    By the way, when was the last time you even saw one of our classes? I know you’ve attended the freestyle dance recently but I can’t remember seeing you during one of our beginner classes? I’d love to invite you down as a guest to one of our beginner classes and you can make a judgement based on taking part. In fact I’d welcome an open and frank, independent review and would be happy to let you guest blog as such on our blog.

    What do you say? I’d also like to extend genuine thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Here here. I started dancing salsa in September but only practice once a week in class. Tootoot, but I feel like I look more natural because my knees are the metronome, so on four and eight the body shifts. That is an aside. I went to my first Lindy hop class the other day and got immediate encouragement, advice, and friendly leading tips (why I took the class in the first place.). A Lindy hopper in my class strongly suggested I come to a social and it’s amazing, no judgement and way more fun. Perhaps my love of jazz helps. The atmosphere is less stuffy and I know it will help towards the greater goal of salsa. I digress. Some songs sound better to dance on two, but others have such a strong g one beat you feel compelled to to dance on 1. I ddon’t think it matters.

  5. Hey Jake,

    Your article is nice, short and digestible 🙂

    Thank you for coming to the workshops, indeed these sessions covers a lot more than a conversion to on2, and material which is transferable to all styles.

    With regards to getting started on2, it will take time for your body to adjust, not just the movements and directions, but different rhythm that on2 is danced on.

    We look forward to seeing you all at the end of the month,

  6. See you there! I’ll plug the workshop in our classes closer to the time, I think it’s important for people to experience different dances and styles so that they can make a more informed choice about what they would like to development within their own, personal style.

  7. I have been dancing on 1 and cuban salsa for many years now, and recently have joined workshop for salsa on 2, I must admit it feels to me as I’m constantly off beat and I don’t enjoy dancing as much as on 1. I do not approve that some salsa schools are only dancing on 2 in Europe, It’s important that you have have option to choose.

  8. Hello,

    I know it’s an old article but I need to check if I understood the quick quick slow (on1) correctly.
    The “slow” means that you put your foot on the floor at 4 or 8 ?
    Quick = 1 beat
    Quick = 1 beat
    Slow = 2 beats => my foot touches the floor on 4/8 ? (instead of touching on 3 and making a pause on 4/8 ? )

    All the teachers I meet teach to pause on 4 and 8 but when I look myself into the mirror I think I look like a robot.

    • Hi Matt,
      Thanks for the comment. The quick quick slow is more about the movement of your feet and body. Although we say we pause on 4 and 8 we as dancers should still be moving. It is just that we do not step on these counts. You will find yourself just picking your feet up on these counts.
      Hope that helps

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