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Note from Manny: This is the first time to my knowledge that someone has ever made an attempt of tackling this topic. Charles should be commended for rising to the task. SalsaNewYork would love for others to write more about on how to choose and break down a song for a performance.  Also, see our list of Good Salsa Dance Songs, and also our section on how to make and care for a CD with a performance song so that it doesn't skip or stop during a performance.  Click on Good Performance CDs.

Choosing a Song for a Performance:
-by Charles Joseph Smith ("The Little Lily of Salsa" cjsmith2@students.uiuc.edu)

Being a salsa dance fanatic for 5 years was exciting enough, but being in a salsa dance performance was even more exciting. I had already danced in (and choreographed) two salsa songs for my partner, Jessica Pupovac for a talent show called "No Acts Barred in 1998 and 1999 at the University of Illinois at Urbana. Seeing the movie "Dance With Me" inspired me to get into the world of salsa dance choreography.

So you and your partner want to do a salsa performance? Good. And do you know a good repertoire of salsa moves from beginner-level to advanced to make the dance so exciting that it will persuade would-be salsa dancers to sign up and take salsa dance lessons from you or to see future salsa performances?  But how can you do a salsa performance to the music if you don't know how the salsa song you are going to perform to is made up of. 

I had heard a lot of salsa songs (including old-time mambos such as "Ran Kan Kan", "De Todo Un Poco", and "Descarga Criolla") and began to adore over 50 of them. However, since there are thousands of salsa songs today, salsa song structures can be almost numerous; so I only will show you how several salsas songs are made up (listed below). But one thing is common--salsas will
have a verse or verses, choruses that will have a call-and-response (that is, the lead singer utters out the call and the background singers do the response to the lead singer's call, or vice-versa), and instrumental breaks and/or bridges.

Structure no. 1
Example: "No me acostumbro" (Rey Ruiz)
1. The verse (after a short introduction)
2. The chorus
3. The second verse
4. The chorus
5. The instrumental break or bridge
6. The chorus reprise with call-and-response
7. Another instrumental break or bridge
8. Another chorus reprise with call-and-response
9. The ending

Structure no. 2
Example: "Juliana" (DLG)
1. The chorus with call-and-response
2. The first verse
3. The chorus with call-and-response
4. The second verse
5. The chorus with call-and-response
6. Third (and subsequent verses)
7. The chorus with call-and-response
8. Instrumental break
9. The chorus with call-and-response with some change in words
10.Another instrumental break
11.Reprise of chorus with call-and-response as in no. 9
12.Ending with pattern almost similar to no. 1 and/or no. 10

Structure no. 3
Example: Lloraras (Oscar D'Leon)
1. Instrumental introduction
2. First verse
3. Instrumental break
4. Second verse
5. Another instrumental break
6. Third verse
7. Instrumental bridge
8. Chorus with call-and-response
9. Ending

Structure no. 4
Example: " Pedro Navaja" (Ruben Blades)
1. Instrumental introduction
2. A set of several verses without instrumental breaks
3. Short chorus
4. Chorus with call-and-response
5. Instrumental break and vocal bridge
6. Chorus reprise with call-and-response
7. Another instrumental break and vocal bridge
8. Chorus reprise with call-and-response
9. Ending

Basically, most salsa music starts with an introduction as an 'appetizer', the verse or verses as the 'main course', and for the climax of the song, the 'chorus with call-and-response' as dessert, and this is where salsa music gets most exciting. This is also true for 'romantic salsa' songs, where the percussion ceases sound occasionally, before it starts up again; this usually happens at the start of a verse.

To make a salsa performance look varied and not boring, you would probably hold back doing intermediate or advanced moves until the middle of the song. Often, such moves will be done in the choruses with call-and response. But what if the 'calls and responses' start in the beginning of the song (like "Juliana")? I would then say do the intermediate/advanced moves at the beginning, hold back by doing some basic (beginning) steps in the middle of of the song, and do some intermediate/advanced stuff near the end of the song.

Once you find a salsa song that you love to perform to, listen to it several times so you can choreograph moves to that particular song. Listen for the parts of the song I mentioned above in the examples--the verse, the chorus, the chorus with the call-and-response, the bridges, the breaks, the introduction and the ending. Write them down on a piece a paper and select a certain salsa move to coincide with these parts; e.g., a dip at the end of the song, or a series of underarm turns in the call-and-response choruses, or the forward-backward basic at the start of the song, etc.).

Some of this you will get naturally. If you hear a singer singing over the instruments, this is probably the verse part of the song. If you hear trumpets blasting over the accompaniment and no singing, this might be an instrumental break. If the singer sings in a high range and the accompaniment is slightly louder than it was in the verse, this might be the chorus part.

Finally, listen to how many measures the part of the salsa song has. Most parts will have 8, 16, or 32 measures, with some variations. The choruses that have call-and-response will have 4 or 8 measures for the 'call' and another 4 or 8 measures for the 'response' (usually repeated up to 4 times or a little longer). An instrumental break might be 16, 24, or 32 measures also with some variations. Introductions are usually 8 or 16 measures. 

I hope that all of this will help you and you partner perform the salsa demo of your life.

Also, see our SalsaNewYork.com list of Good Salsa Dance Songs .


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