Salsa's roots are based on different genres such as Puerto Rican rhythms, Cuban son, specifically to the beat of son montuno in the 1920s. However, as it is a popular music, it is open to improvisation and thus it is continuously evolving. New modern salsa styles are associated and named to the original geographic areas that developed them. There are often devotees of each of these styles outside of their home territory. Characteristics that may identify a style include: timing, basic steps, foot patterns, body rolls and movements, turns and figures, attitude, dance influences and the way that partners hold each other. The point in a musical bar music where a slightly larger step is taken (the break step) and the direction the step moves can often be used to identify a style. Incorporating other dance styling techniques into salsa dancing has become very common, for both men and women: shimmies, leg work, arm work, body movement, spins, body isolations, shoulder shimmies, rolls, even hand styling, acrobatics and lifts. Latin American styles originate from Puerto Rico, Cuba and surrounding Caribbean islands including the Dominican Republic, and then expanding to Venezuela, Colombia, and the rest of Latin America; also heavily influence Miami style which is a fusion of Cuban style and North American version. The styles include casino, Miami style, Cali style and Venezuelan style. North American styles have different characteristics: Los Angeles style breaks on the first beat "On 1" while New York style breaks on the second beat "On 2". Both have different origins and evolutionary path, as the New York Salsa is heavily influenced by jazz instruments in its early growth stage.
L.A. style salsa is danced on 1, in a slot, with a measure of easiness and adaptability to it. It is strongly influenced by the mambo, swing, Argentine tango and Latin ballroom dancing styles. L.A. style places strong emphasis on sensuousness, theatricality, aerobics and musicality. The lifts, stunts and aerial works of today's salsa shows are derived mostly from L.A. Style forms with origins in Latin Ballroom and Ballet lifts. The two essential elements of this dance are the forward–backward basic as described above and the cross-body lead. In this pattern, the leader steps forward on 1, steps to the right on 2-3 while turning 90 degrees counter-clockwise (facing to the left), leaving the slot open. The follower then steps straight forward on 5-6 and turns on 7-8, while the leader makes another 90 degrees counter-clockwise and slightly forward, coming back into the slot. After these 8 counts, the leader and follower have exchanged their positions. Albert Torres, Laura Canellias and Joe Cassini are credited for the early development and growth of L.A. Style. Later, such dancers as Alex Da Silva, Edie Lewis, Joby Martinez, Josie Neglia, Liz Lira, Johnny, Luis and Francisco Vazquez and Janette Valenzuela are often credited with developing the L.A. style of dancing as we know it today.
New York style is danced in a line similar to L.A. style salsa. However, unlike L.A. style, it is danced on the second beat of the music ("on 2"), and the follower steps forward on the first measure of the music, not the leader. The etiquette of New York Style is strict about remaining in the "slot" and avoiding traveling dancing in a sandbox area with a lot of spins, turns and styling. There is greater emphasis on performing "shines" in which dancers separate themselves and dance solo with intricate footwork and styling for a time—suspected origins from swing and New York tap. Though he did not create New York style salsa, Eddie Torres is credited with popularizing it, and for having the follower step forward on the second beat of the first measure. There are two distinct developments of New York salsa as a music and dance genre: Primary evolution from mambo era was introduced to New York due to influx of migrating dissidents from all the Caribbean and other Latin migrants during pre/post Cuban revolution in the 1950s and 1960s. This era is known as the "palladium era". At this time, the music and dance was called "mambo" or "rumba”. The most famous dancer during this era was Puerto Rican descendant Pedro "Cuban Pete" Aguilar also known "The King of Latin Beat". Secondary evolution during the late 1970s, Latin Puerto Ricans migrants, contributed amazingly to the New York salsa development during the "NuYorican" era of Héctor Lavoe which greatly popularized salsa and modern Latin music throughout the world. Puerto Rican salsa superstars were the most important musicians during the era, such as Ray Baretto ("The Godfather") and many others. There are also salsa artists that transcend both periods, notably the legendary Puerto Rican Tito Puente ("The Mambo King"). These two developments create a fusion of a new salsa music and dance genre, different from its Latin American and L.A. style counterparts. New York style salsa emphasizes harmony with the percussive instruments in salsa music, such as the congas, timbales, and clave, since many or all of those instruments often mark the second beat in the music.