On1, On2, or OnTime
By Johnny Johnson
On1 or On2, which do you prefer and why? This is perhaps the most controversial topic discussed around world of Salsa at many studios, clubs, chat groups, events, and so forth. Many people may wonder why this topic seems to draw so much emotion out of a community of fun, loving, nurturing, and kind individuals. Why so many club corners are marked by these various styles? Why so many groups or clicks are created distinguishing the two? It's unthinkable to accept something as simple as what beat you break on being responsible for so much salsa drama. The reason, culprit, or explanation is simple.. Passion! Salsa dancers are very passionate about what they do and will defend it into the wee hours of the morning at the local 24-hour Mexican restaurant, Waffle House or IHOP.
Is one group more passionate about Salsa than the other? Not at all, anyone who listens to Salsa music constantly, dances at Salsa clubs several times a week, and wears salsa paraphernalia while doing non-salsa activities is definitely "Passionate." Anyone who wears white split toe jazz shoes in public (often mistaken for socks), never leaves home without their beloved salsa bag (equipped with a towel, shoes, and favorite Salsa CD) is definitely "Passionate." Anyone who won't buy shoes of clothes unless they are Salsa-proof is definitely "Passionate." Anyone who won't visit another city without checking the local website for a listing of salsa events is definitely "Passionate." Finally, anyone who considers an individual's "capability of learning and loving salsa," a dating criteria, is unmistakably "Passionate."
Is one style better than the other? No. As a "preferred" On2 dancer, I have made the mistake of calling one style better than the other many times. However, as I have grown as a Salsa dancer, I have learned to respect both styles, realizing that no one style is "better" than the other. On the other hand, individuals do dance at different levels; this is just a reality. No matter how good you are, there is someone out there that will dance you under the table and sending you back to the salsa lab. Nevertheless, no matter how good a dancer may execute turn patterns, tricks, shines, styling, or spinning, this fact remains; if they are unconcerned with timing they are selling themselves short of a more optimal salsa experience.
Now that the politics are covered, let's get real. It is not a secret that an individual learning how to dance Salsa, can get away without learning timing. In fact, many dancers can develop into pretty good dancers by just finding the first or third beat of a salsa song. Since music loops on the first beat, finding "One" is not a mystery (for some). On the other hand, when learning how to dance On2, many instructors force students to find all eight counts of the music, turning a salsa class into a music class. The first time I took an On2 class, I hated it. It was too difficult. I just wanted to learn the turn pattern, convince my instructor that I was going to try it On2 and run out to the local salsa club and do it On1. For me, finding all eight counts of a song was nerve-wrecking. This is the reason many salsa dancers, performers, and teachers stand clear of timing. It is a humbling experience! If you are a local star, get ready to feel like a beginner. If you are a teacher, get ready to be a student. If you are a diva, get ready to be unnoticed. For these miscellaneous reasons, many dancers stay in the comfort zone of being local salsa star, never to step foot in the land of knowledge again.
Nonetheless, I went through the harsh training of timing and eventually learned the 8 counts in Salsa, Hip-Hop, R&B, and Jazz. I learned how to count music the way musicians counted it. As a result, I developed more respect for On2 dancing and joined the On1-bashing bandwagon. Although most of my local idols were established On1 dancers, they were not as good to me anymore because they didn't dance On2. I admit it; I had a very immature mindset about dancing On2 in the beginning. Maybe because dancing On2 was a different experience for me. I felt like I was apart of the band now. My dancing was now an additional instrument. I could feel all those instruments hitting on 3, 4, and 7. So was On2 better? At the time, yes! On2 was definitely better and all the best dancers danced On2, so that had to make it official, or did it ?. At that time, I had been living in On2 land for sometime, completely unexposed to the great On1 dancers. However, my eventual exposure to great On1 dancers revealed something; they were also using all eight counts of the music. Their style of dancing didn't look like the abusive On1 style I had grown so accustomed to cringing at. These dancers executed tricks and turn patterns without injury and complete awareness of timing. They styled and shined with the best of them. Maybe it was not On2 that was better after all, maybe dancing to the music was what I fell in love with. But could I dance to all 8 counts of the music and still enjoy dancing On1? My research revealed that dancing On1 felt completely different when my awareness of timing came into play. In addition, it still felt different enough to distinguish an On1 dance from an On2 dance.
During my short time in the fabulous world of Salsa, I have grown to realize something. Dancing Salsa On2 is not necessary better than dancing on On1 or vice-versa, but dancing On-time is always better than dancing Off-time. Yes I still prefer to dance On2, if the option (honestly) presents itself. However, I have learned to feel the music regardless of what beat I break on. So will this article solve the continuous On1 and On2 disagreement? Not even a little bit. Unfortunately, it's just human nature to have conflict, however, we owe it to the Salsa community to continue maintain respect for each other, while enjoying the Salsa Culture.