The basic step, for most of these variations, is as follows for the leader:
- Step forward with the left foot, keeping RF in place. (forward break)
- Change weight back to right foot, keeping LF in place
- Bring left foot back next to right foot to a neutral position
- Step back with RF, keeping LF in place (back break)
- Change weight back to LF, keeping RF in place.
- Bring RF next to LF. (neutral position)
So, now that we've introduced the basic steps, and a little about the music, we can talk about these different kinds of Salsa. When we hear Mambo mentioned in the US, we usually refer to the partner dance forms. If we combine steps with beats, in Mambo the first step happens on beat 2, and we step on beats 2 3 4 6 7 8. We hold, kick, or tap on beats 1 and 5. This is the Mambo basic.
Mambo and Salsa have stylistic differences, they are somewhat different dances, but the basic step looks the same. Salsa On 1 uses this same basic, but now we step on beats 1 2 3 5 6 7, and hold, kick, or tap on beats 4 and 8. Salsa On 2 uses the same timing for the basic as Mambo does.
Some of the different styles of Salsa in the US include Los Angeles style, Miami style, and New York style. LA and Miami style are danced on 1, and as far as we know are the prevalent dance styles in the US.
NY style is a bit different than mambo, on 1, and on 2. In NY salsa, rather than the hold coming in the neutral position, it becomes an 'air' step. In the above steps, we do step (iii) on beat 1, and proceed to step on beats 1 2 3 5 6 7, with the foot 'in transit' on beats 4 and 8. So, while the steps still happen on 123567, the breaks are on 2 and 6, making NY salsa an On2 salsa.
There is also the notion of dancing 'on clave' or 'en clave' if you want to be strict about it. This means that you break on the clave beat. (It can also mean doing five steps per phrase, but that is pretty advanced stuff.) Typically, this will mean breaking on 2, but can mean breaking on 2 1/2 (6 1/2), adding a further syncopation to the dance.