Here are my thoughts on Cuban styled salsa (the music and the dance style):
- Quite complex melodies and bass lines
- Often a drum kit is used instead of a full complement of Latin percussion instruments
- The feel is grounded - a lot of Cuban basic/sidesteps, a distinct pause between the forward step and the back step, and a lot of shoulder movement / rumba movement
- At other times, the music can be quite jumpy... a cumbia feel, particularly when the Caballo conga pattern is being played.
- All on-beats are given equal attention: 1, 3, 5, 7. This gives an upbeat/happy sort of a feel, and it is also very rhythmical/regular feeling.
- The melodies, bass lines, and lyrics are very simple, repetitive, and jazzy. Even though the music is complex, if you break each instrument down, they are playing fundamentally simple constructs.
- There is a real swing to the feel of the music, due possibly to more of a pop influence (i.e. a definite down beat and upbeat, or in other words, the upbeat isn't as regular). So, you can really hear the 1 and the 5, which gives a "swing" across each pair of bars.
Cuban styled salsa music is complicated - it's great to listen to, but very complex. I can't dance linear/western salsa to Cuban music. While I can stay in time, I don't feel the music in my style of dancing (linear), and I get angry/upset dancing a linear style to it! Linear has a smooth jazzy tone to it, whereas Cuban feels more jumpy yet intricate. However... good Cuban dancers often are very smooth in their dancing, which is a pleasure to watch.
Hopefully you already know that Cuban styled salsa is typically danced in a circular motion, whereas Western salsa is danced in a slot pattern (great for nightclub dancing where there isn't much room).
Western/linear dancers employ a technique/motion called "light and shade", which to me represents the "quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow" salsa fundamental of on-1 dancing, or the "slow-quick-quick, slow-quick-quick" fundamental of on-2 dancing (which is the same timing as on-1, incidentally). I have a feeling that the term "light and shade" originates from ballroom. To me, light and shade encapsulates the "feel" of linear salsa music... a slow break away from the center of both dancers, then a quick exchange across the track, then back into the shade again.
Done well, linear styled dancing uses minimal floor space, which is a bonus for busy night clubs. Additionally, it is a good style (particularly on-1) for performances where big-hitting show moves are required (moves match up with the music nicely, so too for shines). For Cuban performances, it is easier (to a degree) to line up yourself and your partner with the audience (requiring less choreography), recover from mistakes, etc. I have performed freestyle Cuban routines (in front of audiences that include Albert Torres, Super Mario and the like) without any issues... the routines come across fairly choreographed. However, when performing Linear routines, personally, I feel that these must be choreographed to every single beat of the music, as one mistake and the entire section can go out the window.