Are you thinking of trying out Latin dance?
Before I traveled to Latin America, I was always fascinated by Latin style dancing and the way people move.
I realized that if I was going to learn about Latin culture, dance is a crucial part of everyday life in Latin America.
If like me you’re interested in traveling to Latin America or the culture there; learning about Latin dance is kind of a big deal.
However, no need to be the world’s best dancer to say you can dance.
Table of Contents
What is Latin Dance?
Just learning how to dance one of the following dances would be enough to be culturally accepted in Latin America, so to speak.
I will practice these Latin dances in Latin America, and you can read about my experiences towards the end.
Whilst backpacking South America I became fascinated by all the different types of Latin dance styles that there are to learn.
I wanted to learn the most popular types of Latin dances and know where they originated from.
Types of Latin Dance
Latin Dances in Latin America today vary and are unique to the different regions e.g., South and Central America and the Caribbean.
There is also a Latin dance history that comes with each type of dance.
The one thing each of the dance styles have in common is the ability to hook both the spectators and the dancers.
Some refer to them as Hispanic dances, and there are many of these famous Latin dancers that have become celebrities on the dance floor.
Let’s look at the most popular dances you’ll find in Latin America today.
Did you know that Salsa dancing originated in the Caribbean?
Many people believe Salsa is a Spanish dance, and it’s the strong ties to the continent of Africa and the large African influence in Latin America that spawned the style.
Salsa is one of my personal favorites and later, I’ll create a new article with more interesting salsa dance facts.
It’s a dance where couples perform together and are centered around a four-beat combination of two quick steps and a slow step with a short pause or tap.
Salsa is regarded as one of the most entertaining and practiced social dances in the world today.
You will also find that there is a multitude of subcategories within the genre of salsa.
Also, the Salsa dance originated as a social dance. The swift turns and basic footwork are used to create a fun dancing experience, not only to participate but also to watch.
Bachata is another Latin dance that originated in the Caribbean, more specifically, the Dominican Republic.
Many people learning how to dance Bachata don’t realize the bachata dance origin is from Africa as well, but this is open for debate.
Bachata is known for being slow and sensual. Like salsa, it has a four-beat pattern. The dancers move side to side with three steps, followed by a short pause.
The pronounced hip movements the dancers make form the essence of Bachata. The dance is more about moving the body in a fancy style.
With Bachata, there’s also more emphasis on body isolation, rather than just back and forth steps like Salsa.
Bachata is also known as one of the most popular social dances. Two well-known Bachata music stars are Luis Vargas and Antony Santos.
Volvio el Dolor is a great album to listen to! Both stars are responsible for dominating the Bachata scene back in the early 1990s after its darker years, contributing to the success of both the music and the dance.
Merengue is another of the popular Latin dances that originated in the Dominican Republic and actually the official dance of the island.
The music is fast-paced, but the steps are somewhat simple.
The dance and music of merengue originate in the Dominican Republic. Despite the fast-paced music, the basic steps are fairly easy to grasp.
So, if you’re thinking of traveling to the Dominican Republic any time soon, it would be a good idea to start practicing now.
When a couple dances Merengue, partners hold each other in a closed position, and the basic movement goes to the front, back, and side.
It’s an important dance in the Dominican Republic because the dance originated from the enslaved laborers working in the sugar beet fields.
It is said that the workers, connected to one another by a chain, were strapped by their ankles and had to drag one leg as they walked.
Merengue could be one of the most influential African dance styles.
Another one of the popular African dance styles is Cha-Cha-Cha.
Also called Cha Cha in the United States, it was born in Cuba like many other popular Latin American dances, such as Mambo, and is very similar in style.
The dance became very popular in the dance halls of Havana and was popularised by the music that is played with the dance.
The interesting thing for me is that the dance is danced with the music of the same name.
This is also called Cha Cha Cha and has some very popular dance moves.
It is worth noting that learning how to dance the Cha-Cha is very benefical becuse it makes up one of the five dances of the “Latin American” program of international ballroom competitions.
Yet another significant type of Latin dance to add to the list, the Tango is a dance of seduction and improvisation.
Because of the forgotten history of African culture in Buenos Aires, many people do not regard Tango as an African Latin dance.
When the Tango is done well, it will simply take your breath away.
But like most Latin dances, it needs two people to participate; hence the saying it takes two to tango.
Argentine tango, known as Latin dance music, is a musical genre that traditionally accompanied the dance.
In later years, the tango dancers began dancing tango steps to alternative music. A sub-genre of tango dance called Tango Nuevo can be attributed to this.
Not all Latin dance originates from Spanish-speaking countries. Samba is a Brazilian dance, which is also danced with the same music.
There are many different styles of Samba that have developed in Brazil.
All Latin dances have room for interpretation, and Samba is one of the most well-known Latin dances, which you can dance as an individual; it’s also known as solo dancing.
Samba dancing is one of the popular dances you’ll see through the Brazilian carnival in Rio de Janeiro and other carnivals held around the country where individual dancers perform.
Mambo is the true couples’ dance! Originating in Cuba during the 1940s, its signature move is a three-beat step moving forward and then backward while shifting weight from one foot to the other.
These basic Latin dance steps have been recycled and reused in other forms of dance like line dancing and even in aerobics classes.
It’s common to see this three-beat step either performed alone or as part of a group.
Like the Cha-Cha-Cha, Mambo is popular in many Latin dance classes throughout the United States.
The modern-day Mambo is drastically different from the Mambo championed by Perez Prado, the Cuban bandleader, organist, pianist, and composer. Prado was known as the King of the Mambo.
Books to Read on Latin Dance
If interested in Latin Dance culture these books may interest you:
- National Rhythms, African Roots – An engaging book about how dance brought people of different social classes and races together.
- Latin – Thinking Sensing and Doing in Latin American Dancing – A great examination of Latin Dance and how it is portraied compared to it’s past.
- Dancing across Borders – A book about Mexican dance styles filled with info for who want to learn of all the different types of dances in Mexico.
- Salsa! – This amazing little book covers classed as a ‘behind the scenes’ notebook ” contains lots of little tips, suggestions to help others who are beginning or seeking to improve their dance moves.
- Bachata A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music – This fun to read and well-researched book explores the rise of Bachata in the Dominican Republic. The book is filled with everything from interviews with musicians to the colourful anecdotes and plentiful song lyrics.
Great if you’d like to do some further reading about Latin Dance.
Latin Dance: 3 Amazing Benefits
So, what have I learned by asking the question, what is Latin dance?
Well, it has been commercialized and can be separated into two different types of Latin dancing.
If you look at Latin dancing history, you’ll see that one type of Latin dance derives its name from the place it originated; Latin America.
Then there’s another type of Latin dance, which is seen as International Latin Dance.
The International Latin Dance is the type that you’ll see throughout North America and the world, which include social dancing classes, ballroom competitions, and even TV shows.
This is without mentioning other Mexican dances that are prevalent within the United States. The most popular Latin social dances are those mentioned above, such as Bachata, Samba, and Cha-Cha.
The Health Benefits
It has been said that people look for the best Latin dance to perform because it can be used as a way to receive physical and mental health benefits from engaging in the dance routines.
Not to mention the fun atmosphere and bubbly atmosphere it creates for the participants.
When we talk about social dancing, we are referring to participation rather than performance, which takes away any pressure to perform as a test of danceability and, instead, becomes a way to entertain and socialize with others.
Physical and Mental Benefits
Social dancing and ideal Latin dance rhythms, in general, can reduce the feeling of stress and thus increase energy levels in people of all ages.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute discovered that social dancing could lead to lower risks of heart disease, decrease blood pressure, and assist people in managing their weight.
So, it’s no wonder social dancing has become such a phenomenon in the world today. If you think about the effects it has on your brain; you won’t be surprised to know that it increases the blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
The social part of the dance can lead to less stress and feelings of loneliness, which is an ever-growing issue in the world today with the advent of technology.
Because of the partnership aspect of social dancing, it can help alleviate depression.
By memorizing the steps to the dances, you can keep your brain active and alert at all times through the dance.
Benefits for Traveling
These are just a few of the ideas of Latin dance and how it can benefit your life.
When I was backpacking in Latin America, Latin dance was a social activity in most of the countries I have been to.
If you’re thinking of heading over to Latin America to learn Latin dance, there are many dance schools all over the continent.
Many people go to Cali in Colombia to learn Salsa as it has become one of the leading places to learn and practice salsa. Hence, it is now called the capital of salsa.
How I will use Latin Dance
Out of all the Latin American dancing styles, I like salsa and bachata.
As a big fan of Colombia, and having spent a lot of time in the country, I will visit cities such as Cali, the capital of Salsa, to brush up on my Latin dance skills.
Not only for the health benefits but also as a way to connect with locals and improve my Spanish.
I will also take this opportunity to learn about salsa dance history and will write an article about it here.
Here are a few of the events you can find in Cali:
- Festival Mundial de Salsa
- Feria de Cal
- Salsa y Verano
Not only for the health benefits but also as a way to connect with locals and improve my Spanish. I will also take this opportunity to learn about salsa dance history and will write an article about it here.
Below are some of the most famous clubs to practice Salsa in Cali.
- Tin Tin Deo
- El Habanero
Not only has Cali become the salsa capital of the world, but it’s also hard to beat as a place to travel to and learn about Latin dance.
In this case, Salsa has many different styles.
Cali, Colombia has the most salsa schools and salsa teams in the world.
If you are in Colombia or thinking of traveling to Colombia to learn salsa, please let me know as I’m interested in learning more about the Cali-style Salsa.
As mentioned earlier, the real elements of salsa, especially the Cali-style Salsa, are influenced by the Caribbean rhythms and dances.
Not being a master of dance myself, this makes dance an interesting topic of discussion to learn more about in my adventures in Latin America.
What is Latin Dance?
I hope this entry in my travel journal has inspired you to learn more about Latin dance and culture.
Learn more about my cultural travel adventure in Latin America for more ideas on what to do and where to go.
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