All of the modern Latin dances that we are familiar with today — Rumba, Cha-cha, Bolero, Mambo, Paso Doble, Samba, Salsa and Merengue — were performed by indigenous peoples in countries across Central and South America as everyday ritual dances.
The Latin dances we know today were originally dances of celebration and community, centered on everyday customs such as hunting, gathering, farming or worship. Starting in the 16th century, European explorers and settlers colonizing South and Central America adopted these local dances and added their own structure to them. This influence from the European upper-class and Africa created modern Latin dancing.
Latin Dance Commonalities
Although the roots of Latin Dance are widespread, the key characteristics they all share are the rhythms that allow for freedom of self-expression and improvisation, creating a style of dance that has a very unique and exuberant flair.
Most social dances from South and Central America involve hip action and semi-closed or closed frames between partners. When dancing Latin, both dancers stand upright with weight on the balls of the feet. Partners are compact, but standing slightly apart. The dance frame is sturdy and fixed, but the steps and movements are quick, and despite the posture of the dance, have a particular flow.
The variations between types of Latin Dance are influenced by the geographic origin of the dance, and are always in the step movements and counts.
Rumba has roots in Cuba, where it was originally a couple dance of erotic contention between the male and female. In the 1930s Rumba spread into dancehalls in America and Europe and had a higher tempo than today’s contemporary ballroom Rumba. Ballroom Rumba has two variations: American-style and International-style Rumba. Arthur Murray Dance Studios primarily teach the International-style Rumba, which was created when Monsieur Pierre, from London, visited Cuba in the mid-1900s to learn Cuban dance.
The key difference between the International-style Rumba and American-style Rumba is in their step patterns. The International-style Rumba consists of a quick-quick-slow step pattern. The American-style Rumba follows the same counts, but is known for its slow-quick-quick pattern with box-like movements. The ballroom Rumba we teach in our dance studios emphasizes slow, romantic steps with a focus on hip movements, which should never be forced. Rumba is the slowest of the Latin dances. The best way to perform the Rumba technique well is by learning the basic steps and then practicing Rumba walks.
Cha Cha is another Cuban-born dance that became popular in the United States in the 1950s. Similar to other Latin dances, in Cha Cha, dancers keep their feet close to the floor and let their hips move freely. However, it’ a more versatile dance because it can be danced to multiple genres of music, such as authentic Cuban music, Latin Pop or Latin Rock.
Ballroom Cha Cha is lively with a steady beat, which most social dancers recognize as “one, two, cha-cha-cha, three, four, cha-cha-cha.” The cha-cha-cha steps are a quick set of three steps, taken after the basic movement. The basic movement is similar to the Mambo in style, with a three-beat step moving forward, then backward while shifting weight from one foot to the other. In general, Cha Cha steps are kept compact and the dance is without elevated or lowered body movements.
The Cha Chais an interesting but challenging dance due to the breaks in its rhythm. All dances that have difficult moves can be learned at our dance studios through our certified and highly-skilled instructors that tailor dance lessons to suit every student’s abilities and goals. We always start teaching students how to dance a specific style with the basic steps, so you can build upon a solid foundation.
Bolero music has both Spanish and Cuban origins, but Sebastiano Carezo of Spain is credited with officially inventing the dance in 1780. The dance has similar foot patterns to the Mambo and Rumba, but includes a distinct raising and lowering body movement from bending and straightening the knees.The foot pattern has six steps, with timing “slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick.”
The dancer begins with knees bent and rises gradually through the first slow count. The first quick step is elevated. During this step, the supporting knee is flexed and the free foot is extended. The free foot takes the second quick step, which is longer and leaves the dancer on his bent knee. Hip movements are performed simultaneously with the elevating and lowering.
Mambo means “conversation with the gods.” As it originated in the 1930’s from Cuban son music, Cuban dancers describe Mambo as “feeling the music,” where sound and movement flow through the body. The original Mambo was known for its freedom and complicated footwork. This Mambo dance was popular in Cuba, Mexico and New York, but is completely different than modern Mambo, which was popularized in New York in the 1980s.
Its signature move is the three-beat step. The dancer steps forward and then backward, all while shifting weight between feet. Shifting weight creates the familiar hip-swaying action that is so prevalent in Latin Dance. Thanks to Ricky Martin, Mambo has grown popular in recent years, drawing attention to its fascinating and diverse characteristics.
Paso Doble is a Spanish theatrical dance. It is associated with the entrance music played for a matador in a bullfight. It is a theatrical dance, because the lead dancer plays the part of the matador and the follower is either his flowing red cape, his shadow, or a flamenco dancer.
Its basic steps involve a closed position and 4 counts of small steps forward, or backward for the follower. The dance can also incorporate side steps and drags, where dancers bend their knees and step to the side while slowly drawing their other foot toward them, with leg straight. Because Paso Doble takes up a lot of space on the dancefloor, it is typically danced only competitively and almost never socially. Nevertheless, it is a fun, lively and dramatic dance.
Samba has been danced in Brazil since the late 16th century as a street festival and celebration dance that was done by a single person – not in partnership. Therefore, it is hard to define an original Samba style. As Samba became popular internationally in the 1920s and 1930s, it was structured for ballroom dancers. All variations are known for their bounce motion and series of forward and backward steps, typically done in a closed dance frame. Samba is joyful and contagious, a fact which has contributed to its continued popularity.
Salsa originated in Cuba in the early 1900’s and has influence from Colombia and Puerto Rico also. The movements are very similar to the Cha-cha and Mambo. It is probably the most popular of Latin dances for its adaptable and fun social dance qualities. The Salsa dance we are familiar with actually evolved in New York in the 1970s. The name “salsa” was created by record labels, who chose the word for its spicy and hot connotations. It is also thought that Salsa is a mix of different dance styles, like salsa or sauce, which are a combination of ingredients. Salsa has three basic steps: the quick-quick-slow. Salsa’s appeal lies in its fast-pace and sharp, exciting turns.
Merengue comes from the Dominican Republic. The basic movements have you step forward, then backward, and then step to the side and drag the other foot to meet the first. It is the only dance that doesn’t have a mixture of “quicks” and “slows:” its rhythm is quick-quick-quick-quick. The steady beat actually makes it easier to learn the hip-sway motion. As a result, Merengue is the Latin Dance that most beginner dancers start with.
The Universal Appeal of Latin Dances
When asked to mention exports to the United States from South and Central America, coffee, bananas and especially dance come to mind. Latin Dance has become a great international dance craze and has spawned an exciting niche for our Western culture to loosen up and let go.
Dance blends the benefits of socializing, listening to music, and the exercise of moving all wrapped up into one activity to make people feel good and get their endorphins flowing. As for getting value in the form of a workout or social activity, Latin Dancing is tough to beat!!
Latin Dance is a recognizable form of social dance that is commonly held in global venues like nightclubs, bars, ballrooms and even outdoor festivals and celebrations. Most cities around the world honor the dance style and attract dancers that want to share their passion for dance, build community, and share moves and tips with one another.Latin Dance inspires an instant reaction in dance enthusiasts everywhere. The musical excitement and rhythm sends dancersof all levels to the dance floor, eager to meet other dance-lovers in a jovial, supportive environment.
Arthur Murray Dance Studios is Your Place for Latin Dancing
All the dances we teach at Arthur Murray Dance Studios inspire invigorating physical and mental activity. We believe that anyone can dance. Our instructors are some of the best in the world, selected because of their own dance experience, expertise and patient and encouraging approach to teaching.
Call Arthur Murray Dance Studios today, and schedule your first lesson with us for only $40! We want everyone to enjoy the benefits of dance. And we are thrilled to share with you the rich history and exciting moves of Latin Dance, so that it stays alive and continues to evolve for future generations!
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