Latin Dance Tempos

Latin dance is a distinctive but varied group of dances that include the Bolero, Cha Cha, Mambo, Merengue, Pasa Doble, Rumba, Salsa, and Samba. Each of these lively dances has a distinctive style and rhythm. Like many ballroom dances, the tempo depends on the music, context and style. Competitions have specific tempo requirements, while recreational dancing speeds can be much faster or slower. So with all this variation, which Latin dance tempos are ideal? Well, it depends on a lot of things but here are a few general guidelines that will get you in the right ballpark.

Bolero

The Bolero is a graceful, Spanish style dance with a distinctive rhythm. It is alluring and relaxing with a lilting, romantic melody that builds in strength and volume as the dance progresses. It is danced with a rotation of the body on the ball of a supporting foot called a slip-pivot. It is usually danced to music with a 3/4 beat. The Bolero is often likened to a slow Rumba. The tempo typically falls between 96 and 104 beats per minute. Like many dances, competitions require a faster tempo for advanced dancers. As with any dance, competitions have specific tempo requirements. Many competitions require 96-104 beats per minute for bronze levels and 96 beats per minute for all others.

Cha Cha

The Cha Cha is a lively dance that gets your feet moving. It is similar to the Mambo and Rumba, but it has a triple step in place of their slow step. It gets it’s name from it’s distinctive “One, Two, CHA-CHA-CHA.” rhythm. There are two styles of Cha Cha: International and American. The dance’s tempo varies according to style. In the International Style, it is danced to 124 beats per minute while the American style is danced to 120 beats per minute.

Mambo

The Mambo is a high-energy, Cuban-style dance with a catchy rhythm. Because of its exaggerated hip movement points, rock steps and side steps, and kicks and flicks of the feet, the dance has a sensual feel and an expressive touch. It is danced to a wide range of tempos with a 4/4 rhythm. The speed of the music varies by musician and arrangement, but it typically falls between 188 and 204 beats per minute. In many competitions, the required tempo is faster for advanced levels. For example, the National Dance Council of America requires 192-204 beats per minute for bronze levels and 188 beats per minute for all others.

Merengue

The Merengue is a simple yet elegant dance that originated on the island of Hispaniola, which is divided between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Featuring complicated framing, turns, and hip and leg movement, the dance and music create a mood of freedom, joy, and sensuality. It is generally danced to fast arrangements with a 2/4 beat. The speed of the Merengue in American ballroom dance is between 58 and 64 beats per minute. Many competitions simply require all dancers to perform the Merengue at this tempo. This popular dance can be performed to any song with a straight/regular 8-count. Dance clubs and fitness classes perform the Merengue at a frenetic speed that is much faster than it is in studio or competition dances.

Paso Doble

The Paso Doble is a Spanish dance inspired by bullfights. Traditionally, the Paso Doble was played as the matador entered the ring, and again at the end of the fight. It is a dramatic, sharp and imposing dance that is typically only done as a performance. There are two styles of Paso Doble: International and American. The tempo depends on which style you are performing. In the international style, it is performed at 120-124 beats per minute. The American style Paso Doble is slightly slower at 116-120 beats per minute.

Rumba

Ballroom Rumba is a Cuban dance style that evolved from the traditional Bolero-Sun dance. The style is sensuous, flirtatious and passionate. The Rumba one of the most popular Latin Ballroom dances in America. It is slower than the other Latin dances and it is the first Latin dance that many students learn. The Rumba has evolved into two distinctive styles: International and American. Like many dances, the tempo depends on the style. In the International style, it is performed at 104 to 108 beats per minute, and bronze level competitors are required to perform it faster than less advanced dancers. In the American style, it is performed at 128 to 144 beats per minute for bronze level competitions and 120-128 for all others.

Salsa

The Salsa has roots in Cuba, Columbia and Puerto Rico that became popular in the United States in the 1970s. It is a spicy style that is performed on stage and in dance clubs all over the world. Its rhythm consists of three steps for every four beats of music. The Salsa has many variations that are connected to specific regions and periods. A few of the most popular styles include New York, Los Angeles, and Cuban. The Salsa tempo varies widely, but it is typically performed at 150 to 250 beats per minute.

Samba

The Samba is a vivacious dance with Brazilian roots. The dance has a lively style with a mixture of African and Brazilian rhythms. It is generally danced to a 2/4 beat. There are numerous variations of the Samba including the Sambolero, Samba de Breqe, Samba-coro, Samba-cancao, Samba-enredo and Samba de Morro. Like many Latin ballroom dances, there are two main styles of Samba: International and American. In the American style, it is performed at 104 beats per minute for pros and amateurs. The International Samba is performed slower, at 96 to 100 beats per minute. Latin ballroom dances include a wide variety of styles and each has a distinctive rhythm and feel. Like other ballroom dance styles, the correct tempo can vary widely and dances are performed faster or slower depending on competition requirements, musical arrangements, and atmosphere. If you are performing in a competition, be sure to check the tempo requirements; but for recreational dancing, pick a speed that is comfortable and fun for you and your partner.