List of Latin American dances

Written by mary freeman
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List of Latin American dances
The samba is often danced solo in Brazil by heavily festooned dancers. (Getty editorial images)

Latin dance has been an integral part of the culture and society for the nations across the Caribbean and throughout South America. Some dances have been performed traditionally for hundreds of years, while some have only recently been invented and formalised. While the Latin dances vary tremendously among one another, syncopated rhythms and regional musical forms are common to them all.

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Cha Cha

Cubans first danced the spicy cha cha dance in the early 1950s to the music of Enrique Jorrin. The music for the dance prominently featured a syncopated fourth beat. The dance was brought over to England in 1952 and became a new ballroom dance. The basic step in cha cha involves quickly pattering the feet in a forward, then backward direction.

Salsa

The enduringly popular salsa dance is driven forward by African rhythms and conga drums. It originated in Cuba, but quickly spread through the Carribean nations and into the cities of the United States. Salsa is highly interpretable, and varies dramatically from region to region. Dancers usually incorporate body isolations, hand movements, and complex leg swirls into their routines.

Samba

The samba began as a Brazilian carnival dancing game in the late 1800s. The game transformed into a partner dance, and then into a formal ballroom dance when Westerners became interested in the pattern. Samba is danced in 2/4 time, usually to Brazilian samba music or other varieties of Latin rhythms.

Mambo

Mambo has its origins in Cuba, and melds jazz sensibilities with Latin musicianship. It was originally a formless dance, with no defined basic steps or variations; instead, mambo dancers let the dance form itself spontaneously against the backdrop of the lively mambo music. Mambo was formalised in the 70s, and remains hugely popular in Cuba, as well as Mexico and the United States.

Rumba

African slaves brought the first rumba music and movements to Cuba before slavery was abolished. Pierre Zurcher-Margolle, a venerated dance instructor, introduced the ballroom rumba for international competition in the 50s. Rumba is a slow dance that stays in one place on the dance floor and encourages the dancers to sway their hips.

Tango

From the music halls of Buenos Aires, the Argentinian tango circled the globe, propelled by the dance’s slow and sensual movements. The tango’s basic step includes five syncopated foot positions that lead the dancers silkily around the dance floor. The tango allegorically represents the dance of attraction between two people. The music for the tango is unique to the dance and, with drumbeats and strings, thrums out the rhythm to assist the dancers.

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