History of Latin Dance
Salsa, Bachata, Rumba, Merengue, oh my! Throughout history, Latin dance styles have made their mark in various cultures, continents, and forms of art. Let’s dive in together and discuss the history several well-loved dance styles and their Latin origins.
Possibly the most well known of the Latin dances, particularly in the Western world, the Salsa is a distinct favorite in the social dancing community. It may be interesting to note that “Salsa” is the Spanish word for “sauce” denoting a spicy or hot flavor. The Salsa originated in Eastern Cuba, where Afro-Cuban and Spanish music was combined to create a new dance. The Salsa music we know and love today’s conception began in the 1950s of New York City, where many Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians had settled. Through the combination of Cuban Son, African American Jazz, and Puerto Rican musical traditions, the Salsa was born.
Romantic in nature, the Bachata reflects the story of love and heartbreak. It was created to speak of “bitterness” or “blues music”, the original name for the dance being Amargue. Originating in the countryside of the Dominican Republic in the 1920s, the music and dance would quickly become famous among the Latin community living in the United States. It may be interesting to note that the Bachata also became famous among the bars and brothels of Santa Domingo and the name started to be associated with prostitution, poverty, and delinquency. This created a powerful tool to tell the stories of people who might be otherwise ignored in other musical genres.
The Merengue is unique in that it’s the only dance to combine one-step timing with Cuban Motion, helping dancers to develop a clear interpretation of musical rhythm. The origin of the dance itself is actually the subject of debate. One origin story describes African slaves in the Dominican Republic being forced to drag one leg, due to being chained together, as they cut sugar to the beat of a drum. The other tells the story of a great war hero returning home with a broken leg and being forced to limp. Out of respect and sympathy, the villagers, as they danced to celebrate, felt obligated to drag one leg, as though injured as well. Whatever its true origin, the variety and intoxicating beat of the Merengue has inspired dancers around the world to take it to the floor time and time again.
The neat, precise, nature of the Rumba makes it an excellent starting dance for those interested in Latin dance styles. The Rumba made it’s debut in the 16th century as an Afro-Cuban folk dance and, in the early 20th century, it began to receive worldwide acceptance. It was coined as a source of protest and rebellion among African slaves. The word Rumba means “party” and for many African slaves in Cuba, it was just that. They used the dance to pantomime sex with exaggerated hip movements, sensual aggressive and defensive tension, and a staccato beat. This lead to “bodily contortions” and “African drum beats” being banned by the president of Cuba in 1925, nearly half a century after slavery had been abolished. However the Rumba is a dance of defiance and sensuality that couldn’t be stopped and has grown into the social dance we know and love today.
The Cha Cha, originally known as the Chachacha, is one of the most popular dances in the Latin dance genre due to its lively and playful nature. It was created from a slow variation of the Mambo called Triple Mambo. Ballroom Cha Cha evolved when, in 1952, an English dance teacher named Pierre Lavelle visited Cuba and saw dancers dancing this triple step to slow rumba and mambo music. Inspired by this, upon his return, he began to teach the “Cha Cha” as a separate dance.
There are so many Latin dance styles to discover! More dances and their histories will be added to this post, so please stop by again! Visit us today to learn a few yourself and walk away with the knowledge of dances steeped in powerful histories.