Latin American dance has evolved from a variety of routines developed in the Eighteenth Century and covers everything from the cha cha cha through to mambo and salsa. Here’s our guide on the popular style of Latin American dance.
Introduction to Latin American dance
Latin American dance stems from the Eighteenth Century, with countries like Cuba, Mexico and Brazil leading the way. Offering an outlet for rhythmic expression and flowing, sensual movements, Latin dance incorporates a number of spicy styles, including rumba, samba, merengue and even bolero.
Latin dance is typically a partner activity but can also feature groups of couples dancing together and regularly changing partners. Improvisation is a keystone of the genre, although a basic knowledge of certain formal steps can prove a great help in the early days of learning it.
Tones the body - Latin American dance features a range of unique twists and turns that help work out different muscle groups. It’s great for toning varied areas of the body, such as the abs, hips, thighs and buttocks.
Encourages a healthier diet - Because Latin dance requires a large degree of movement and flexibility, it encourages participants to work harder towards leading a healthier and more active lifestyle. As a result, it advocates dancers who drink and smoke less, and eat healthier food.
Gets you in touch with your body - Latin American dance is brilliant for developing the body’s self-awareness, with participants becoming more in tune with their exercise needs. If you sometimes feel that your body is working against you, this could be the activity to set you straight.
Emotional release - Corny though it sounds, Latin American dance really is a fantastic way of channeling your emotions into a form of artistic expression. Latin dance is fuelled by passionate feelings, with the movements of the body expressing the dancer’s deepest feelings.
Styles of Latin American dancing
Latin American dance is a broad term that encompasses a variety of different styles and techniques. Here are some of its more popular forms:
Salsa - Originating in Cuba and later adapted by North American dancers, salsa steps follow a quick-quick-slow rhythm, to the sound of a steady beat. Salsa is one of the most popular dance forms in the world, offering a winning mixture of fiery intensity and fun exercise.
Cha cha cha - Emerging from Cuban origins, the cha cha cha is named after the shuffling of its dancers’ feet as they move across the floor. It can either be danced to authentic Latin music, pop or rock. Ballroom cha cha cha is danced to steady and energetic beats. In contrast, the sensual and flowing traditional form of cha cha is controlled by alternate bending and straightening of the dancer’s knees.
Mambo - Mambo stems from 1940s Cuban and Mexican origins, with its complex step patterns set to the uplifting rhythms of saxophone and other brass melodies. Mambo often sees its dancers exercise to the speed of 188 bpm and, like salsa, requires grinding hip action to really offer a great workout.
Samba - A Brazilian form of dance, samba offers a fun and energetic path towards fitness, with an emphasis on hip and knee movements that build up lower body strength. Set to a carnival beat, samba is certainly not a dance style for the faint hearted, with rhythmic grooves shaking the whole body.
What to expect from your first class
Starting out in Latin American dancing really shouldn’t be a daunting experience. Most beginner classes offer a guide to basic steps with clear explanations of what each entails. A variety of Latin dance styles will generally be taught, however it may be worth finding a specialist class if you only want to learn salsa or samba in-depth.
Key Latin American dancing tips
Latin American dancing is all about shaking the hips and lower body so make sure you’re as flexible as possible. When it comes to clothing, don’t worry too much about finding the right samba head piece or salsa dress. In the early days, some basic exercise clothes and dance shoes will do the job.