An Introduction to Latin Dance

October 11, 2014

Dance Film

Expo Latino (Calgary)
Dance Film
Image by Sherlock77 (James)
Latin dance group…

Film image from my Minolta SLR, just love having DoF control (compared to my P&S digital)

Introduction to Social Latin Dances

If you want to become a well rounded Salsero or Salsera, it is important to have an understanding of all Latin dance and music. We will be exploring a few of the prominent dances today and examine why they are beneficial for your salsa skills, moves, and techniques. This article focuses on the social style Latin Dances. This differs compared to Ballroom Latin Dance which consists of five specific styles: rumba, samba, paso doble, cha-cha-cha, and jive.

Merengue

Merengue is a dance from the Dominican Republic, often cited as the National Dance of D.R. Like many music styles in D.R., merengue was “country music”. The music is credited to a Nico Lora, whom created it in the 1920s and named it after meringue, a dessert from egg whites and sugar. Merengue’s early years began in brothels and bars on the valley region around Santiago, formally called the Cibao. With its humble yet nefarious beginnings, efforts to ban merengue in high society proved successful until the 1930s. Under the rule of Rafael Trufillo from 1930-1961, the dance was imposed on all levels of society sufficiently squelching the other national music forms, like Bachata. Trujillo embraced this language as it spoke to him about humble beginnings, himself coming from a rural area. Many songs during his dictatorship were composed to praise his virtues and contributions to the nation.

So why is this important for a salsa dancer? It’s a free practice. Many people just sit out during merengue. The same can be said for bachata, or even cha-cha. Dancing merengue helps you perfect the leads and hand positions. In all areas of training, if you can do something slowly and perfectly, it will take little time before you can do it fast. Jumping right into full speed will embed poor techniques and habits into your dance.

Bachata

Bachata is another dance from the Dominican Republic, with subjects of forlorn emotion, romance, and heartbreak. Bachata is the equivalent of the Blues in America, many of the same themes are discussed and have similar resolutions such as looking for yourself at the bottom of the bottle. You can easily recognize bachata for its predominant use of the electric guitar which plucks out the main rhythm, usually an eight note run. An evolution from the Bolero, bachata has had much success in clubs in recent years.

Bachata is a more intimate dance but it will help you learn the body language of Latin dance. You will feel the natural motion of each other and how to properly lead and follow. To become a better dancer you must become multifaceted. It’s not enough to know how to do a bunch of moves, or how to show off. You need to establish a connection with your partner so it feels like a dance and not a test of ability. So take the essence of bachata, the sensuality and connection, and implement them in your dancing.

Cha Cha

Cha Cha, originally called Cha-Cha-Cha, is a Cuban music/dance derivative of the mambo. This musical style can be directly attributed to composer Enrique Jorrin for creating danzons with an emphasis on his cha-cha-cha syncopation. Jorrin himself has called the songs “creatively modified danzones” with the onomatopoeic mantle of Cha-Cha-Cha  stemming from the sound the dancers’ feet made during this step.

Cha cha can be a boring dance for many people not well versed in it but I have seen first hand what great salseros can do with this dance. While many salsa moves work with it, and there are plenty of Cha Cha specific moves, one goal for social cha cha is perfection of technique. With the addition of the chachacha syncopation you can easily add multiple spins, lots of shines, fancy footwork, hand styling, and Cuban Hip motion during the basic step. It helps then to utilize Cha Cha as a time to practice your technique but also your musicality. As you practice it more and more you can deviate from the restriction of doing the basic for a whole song. Play with the beat and accent polyrhythms as you dance. So put some cha cha on your iPod and ask the DJ to play some at the club and have fun. Losing yourself in the music can be a good thing if you do it right.

Samba

Samba is like a sister to Salsa but with many different faces; from party going exhibitionist to regal heiress of ballroom. It is lively and rhythmic and full of passion as well as steeped in history. While having a stake in the ballroom dance world, Samba is quite different in its homeland of Brazil. Throughout the politically tumultuous history of Brazil, Samba has been a unifying and glue-like factor, bringing individuals together regardless of social or ethnic group.

Samba’s roots originate, as with much music in the New World, with the arrival of slaves to South America. The rhythmic knowledge from Angola blended with the Portuguese and other Iberian melodic and harmonic instrumentation. While many similarities of the slave trade exist between North America and South America, the music styles differ greatly, largely due to Brazilian slave masters allowing the heritage of their African slaves to continue. In North America, this was largely stifled for fear of communication between slaves. 

Samba is great for working on individualizing your style. And at Carnival (Carnaval), which Samba No Pe is most known for, it’s all about style and being flashy. Much of the movements accentuate characteristics of masculinity and femininity. It’s not about the physical connection but more about emotional connection. Samba No Pe can often be a pursuit from afar where the male generally dances around the lady, whilst she accentuates her hips and shoulders enticingly. It is the basic theme of the chase that is inherent in many dances and other art forms. Samba de gafieira is a more intimate connection and the chase is largely replaced with leading and following. The natural rhythmic differences between samba and salsa also give rise to various styling options with the hips and footwork.

For a more in-depth and visual presentation of the latin dances, please visit our website, I Live Salsa.

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