There are 5 standard Latin American dances - the Samba, the Rumba, the Cha Cha Cha, the Paso Doble and the Jive. There are many forms of Jive - I teach an easy version of Rock'n'Roll (no throwing the girl over your shoulder!) which can be danced to fast music, and which the Americans call Single Step Swing. There are a huge number of other Latin rhythms and styles, but the most popular in the UK is Salsa and I sometimes throw in a little Merengue for good measure.
Latin American in this context doesn't just refer to the continent, it means the dances from the Latin countries and America itself. These dances are full of wonderful complex syncopated rhythms. Two of them are progressive - the Samba and the Paso Doble - that means they travel around the room anti-clockwise following the line of dance - it's a bit like going around a race track. And the others are called spot dances, that means they don't travel round the room like Samba and Paso Doble do.
The Samba is a real party dance with lots of bounce and lots of fun. It's danced with flexed knees and lots of fluid hip action. Think of Rio Carnival and you're part way there!
It evolves in Brazil from the dances that the slaves bring with them from places like Angola and the Congo, then combine it with the dances from the indigenous people and add some Portuguese to the mix, and you eventually have Samba. During the nineteenth century, two dances develop - the Zemba Queca (which evolves into the Mesemba) and the Maxixe - which combine and then are modified by the high society of Rio to be danced in ballroom hold. American films of the 1930s and 1940s popularise different forms of Samba - yes, I do mean Carmen Miranda!
Samba timing: 2 beats per bar - 50 bars per minute - count 1a2 and slows & quicks
The Rumba is the dance of love and tells the age-old story of the man chasing the woman while she flirts and then teases him by moving away. It's slow, it's sensual, and it's full of gorgeous hip movement. Can you look your partner in the eye while you dance it with them?
Like many of the Latin American dances, its origins lie with the African slaves brought into Cuba whose dances emphasise body movement rather than the feet. It evolves in Havana in the nineteenth century combining with a dance called "Contradanza" - strangely that dance has its origins in English Country Dance, moving through France and then Spain before reaching Cuba. Anyway, the Rumba is a real melting-pot of dances. By the time it's popular in 1930s America, it's combined with other dances from Cuba like the Guaracha, the Son, the Danzon and the Bolero. It's standardised by a British dance teacher, Pierre Margolie, in the 1940s and so we have today's Rumba.
Rumba timing: 4 beats per bar - 27 bars per minute - count 234.1 or quicks & slows
Cha Cha Cha
The Cha Cha Cha is cheeky, flirtatious, syncopated and fun. It has strong hip movement - that comes from the flexing and straightening of the knees, not just a bottom wiggle!
It's the youngest of the Latin dances - a real fusion of African rhythms and western jazz. It combines the Cuban Danzon, the Puerto Rican Danzonette and the Mambo (in fact in its early days, it's sometimes called triple mambo). It develops in America with Latin musicians and in Cuba where it's developed by Enrique Jorrin, and it's enormously popular in the 1950s.
Cha Cha Cha timing: 4 beats per bar - 30 bars per minute - 234&1 or 23 cha-cha-cha
The Paso Doble is passionate, dramatic and intense. It's full of marching steps with elements of flamenco, and the arm and hand movements are really well-defined. It is absolutely the man's dance!
The dance comes originally from Spain but develops largely in France where it is very popular amongst the upper classes of 1930s Paris. It's based on the bullfight - the man is the bullfighter and the woman is the cape - and it's danced to the music that is traditionally used for the procession at the start of the corrida. It's not danced often socially in the UK, although we have fun with it at our dances, but you will find it being danced in France, and Spain, and some parts of Germany.
Paso Doble timing: 2 beats per bar - 60 bars per minute - count 12 etc
Rock'n'Roll is fast and energetic. You have to keep your weight over the balls of your feet and your knees relaxed, so you can keep up with the fast speed of the music. There are lots of turns and spins, and the odd flick and kick.
The forerunner of jive develops among the African-American communities in the south-east of America, before moving up to Chicago and New York. As ragtime music develops in the early twentieth century so does the dancing, and when the Savoy Ballroom opens in Harlem in 1926 a new dance is born - the Lindy Hop. The Lindy Hop is followed by the Jitterbug, the Boogie Woogie, Swing and then Rock'n'Roll which make their way to European shores via American GIs in World War Two. Jive is the internationally danced version of Swing - like an East Coast Triple Step Swing - and the Rock'n'Roll we dance is like the East Coast Single Step Swing. Phew!
Rock'n'Roll timing: 4 beats per bar - 44 bars per minute (can be slower or faster) - count in slows & quicks
Salsa is fast, versatile and very sexy! There is lots of hip movement, and the dance is tight and compact, with partners moving around each other. Salsa is all about the sizzle!
It's a fusion of styles from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Colombia, born of the Latin migration to New York and all those musical styles merging with African-American jazz. But before there is Salsa, there is Mambo - introduced by Perez Prado in Havana in the early 1940s, which becomes very popular in America and Europe. Mambo is a little slower, more time is spent in close hold and the movement is more forwards and backwards; Salsa is just the street version of it with moves stolen from other dances.
Salsa timing: 4 beats per bar - 44 bars per minute (can be slower or faster) - count 123_567_
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