Types of Latin Dances

Rachel Hanson
 Latin Dancers

Latin dances hail from several different countries in South and Central America, and most have influences that range far beyond this region. Some dances are easier to learn than others, but all Latin dances have a flair that both spectators and dancers alike adore.

Popular Latin Dance Styles

The following Latin dances are the ones that are most often learned and performed. Whether watching a dance show on television or attending a social dance workshop, you're bound to run into some of these Latin styles.

Bachata

The Bachata is a dance from the Dominican Republic, named after Bachata guitar music. Dancers move side to side in a four-beat pattern: three steps to the side followed by a pause, which forms the essence of the Bachata as dancers incorporate pronounced hip movements. Overall, the dance is much more about moving the body with style than about the simple back and forth steps.

Because this dance is about polished style in addition to simple steps, intermediate to advanced dancers will have the most success making this dance look good.

Cha Cha Cha

The Cha Cha Cha, also called the Cha Cha, is a Cuban-born dance, similar to the Mambo in style. However, after the basic movement of stepping forward or backward and shifting weight between feet, the Cha Cha Cha adds a quick set of three steps. This gives the dance its name since many dancers count out these steps as "cha cha cha."

Mambo

The Mambo also originated in Cuba. Its signature move is a three-beat step moving forward and then backward while shifting weight from one foot to the other. One member of a dancing pair performs the backward motion while the other moves forward.

What really gives the Mambo its style though is the hip-swaying action that the weight shift creates. Although the Mambo is a couple's dance, the basic step has appeared in everything from line dancing to aerobics videos, where individual dancers perform the three-beat step either alone or as part of a group.

Merengue

Merengue is a Dominican dance; it is even recognized as the official dance of the country. It is generally considered easy to learn, making it a great choice for those looking to ease their way in to Latin dancing.

The following basic movement goes to the front, back, and side when a couple dances the Merengue together: step onto the inside edge of the foot, roll the foot to transfer weight, then drag the other foot to meet the first foot. Learn the basic technique from an instructor or observe other dancers doing it, such as in this instructional Merengue video, where the basic step is demonstrated to the side.

Rumba

The Rumba has its roots in the Cuban son. The Rumba consists of two quick steps and then a third slower step that takes two beats to execute. Dancers use a box-like pattern to guide their movements.

Though dancers originally danced the Rumba with quick steps, ballroom Rumba dancing (Latin dancing most often seen in competitions) has emphasized slow, romantic steps with a focus on hip movements.

Salsa

The Salsa originated in the Caribbean, although it also has a strong African influence. Couples typically perform this dance together and it centers on a four-beat combination of two quick steps and a slow step with a pause or tap.

Partners then add turns and other flourishes to the basic footwork in order to create a fun dancing experience, as well as an impressive performance.

For online Salsa instruction, The Dance Store Online offers videos and instruction in this, and many other genres of dancing, Latin and otherwise.

Samba

Samba is Brazilian in origin and danced to music of the same name. Many different forms of Samba dancing developed in Brazil, some of which are for a dancing couple, and others of which are dances for individuals.

Different musical styles are paired with different Samba dances. The speed of the dance varies according to the music. Samba is one of the most well known Latin dances especially for its role in Carnival events, where individual dancers perform.

DanceSport Latin Dances

The International DanceSport Federation, a group hosting and regulating international dance competitions, classifies the following dances as types of Latin dances:

  • Samba
  • Rumba
  • Cha Cha
  • Paso Doble
  • Jive

Despite being included under the umbrella term of Latin dance, the Paso Doble actually originated in Spain rather than Latin America, and the Jive comes from the U.S. For DanceSport purposes, the dances that are considered Latin widely differ from the geographic classification of Latin dances.

What these dances have in common is that they are fundamentally different from the Waltz, the benchmark of Western social dancing in the competition sphere.

Exploring Latin Dancing

While many dancers only do Salsa or Samba, or restrict themselves to one or two Latin dance styles, there is no reason to limit yourself to just a few genres of Latin dance. Once you start getting involved with one type of Latin dancing, you may just find yourself itching to discover some of the other irresistible rhythms that the Latin dance world has to offer.

Types of Latin Dances