The cliche that music is a universal language is a cliche for a reason as music truly connects people while also telling the history of a culture. Many Latin American countries use music and dance to keep their traditions alive and the various styles have been recognized worldwide. There’s salsa, rumba, and samba which are heavily influenced by African roots while the tango has its roots in the brothels of Argentina hence its infamous sexually charged nature. These various dance styles are a celebration of the countries and cultures they represent and many were popularized by artists including Celia Cruz (salsa), Juan Luis Guerra (merengue), and Carlos Gardel (tango). We compiled some of the most famous LATAM dance styles paired with TikToks showcasing the signature moves.
Folklorico can be traced all the way back to the indigenous people of Mexico and the footwork (zapateado) is the foundation of this percussive dance style. In 1952, Amalia Hernandez created the Ballet Folklórico de México to dance Folklorico at the Pan American Games and she was the first to blend it with modern dance and ballet. Folklorico displays the life and spirit of people through its movements and is celebrated all throughout Mexico and the United States.
The Argentine tango originated in Buenos Aires in brothels among working-class communities and it’s thought to have influences from the Cuban habanera and African candombe. In the 1900s the church actually banned the dance because the music was “immoral.” The most popular dancer of Argentine tango would undoubtedly be El Chachafaz, who actually practiced in brothels.
The salsa originated in rural eastern Cuba and quickly became popular in Havana in the 20th century. It began with guitar-playing and African rhythms, not quite like the salsa we know today with the horns and trumpets. The dance gained worldwide popularity from Puerto Ricans in New York and modern-day singers like Puerto Rican artist Marc Anthony. Of course, the most popular salsa singer of all time is Celia Cruz along with Ismael Rivera and Hector Lavoe.
Bachata originated in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s and due to its sensual nature and lyrical content it was banned by dictator Rafael Trujillo. Juan Luis Guerra, who is famous for merengue, is also attributed with popularizing bachata winning a Grammy for “Bachata Rosa” in 1992. It has continued to grow in popularity thanks to Latin artists like Romeo Santos and Prince Royce. The dance has also taken over the fitness world with Zumba instructors often choreographing bachata routines known for its footwork and hip movements.
The samba is a Brazilian dance style with rhythms from Africa, created in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the late 1920s. This style is very powerful and has become popular in parades and even protest marches around the world. There are many samba dancers who participate in the yearly Carnaval parade in Brazil: Viviane Araujo, Sabrina Sato, and Renata Santos.
El perreo, aka Sandunguero, is the popular dance style associated with reggaetón music which originated in Panama in the 1970s and eventually made its way to Puerto Rico in the 1990s. Reggaeton music is a mixture of Jamaican/LATAM sounds with hip hop and electronica beats. Perrero can be danced in many ways including face to face or guy behind the girl, but it’s basically like twerking and is known as a sexually charged dance. The style is commonly credited to DJ Blass in the 1980s after he released Sandunguero albums. It continues to enjoy global fame through artists such as Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee, and J Balvin.
Merengue originated in the Dominican Republic (it’s the national dance) and Haiti with its rhythms influenced by different Venezuelan and Afro-Cuban roots. It’s based on a repeating five-beat rhythmic pattern called a quintillo with common instruments used alongside the dance being the accordion and drums. Dominican artist Wilfrido Vargas is considered one of the pioneers of modern merengue while Elvis Crespo’s
“Suavemente” is one of if not the most famous Merengue songs in history.
The cha-cha-cha is a Cuban dance that came from the shuffling of the dancers’ feet. Enrique Jorrin, a Cuban composer and violinist, introduced the cha-cha-cha in 1948. The actual choreography of the dance was taken from two other dances – the mambo and the danzón from Cuba.
The rumba originated in the 19th century in the slums of eastern Cuba, music historian Maya Roy describes it as “a Spanish legacy Africanized in the Cuban crucible.” It combines both African and Spanish rhythms and was popular among the Afro-Cubans at the time. The word “Rumba” actually means “party” which is why it’s such a lively dance. Over time there have been various dance styles associated with rumba including the primarily male columbia, the yambú, and guaguancó considered Cuba’s most popular style.