American Rhythm Dance Styles
Steamy! The most famous Latin American dance to gain popularity in North America and Europe is, without doubt, the rumba. Slow and romantic, the Rumba is the most sensual of the Latin dances. Motion is produced through a transfer of body weight and not from direct movement of the hips. Couples dance very closely together, using their body language to express emotion between them. The Rumba is sometimes referred to as the “Dance Of Love” because couples stare deeply into each other’s eyes while they dance.
The Bolero, originating in Spain, is danced to a very slow type of Rumba rhythm. With its slip pivot and body rise danced to dreamy music usually accompanied by vocals, the Bolero has a very romantic and soft feel to it. The Bolero is all about being one with your partner in a slow, sweeping motion.
The mid-tempo Cha-Cha-Cha is a spin-off of the Rumba and the Mambo. With its two slow steps followed by three quick ones (rock step, cha-cha-cha), this sensual, energetic dance is extraordinarily popular with old and young alike. The tempo is slow and staccato, making it easy for dancers to inject their own personality into the patterns. The Cha-Cha-Cha rhythm can still be heard in the music of contemporary performers like Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Gloria Estefan.
The 1970s was the time to do the Hustle! Predated by the line dance with the same name, the Hustle exploded onto the scene after John Travolta danced his way to stardom in the famous movie, Saturday Night Fever. The Hustle is a fast moving, energetic dance characterized by its many turns. The lady spins almost constantly while her partner draws her close and sends her away. Although disco has come and gone, the hustle is here to stay!
The Jive is a fast swing dance style that originated in North America from African-Americans in the early 1940s. It is a lively and uninhibited variation of the Jitterbug, a form of Swing dance. Jive is a very happy, boppy, energetic dance, with plenty of kicks, knee-lifting, bending, and rocking of the hips. The fastest of the Latin dances. Many of its basic patterns are similar to these of the East Coast Swing with the major difference of highly syncopated rhythm of the Triple Steps (Chasses), which use straight eighths in hard swing in Jive.
A Cuban bandleader named Perez Prado is credited with starting the Mambo dance craze in the mid-1950s. The Mambo is a Rumba with a break on 2 and 4 in 4/4 time, danced according to the individual dancer’s temperament. While conservative dancers can maintain a closed position, daring dancers can perform breakaway steps and completely separate themselves from each other.
The Merengue, the national dance of the Dominican Republic, was created in the mid-1950s. With its simple steps and 1-2 march-like rhythm, it was rumored to be initially performed by the guests of a crippled general in the Dominican Republic who wanted to imitate him as he dragged his lame right leg across the floor! The Merengue is known for its liveliness, with a step on every beat, knee action, and wiggles from side to side. Since it doesn’t move around the dance floor, it’s perfect for small, crowded dance floors.
The Paso Doble is a lively, theatrical Spanish dance modeled after the drama of the Spanish bullfight. (Paso Doble literal meaning in Spanish: double-step). Traditionally, the man is characterized as the matador (bullfighter) and the lady as his cape in the drama of a Spanish bullfight. It actually originated in southern France, but is modeled after the sound, drama, and movement of the Spanish bullfight. Based on Flamenco dancing, the Paso Doble is both arrogant and passionate and is performed often as a competition dance. Paso Doble is danced to a typical Spanish march-like musical style. It is the type of music typically played in bullfights during the bullfighters’ entrance to the ring (paseo) or during the passes just before the kill. Famous bullfighters have been honored with Paso Doble tunes named after them. Others are inspired in patriotic motives or local characters.
Salsa, a fusion of Cuban, Puerto Rican and American styles, describes the fast, Latin music coming out of New York City in the late 1960s. Salsa dancing is characterized by a complicated rhythm, small steps, Cuban motion, and a compact hold. Salsa has a recurring 8-beat pattern, with patterns using 3 steps during each 4 beats. The skipped beat is usually marked by a tap or a kick. Salsa dancing is always sassy, sexy, and fun!
The spirited Samba always gets feet tapping! Originally from Brazil, the festive Samba was popularized in the movies of Carmen Miranda. The Samba is characterized by a steady bounce in 2/4 meter achieved by flexing and straightening the knees while weight is transferred from the ball to the flat of the foot. This happy and bouncy dance is always fun!
Back in the good old days of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, the East Coast Swing originated as a simplified 6-count triple step dance. The East Coast Swing dance pattern moves smoothly either forward/back or side to side while circling freely around the floor. The basic step is triple step, triple step, rock step. Danced to a wide variety of music, you can “swing” to almost anything!
The official state dance of California, the West Coast Swing originated from the Savoy Style Lindy dance. Brought to Hollywood by Dean Collins, a famous movie dancer and choreographer, this dance soon became popular in California nightclubs during the 1930s and 1940s. The West Coast Swing is known for its “dancing in a slot” appearance where the man dances in place while the woman travels back and forth.