About Latin American

Latin American dances cover the five dances Cha-cha-cha (or just Cha), Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive.  Each of these dances has its own unique origin and its own characteristic technique, and they are danced to music of different tempos.  The Samba, Rumba, and Cha Cha, originated in Latin America, whereas the Paso Doble originated in from Europe and the Jive developed from North America.   The Latin American dances are a fusion of Indigenous, European and African American cultures and were introduced into Western-European society in the twentieth century. 

Latin American competitions were first organised in the late 1940s with four dances (missing cha).  In the 1950s there was debate about which style should be encouraged for competitions: the social dance style or the cabaret style; the social style won.  Restrictions were placed on costumes and steps in order to curb the exotic nature of the dances.  In the 1950s new rhythms were developing in Cuba – a new form of rumba, the cha and the mambo and by 1959 cha had been included in the set of Latin American dances.

Samba and Paso are progressive and danced anticlockwise around the room, the other dances are not progressive.  Costumes for Latin American competitors can be very varied.

The Cha Cha Cha: (tempo 30-32 bars per minute)

This is a sexy and flirtatious Afro-Cuban dance, with an easily recognised rhythm and characterised  by straight legs and a strong hip action.  It developed in the Latin dance clubs of New York City during the 1950s.   It evolved from a combination of Cuban dances the Danzon and Montuno, along with a version of the Mambo (the triple version with five steps in a bar), which originated in Haiti as a religious ritual brought to the Caribbean by the African-Americans.  The emphasis on the rhythm changed in the American Ballrooms, from 1 2 cha cha cha to moving the cha cha cha to the 4 and 1 counts, thus emphasising the first beat.  Characteristic of the dance is the strong hip movement as a result of straightening of the legs.  Origins of the name are disputed and may range from the name of another Cuban dance the Guaracha which was popular in Europe in the late nineteenth century; it may derive onomatopoeically from the sound of the feet in the chasse or from the noise of an instrument called a guiro.

The Samba: (tempo 50-52 bars per minute)

This is a flirtatious dance which captures all the excitement of the Rio carnival.  It is characterized by a body action known as the “samba tick”. The earliest origins of samba are in Africa, but most of its development is from Brazil.   African-American slaves brought dances such as the Caterete, Embolada and Batuque to Brazil and a composite dance evolved.  These dances were considered quite risqué, but members of high society in Rio modified it so it was danced in a closed potion and was known as the Zemba Queca or Mesemba and this may be where the term samba came from. The samba was introduced to Europe from South America in the late 1930s, but generally caught on after the Second World War, when it became incredibly popular due to its infectious music and lively rhythms. 

The Rumba: (tempo 25-27 bars per minute)

This is the slowest of the latin dances and it characterised by straight legs, strong hip action and strong lines. The rumba is of Afro-Cuban origin, deriving from the days of African-American slavery and was seen as an exotic dance emphasising sinuous movements of the hips and torso rather than movement of the feet.  It evolved from the Contradanza in the nineteenth century and was introduced into the USA in the 1930s, and developed into a slower more refined version, the “son”.  The American version is danced with the break step on the first beat, whereas in Britain the dance was brought back from Havanna and evolved such that the break was on beat two.  After much debate in the 1940s and 1950s this became the recognised international version of the rumba.  The dance is often known as the dance of love and is based on the age-old story of the woman’s attempts to attract, reject and ultimately dominate the man of her choice.  The origins of the name rumba are also debated and may derive from the Spanish for route, carousel, dance band or rum.

Paso Doble: (tempo 60-62 bars per minute)

The dance portrays a bullfight with the man as the Torero and the woman, his cape.  They key to the Paso is this characterisation; often it is choreographed to a piece of music known as “the Spanish Gypsy Dance” which is typical of the characteristic march music used for procession at the beginning of a corrida (bullfight).  There are three crescendos in the music; these highlights are matched in the choreography by dramatic poses.  The dance originated from the Spanish bolero, and although initially it was a dance of the common people, portraying displaying Spanish culture, it became popular amongst the upper classes of Paris in the 1930s, with its dramatic and theatrical poses.  Hence many of the steps have French names.  The name "Paso Doble" in Spanish means "Two Step" and refers to the marching nature of the steps.

Jive:  (tempo 42-44 bars per minute)

Jive is characterized by flicks, kicks, and strongly emphasized leg rhythm.  This dance developed from the Jitterbug and Boogie Woogie in the 1940s, which were popularised by American and Canadian servicemen. These dances originated with the African-Americans in the USA who may have copied the some of the war dances of the Native Indians or vice versa.  In the 1880s the Jitterbug and Boogie Woogie were seen as too exuberant for the ballroom and the dance was gradually tamed and lost the acrobatics.  The name jive may have developed from the African American slang for misleading or exaggerated.