Basic Knowledge - Dance Histories -

Origin of Salsa
Salsa owed its existence to the Cuban music style “Son”. This music style dates back to the 19th century and is said to have originated in the province of Oriente in eastern Cuba. “Son” in Spanish means sound/rhythm. It’s a unique blend of Western and Afro-American influences. Developed out of this music, Salsa eventually took on a life of its own, gradually gained awareness and acceptance outside of Cuba, beginning with New York. In the 20th century, Salsa continued to incorporate new sounds and rhythms, eventually developing into the form as we know it today. In fact, “salsa” means “sauce” in Spanish. It’s a mixture of different “flavors”.

Origin of Merengue
Merengue is considered the national music and dance of the Dominican Republic (although there is some debate over whether the dance originally started there or in neighboring Haiti). It started as a folk music and dance during the early 1800’s. Over the last two hundred years, many of its more distinguishing steps have faded out of existence, and have been replaced with pop-stylings. Today, among the Carribean/Latin dances, it is among the easiest to learn, and has a simple rhythm that is easy to count. Contrasting with a good deal of contemporary pop-salsa themes (which deal with loves lost, loves betrayed, and feelings of sorrow), contemporary meringue themes are generally bright and uplifting. Merengue makes great party music!

Origin of Bachata
Bachata is roughly fifty years old, and it’s said that contemporary Bachata is to its origins as rock is to blues in the United States. Like the Argentine Tango, Bachata was born in a part of society largely frowned on by the middle and upper classes, and has close ties to cabaret and brothel. The guitar has always played a central part in Bachata music. However, the electric guitar, as used in contemporary Bachata, didn’t make its way into the music until the late 1980’s. Like many guitar based music genres in Latin America, Bachata has themes that revolve mainly around the bitterness and melancholy of a love gone wrong. As such, the lyrics can often be rather racy, and a bit controversial; the dance, also like Argentine Tango, can be described as expressing the sensual relationship between a man and a woman.

Origin of Cha Cha Cha
The Cha Cha Cha’ (spoken with an accent on the last Cha’), is an offspring of the Cuban Mambo. Slow mambos of the 1950s made use of a triple beat over the 4 and 1 that mambo dancers began using in their steps. These slower mambos came to be known as “Tripple Mambos”, and then later “Cha Cha Cha’s”. Cha Cha Cha, over the later half of the twentieth century, was exported to the United States, and now has a solid hold in the New York salsa club scene, and has been adapted as well into ballroom dance. The rhythm is frequently used in Latin and Pop genres throughout the U.S. and Latin America. Cha Cha Cha’s dance steps are closely related to both Mambo and Salsa steps.

Origin of Reggaeton
The fusion of Hip Hop, Dancehall, Reggae and Latin music has created a new type of sound, out of which arose a new dance form called Reggaeton. The dance music is defined by a Dem-Bow drumbeat. It makes the hips twirl. Reggaeton first came into existence in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and subsequently took hold in other Latin American countries. Almost all the songs are sung in Spanish. After taking the United States by storm, Reggaeton’s popularity is now taking on the Japanese dance community.

Origin of Rumba
Cuba is universally known as a music “Mecca”, having produced various different music genres by blending Western and African cultures in novel ways. Among those genres, the one that is most power-charged is Rumba. Rumba originated in Africa and traveled via the slave trade to Cuba. It comprises three different sub-genres, categorized according to the rhythm speed into Columbia, Guaguanco and Yambu. Many Guaguanco songs use love and romance as its central theme. Characteristic for this sub-style is a dance step/swing called “vacunao”. The dance step itself differs from pair to pair, as movements are defined by dancers’ skills and imagination. The “vacunao” is a man’s attempt of a pelvic thrust in the direction of the woman’s groin, symbolizing sexual possession. The woman evades the vacunao by covering her groin area with her skirt.

Origin of Son
Son came into existence in the 19th century in the province of Oriente in eastern Cuba. “Son” stands for sound/rhythm in Spanish. It owed its style to the unique blend of Western and Afro-American influences, and represents some of the best music Cuba has to offer. In the 1930s, the Son hit song “El Manicero” (sometimes written as El Manisero) - The Peanut Vendor - became a worldwide sensation. To avoid “Son” from being mixed up with the English word “song”, the music style was named “Rumba” and released to the world. Since then Son has been known as Rumba and was even incorporated into Ballroom Dancing. Son has continued to develop and evolve, exerting great influence not only on Cuban music but also other music styles.

Origin of Argentine Tango
The origin of the Argentine Tango is an intriguing tale, albeit a bit racy. The tango was born at a time in Argentina’s history when mass immigration had created a largely male dominated population, characterized by hardship and poverty. Some estimates say that during this period the ratio of men to women was nearly 50 to 1, and the one industry that flourished during this era was that of the brothel.

Brothels operated under the guises of ‘dance academies’, and the dances they taught had to be simple enough that, if the establishment were ever raided by the police, it would appear that there was real dance instruction going on. In its original form, it’s thought that the dance portrayed the relationship between pimp and prostitute. To this day, the Argentine Tango is danced sternum to sternum, in a ‘hug-like’ embrace.

Argentine Tango is an entirely social dance, and much like Salsa, is continually undergoing change and improvisation. However, over the years, the Tango has been exported worldwide, and has been adopted by many communities far beyond its native Argentina. The cultures that have adopted it (Europe and the U.S., for example) have redefined its steps within their own schemas. This is essentially what helped define Ballroom Tango, which is far less provocative than its Argentine counterpart.

Origin of Belly Dance
The origins of Belly Dancing are not entirely clear, although the dance can be traced to a general area of the Middle East spanning from Turkey to Egypt. Belly Dancing originated as an entirely social dance, taking place in homes, social gatherings, parties and the like, and is still danced as such in many parts of the Middle East. However, in more recent years the Belly Dancing has been refined into a performance art, adding elements of spectacle to showcase its exotic movements. The dance is characterized by circular movements in the abdomen, hips and shoulders. Costumes play a central role in the presentation of the dance, and are usually composed of a fitted top, or bra, a fitted hip belt, and leg coverings. Any of these items can be adorned with beads or coins which add to both the visual and audio presentation of the dance. In some versions of the dance, a veil is also used.

Origin of Ballet
Ballet is a truly international art form, and has evolved over the course of nearly six hundred years. While technically recognized as having its beginning in 15th century Italy, it was the French who popularized and exported it to an international audience, and the Russians who revitalized the dance when ballet began to die down in Western Europe during the 19th century.

Ballet is a performing art (as opposed to a social dance, like Salsa, Swing, etc.) which has been strictly refined over the centuries. It focuses on perfection of movement and shape, and is often characterized by outward rotation of the thighs from the hip, as well as pointed foot work.

Origin of West Coast Swing
West Coast Swing is the official State Dance of California. Swing, as a dance form, dates back to the early half of the twentieth century in America. In its origins, swing was a Jazz based dance, with roots in the lindy-hop. During the nineteen twenties and thirties Swing spread to nearly every corner of the United States, and each region had its own take on how the dance should be done. In New York, “Savoy Swing” reigned; “Carolina Shag” in the Carolinas; “Supreme Swing” in Tulsa, Oklahoma; “Cajun Swing” in Louisiana; and in California, people were dancing “Sophisticated Swing”, which was later renamed “West Coast Swing” during the later half of the century.

West Coast Swing (WCS) is characterized by an elastic connection between leader and follower, in which arms extend and compress. WCS in its contemporary form has two dominating styles: Classic and Funky. The steps for the styles differ slightly, as well as the way dancers count the beats of the music. Classic WCS is perhaps better suited for Jazz, while Funky WCS is better suited for contemporary pop. However, either style of dancing is suitable for dancing with any number of music genres, ranging from Jazz, to straight up Blues, to Pop, Rock and beyond.