History of Latin, Ballroom, Swing, And Folkloric Dances
Salsa is one of the most dynamic and important musical phenomena of the 1900's. In many Hispanic communities, it remains today the most popular style of dance and music. The roots of salsa originated in Eastern Cuba early in the l900s. There, Spanish and Afro-Cuban musical elements were combined, both in terms of rhythm and the instruments used. By mid-century, this music came to Havana where foreign influences were absorbed, particularly American jazz and popular music heard on the radio.
By the end of the l950s, many Cuban and Puerto Rican people including musicians had settled in the U.S., especially in New York. In this environment, salsa music completed its development. In "El Barrio" (Spanish Harlem), bands were formed and immigrants continued to make Afro-Caribbean music, but they adapted the sound to their new world. Gradually in the 50s and 60s, salsa as we know it today was emerging. The most famous musicians of that time were Tito Puente ("King of Mambo") and Celia Cruz ("Queen of Salsa").
The rise of salsa music is also tied closely to Fania Records which was founded in l964 by the musician Johnny Pacheco and an Italian-American divorce lawyer named Jerry Masucci. The two met at a party in a NY hotel. They struck a deal to launch what became the most influential record label in Latin music's history. Fania was known as "the Latin Motown," with one huge hit after another becoming popular all over Latin America. Many artists became very famous with the promotion they received from the record label "La Fania." Fania Records remolded Cuban music into a sound more appropriate to Latin New York, and they called the sound "salsa." By the l970s salsa was becoming so popular that Fania's bands and artists were touring all over Latin America. This decade was the real "heyday" of salsa.
The type of salsa music that Fania promoted came to be referred to as "hard salsa." Then in the 80s, another style of salsa which was softer and more romantic was born, with artists like Gilberto Santa Rosa. Around this time, Latin musicians began to have an impact on mainstream U.S. music. Latin music was becoming trendy here and beginning to intrigue the rest of the world as well.
Both types of salsa remain popular today and with the popularity of the music, came the popularity of the dance. Salsa refers both to the music and the dance done to that music. The rhythm for Salsa is quick-quick-slow. To dancers, a "quick" is a step that lasts for one musical beat and a "slow" lasts for two beats.
To see a video clip of Salsa dancing, click here.
Rueda de Casino (Cuban Salsa)
To watch a 60-second trailer of DanceInTime's documentary, "Casino Rueda: Cuban Dance Captures the World" about how the dance became popular world-wide, Click here. The full DIT documentary (7 mins. long) was shown a couple of times in August, 2011 at the Albuquerque Latin Fest (see ALBLATINFEST.com) to an appreciative crowd!
To see a video clip of Casino Rueda dancing (done for Fox 5 New's coverage of DanceInTime), click here.
(To read an article in a dance magazine about Casino Rueda, click here .)
Rumba is a sultry and romantic dance, often referred to as the "dance of love". Its roots can be traced to Africa where it was a street and courtship dance.
Rumba dancing originally was done with an emphasis on the dancers' body rather than their feet. The rumba tune was considered to be less significant than the intricate rhythms that were danced to with a lot of body movement.
Like many Latin dances, rumba developed gradually in Cuba. It became mainstreamed into a ballroom dance, with music that was slowed down and moves that were more sedate. It is now the second slowest of the Latin dances, a little faster than only the Bolero.
In ballroom style
rumba, three steps are generally taken in one measure of music. A measure has 4
beats of music. The additional beat is used for weight transfer and turns.
The rhythm for the basic step of Rumba is slow-quick-quick. Notice that both the Rumba and the Salsa have an underlying pattern that includes one “slow” and two “quicks.”
But in Salsa you begin with the “quicks” and in Rumba you begin with the “slow.”
Cha Cha evolved and developed around the mid-1900’s. Cha Cha music is similar to Salsa, but the tempo is slower. Thus there is time to replace the slow step found in Salsa with the “cha cha chas.” Indeed, Cha cha was originally called triple Mambo because you take 3 cha cha steps in place of the slow step in mambo (and Salsa).
The name "cha-cha" imitates the sound of heeled shoes as they hit the floor percussively. This explains why some refer to the dance as the cha-cha-cha while others call it cha-cha.
Cha Cha quickly became very popular and remains today the most well-known of the Latin dances to Americans. Cha Cha music is catchy, and has a lively, happy sound.
You’ll notice that most dances have “rhythm breaks,” or steps that vary from the basic rhythm of the dance. If you watch Cha Cha closely you may be able to see some of these different patterns which include syncopations and other types of variations. These rhythm breaks make the dance more interesting and challenging. They are particularly easy to notice in Cha Cha because any alteration of the “cha cha cha” tends to stand out.
The movement of all Latin dances is characterized by “Cuban motion.” This is the hip sway that is created by stepping onto a bent leg and then straightening it. “Cuban motion” is most easily taught in Merengue due to the steady beat. As a result, it is the Latin dance that beginning dancers often start with.
In the basic movement of Merengue, one leg is dragged slightly. There are a couple of legends about why this is so. One is that the dance originated with slaves who were chained together. So they had to drag one leg as the cut sugar to a drum beat. Another story is that during one of the revolutions in the Dominican Republic, a great hero was wounded in the leg. He came home to a celebration in his honor. When the villagers danced at the celebration, they all limped and dragged one leg as a gesture of sympathy for him.
Bachata is a popular form of music from the Dominican Republic. The first bachata was recorded in 1961 by José Manuel Calderón. But over time, bachata began to be associated with the world of prostitution, crime, and delinquency. The stigma against bachata was strong enough that only one national radio station would play it. From about 1970 to about 1990, bachata music told stories of an underground life-style such as men who loved prostitutes, poor country boys who get to the city and are ripped off, impoverished barrio dweller without light or water, etc.
But bachata’s popularity began to grow, as Anthony Santos and others used the new style to record more acceptable, romantic songs. Over time, middle class musicians experimented with bachata, and were so successful that the music began to be accepted by all sectors of society.
In its current form, bachata is listened to throughout Latin America, and is particularly popular in New York City today. Many seasoned dancers in the US have witnessed the tremendous rise in popularity of Bachata dancing. Around the late twentieth century, it was only occasionally played by DJs at clubs. But now it is far more commonly heard, and many interesting dance moves have sprung up to make dancing Bachata richer and more interesting.
Danzon is a Latin dance wih a very formal structure. First the music has an introductory section during which people don't dance. They chat, the lady fans herself, they applaud the orchestra, etc. The dancers all begin to move at precisely the same moment, when the next section of the music begins. This is a melody to which dancers do something resembling an American Rumba. The introduction often repeats later on, followed by another melody. Dancers always stop dancing whenever the introductory section is played. They again applaud the orchestra, chat, etc. Finally, the last segment of a Danzon is the liveliest one and is called the montuno. It is the montuno that went on to ultimately develop into Salsa which is popular all over the world today.
The dancer's rhythm during the slower melody is slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow, close. This is 4 measures of music in which each measure has 4 beats. The man begins leading by going forward on his left and he does a box step. Because the second box is not completed, successive basic steps would result in the couple "migrating" slightly to the man's right. Only closed figures are done during the slower melody, which means that the woman and man face each other as they dance.
During the faster montuno section of the dance, the dancers may open up into moves where they don't face each other if they wish. During that segment, they may also do complete boxes, running the slow, quick quick rhythm continuously. That is, they do not close their feet (i.e. bring them together) on the fourth measure.
Danzon (pronounce the "z" like an English "s") remains popular today in some places such as Mexico. In Mexico City on most nights, for example, hundreds of people can be found doing Danzon in public areas. The development of this dance can be traced to the late 1700's. There was a bloody Haitian revolution, after which many people fled to Cuba. They brought with them "Contradanza," which was popular European-based dance music. Eventually by the late 1800s, this evolved into Danzon. Much of the original structure of the dance still remains today, and its multiple sections provide an element of variability which make the dance a rich experience.
As Samba became popular
internationally in the 1920's and 30's, it was structured into "danceable
patterns" by and for ballroom dancers. This made it easy to dance in
partnership, and the set of specific steps helped to make it easily "teachable."
Samba is one one of five Latin competition dances (along with rumba, cha cha,
merengue, etc) in the ballroom competitions that can be seen on TV. It is a
fast paced dance with a bouncy movement and rhythm.
The music for all forms of samba is joyful and contagious, making it a very festive dance. Samba's "fun factor" has contributed to its continuing popularity.
In Lindy Hop, the dancers move in an elliptical pattern. The rhythm of
the basic step is 1, 2, triple time, 1, 2, triple time. A couple of styles
of Lindy Hop gradually emerged, notably the Savoy and the Hollywood styles.
Ultimately, Lindy Hop developed into some completely different forms of swing
dancing described below. These variations on swing are characterized by
different rhythm and movement patterns.
East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing
West Coast Swing
While East Coast Swing was developing on the east coast, West Coast Swing emerged on the west coast. West Coast Swing is smoother, more sensual, and done to music with a slower tempo than East Coast. West Coast is danced in a line which is referred to as the dancer's "slot." Some people think that the dance developed partly because dancing in a line enabled more people to fit onto dance floors which became very crowded after World War II.
There are a number of underlying rhythm patterns that are the basis of this dance. One is Quick-Quick-Triple Time-Triple Time.
West Coast Swing lends itself to a good deal of improvisation. In fact,
in some steps, the woman, who is normally the follower, can actually do what
is called "hijacking the lead." She indicates that she wants to take over the
lead and then controls the steps for a short interval. This is quite unique in
partnership dancing. It is like a dance form of improvisation that mimics
instrumental jazz improvisations. So there is a sort of parallel between the
dance and the music that gave rise to it. West Coast Swing is now popular all
over the country.
LATIN FOLKLORIC DANCES
Joropo became the National Dance of Venezuela in 1882. It is danced throughout the country but especially in the Plains.
The music for the dance is made by the maracas, harp, and cuatro. A cuatro is a 4 strong guitar which is like a lute. The song is sometimes also sung while doing daily tasks.
It is a couples dance with as many as 36 variations on the basic step. There are many different types of Joropo, each with a name such as Corrido Tuyero and Golpe Aragueno.
The most famous Joropo song is "Alma Llanera" (which means "soul of the plains"). It is considered to be the national song. It was written by composer Pedro Elias Gutierrez. No ball dance would be complete without it.
Starting in 1960, a tournament was held in the city of Villavicencio, where people showed off their Joropo choreographies in several categories. Judges give out prizes for the best music, dancers, and the best players of the harp, cuatro, and maracas. The event was of course accompanied by a big feast!
Fandango refers both to a kind of music and a kind of dance---much the same as Salsa does.
It is a very old dance. The earliest description of it was found in a letter by a Spanish priest in 1712. It was fashionable among the aristocracy in the late 1700s.
It is danced at celebrations which are described as
"massive public spectacles" in the context of special days for the peoples of
the Colombian Caribbean region. They celebrate with parties honoring patron
saints and the crop harvests.
San Juanito is a folkloric dance from Ecuador and it has
several dozen variants from different regions of Ecuador.
Music for the dance is played by some traditional instruments as well as other "western" instruments such as the violin and mandolin.
Cumbia emerged around the end of the 17th century and in the early 18th century, among the slave populations of coastal towns in Colombia. The slave owners gave them permission to dance and play music on certain holidays. So on those holidays, they would gather to dance cumbia, accompanied by African drumming and singing. Cumbia emerged from this tradition, as social and courtship dance. The name of the dance comes from the Guinean dance “cumbè”.
In the dance, men and women came to the event dressed entirely in white. Women wore long, multi-layered skirts and the men carried bundles of candles or torches, and they gathered in a circle. Couples then took turns coming to the center to dance flirtatiously. The man attempts to win favor with the woman by dancing and passing her fire from his bouquet of candles to symbolize his interest and devotion..
Over time, flutes and other instruments were added, as cumbia music developed. Cumbia music and dance has evolved into one of Colombia’s cultural treasures. It is now danced and performed throughout the country, not just on holidays.
Click here for a page on the history of ballroom/partnership dance in America.
copyright: 2002 by Barbara Bernstein
Copyright Barbara Bernstein of DanceInTime.com, 2005