A Beginner's Guide to Latin Dancing

Learn the basics of Latin dance

Close up of couple's legs salsa dancing

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Known for its sensual hip action and sexy flair set to upbeat music, Latin dance is gaining popularity on dance floors everywhere. Movies about Latin dancing — specifically, ones that portray the beauty of the art of Latin dancing — seem to be favorites among dancers and non-dancers alike. Besides being a staple in the ballroom, many Latin dances are also being taken to country-western dance floors. Learning Latin dance is fairly easy, as most of the dances are made up of the same basic foot steps.

Latin Dance Basics

The term "Latin dance" may be used in two different ways: to denote dances that originated in Latin America and to name a category of International style ballroom dances. Latin dance incorporates Native Latin, European and African influences. This style of dance goes back to early documentation during the fifteenth century. 

Many popular dances originated in Latin America, and so are referred to as Latin dances. International Latin is the name of a category of International style ballroom dances. International Latin consists of the following five dances: Cha-Cha, Rumba, Samba, Paso Doble, and Jive. These dances are now performed all over the world as Latin-American dances in international DanceSport competitions, as well as being danced socially.

International Latin Dances

These are the five basic international Latin dances:

  • Cha-Cha: Energetic and sassy, the Cha-Cha is danced to authentic Latin music or Latin Pop. It is an offshoot of the Mambo.
  • Rumba: The Rumba is known as the "dance of love." Danced to romantic Latin love songs, it is fun and quite easy to learn.
  • Samba: Often difficult to master, the Samba is a lively Brazilian dance consisting of many jumps and turns. The Samba is an extremely fast dance.
  • Paso Doble: Meaning "two-step" in Spanish, Pasa Doble is a lively, march-like dance with significantly less hip movement.
  • Jive: A variation of the Jitterbug, the Jive consists of dance steps derived from country dancing.

Additionally, there are social Latin dances or street dances. These include the Salsa, Merengue, Rumba, Bomba, Plena, Mambo, and Argentine Tango among others. 

Latin Style Dancing

Compared to other ballroom dances, Latin dances are generally faster-paced, more sensual and have more rhythmic expression. The Latin dances are for couples, typically a man and a woman. Partners sometimes dance in closed, tight positions and sometimes hold only one hand. Latin dancing, as Latin music, is sultry and physical. Quick-paced rhythms and playful movements make the various Latin dances endlessly entertaining, and sometimes even breathtaking to watch.

The Latin dances are derived from the music to which they are danced. The component of the music that most differentiates the dances is their fast or slow tempo. There's a mood that goes with Latin dance, and it is almost often very passionate, and very engaging.