Latin America has many things to offer: amazing jungles and forests, ancient indigenous monuments, idyllic beaches, and wonderful food. Not for nothing is there a famous song that goes, “cuando Dios creó el Edén, pensó en América" (When God created the world, He was thinking of the Americas). This vast territory has a wonder that is hardly comparable to other parts of the world.
Moreover, the many influences from different cultures have provided this region with a mixture of traditions that form an important part of history. This diversity is best expressed in the music of Latin America. The songs and traditional dances reflect the idiosyncrasy of “Latinos”. The dances are cheerful and full of different stories, usually combining European, African and indigenous rhythms.
The following is a compilation of some of the most famous dances of South America:
The mixture of Caribbean rhythms from Cuba and Jazz gave birth to one of the most lively and well-known dances of Latin America: La Salsa.
It was given this culinary name (“Salsa” means “sauce”) because the radio program that usually broadcasted this music was sponsored by a tomato sauce brand. So, whenever people listened to “salsa” they would also hear advertisements about the tomato sauce.
It is usually played using the cowbell, the conga, the maracas, the trumpet, and the piano. Nowadays, there are many different sub-styles of salsa, but what they all have in common are the rapid movements and the passion with which it is danced; perfect for the “Latino Lovers” who want to seduce their partners.
El tango is a musical genre which originated in Rio de la Plata, Argentina. It was mainly influenced by Italian and African rhythms and brought to this continent during the colonization of the Americas.
The most accepted theory about the origin of the name claims that it comes from an African language, where this word means “closed space”, which makes reference to the places where it was danced. The musical instruments that are usually employed to play Tango music are the guitar, the flute, and the violin.
The greatest supporter of this particular genre is Carlos Gardel, who sold many discs and produced many movies related to tango, which contributed to making this dance famous around the world. This dance is characterized by its smooth, elegant and sensual movements.
This is the traditional dance of Colombia. It originated in the Caribbean coast and received influences from the African slaves, the indigenous people, and Spanish settlers.
Etymologically, the word Cumbia derives from the African word “cumbé”, which means “party”. It is usually played with the drums, the trumpet, the flute, the conga, and more recently the electric bass.
It is very common to dance Cumbia in open spaces, such as the beach and streets. Since the 40s, it has become popular in other Latin American countries, with different variations of the original rhythms. It can be danced as a group or in couples, always with a lot of “sabor”.
This dance is especially popular in South America in Perú, Bolivia, and Chile. In the latter, it has the status of official traditional dance. The name “cueca” comes from the musical genre “zamacueca”, originally from the lower and middle class neighborhoods in Lima during the 16th century. Little by little, the “zama” disappeared and gave rise to what is now known as “cueca”.
The dance represents the courtship of the rooster and hen: the man chases the woman during the whole dance and finally wins her heart. The music is played using the guitar, the harp, and the pandeiro. It is characterized by its circular movements and the use of a handkerchief, which dancers continuously twirl over their heads.
Now that you know some of the dances, if you ever visit Latin America, be prepared to dance! Latinos are usually warm people that love having fun and dancing. I am sure you will be invited to a social occasion where a lot of people will be willing to dance. So let yourself go and live “la vida loca”.