American Rhythm vs. International Latin

Unlike the ballroom dances which share similar techniques between American and International Style, the two different styles of Latin dancing each have their own technique. Most importantly, the hip motion differs: in American style you step onto a bent leg, while in International style you step onto a straight leg.

The International-Style Latin dances (Cha Cha, Rumba, Samba, Paso Doble and Jive)  are also more disciplined and technical, while the American-Style Rhythm dances (Cha Cha, Rumba, Swing, Samba, Mambo, Bolero and Merengue)  have a greater variety of patterns, making them well-suited for social dancing.


Bolero originated in Spain in the late 18th century as a moderately slow tempo dance performed to music which is sung and accompanied by castanets and guitars.

In the United States, Bolero combines the patterns of Rumba, with the rise and fall technique and character of Waltz and Foxtrot. The music is 4/4 time, and is danced to the slowest rhythms of the Latin ballroom.

Frederic Chopin wrote a bolero for solo piano, and Maurice Ravel's Bolero is one of his most famous works, originally written as a ballet score but now usually played as a concert piece. Additional good choices are "Emotion" by Destiny's Child, and "Con Los Años Que Me Quedan" by Glorai Estefan.

Cha Cha

The term cha-cha comes from Haiti, where it referred to a component of a bell-type instrument which made a "cha-cha" noise when it was rubbed.

The music  of cha-cha-cha, however, evolved from mambo. In the late 1940s, mambo was wildly popular across the United States, but it was very fast and difficult to dance to. Orchestras slowed down the mambo, and cha-cha-cha was the result.

Although a Latin dance, Cha-Cha can be danced to both Latin and non-Latin music, and is oftentimes done to music which is played for West Coast Swing dancers. "Light My Fire" by Shirley Bassey or "Smooth" by Carlos Santana would be examples of such songs.

The more traditional "El Diablo Anda Suelto" by Rey Ruiz or "Cama y Mesa" by Orquesta la Palabra would also be great choices.

Suitable contemporary music would include "Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" by Brian Highland, "Just Dance" by Lady GaGa, and "Oye Como Va" by Carlos Santana.


Mambo is a Latin dance originating in Cuba. In 4/4 time the Mambo resembles a fast paced Rumba. The music was invented during the 1930s in Havana but it moved quickly to Mexico and beyond. It had a huge following during the 40's and 50's in the United States, particularly in Miami. Salsa later took over its crown, but Mambo still has a draw for many.

The name is thought to derive from the American-Spanish "mamboo", a wooden cane percussion instrument.

Tito Puente has long been the Mambo king, and much of his music is ideal for this great Latin dance.


Merengue is a type of lively, joyful music and dance that comes from the Dominican Republic. Meaning whipped egg whites and sugar, just as it does in the English language, it likely was named this because of its frothy, whipped-up feeling. It was promoted by Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic president in the 1930s, and became the country's national music and dance style.

Merengue is very popular in Latin dance clubs throughout the United States and is danced to very fast music: music too fast for Salsa.

World famous Merengue singers include Juan Luis Guerra, Wilfrido Vargas, Johnny Ventura, Fernando Villalona, Cuco Valoy, The Freddie Kenton Orquestra and Conjunto Quisqueya. Other artists popular in the Dominican Republic as of 2004 include Krispy, Tono Rosario, and Tulile.

Paso Doble

The literal meaning in Spanish of "paso doble" is "double-step". Paso Doble is an International style competition dance, not typically danced socially, with its origins in Spain and Portugal. It has a march-like style, and is danced almost exclusively to the music typically played in bullfights — during the bullfighters' entrance to the ring (paseo) or during the passes (faena) just before the kill. It is very dramatic dance, with a heavy flamenco influence, and mirrors the drama and excitement of the bullfight, with the leader dancing as the matador while the follower dances alternately as the bull and as the cape.

"España Cañi" by Hugo Montenegro is the most reconizable tune for Paso Doble. Also try "Malaguena" by Edmundo Ros.


Sometimes called the grandfather of the Latin dances, the Rumba traces its origins to African-Cuban rural dances which emphasized the movements of the body rather than the feet. First seen in the United States around 1920, its unique styling and unusual musical rhythms immediately captured the fancy of ballroom dance enthusiasts.

The Rumba is a slow, sensuous, romantic dance with much flirtation, relying on the age-old premise of the lady trying to conquer the gentleman by means of her womanly charms. On a slow beat the woman tries to impress and challenge the man, while the man tries to impress the woman to let her know he's interested. It is considered the most sensual of the Latin dances, "the dance of love", because of the interaction, emotion and the soft rhythm between the partners.

Though classified as a Latin dance it is often danced to non-Latin music like "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green and "Careless Whisper" by George Michael, as well as lovely Latin pieces such as "Cuando Pienso En Ti" by Jose Feliciano.


The spicy Salsa is one of today's hottest club dances, with mass followings all over the world. There are Salsa dance clubs in most major cities, and it is a great place to for beginners to introduce themselves to the exciting world of Latin music and dance.

Salsa has many roots and emerged as a blending of many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances, eventually taking on its own unique flavor through a blend of Cuban and Puerto Rican music that emerged from immigrants in New York. The word "salsa" refers to a spicy sauce and it is a perfect metaphor for this lively dance.

Try Willie Bobo's "Piccadillo" or "Otra Oportunidad" by Jimmy Bosch for a great Salsa groove.


Samba originated on Brazilian plantations where African rhythms mixed with European music. It was a lively, rhythmical dance with rapidly moving hips and quick transfers of weight. The Samba music rhythm has been danced in Brazil since its inception in the late 19th century. There is actually a set of dances, rather than a single dance, that define the Samba dancing scene in Brazil; thus, no one dance can be claimed with certainty as the "original" Samba style.

Today, in Brazil, the Samba is a solo dance danced at Carnival. But for ballroom dancers, Samba is a partner dance characterized by a bounce and rolling hip action, with little to no resemblance to its Brazilian roots. Ballroom Samba typically travels around the room, but when danced socially the traveling patterns are frequently omitted, the steps become smaller, the style more relaxed, and it is instead danced mostly as a spot dance.

For some great contemporary-sounding American Sambas, check out "Macarena" and "Sexo" by Los Del Mar, "Bailamos" and "Rhythm Divine" by Enrique Iglesias, "Shake Your Bon-Bon" by Ricky Martin, "Whenever, Wherever" by Shakira, "Can't Touch It" by Ricki-Lee, and the surprising "I Wanna Be Like You" by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.