A guide to Latin dance(inspired by Nashville?)

On my recent trip to Nashville, I found myself providing some rudimentary lessons in various Latin dance genres while at the city’s Latino club Ibiza. Now I love to dance and I love my music but I don’t consider myself an expert (okay maybe more so in reggaeton because you know that’s become my beat of choice.) Still, it was fun to share something fun with someone special to me. It also piqued my interest so I hit up the Internet (because, once in a blue moon, things aren’t insane at work) to learn a little more.

BACHATA, or the genre my younger brother loves to say I love, probably because I run from the dance floor when it’s played, is a newer import from the Dominican Republic. Slower than MERENGUE, it is characterized by romantic lyrics (like the BOLERO I love) with a simpler instrumental arrangement than the faster tropical genres.
BACHATEO is a subgenre of REGGAETON, a mixture between reggaeton and bachata beats. Some songs that combine these rhythms are Don Omar’s “Dile” and “Pobre Diabla”, Daddy Yankee’s “Lo Que Paso, Paso” and Khriz y Angel’s “Ven Bailalo.” The two latter songs have both bachata and reggaeton versions.

CUMBIA, or what my mom refers to as “lata vieja (tin can”), comes from Colombia but is played in every Latin country with alarming popularity. The beat is a simple 4/4 and the most common instruments are the accordion. The dance is also simple, usually a side to side step-touch. My Mexican-American sister-in-law says Mexican cumbia is danced by flapping your folded arms in a chicken dance.

MERENGUE, a favorite among Peruvians, is the Dominican Republic’s contribution to Latin dance. Ranging in speed from fast to lightning-quick, it is a two-step beat that requires a lot of hip swinging (which makes it one of my favorites.) Merengue was recently given a Puerto Rican twist by Boricua pop stars Olga Tanon and the Merengue King, Elvis Crespo. Dancing to Elvis Crespo is mandatory at my family parties and most Latino gatherings. Like you can resist “Suavemente”?

SALSA. The big queso of Latin dance. Electric piano, horns, timbales, and drums. Couples and entire circles. P.Diddy and J-Lo in “Been Around the World.” A host of legendary artists: Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony. No other Latin genre is as popular, sexy, and goshdarn intimidating than salsa. Originally from the Caribbean (Cuba and Puerto Rico constantly fight over who are the real founders of the genre), salsa is the sound and dance most humans associate with Latino culture. People of all ethnicities take lessons and get on dance floors across the world to step forward and step back and turn, turn, and turn some more to big band sounds.
Peruvians don’t dance salsa in pairs or at least they didn’t until salsa went mainstream in the 90s and everyone started copying their Caribbean brethren. Imagine my chagrin when I could no longer dance to El Gran Combo and Willie Colon solo like I had always done since I could walk. Nope. Now everyone pairs up and I have yet to find someone who can lead me. Yet. I’m hoping my recent experience and research will motivate me to finally learn salsa.

REGGAETON is my favorite of the Latin genres, having replaced house music as my musical soundtrack of choice. I thought I knew a lot about reggaeton, having discovered it on my 2005 summer trip to Peru. I had originally dismissed the genre as a hip hop flash in the pan. Sure, “Culo” and “Gasolina” were hits at the prom but when have high school kids, especially in my neighborhood, liked music that wasn’t raunchy and ghetto? While in Peru, I learned of other artists like Don Omar, Ivy Queen, and my honorary cousin, Tego Calderón. When I got back to the States, I needed my reggaeton fix and was happy to discover that the Bay Area had its own reggaeton station (apparently a phenomenon all around the urban US). I’ve been hooked ever since. Nothing gets me on the dance floor faster. I also appreciate the blending of several genres and nods to previous time periods such as Tito El Bambino’s “Flow Natural”(featuring dancehall’s Beenie Man and a belly dance ready bhangra beat) Tego’s “Dominicana”(based on El Gran Combo’s “Ojos Chinos” and a tribute to all us beauties with little eyes), Wisin y Yandel’s “Pam Pam”(based on “Lambada”), Tego’s “Llora Llora” (a duet with salsa king Oscar D’Leon), and even Daddy Yankee’s bachata version of “Lo Que Paso Paso”(which features a salsa lesson bridge.) My research reveals that reggaeton originated in Panama with artists like El General blending rap, reggae, and Latin genres for a distinctive new sound. I also learned that reggaeton’s primary instrument is the drum machine and sampler.

So what conclusions to draw? I enjoyed Ibiza. I enjoyed being at a Latin club with a date. I still love my music but it’s exciting to know that, as with many of my other passions, there’s a lot left to learn.

*Thanks to Wikipedia for the new info.
**Extra thanks to my Ibiza date. If you learn to lead, I can learn to follow.

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