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The Latin Dances of Ballroom

With their sensual hip movements, dramatic poses, and playful rhythms, the Latin dances at any ballroom competition or performance never cease to turn heads. The music is exciting, the costumes are dazzling, and the dances themselves are loaded with passion and excitement. From the slow and sultry rumba to the sharp and cheeky cha cha cha, the Latin dances combine incredible movement with emotional expression. But is Dancing With The Stars a good representation of ballroom Latin dance? Here are the usual suspects in Latin dance that you may recognize from the show, along with a few surprises.

International Latin vs. American Rhythm

Ballroom dancers typically compete in either the International or American Style. Both styles include “smooth” ballroom dances like the waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. These are categorized as International Standard and American Smooth in their respective styles. The Latin American dances, which include the Latin and swing dances, are categorized as International Latin and American Rhythm.

International Latin includes the cha cha cha, samba, rumba, paso doble, and jive. American Rhythm includes the cha cha cha, rumba, east coast swing, bolero, and mambo. Jive and east coast swing are the only non-Latin dances in these categories and are included because they are “rhythm” dances instead of “smooth” dances as found in the International Standard and American Smooth categories. However, since they are not Latin dances, they will not be included here.

Dancing With The Stars does not adhere to either the International or American Style exclusively, although it tends to follow the International Style more so than the American. The dances on the show include all the of International Latin dances (listed above) but only three of the American Rhythm dances. It excludes the bolero and east coast swing but does include the mambo. The cha cha cha and the rumba are shared by both the International and the American styles.

The following is a brief summary of each of the Latin dances in both the International and American styles:

The bolero is the slowest of the Latin dances, and is found in the American Rhythm category. As with rumba, the rhythm is slow-quick-quick and is typically danced between 96 and 104 beats per minute. It is also a spot dance, meaning that is danced mostly in place instead of traveling across the floor. The bolero’s countries of origin and influence include Spain, Cuba, and Mexico.

Cha Cha Cha
The cha cha cha is the only Latin dance besides rumba that is found in both the International Latin and American Rhythm categories. It is considered an offshoot of the Cuban mambo and rumba, but it features a distinctive triple step in between the forward and back basic. The rhythm is 2, 3, 4&1, with the basic beginning on 2 and the cha-cha-cha taking place on the 4&1. The sharp hip action is accented with the music on 1. The cha cha cha is typically danced at a medium tempo around 128 beats per minute. It is also a spot dance, but travels forward and backward as well as side to side.

The mambo is the fastest dance in the American Rhythm repertoire at between 188 and 204 beats per minute, about twice the speed of the bolero. Though much faster than the bolero, the rhythm of the two dances are very similar. The rhythm of the mambo is quick-quick-slow, starting on 2 as in the cha cha cha. It is also a spot dance. The dance originated in Cuba but evolved in New York, incorporating musical and dance elements from swing. The relationship between mambo and salsa is a matter of great debate in the dance community, but they share very similar music and dance structures.

Paso Doble
The paso doble is the only Latin ballroom dance that is generally not danced in social settings. In Spanish, paso doble means “two step,” which perhaps refers to the marching nature of the dance. In contrast to most other Latin dances, the paso doble is the only traveling dance except for the samba. Also in contrast to the other Latin dances, the paso doble does not utilize a great degree of hip movement. It is danced at a medium tempo, around 120 to 124 beats per minute. It is generally danced one step per beat, although chasses and dramatic pauses are often choreographed into the dance. Though the paso doble originated in southern France, it is modeled on the Spanish bullfight. The man typically plays the role of the matador, while the woman plays the role of the cape or the bull. The choreography of the dance focuses on the dramatic flourishes of the music.

The rumba is the only Latin dance besides the cha cha cha that is included in both the International Latin and American Rhythm categories. Though there are a variety of African and Cuban versions of the rumba, the ballroom rumba bears little resemblance to any of them and instead is the American evolution of the Cuban son as does salsa and mambo. It is danced slowly at around 104 beats per minute and shares many similarities to mambo rhythm and steps. It is the slowest of the International Latin dances and is also a spot dance.

Samba is the national dance of Brazil, but the ballroom form is very different. It is the only other traveling Latin dance besides the paso doble and is danced at a medium tempo around 100 beats per minute. Samba music is distinguished by its accent on the downbeat, creating a bouncing effect in the dancer’s movements on a 1-a-2 rhythm. The dancers seek to create the spirit of the Brazilian carnival through the bouncing action as well as rhythmical body movements.

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