In Argentina, dancing and tango are often synchronous. As we have covered back in October, tango is a cultural artifact to Argentina. That being said, for those who want to get a more diverse dance experience or find tango a bit slow, there are other dance styles being taught in Buenos Aires. I fall a bit in both aforementioned buckets and have spent the past month learning a few other Latin American styles, listed below.
Salsa is not easily defined as it is a distillation of many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances, each having played an important role in its evolution. Many people attribute its origination to Cuba but the term “salsa” was first created in New York as a result of the many Cubans who emigrated there. Equally important to the dance is salsa music. Similar to the dancing style, the music originates from multiple places and cultures. Musicians from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America brought their own rhythms and musical forms with them and mixed, fused and evolved these sounds to create the “sound of salsa”. Both the dance and the music are constantly evolving. Additionally, salsa is considered the king of Latin dances and is thought to be the most popular internationally of Latin dances.
I have loved learning salsa in Buenos Aires. The dancing and music is high energy and upbeat and the movements are high paced and fun. The learning pace has also been faster than tango. To me, since the movements in tango are very deliberate and require close coordination with your partner, salsa has been a faster learning process than tango.
Bachata is a social dance that originated in the Dominican Republic in the early parts of the 20th century. Similar to salsa, bachata is also a music genre that mixed Dominican Republic, European, Indigenous and African styles into what we now know as bachata. And similar to tango, during much of its history, bachata was viewed poorly by the Dominican elite and associated with low income and crime. As recently as the 1980s, it was considered too vulgar, crude and musically rustic to enter the mainstream. There has since been a change in sentiment as modern bachata dance and music is an international phenomenon and competes with salsa, merengue and tango in popularity.
The entirety of the dance includes three steps with a tap step that follows. While the dancing of bachata is very relaxed, it is also very sensual and intimate. You need to have an open mind while learning bachata as you rotate partners and often find yourself dancing intimately with a stranger (and ages vary vastly…). However, in my mind, this is a part of the fun of learning a new dance!
Zumba is a fitness discipline created by Colombian Alberto “Beto” Perezin the 1990’s. Its focus is to maintain a healthy body and develop flexibility through dance movements combined with a series of aerobic routines. The routines use major Latin American dance rhythms including salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton and samba.
Zumba is really a workout class through dancing. All the dancing is on your own and you follow the choreography of the teacher. It is a very fun way to get an aerobic workout while practicing similar movements that you see in Latin dances. It is also very accessible for all ages. I have witnessed both very young and very old people in classes.
Latin Dance Classes in Buenos Aires
These three styles of Latin dancing are offered at the school I attend, La Viruta (lavirutatango.com). It is known to be one of the most popular tango dancing places with classes and milongas for all levels, from complete beginner to seasoned tango aficionados. Most classes begin by dividing everyone into two groups based on experience. The first half of the class consists of learning your respective steps (depending on if you are a male or female). The remaining half you dance with a partner, periodically switching partners throughout the class so that you get experience with different skill levels of dancers. The classes are taught in Spanish throughout (another great way to practice Spanish outside of the classroom!) and the teachers know some English. However they only really speak it when you have preguntas (questions).
A perk to all of these dances is that they are very international today! While I love living in Buenos Aires, I recognize that there will be a time when I return to North America and I personally enjoy the idea of continuing to practice these Latin dances at home.