Caribbean dances are known all over the world; as soon as the first chords of a song strike up, they are immediately recognisable. However, those of us that weren’t born and bred in this fabulous region are usually unable to tell the difference between the various types of rhythms and dances, so I’m here to shed some light on this topic. So read on!

The Caribbean moves to a variety of rhythms –  Merengue, Bachata, Rueda Cubana, Salsa, Samba…. and many originate from a mix of chords and rhythms from more than one continent – forming a cultural expression that mirrors the economic and social background of the people that live there.

The origins of Merengue lie in African dances (the calenda and the chicha) which were brought over by the slaves and were danced outdoors by couples.

This dance was shunned by the upper classes until well into the 20th century, due to its associations with African music and the erotic connotation of the lyrics, yet eventually this dance was transported from the huts where the slaves lived to the salons of the upper classes. In the Dominican Republic, where it really originates from, it was a great favourite among the popular classes due to its simple steps, and is now considered the national dance. There are various types of

Merengue such as the cibaeño, apambichao and coeño. The music has a two-four time and is divided into three parts – paseo, merengue and jaleo. This is a risqué dance that is often funny, satirical, spontaneous and full of fun.

Bachata dates back to the Dominican Republic of the 1970s. Before then, bachata was the term used to refer to informal gatherings where romantic guitar music was played. At some stage, these performances began to include a guitar bolero accompanied by percussion instruments such as the bongo and palitos, which was known as the countryman’s bolero.  This bolero would later evolve into the bachata we know today. This is a sensual, rhythmic and romantic dance that is almost always danced in pairs. The rhythm is slower than merengue, with a four-four time.  The basic bachata step consists of three steps forwards and a tap with the sole of the foot. The three steps are taken in time with the first three notes and the tap on the fourth note. Bachata is characterised by bold movements of the hips, which are even more exaggerated in the case of the woman dancer.

The origins of what today we call Salsa are rooted in Afro-Cuban music, especially rhythms such as son, mambo, danzón, cha-cha-cha, guaracha, guaguancó and others. The term Salsa was coined in New York during the 1960s as a way of bringing together all these Cuban rhythms under a single name,  thereby avoiding confusion and making it easier to sell the concept. Salsa was, in short, the last popular dance created towards the end of the 20th century that quickly became an authentic rage the world over. The evolution of this dance brought its most amusing version: the Rueda Cubana (literally Cuban Wheel), in which several couples arranged in a circle dance in formation, frequently swapping partners.

The Samba originally comes from Angola and was brought to Brazil by the slaves, who spread the popularity of this dance until it reached its height in the late 19th century in the Brazilian state of Bahia, before later moving to Rio de Janeiro. The Samba is a natural symphony of the body, and as you all know, is displayed in all its splendour at Carnival time. Samba is danced to a two-eight time and today can safely claim to be Brazil’s national dance.

So how about a trip to the Caribbean to put all this theory into practice?

“IBEROSTAR Hotels & Resorts offers you its hotels in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Brazil so you can try your hand ‘in situ’ at these fabulous Caribbean dances. Fancy signing up for a lesson or two?”