Rhythm and Latin Dances
Known as the Cuban “Dance of Love”, the Bolero is the slowest of the American
Rhythm dances, danced to music that sounds like very slow Rumba music. Bolero is the only
American Rhythm dance with no Cuban motion; instead it is characterized by body rise-and-fall
with long, slow sweeping movements, punctuated by snappy turns. The step patterns are similar
to those found in Rumba, but the rise-and-fall and turns make it reminiscent of American Waltz.
Cha-cha is a Latin dance that started as a variation of the Mambo in Cuba. Dancers first
replaced the long SLOW count of Mambo with a triple hip undulation, and this evolved into a full
triple-step. This new version of Mambo, called the “Triple Mambo” was then danced to syncopated
Latin music that contained the now-familiar “cha-cha-cha” rhythmic pattern. The name “Cha-cha”
comes from the name of a small rattle made from the seed pods (called cha-cha, tcha-tcha or
kwa-kwa, depending on the island) of certain plants in the West Indies. Originally called
“Cha-cha-cha”, the official ballroom name of the dance is now “Cha-Cha;” it first came to the
United States in 1954 and remains a favorite of the American Rhythm dances.
East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing was codified as an American Ballroom Rhythm Dance in the 1940’s. It
was derived from various street dances, most notable the Lindy Hop (which was named in honor of
Charles Lindberg after his famous nonstop flight across the Atlantic.) It was given the name of
East Coast Swing to help distinguish it from West Coast Swing, a slot dance developed in California.
There are several variations of East Coast Swing, but the most commonly taught one is the triple-step.
The Triple Step Swing is a so-called spot dance (danced in more-or-less one place on the dance floor)
characterized by turns, quick footwork, defined hip movement and lots of energy and fun. There is
an emphasis on the one count, and most patterns are based on a 6-count framework while the music to
which it is danced is 4/4 count. East Coast Swing is one of the first dances taught to ballroom
dance students in most schools, and is easy and fun to learn.
Mambo is one of the five American Rhythm dances recognized by the USISTD (United States
Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing) and is danced competitively in official American Ballroom
Dance competitions. “Mambo” means “conversation with the Gods” in Yoruba, the language spoken by
the Africans brought to Cuba and other Caribbean Islands as slaves. The combination of African
rhythms, which used specific drum and bell patterns from religious ceremonies that called upon the
gods, combined with Cuban music, became the music and dance known as Mambo. It first became popular
in the United States in the 1950’s.
Many ballroom dancers in the United States are not familiar with Paso Doble as a social dance
and are surprised to learn that there are easy, basic steps in Paso Doble just as in any ballroom
dance; it is a popular social dance in many countries, notably Spain, France, Vietnam and Germany.
Contrary to popular belief, the dance originated in France, but has acquired many Spanish movements
over the years, as the steps were based on the movements performed by the matadors during Spanish
bull fights. In this dance the man is the matador, and the lady is the cape; i.e. the man’s
movements are strong, while the lady’s movements are sharp, but flowing. The music for Paso Doble
is Spanish march-like music, typical of the music played during the bullfighters’ entrance to the
American Rumba owes its origin to dances from Cuba and other West Indian Islands. It is
the second slowest of the American Rhythm dances (the slowest being Bolero, which is danced to similar,
but slower music). It is characterized by a rolling hip movement referred to as Cuban Hip Motion
which is achieved through the transfer of weight from one leg to another with the alternate bending
and straightening of the knees. It is one of the easier ballroom dances to learn and many of the
beginning step patterns are the same as in the American Waltz.
Samba is a Brazilian dance of African origin. There are many versions of Samba today, and in
Brazil, it is more popularly danced as a Single’s dance, not a Couple’s dance. The Ballroom Couple’s
dance version that is popular in the United States today is derived from the “Carioca Samba”, a
carnival dance named for a small river in Rio de Janiero. The dance is characterized by simultaneous
latin hip movement paired with an up-and-down lilt. It is danced competitively as one of the
International Latin dances, and has grown in popularity in recent years due to its exposure through
popular television shows such as “Dancing with the Stars”. The basic steps are easy to learn; the
technique takes a bit longer! It is an exciting dance, and should be danced with a Carnival-style