Still swinging most of the Western world is salsa, a traditional Latin American dance originating in both Columbia and Peru. Based on a four beat movement, the steps and pace of the dance vary throughout the world. The original Cuban dance (the son) reached America in the 1920s via radio, and via an influx of Cubans to the New York Bronx where they mixed their conventional steps with the more sensuous swivellings of the Puerto Ricans. This new dance emerged in the 1960s, named "salsa" (ie sauce) because of its hot, saucy moves.
Certain differences still exist between Colombian and Cuban salsa. In Havana - the best city to visit, see or dance salsa - you'll find the dance fast and energetic, filled with turns and spins, and guaranteed to make you dizzy, euphoric and exhausted.
In Cali however, the Colombian salsa capital, salsa is more freestyle. Danced at a slower pace with fewer turns, it allows more time to scan the dance floor for those sexy senors/senoritas. Many of the cafes and bars of Cali have been transformed into salsotecas, where people can eat, meet, drink and and above all dance. Cali by the way is a huge steaming city where you do not want to make jokes about drug cartels or other men's wives.
Not to be confused with the dessert of a similar name, this calorie- burning disco bop is still naughty but nice. A bouncy cross between salsa and techno, it is guaranteed to get you off your sofa and on to the dance floor. Based on the same four-beat rhythm as salsa, merengue acts as a good introduction to Latino dancing and, stripped of salsa's fancy footwork, it helps you find the gyrating groove of the music.
The roots of merengue lie firmly in the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where the notion of a line of people wiggling their bottoms in time is actively encouraged as self expression.
This dance is both energetic and inhibition-shedding and is the best reason to visit the Caribbean home of mass tourism.
Before tango became known as sex on the dance floor, it was simply sex. Originally a form of foreplay, this dance arouses all the senses including the libido. The eel-like eroticism of the moves weaves a spell of intimacy, grace and fluidity between partners. Just like making love it requires precision, control and rhythm to allow maximum enjoyment.
Inherently sexist (like all Latin dances) the man has total power over the woman, pushing and turning her at will. The most sophisticated of all Latin American dances, it makes for a fantastic visual spectacle, but is incredibly hard to master. Do not despair if at first it feels like you are playing a drunken game of twister.
Buenos Aires prides itself on representing the pure essence of tango because it was the Argentinians, led by maestro Carlos Gardel, who created this dazzling mix of pelvic thrusts and furious footwork, as an expression of the nation's soul. Born in the1880s, it fell foul of the censorship brigade during the repressive dictatorships of modern Argentina.
But today, once again, a new generation of Argentinians have thrown off their shackles and their shirts, to celebrate their freedom.
It is also worth mentioning that Montevideo, in neighbouring Uruguay, is no less tango mad.
Cha Cha Cha
Despite the fact that its name would sound more appropriate on a French poodle, the Cha Cha Cha is one of the most frenzied Latin whirls.
Lacking the dangerous eroticism of the tango, this is a fun, energy-sapping dance. The pace of the dance speeds up as the night wears on, letting the rhythm of the music overtake your limbs. A liberating experience, but be warned; your feet will kill you afterwards, and you may end up in an unexpected clinch with a lonely Latin looking for love.
Part of the same Cuban dance tradition as salsa, it is based on a five-beat pattern, with an even greater degree of hip jiggling and knee knocking required. Havana once again is the true home of Cha Cha Cha.Reuse content