Latin America has already garnered attention for being one of the most culturally diverse areas in the world. Dance in Latin America is not only a key part of their culture but also an embedded part of their rich history.
Dance is something that in its own way is universally unique. There are no rules or constructs that define what dance is supposed to look like. It is an art form that comes in many styles. Paired with either music or silence. Movements can flow or be structured. Overall, dance is something of personal and emotional expression that can transcend spheres into areas like culture.
Some of the earliest records of dance are not the commonly thought traditional pattern of movement to music but rather the movement was spiritual and used during ritual performances. These ritual dances included links to Aztecs, Mayan, Inca and other native communities of Latin America.
The Aztec Dance group known as Calpulli Tonalehqueh based out of San Jose, California have kept the traditional performances alive providing cultural presentations and education. Like the expressive dance itself, members work to preserve the teachings of wisdom, harmony and culture.
It was not until Spanish colonialism that started from Columbus coming ashore in 1492 that influences in song and dance would start to become the modern picture of it.
This stemmed from the rhythms brought by new types of instruments from Europe and Afric. This mixture of Indigenous, Spanish, and African laid the groundwork for what would become the popular dances associated with Latin America that so many know today. Some instruments that create the unique latin dance sound include the panderio, conga, güiro, maracas, el tres, and the marimba to name a few. Each of these are a small part of what allows the song and dance to vary from place to place.
Over the years of Spain holding power over Latin American and Portugal having power over northern South America dance shifted from spiritual and ritually defined to being an emotional expression of the dancer. Dance became a way to show cultural pride and unity in one’s community during times of oppression and hardships.
Some dances that focused on the emotional expression of the dancer are Bomba and Plena in Puerto Rico, Folklorico in Mexico, and Tango in Argentina to name a few.
Here’s a list Highlighting Dances from Latin American that you might not have heard about before:
Mexico: The Jarabe Tapatico or as it is known in English as the Mexican Hat Dance was traditionally used during courting but now the brightly colored traditional costume of the dance has it often noted as the National dance of Mexico.
Guatemala: The Baile de la Conquista known in English as dance of Conquest is a historical dance with movements designed to recount the tale of the Spanish Invasion in Guatemala.
Honduras: Punta is a dance that was highly influenced by the African and Indigenous population whose traditional costume includes colorful clothes and headgear in combination with fast paced rhythms and movements.
El Salvador: Xuc is the traditional dance of El Salvador whose dancers, usually women, dance in synchronized rings. The name of this particular dance was influenced by the native flute-like instrument called a juco which the dances song is always accommodated with.
Nicaragua: The Toro Huaco is the Nicaraguan traditional dance used in celebratory matters like local festivals. The dance’s costuming is some of the most unique in Latin America where masks are worn to disguise the dancers face who instead appear as men dressed in rags.
Venezuela: The Joropo dance of Venezuela is a combination of both Native movement with the rhythms of African and Spanish rooted in the music. This dance is done as a symbolic representation of harmony as it is performed with both groups of men and women dancing together.
Peru: The Marinera is a flirtatious dance performed by a man and women depicting a romantic courtship. The woman uses her skirt and props such as a handkerchief to accentuate her movements and grab the attention of her dance partner.