Latin American music has a vast background filled with mixes, influences, and origins. There are so many different genres because there are so many countries, cultures, and traditions.

Each country has its history of musical identity and with globalization, a lot of this music has made it to the international community. For instance, there are genres like bachata, cha, mambo, cumbia, Cuban salsa, casino salsa, tango, merengue, and much more.

This article will teach you both about salsa and cumbia as you understand the historic backgrounds, influences, and dancing forms of each genre.

Learning to dance any new dance can be tricky, which is why we recommend you hire a dancing tutor who can guide you during your learning process. Many tutors on the Supeprof platform have experience teaching students from all backgrounds, however, make sure that when you search for a tutor you look for someone that teaches at your level.

For instance, if you've never danced salsa before, you need to find a tutor that has experience teaching students at a beginner level. If you come from a Latino home and you have a sense of how to dance salsa or cumbia, then you need a tutor who has experience teaching at an intermediate level.

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What is Salsa?

Salsa dancing is a dancing style that originated in Latin American communities and became highly common in the region and even in the United States.

Dancing in a ballroom
Nothing better than spending an afternoon in a ballroom while moving to the beat of your favorite music. Foto de Danielle Cerullo en Unsplash

It is known as a basic Latino dance but what many people don't know is that salsa is as complex as any other type of dance. It has more than five styles the Cuban style, Colombian style, New York style, LA style, Rueda or Casino, and more.

Each of the salsa styles follows the same beat but has a different way of moving to the beat and rhythm. For instance, the New York style is known for being danced in a simple line, where dancers don't step out of it. However, the Cuban style is known for being danced in a circular form.

Salsa was born in Cuba during the early 1900s. However, it was popularized as a Latin American dance 50 years after its first appearance. During the Cuban Revolution, many people migrated from Cuba to the United States and relocated to New York.

The Latino musician community in New York started to discover, create, and popularize the beat that we now know as salsa music.

This genre is characterized by its distinguishable upbeat rhythm and many other elements. For instance, it includes bell patterns, the son clave, and the rumba clave which are the most common bell patterns in salsa music.

It is also characterized by the Afro-Cuban rhythms which trace the roots of salsa to Central and West Africa. Salsa music is played with a wide variety of instruments that include bongos, timbales, and conga drums, all of which are instruments found in West African music.

Finally, salsa is characterized by being a combination of many other different genres like mambo, bolero, merengue, cumbia, rumba, Brazilian samba, and bossa nova.

Continue reading and learn about Cumbia and the difference between cumbia and salsa.

What is Cumbia?

Learning about salsa — and the places where it is common in the United States — is as important as learning about the other types of Latino genres like merengue, cha, bachata, mambo, and cumbia.

Cumbia is another type of dance that originated in Latin America, more specifically in Colombia. This is one of the most representative rhythms of the country and the source of inspiration for many of Colombia's popular music.

This dancing style has been part of the country's history and now it is gaining international recognition due to the work of bands like Bomba Estereo.

Dancing with a bunch of other people
Each Latino musical genre has its own story and path. Foto de Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

The origins of cumbia date back to a mix of indigenous, African, and European cultures that happened during colonial times. Cumbia was created on Colombia's Caribbean coast where the African population used to inhabit. It was a courtship dance that quickly evolved when it merged some European and indigenous dance moves and instruments.

Cumbia music uses five instruments; the caña de Millo (millet cane) which is a type of clarinet, the Tambor mayor (a drum held between the legs, played with both hands), the llamador (a drum balanced on the knee, played with one hand), the bombo (a two-headed drum played with two sticks), and a rattle (a tubular rattle filled with seeds) or maracas.

Cumbia is a type of dance that is mostly danced at night with couples of dancers dancing around the musicians. Men dance in zig-zag steps around the women, and women make one shuffling step after another step.

Cumbia is danced a lot during festivals and carnivals where the women dancers hold candles wrapped in colored handkerchiefs in their right hands. The candles are only used during the night time but handkerchiefs are used both during the day and at night.

If you want to learn how to dance like a Colombian you can start your journey by searching for a dancing tutor right here on Superprof. Our tutors have different backgrounds, levels of experience, and teaching methods. You first need to define what it is you want from your tutor before you chose to hire someone.

Keep in mind that the lessons can be online or in-person, it depends on what modality you chose; sometimes online can be more simple but in person, your tutor can correct all your moves, the position of each foot, your body posture, and other small important details.

How are Salsa and Cumbia similar?

First, you need to understand that salsa music has six different styles.

However, salsa and cumbia have many similarities and sometimes people tend to confuse both. For instance, in salsa, there is the Colombian style and Cumbia originated in the same country.

Dance to have fun
Dance is a form of exercise and it is a great way to release serotonin. Foto de Levi Guzman en Unsplash

This is why people tend to confuse both genres. They have similar origins, uses of instruments, beats, and rhythm.

However, as you could see, cumbia was born in the Caribbean side of Colombia whereas the Colombian style of salsa was born in Cali, which is located South of Bogota —the capital city.

Both genres have African influences due to their history and the use of instruments they have.

On the other hand, salsa and cumbia have many different characteristics.

For instance, dancers in each genre have very basic steps, like going forward with one foot and another or doing twirls with your partner. However, each dancing move will be different depending on the type of music.

Other styles

Learning to dance
Learning to dance is not easy but it is highly recommended. Foto de Hulki Okan Tabak en Unsplash

Just like salsa and cumbia, Latin America is home to a vast variety of other musical genres. Each region, country, city, and even small town has its types of dances. Learning to dance to the different genres can be hard, and it is even harder to learn how to dance to each of them.

For instance, there is a huge difference between dancing salsa or merengue even if they might seem the same, they have differences in rhythm, beat, steps, and more. Merengue is distinguished by having a clave or son beat every few seconds, whereas salsa has the clave or son beats in another tempo.

Other common Latin American dancing types are mambo which is very common on the coast, bachata which is characterized as a sensual and romantic dance, cha, merengue, Rueda, and more. Each of these dances can be practiced at home or in a ballroom.

You can work side by side with a private tutor from Superprof and learn each of these dances or choose one if you'd only like to learn one.

To learn how to dance you need to understand that dominating dance moves won't happen from one night to another. You have to dedicate time, effort, and hard work if you want to dominate any form of dance.

You have to break your old habits and learn to fall, make mistakes, and look ridiculous; because no one becomes an expert overnight. If you work on your skills side by side with a tutor, however, you'll notice you'll improve much faster and with much ease.

Tutors are trained to teach single students or a group of students, depending on the group's or student's needs. Teaching to a group of people or one person has its differences, so first, figure out which modality works best for you.

You can also continue reading about this topic in our article about the time when salsa became popular in the US.

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Maria