11 Popular Latin Dance Styles You Must Know (With Videos)

There are countless styles of dance out there. Dance styles originate from different cultures and sub-styles exist within those. This is no different for Latin dance styles. There are many styles ranging from ballroom styles to social dances and they all showcase the rich Latin-American culture and music. 

This list will help you discover the variety of styles that exist within the world of Latin dance and learn where they came from and their defining characteristics. Maybe it will even inspire you to try out some of these styles for yourself! 

latin Dance Styles

1. Salsa

One of the most popular Latin dance styles is salsa. Salsa originates from Cuba and many sub-styles have developed over time including New York style, LA style, Cuban style, and Colombian style. 

Salsa is typically a social dance that is common in clubs, ballrooms, and restaurants throughout Latin America. Salsa is typically done to quick tempoed music, usually between 150 BPM and 250 BPM (beats per minute). Salsa music was popularized in the 1960s and the dance style evolved to follow this development. 

Salsa dance has some similarities to mambo and guaguanco. This is because the development of salsa was heavily influenced by these styles. Salsa is primarily a modern take on these styles and has evolved over time to work with different patterns and rhythms set by the music. 

Read more: Best Salsa Dance Shoes

2. Tango

The other extremely popular Latin dance style is the tango. There are countless styles of tango, but the Argentine tango is one of the most popular. This is also the most traditional version of the dance style, as it originated in Argentina. 

While it originated in Argentina, tango has influenced the dance culture in many places including Europe and the Americas. It also has drawn influence from those places as well as Africa. 

One of the hallmarks of tango that differentiates it from other Latin dance styles is its slower tempo. Many of the other dance styles from these regions are faster tempoed, while tango takes its time and does slower more intricate movements. 

Traditional tangos allow the upper body to move, shifting the dancers’ center of gravity. This means that the feet and lower body follows the dancers, rather than the other way around. Another common movement in tango is the intertwining of legs and sometimes other parts of the body. 

3. Samba

Samba is another popular Latin dance style. Samba is a Brazilian dance style that is done to music of the same name. Samba has multiple sub-styles, but most notably, it has a ballroom style which is used in competitions internationally. 

Samba dates all the way back to Brazil in the 19th century. The first time the term was used was in an 1838 magazine. The music developed first and the dance style came along with it, evolving parallel to the musical style. 

Solo samba dancing is typically done in 2/4 meter and consists of 3 steps per bar, giving the dance a triplet feeling. Samba done in a ballroom setting has been heavily influenced by other dance styles such as the waltz and the tango. 

4. Cha-Cha-Cha

The cha-cha-cha is a dance style from Cuba that has become known as the Cha-Cha in more recent times. This style has spread throughout the world and has become increasingly popular. It shares some similarities with dance styles such as the Mambo. 

The cha-cha is a quickstep style of ballroom dance. The structure takes place over 2 bars of music and has a very intricate repeatable pattern. Many times the music contains complex polyrhythms and syncopation. 

Pop music has started to gain popularity in the cha-cha-cha dance world and many ballroom competitions have started to use it to accompany this style of dance. 

5. Bachata

Bachata is a social dance style that is native to the Dominican Republic. The authentic style of bachata originates in the 1960s, but the modernized version didn’t start developing in the rest of the world until the 1990s. 

There are a few styles of bachata including, but not limited to, traditional bachata, bachatango, modern, and ballroom style. 

Bachata can be done in a variety of stances including, open, semi-closed, or closed, which is primarily lead and controlled by the lead partner. This style typically consists of less turn patterns than other styles, such as salsa, and is typically done in a square pattern. 

6. Merengue

Merengue dance originates from the Dominican Republic. It dates back to the early to mid 19th century. The music that accompanies this dance style has evolved over the years to include different instruments such as guitar or accordion. 

Merengue style dancing is sometimes referred to as danced walking. This is because the movements look similar to two people walking together. It is typically danced in a closed position with small open position turns and choreography thrown in. Their feet move in quick patterns while leaving their upper bodies relatively still and smooth. 

Merengue has styles that belong to different regions as well, such as Haitian Merengue and Cuarteto, which is the Argentine take on the dance. 

7. Rumba

The rumba is another popular style of Latin dance that is included in the five international Latin ballroom dances. This style is known for being one of the most sensual Latin dance styles and originated all the way back in African tribes before they were taken to Latin America. The rumba was popularized in Cuba. 

This is one of the earlier styles and ended up influencing most of the other Latin dance styles to come in the future. The rumba follows a basic box step and is used in both social settings and competitive ballroom dancing. 

There are multiple styles of the rumba including the international version and the American version. These are both variations on the original Cuban rumba. 

8. Mambo

The Mambo is a dance style originating from Cuba. It is related to Danzon and is typically pretty fast and fluid. This dance style pathed the way for Salsa and other dance styles that are popular today. It is also similar to dance styles such as the cha-cha-cha and rumba. 

The mambo began as a ritualistic dance, done to honor the god of war, for which the dance style was named. Later on it developed into a popular social dance and eventually a ballroom dance style that is used internationally. It gained popularity in the United States in the mid 20th century.  

9. Plena

Plena is a dance style from Puerto Rico. This style is a combination of African influenced dancing and European styles. It was developed as a casual social dance often done in neighborhoods, local cafes and bars, and was primarily done by the lower class. 

This style relies heavily on hand drums similar to tambourines and a simple 4/4 meter. It is now done primarily on holidays and special occasions, though it is done in other countries and events on occasion, usually for cultural or educational purposes. 

10. Zouk

Zouk is a lesser-known Latin dance style. The zouk is based on music from Haiti and Martinique among other places. Some of the music that is used for this dance style originates from Cape Verde. 

It is a popular social dance style in the islands and has influences from calypso as well as Angolan music and dancing. Zouk has a fast tempo and is heavily rhythmic. There are other styles though, including Brazilian zouk and festival zouk, known as Zouk béton. 

11. Kizomba

The kizomba is a dance style that originated in Angola, but was popularized in numerous Latin American countries including Cape Verde and Brazil. This is danced to African music of the same name. Its popularity has also reached other countries such as China and the United States. 

Kizomba features slow and intense rhythms both in music and dance style. The dance utilizes syncopation and a combination of styles. It is typically very fluid and can look similar to a combination of tango and bachata. 

The music that Kizomba is danced to is more similar to that of Zouk music, so similar, in fact, that they have been mashed together many times. The music features harsh percussive elements over a slower, sensuous tempo and syncopation. 

Final Thoughts

Did you like this list of Latin dance styles? Did you learn about a new style that you haven’t seen before? Share this with all your friends and maybe join a class and try your hand at learning one of these dance styles. Don’t forget to come back to this list if you ever need a refresher on these culturally-rich dance styles.