Latin dance has exploded in popularity in recent years. Originating mainly from South America and the Caribbean, Latin American dancing has spread around the world, surpassing American and European partnered dances such as Swing and Waltz in popularity.
There are more than a dozen Latin dance styles out there and if you’re new to dance the wide array of dances can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together this complete list of Latin dance styles, with helpful descriptions and videos of each Latin dance.
Once you finish this article you’ll have a complete overview of what’s out there so you can find the dance style that’s right for you!
Latin Dances List
Latin social dances:
Latin ballroom dances:
Cha Cha Cha
Salsa is by far the most popular form of Latin American dance and is the most popular partnered dance in the world, with dance schools and clubs found in almost every major city on nearly every continent.
Salsa was born in the United States in the 1960s, developed mainly by Puerto Ricans and Cubans living in New York. The dance style and music borrows heavily from other Latin dances that came before it such as mambo, cha cha, son and Latin hustle.
Salsa is known for its fun, flirtatious and energetic movements, although there are slower and more romantic salsa songs as well. There are also many different styles of salsa dancing, so even within salsa dance there is quite a bit of variation.
Salsa is primarily a social dance, with many clubs and dance studios hosting salsa nights. Performance is a big aspect of salsa as well, with many festivals around the world where dancers go to perform choreographed routines. There are also international salsa competitions where dancers compete to see who is the best dancer.
Bachata is another incredibly popular form of Latin dance, that has grown in popularity in the last few years, especially among the younger crowd.
Bachata originated in the Dominican Republic, and is known for typically being slower and more sensual than salsa dancing (see our article on the differences between salsa and bachata).
Like salsa, there are a few different styles of bachata, the main ones being Dominican or Traditional bachata which has simple turns and focuses more on footwork, Sensual bachata, which incorporates more body movement and sensual moves, and Urban Bachata or Bachata Fusion which incorporates other styles such as hip hop.
Bachata dancing can usually be found in many of the same venues that offer salsa, and bachata has grown in popularity to the point that there are now entire festivals and events dedicated just to bachata.
Argentine tango is a popular social dance that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with roots in Spain and Cuba.
Tango is strongly influenced by traditional European ballroom dances, and is danced upright with a close connection, with litle in the way of hip movement. Tango has a reputation for being intense and passionate, and many dramatic poses and holds (including the one at the top of this article) come from tango.
Tango is typically danced more slowly than salsa, but Argentine tango incorporates flicks and kicks which can be quite rapid.
Tango is danced socially at events called “milongas” and is also performed on stage as well.
Merengue, like bachata, is a social dance that originated in the Dominican Republic– in fact, it is the national dance of the country!
Merengue is very similar to bachata in that it is danced with a side-to-side movement with a lot of hip movement. However, merengue music tends to be a lot faster than bachata and merengue is known for being fun and energetic rather than sensual like bachata.
Merengue is a popular dance among the Latin American community, particularly amongst Mexicans and Dominicans, and is often found in Latin dance clubs although it is rare to see it danced in salsa socials or festivals.
Merengue is easier to learn than most Latin American dances, and most merengue dancers don’t have formal training and just pick it up by watching and dancing it.
Cumbia is a type of Latin dance that originated in Colombia, and has grown in popularity in Latin American, particularly in Mexico and Peru.
Cumbia is danced in a circular motion, with the basic step being characterized by a short kick followed by a rock step, similar to East Coast Swing.
Cumbia bears some similarities to Colombian style salsa, which was strongly influenced by cumbia, although cumbia is danced much slower.
Like merengue, cumbia is a dance that is rarely formally taught in dance schools. It is occasionally taught in night clubs, and most dancers pick it up just by watching.
Quebradita is a high energy partner dance that originated in Mexico. It is known for being an incredibly energetic dance, with the dancers performing many acrobatic lifts and tricks.
The style of dance was popular in Los Angeles in the 1990s, but is a niche dance that is mostly limited to the Mexican community.
Because the dance requires incredible athleticism from both the lead and follow, it is rarely danced socially. There are quebradita competitions where couples compete to outdo each other with their tricks and lifts, and quebradita is occasionally incorporated into dance performances.
Mambo confusingly is word that can refer to three different dance styles (see our article on mambo vs salsa).
Mambo was originally developed in the 1940s in Cuba and popularized in New York in the famed Palladium Ballroom. The style borrowed from earlier dance styles such as son and danzon and evolved in the active dance scene of NYC.
Traditional mambo is rarely danced anymore, although mambo led directly to the creation of salsa, which borrows many of its moves and elements. In fact, New York-style salsa is occasionally referred to as “mambo” because the break step happens on the second beat of the music, as was common in mambo.
It has increasingly become popular to incorporate traditional mambo styling into salsa dancing as an homage to salsa’s origins, with popular dancers such as Eddie Torres, Adolfo Indacochea and Benny & Brandon Ayala reviving the mambo style.
The term “mambo” has also been adopted in the world of Ballroom Dance, where it confusingly refers to Salsa On1.
Brazilian Zouk is a dance style which originated in Brazil in the 1990s. It evolved from an earlier style of dance called Lambada.
Zouk is known for its focus on connection, dynamism, and off-axis turns. Zouk is danced to Zouk music, as well as contemporary music such as hip hop and pop.
Zouk has grown in popularity in recent years, with many salsa and bachata festivals including zouk into their programs. There are also many festivals and events dedicated just Brazilian Zouk.
Zouk is danced socially as well as in performances and competition. Jack & Jill competitions, where dancers are paired with a random partner to compete with, are especially popular within the Zouk community.
Kizomba is not technically a Latin dance, since it originated in Angola in Africa rather than in Latin America. However kizomba has become ubquitous in many Latin dance scenes in recent years and is danced at many Latin dance socials and festivals.
Kizomba is a slow and sensual dance with some similarities to tango, and originated from an earlier form of dance from Angola called semba.
Because of its slow nature, kizomba is danced almost exclusively in a social setting, with performances of kizomba being very rare.
There is a variation of kizomba called urban kiz, which has gained popularity in recent years, which shares many of the same characteristics but incorporates elements found in hip hop and other dances.
Pachanga is a dance style and music genre that originated in Cuba in the 1950s.
Pachanga is characterized by a bouncing movement which comes from the bending and straightening of the knees, and also incorporates gliding and sliding movements.
The dance style was most popular in the 1950s when it spread to New York along with the mambo and was danced at the Palladium ballroom. It was revived in popularity in recent years by Eddie Torres, and pachanga has become a staple move in salsa dance shines.
The Latin hustle (also known as New York hustle) is a dance that originated in New York and shares similarities with dance styles such as West Coast Swing and salsa.
It was created by Puerto Rican teenagers in the 1970s and influenced and was influenced by salsa dancing.
Hustle has fallen out of popularity in most Latin dance scenes, but it is still taught and danced in some ballroom studios. Latin dance competitions such as the World Salsa Summit have also incorporated Latin hustle as a category in their recent competitions.
Baile folklorico is an umbrella term for a series of folkloric dances originating in Mexico. Folklorico is known for the large dresses and flamboyant colors worn by the women.
Baile folklorico is popular is regions with big Mexican populations– primarily Mexico and the United States.
Although folklorico is adapted from traditional Mexican dances, outside of Mexico it is rarely danced socially, and is mostly used in performances celebrating traiditional Mexican culture.
Bomba is a Latin American dance and musical genre that originated in Puerto Rico, developed primarily by Africans who were brought over as slaves.
Bomba, like many other Latin American dance styles, combines traditional African dances with Spanish and indigenous influences. Bomba is similar in many ways to Afro Cuban dances such as the guaguanco in both style and outfits.
Although bomba is rarely danced outside of Puerto Rico, there are elements of bomba which can be found in salsa dancing since salsa music was originally developed by Puerto Ricans living in New York.
Plena is another Latin American dance style that originated in Puerto Rico.
Plena was strongly influenced by bomba, and bears many similarity to it and Afro Cuban dances. Plena is also a folkloric dance with some resemblance to other folkloric traditions, such as baile folklorico.
Like most folkloric dances, Plena is mostly danced in performances these days rather than on the social dance floor. It is rare to see plena danced outside of Puerto Rico.
Son, also referred to as “Cuban son”, is a dance and musical genre that originated in Cuba in the early 1900s. It influenced many Afro Cuban dances that originated after it, including Cuban salsa.
The son basic step involves the dancers breaking back on the second beat of the music, similar to Salsa On2.
Son Cubano is rarely danced these days outside of cultural performances in Cuba, but many salsa dancers incorporate some of the steps and styling from son into their dancing.
Danzón is another musical genre and partner dance style that developed in Cuba.
Danzón is a slow partnered dance similar to the foxtrot. It is rarely danced these days outside of Cuba but had an early influences on other partner dances that originated in Cuba such as the cha cha cha and mambo.
Latin Ballroom Dances
In the ballroom dance world, there is a category called International Latin American Dance. In International Latin, dancers compete by dancing five dances: the cha cha cha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive.
Cha Cha Cha
The cha-cha-cha or simply cha cha is a musical style and dance developed in the 1950s in Havana, Cuba and popularized in the US and the world around 1955 in what is known as the “cha cha cha craze”.
The name of the dance comes from the sound dancers’ shoes make while shuffling three consecutive quick steps.
The cha cha is one of the five dances that are danced in ballroom dance competitions as part of the International Latin American Dance competition.
Cha cha is also danced socially at Latin dance socials. Many salsa socials will mix in the occasional cha cha song amongst the salsa. Many of the steps and turn patterns in cha cha are identical to salsa but dance at a slower rate, and with the cha-cha-cha step added in between measures.
Samba is a musical genre and dance that originated in Brazil in the early 20th century. It is known for its incredibly fast footwork and hip movement, and is a staple dance in the festival of Carnaval in Brazil. Some Colombian salsa dancers also incorporate elements of samba into their dancing.
Samba is also the name of a ballroom dance that was inspired by the Brazilian dance. Ballroom samba has some elements of Brazilian samba but is highly stylized in the typical ballroom dance style. Ballroom samba is also a partnered dance, whereas Brazilian samba is usually danced solo.
Both styles of samba are mostly performed in shows or competitions, and are not danced socially.
Rumba (also spelled “rhumba”) is a term that can refere to a number of Latin American dances.
The term rumba means “party”, and is an umbrella term used to refer to a number of Afro Cuban dances developed in Cuba such as the guaguanco and columbia (often referred to as “Afro Cuban rumba”).
Rumba is also a category of dance danced in International Latin ballroom dance competitions. Ballroom rumba follows a quick-quick-slow step similar to cha cha.
Paso doble or pasodoble means “double step” in Spanish, and is a quick tempoed dance with Spanish origins.
Paso doble is dance mostly in the ballroom dance world, where it is one of the dances in the International Latin category. Paso doble is known for its fast tempo and dramatic Spanish flair, similar to flamenco.
The jive is not really a Latin American dance, although it is included in the International Latin category in ballroom dance. It originated in the US with influences from swing dance and other American folk dances.
Jive is characterized by its quick tempo and bouncy step, similar to the lindy hop.
The jive is almost exclusively danced these days in the ballroom dance world as a competitive dance.
And that’s our list of the most popular Latin dances! From salsa and bachata to paso doble and plena, we hope you’ve gotten a good overview of the different styles of Latin dance that are out there so you can find the one that’s best for you! Let us know in the comments if we missed any or if you have any questions!