What is Cumbia?

Cumbia is a style of music and dance that originated in the 1800s in Colombia, where it is the national dance. Both the music and dance have exploded in popularity since the 1940s and have spread to most of Latin America as well as the United States, where it is popular especially within the Mexican-American community.

Origins of Cumbia

Cumbia originated along Colombia’s Caribbean coast as a local folk dance, before spreading to the rest of the country and throughout Latin America. Cumbia is especially popular in Mexico and Peru, and both countries have their own local variations of cumbia music and dance.

The word “cumbia” is believed to originate from the word “cumbé”, which means “to dance” in the language of the Bantu people.

Cumbia Dance

Cumbia is danced in a circular motion, similar to how East Coast Swing or Cuban salsa is danced, rather than in a slot.

Cumbia in typically danced on1, with the dancers breaking back on the first and fifth beat of the music.

The dance is very similar in style to salsa caleña, another Latin dance style that originated in Colombia. In fact, the basic steps for both styles are basically indistiguishable when danced socially. But in performance, salsa caleña is danced much faster with added kicks and cha-cha steps in-between back breaks.

Dancers dancing salsa caleña:

Cumbia is danced primarily socially, either at parties or at Latin night clubs. Unlike other Latin dances such as salsa or bachata, it is rare to see cumbia performed on stage or taught in dance schools.

Most cumbia dancers pick up the dance by watching others on the dance floor rather than through formal instruction, although there are numerous instructional videos now available on YouTube.