The represenation of dance in the media has generated renewed interest in the art form. The popularity of shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars reflects the growing trend for ballroom dancing among the general population. The film Strictly Ballroom also inspired people to learn how to gracefully waltz across the dance floor. The choreography and colour in the film is beautiful and ballroom dancing never looked so attractive. It served to draw attention to dances which had been forgotten or passed unnoticed by the ordinary member of the public. The most intriguing aspect of these dances does not lie in the elaborate choreography. What makes them fascinating is the stories that the dancers tell through the movement of their bodies. As with any good novel or film, a good dance will have emotion and history behind it. None show this more than the dances of Latin origin.
The tango has its roots in the 1890s in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. It has a few forms, the most famous being the Argentine tango. It is considered as the dance of passion and desire which is refelected in the strong bold movements of the performers. Tango dancers create a sense of drama, not only in their features and the way they move but also in their costumes. The image of a man with a rose between his teeth dancing with an elegant woman in a vibrant red dress is vivid and easy to imagine. The sexual tension existing between the dancers is mirrored in their close embrace, their facial expression and the intricate movements of their feet. The key to the perfect tango is the sense of desire that both dancers are struggling against throughout. The story is one of unspoken attraction and lust trying to break out.
The rumba is seen as the dance of love. It is sensual and romantic and is characterised by graceful movements. It is a step ahead of the tango in that the lovers have acknowleged their attraction and express it through their fluid movements. The atmosphere is no less dramatic but there is a greater sense of romance rather than of sexual tension. The dancers move in an expressive way with lots of hip and arm movement. Even when partners dance on opposite sides of the room in a rumba, there is still a feeling of the connection between the lovers which is provocative. The dance has Afro-Cuban origins and is often performed at informal fiestas. Salsa also comes from Cuba and is influenced by Afro-Carribean and Latin rhythms. It is seen as a passionate dance with lots of side movement and synchronised turns. It has more attitude than the rumba and is a party dance. Skilled salsa dancers create a playful mood and flirt with each other on the dance floor. One of the most enjoyable dances both to watch and to perform, it involves letting the body loose and moving every part to the rhythm of the music. The couple in a salsa are beyond the seduction and infatuation stage of their romance and concentrate on having fun. This is also reflected in the costumes worn by dancers which are usually brightly coloured and a little bit flirty. It is rare to see a samba dancer without a smile on their face as they move on the dance floor.
Cumbia dancing is another popular Latin rhythm though it is not normally found in the ballroom. It is a Columbian folk dance which fuses three different cultures together, those of the indigenous people, the Spanish settlers and the African slaves. It was originally a courtship dance among the slave population in Columbia. It became popular in South America during the late ’80s and early ’90s. The modern version is known as ’90’s Glamorous Cumbia’ and is most popular in Buenos Aires. It is romantic and theatrical in nature and music artists such as La Rosa and Amar Azul have launched it in Latin popular culture.
Columbia is also the home of the UK’s most recent dance phenomenon. Zumba fuses the Latin rhythms of each of the above dances as well as other dance styles including, hip-hop, belly dancing, mambo, and Reggaeton. Zumba was first created in the mid-’90s in Cali, Columbia by “Beto” Perez. It actually came about by accident when the fitness instructor forgot his aerobics music for his class. He put together some choreography to the Latin salsa and merengue tapes in his bag and so Zumba was born. The craze is popular today all over the world as a fun alternative to exercise and a way to tone the body. It also allows people to get a flavour for the other Latin dances and the meaning behind them in one format. While Zumba does not have a specific story of its own to tell, it fuses together the history of other Latin cultures.