3 Hot Latin Dances:
Breaking Down the Connection Between Salsa, Bachata, and Merengue
"Latin Dance" is an umbrella term,
which encompasses many different styles of dance from many cultures,
countries, and periods. Latin dance can be very seductive and slow, or
very fiery and fast. Despite the vast amount of variety in the world of
Latin Dance, everyone seems to know it when they see it. Three of the
most well known styles of Latin Dance are Bachata, Merengue, and Salsa.
While these names may be familiar to many Americans, there are many
misconceptions about the styles.
Bachata is a modern evolution of Latin American guitar music. Trios or
quartets including stringed instruments and percussion were a popular
form of music through out much of Latin American, and as the music
started to become more elaborate and rapid, dance steps were created to
go with it. Bachata came into its own in the Dominican Republic in the
nineteen sixties. However, the music is associated with the lower
classes, so despite high record sales and soaring popularity, Bachata
doesn't get as much industry acceptance as Merengue. Bachata usually
covers subjects of sadness and its name stems from the term "bitter
music". It may be considered similar in this regard to the Blues of the
American South. Bachata is in 4/4 time and often makes use of amplified
guitars to allow for sound effects such as reverb. These effects are a
signature part of the sound that differentiates it from its traditional
cousin Bolero. The modern music of Bachata gives way to a dance style
that is also very modern and lively.
Bachata has received a lot of influence from another Dominican dance
style, the Merengue. The Merengue is the national dance of the Dominical
Republic, though people often assume it is of other origins. The
Merengue is marked by very precise, quick moves, and often includes
changes in tempo. Merengue often speeds up greatly at the end of the
dance. Ballroom Merengue tends to be a little bit slower and uses more
hip movements to create a more romantic feel in contrast to the very
sexy nature of the faster Merengue style. The Merengue is a descendant
of the French Minuet. The African slaves that later inhabited the
Dominican Republic watched the French dance their Minuet and created a
version of their own. Originally, the Merengue was not danced in pairs,
but by a group of people that formed a circle. While the Bachata is the
dance and music of the people, and tells tales of sadness and
heartbreak, the Merengue is more socially acceptable and mainstream,
even if the popularity of the two styles is very similar.
Salsa is a style that gets most of its history from Cuba. It is similar
to the Mambo, but with more importance given to spins and turns. Salsa
is primarily derived from African Rumbas, but with elements of European
country dances mixed in as well. Salsa takes inspiration from so many
styles, and so many countries, that it is impossible to pin the style
down or describe it in few words. Salsa is a prime example of just how
much variety there is in Latin dance, even within one style. Salsa has
been performed in many Latin American countries and is popular in the
United States as well. Within the United States, Salsa has undergone
many changes in different regions. Some regions incorporate modern
instruments and effects to give Salsa a much more modern sound, perfect
for city nightclubs. Salsa essentially conglomerated many elements in
the nineteen fifties and was given its own name as it started to take on
a life of its own. Sale is driven by percussion and makes use of conga
drums and maracas to give it a very Caribbean feel.
Salsa and Merengue are fairly similar in that they use pairs of dances
and usually contain fast steady rhythms. They display a lot of passion
and flair and usually do not tell a complex story, but are rather a
release of emotion and energy. Both styles are very popular in clubs and
offer performers and onlookers an entertaining time. Compared to Salsa
and Merengue, Bachata is much less formal. It is not a ballroom style,
nor derived from a ballroom style and is more of dance to perform after
work with friends than at a club or dancehall. Where Salsa and Merengue
usually relieve more general emotions and passion, Bachata is about
story telling. Bachata usually has onlookers identifying with concepts
of heartbreak and betrayal. The emotional release of Bachata is usually
focused on very specific events and makes the bitter moments in life
seem like a pleasurable bitterness.
Bachata is also much more based on the sounds of stringed instruments,
notable the sounds that modern amplified stringed instruments can make.
While the percussion is most definitely important to Bachata, the chords
and arpeggios of the guitar set the mood just as much. This gives
listeners the overall impression that the music is more closely tied to
the guitar music of Latin America and Spain than the dances of Europe
and Africa. In reality, it is a combination of many of these elements.
Salsa and Merengue, on the other hand, are much more a product of
European and African dance styles, notably French ballroom dancing.
Bachata makes use of a rhythm guitar to create a syncopated rhythm to
contrast the arpeggios of the primary guitar, where Salsa and Merengue
usually create this syncopated feel with percussion alone.
Despite the different musical inspirations and footwork rules of these
styles, they are easily identified as Latin American. Their overall soul
is very similar and they all take old world influences and combine them
with uniquely Latin American flair and passion. The Latin American
cultures, by their nature, are made up of many different elements from
many different cultures. Latin American dance combines the soul of
native styles with the structure and techniques of European and African
forms. This creates a unique combination of elements that is not found
anywhere else in the world.