Cuban Dances

Throughout the 20th century, Cuba was the source of a multitude of musical and artistic creations that were exported around the world. This is due not only to its position at the crossroads of the Caribbean and the American continent, but also to its political and social history.

Today, when we associate "Cuba" with "Dance", we think of "Salsa". This term is rather difficult to define and has been the subject of controversy for many years. It often encompasses many different musical genres and dances. Here's a look at the origins of Salsa:



Throughout the slave trade in Cuba, the African slaves who found themselves uprooted and parked in their barracks sought to perpetuate their ritual songs during the rare free moments of the working day. They sing to the accompaniment of drums, and some even improvise a few dance steps. By the middle of the 19th century, the influences of the various African ethnic groups represented here had blended to produce a purely Cuban secular music and dance: the Rumba.

Following the abolition of slavery at the very end of the 19th century, many freed slaves left the fields and headed for the towns and cities in search of work, but were pushed back to the more working-class districts or to shantytowns. Access to employment was difficult, so to occupy the long days, people got together to dance and sing at Rumba parties in the solares (courtyards of large apartment blocks).

Rumba lyrics speak of everyday life: love, friendship, betrayal, daily difficulties, death, special events... or challenge other musicians or dancers. Until the 60s, Rumba was considered vulgar because of its sexual connotations. It was banned from public places and cabarets, but continued to be played in solares. It was not until the Cuban Revolution that the government professionalised the musicians and dancers, partly losing the spontaneous, popular spirit of the Rumba bands.

There are three distinct forms of Rumba : Columbia, Yambú et Guaguancó






The changüí is a musical genre and dance that originated around 1860 in the eastern part of Cuba (Guantanamo).

It is the music of the Cumbanchas (peasant festivals), when families get together and go from house to house. The reason for these celebrations can be a wedding, a birthday or simply the desire to have a good time and share it with family and friends.

It is also a couple's dance, consisting mainly of movement. There is no question of doing figures. In general, the passes used consist of a few turns by the male and female dancers. The dancers must adopt an elegant posture and the steps must be small in amplitude. They also bend their legs slightly and come up very quickly, which gives the impression that the dance is a bit skipped and accentuates the couple's hips.



Danzón is a musical genre and a dance that has its origins in the French Contredanse (or English Country Dance) practised in the royal courts of France and England.

The occupation of the island by French, British and Spanish settlers between the 16th and 19th centuries contributed to the development of this dance, which, in contact with Caribbean and African rhythms, became a Danza around 1830 and then a Danzón around 1870.

It is danced in a closed position, very close together. The movements are executed with elegance. The dancers move very little and their steps, gliding over the floor, have a limited amplitude. The knees are constantly working to give the pelvis a subtle movement.

Before becoming the Cuban national dance at the beginning of the 20th century, Danzón was initially considered scandalous. In its early days, it was described as a dance with "obscene" hip movements performed by young couples, sometimes of different colours, whose bodies, in a closed position, touched each other.



At the end of the 19th century, a guantanamero musician by the name of Nené Manfugás arrived from the mountainous region of southern Oriente for the Carnival celebrations in Santiago. This musician brought with him a new sound derived from the Changüi: Son. A new dance emerged, inspired by two other popular dances: Changüi and Danzón. It gradually spread throughout the island, all the way to Havana.

In the 20s and 30s, Son became the most popular dance. A symbol of elegance, it is a dance of character and interpretation, involving a great deal of movement, as well as occasional visual and acrobatic moves.



At the beginning of the 20th century, Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians who emigrated to the United States (mainly New York) brought with them their own musical repertoires: Son, but also other Cuban music such as Guaracha, Chachacha and Bolero, and Puerto Rican music such as Bomba and Plena.

From the 1930s onwards, the United States fell in love with Cuban music, arousing tropical fantasies in their minds. A veritable multicultural crossroads, New York brought together "Latino" musicians who mixed and fused their traditional rhythms, most of which had a Cuban influence. As a result, the Big Apple saw the emergence of several more or less short-lived styles, including Boogaloo, Pachanga, Latin jazz, Mambo and finally Salsa.

From the 1960s onwards, the diplomatic rupture between Cuba and the United States put a brake on the island's musical influence. Salsa emerged at this time as the result of a mixture of all these rhythms, mostly influenced by Mambo, and began to become very popular. Salsa's popularity waned in the late 60s, partly due to the emergence of other, more modern dances such as disco, rock and hip-hop.

But a new lease of life began to appear in the mid-70s with Salsa groups from Puerto Rico and Colombia. In the United States, several generations of dancers (generally of Latin origin) codified the dance and invented different styles.

There is the New York style (on2) and the Los Angeles style (on1), both generally known as Puerto Rican Salsa in Europe, and more particularly in France. There is also the Colombian style.

Style New-York (on2)

Style Los Angeles (on1)

Style Colombien


Casino (or Cuban Salsa)

The popularity of Son was to decline significantly in Cuba due to the emergence of a new dance: Casino.

It all began in the 1950s, when a group of young dancers from Havana got together at the Casino Deportivo or Casino Miramar clubs (after which the dance was named) to invent a new style of dance. Inspired by urban Son, it introduced a number of innovations, including figures and acrobatics. There was a strong American influence, notably from Rock'n Roll.

Very popular in Cuba, especially among young people, Casino relegated Son to the status of a dance for the elderly.

The Castro revolution in 1959 had a considerable influence on the spread of this style of dance, opening up private clubs to the general public, and particularly to the less privileged. The Casino lost its status as a dance for the privileged and became a mass phenomenon. This movement was amplified when young Havanese took part in agricultural and literacy work camps, during which they spread the dance throughout the country.

After a blockade lasting several decades and the fall of the USSR, Cuba reopened up to the world, and from the 1990s onwards a new musical genre was discovered that came directly from Cuba: Timba, the evolution of Son, influenced by North American music such as Jazz, Rock, Pop, Hip-hop, Reggae and Salsa.

Then came an international casino dance craze taught in Europe by emigrant Cubans: "Cuban Salsa". The authorities encouraged the influx of tourists to Cuba during this period of acute economic crisis and shortage, known as the "Período especial". The authorities and private individuals responded to this tourist demand by setting up "casas de musica" and more or less clandestinely teaching "Cuban salsa", i.e. Casino modernised and adapted to current tastes. But this new style was different from that of 1950, and incorporated Afro-Cuban and Rumba influences.

There is also a version of this dance called Rueda de Casino, in which several couples form a circle and perform the same figures simultaneously. Frequent changes of partners are introduced, made possible by the shifting movements of the dancers.

In the 60s and 70s, Rueda de Casino flourished in Cuba with the creation of numerous choreographic groups, some of which, like the Rueda del Patricio and the Rueda del Oso, quickly gained great prestige for the virtuosity of their dancing and their inventiveness in terms of figures.

Salsa Cubaine

Rueda de Casino