3 Minute Guide to Cuban Dance Styles

Imagine sitting at an outdoor bar, the warm breeze hitting your face and listening to the music. The catchy rhythm makes you want to dance. But wait, what music is playing? How are you supposed to dance if you don’t know what you’re dancing to? You think you know, but you aren’t 100% sure. Now’s your chance to learn just enough about the various Cuban dance styles to get you moving.


The Son is the base of the Cuban music genre. Spanish descended farmer’s guitars fused with afro-Cuban percussions declared it a cultural patrimony of Cuba. An anticipated bass in the calm music gives it its distinctive rhythm and it’s characterized by its three rapid steps before a full stop.


As you guessed, its name comes from the Cuban capital city Havana. I was originally known as the contradanza and was called only habanera outside of Cuba. Also known as tango, it positions itself as one of the oldest and most popular dances in Cuba. With Spanish, African and Cuban rhythms it’s defined by its slow paced and delicate movements.


Of African origin, its background comes from the African slaves who occasionally were allowed by the authorities to distract themselves with these joyous rhythms and dances, contrasted to the ballroom dances. They would escape reality in festivities filled with laughter and choreographies where they liberated themselves. Today it is a common dance, mostly known for its typical dance where people file into a single line and synchronized their leg movements while walking. You will clearly hear the non-stop beating drums and tropical melody.



Salsa originated in the 60s in New York City as a mix of Dominican, Cuban, Afro-American Jazz, Puerto Rican and many other countries’ rhythms. It is a mixture of numerous instruments and sounds, such as flutes, drums and violins. It doesn’t have a specific country of origin, yet most of its contribution comes from the Cuban influence. This dance is characterized by the notorious movement of the hips, where this pronunciation is defined by the intricate movement of the legs. 


You’ll easily identify the flirtatious and erotic movements of this dance style. It surfaced in the late 19th century in the African communities working in the sugar mills. It’s Similar to Conga with its drumming traditions and maracas. Known as the party music in the Havana communities you’ll easily be attracted to this dance.


From the 1930s, it derived from the Cuban Son, Rumba and some mixture of other African American elements. Its title originated from the name given to priests in African traditions where they helped people enter communion with the gods throughout a dance. The movements are sharp and quick, with rigid arms and loose hips. It’s considered a “strong” dance because of its fast feet movement and energy. Maybe this dance would not be a good option after three margaritas.


The Danzon was the national dance and music of Cuba and forms part of the traditional music of both Cuba and Mexico. It’s an elegant dance, much like European ballrooms dances developed in the 1870s. It was brought to Cuba by the French immigrants and Haiti. You can identify this dance because of its alternation between movement and rest parts that adjust to the rhythm of the song playing.


Now that you know the basics of the various Cuban dance styles you have no excuse to stay seated. Grab yourself a dancing partner and don’t miss your chance to bring to life these Cuban rhythms.

Want to take it a step further and go on a dance holiday in Cuba? Read more here. 


This post is part of Follow Me Friday at Feet Do Travel  and Weekend Travel Blog Party at Weekend Wanderlust.
Follow Me Friday by Feet Do Travel

  • Primoz says:

    We were in Cuba this summer and our kids loved. There’s music on almost every corner of Havana. But dance in Cuba is a serious thing. They live for it and you should not just fake it that you know to dance. So be patient and let them teach you.

  • Show Buttons
    Hide Buttons