20 Missions 11: Go Dancing

Mission 11: Go Dancing

This weeks mission is to learn at least five new dance moves from a recognised dance form. Why, you might ask? Because learning dance interfaces you with your physical memory through repetitive muscle movements. Muscle memory is very different learning than more rational forms. It interfaces you with your animal self in a celebration of physicality. If you don’t dance usually, the fun you can have with this is just incredible. For example, like me, you might enjoy ‘Latin’ dance forms as illustrated below, but please choose and research your own form.

What is Latin Dance?

Latin dance is a label applied to various forms of ballroom dance and folk dance. It includes a wide range of dances originating in Latin America. Ballroom examples include the Cha-cha-cha, Rumba, Samba, Mambo, Danza, Merengue, Tumba, Bachata, Bomba, Plena, Paso Doble and Bolero. Some also put Tango and Argentine Tango in this list.

Latin dances come from countries in South and Central America, but most have influences far beyond this region. Some dances are easier to learn than others, but all Latin dances have a flair that both spectators and dancers adore.

The International Latin dances of Dancesport, recognized by the WDC, WDSF, IDSA, and IDU are Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, and Jive. Salsa is believed to be a combination of these dances, but includes many more. My exposure to ‘Son’ in Cuba for example shows it to be a strong influence and there are others. So ‘salsa’ is a catch-all concept rather than a definitive style.

Despite being included under the term ‘Latin dance’, the Paso Doble originates in Spain rather than Latin America, and the Jive comes from the U.S.

There are many other Latin folk dances. For example those of Argentina include the Chacarera, Gato, Escondido and Zamba. Some Bolivian folk dances include the Morenada, Kullawada, Caporales and the recently created Tinku. In Colombia one of the typical dances is the Cumbia.

Dance is an evolving form and to some extent an international language where people can share in the richness of culture by learning and exchanging dances. Unfortunately since the advent of Covid and its variants, this is no longer an easy task.


Salsa originated in the Caribbean, although it often has a strong African influence. One form of the music is categorised as ‘Afro-Cuban’. Couples dance together and salsa has a four-beat combination of two quick steps and a slow step with a pause or tap. Partners then add turns and other flourishes to the basic footwork in order to create a fun dancing experience, as well as an impressive performance.

On similar lines of the Mambo, salsa has major contributions from the Cubans and the Puerto Ricans. No place can be singled out, to give the credit for the origination of this dance. It has seen many influences and improvisations over the years.

There are varieties also between salsa styles – for example the New York Salsa style is quite different from the Cuban Salsa style, which to my mind is a lot more free and open to interpretation.

Salsa is a flirtatious dance by nature. The basic footwork is similar to Rumba and involves a lot of movement when transferring body weight from one foot to the other. Once the basics are mastered, there is nothing more exciting than dancing salsa with a competent partner.

Cha Cha Cha

The Cha Cha Cha rhythm of two slow beats and the three quick ones form the base of this dance. Like other Latin dances, there is a forward and back basic movement. The quick beats are used to move side to side and towards the partner, transferring the weight of the body. The dance includes sensuous steps but is also about couples expressing themselves in perfect coordination.

Some people say the name of this dance comes from the sound of feet moving across the floor making a noise like ‘cha cha cha’. Others say that it may have come from Haiti where in the name comes from the sound of a bell, made from plat, which would produce a similar sound when rubbed.


Rumba has Spanish and African origins with some roots in the Cuban ‘Son’. Rumba, danced to staccato beats, originated in the 16th century with the import of slaves from Africa. It includes exaggerated hip movements with the man generally taking a dominant posture and the woman being subordinate. The Rumba consists of two quick steps and then a third slower step over two beats. Dancers use a box-like pattern to guide their movements.

Although the Rumba was originally danced with quick steps, ballroom Rumba dancing has emphasized slow, romantic steps with a focus on hip movements. Rumba is one of the slowest forms of Latin Dance.


Samba comes from Brazil and the dance shares its name with the type of music. There are many different forms of Samba, for crowd dancing, couples and individuals.

Different musical styles have different Samba dances. Samba is perhaps best known for its role in Carnival events, where individual dancers perform together. This dance requires high levels of spirit and energy and includes energetic jumping. The dance requires the dancer to be exuberant because they need to dance three steps in every bar.

Samba combines dance movements and musical inspirations from Africa, Iberia and even Native American Indian movements. Many old versions like the Baion and Marcha are danced in the local carnivals of Rio.

The festive mood of the dance has certainly seen it gain popularity but the energy required for this dance has made it a popular workout for fit people.


Merengue is recognized as the official dance of the Dominican Republic. It is considered easy to learn, making it a great choice for starting Latin dancing.

One of the popular legends around this dance is around a limping war hero who loved to dance. He had great difficulty in doing so due to his war wounds. From this came the ‘limping’ step forward associated with Merengue. The basic Merengue movement goes to the front, back, and side. Firstly step onto the inside edge of the foot, roll the foot to transfer weight, then drag the other foot to meet the first foot.

This dance requires the dancer to have the torso erect. Considered to be a seductive form of Latin Dance, Merengue requires the dancer to focus on their legs and avoid excessive movement of the hands.


The Bachata is another dance from the Dominican Republic It takes its name from Bachata guitar music. Dancers move side to side in a four-beat pattern: three steps to the side followed by a pause. Dancers incorporate pronounced hip movements and other turns and shapes. The dance is much more about moving the body with style than about the simple back and forth steps.


The Mambo originated in Cuba and its step gives the basic form for salsa footwork. Its main move is a three-beat step moving forward and then backward, shifting weight from one foot to the other. Like the salsa basic one member of a couple performs the backward motion while the other moves mirrors.

What gives the Mambo style is the hip-swaying action that the weight shift creates. Although the Mambo is a couple’s dance, the basic step can be seen in line dancing, aerobics and other fitness workouts.

It isn’t the remit of this book to provide information on ‘the moves’ for these dances, they are readily available through classes and there are many demonstrations online.

Now please excuse me if I go all enthusiastic here. There is nothing like dancing. I used to freestyle my dance until I learned Salsa. Mainly my dance was punk/pogo based, a dance John Lyden (aka Johnny Rotten) allegedly designed to shake the change from peoples pockets so he could get paid for a gig. But the Masai, a really civilised culture, had been doing this dance for a long time before Johnny Rotten came along. It was great, a wonderful expression of individual attainment. Good Ego. Great bouncing. God Save the Queen. With a bit of freestyle hippy thrown in.

As I found for myself, ultimately partner dancing merges personal expression with form, because you have to agree on form to be able to dance with another person, and that is just yummy. To my mind it is the best fun you can have with your clothes on.

It took me six months of weekly lessons to get the basics of Salsa form, then I just took off. Now I live to dance, and there is no better metaphor for life as a human. Let us dance our way through the trials and tribulations of existence. Let us make a perfect dance with climate catastrophe and mass extinction of species. Let us dance for the planet. Let us dance for ourselves, and each other. Dance to make your energy count. Dance like nobody is watching, preferably out in nature.

However I live in North Cornwall and don’t drive a car, hence being a little overenthusiastic in this regard, because I don’t get to dance anywhere near as much as I would like to. In truth – I’m not a very good dancer either. I’ve seen myself on video, its sort of like an English-dancing-white-pudding! But that’s not the point – the point is I really enjoy it!

During my initial salsa classes, I invented a method of shorthand to write down the sequences I was learning on my arm, much to the amusement of others in the class. But Salsa isn’t about learning sequences (although this is extremely useful). Then I made up a salsa alphabet where A is armlock, b is backdrop, c is crossbody and so on.

Once I had completed the alphabet of moves, I started on numbers. Then I realised that I could randomise my dance by thinking of a word and then dancing the letters.  I like to dance through the alphabet and numbers. My partner is learning it too so we can dance secret messages!

Cuban Salsa is so free unlike the New York style which is a bit regimented for me. To me, dance is like ‘Jazz’ – ultimate freedom within defined and agreed parameters. If only relationships were so easy. When dance becomes a meditation, it allows you to enter heaven with a Goddess/God as long as the music lasts. Get into that moment. It’s better than sex, well at least less complicated! Salsa dancing is serious mingling. When you dance with another, you are making love already. There are so many dance forms to choose from. It really energises!

If you would like to find out more about my dance randomiser technique please click on the following link, which will take you to my FREE ebook: How to Cheat at Salsa.