Photo by Leysha Caraballo

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, The Rumbao Latin Dance Company provided UNC Charlotte students with a fun and energetic event, featuring salsa, merengue and bachata dances, taught by instructors Eduardo Diaz and Jennifer Geyer. Rumbao combines two key aspects of salsa dance, rumba and tumbao, and the percussive beat in salsa music the On2 New York style dance follows. Rumba implies a party aspect where people get together and have fun. Together the words make Rumbao.

We started with a warmup, everyone was in a circle moving to the music; body rolls and simple steps to get us moving. Once we were all warmed up, we started off learning the basic steps for merengue, which involved a simple one, two-step move and moving your ribs from side to side. With that under our belt, it was time to learn to create a “connection,” which is necessary to know and predict what your partner plans on doing, whether that’s a twirl or even a dip. In fact, connection is at the core of each dance. For example, merengue involves the lead turning their partner clockwise and counterclockwise while maintaining a closed dance position.

Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic. It’s a combination of two dances, the African and the French Minuet, from the late 1700’s to early 1800’s. Slaves saw the ballroom dances in the big houses and they started mimicking the “master’s dances,” which were very staid and boring. Over time, the slaves added a special upbeat with drums creating a slight skip or hop. Merengue was introduced in the United States in the New York area and continues to grow in popularity due to its uncomplicated rhythm and exuberant nature.

Photo by Leysha Caraballo

After learning how to do basic merengue steps, the group was put into two straight, even lines so everyone had a partner. In order to practice connection, you were to mimic your partner’s moves, whether they were really random or plain, you had to keep up and follow their lead and anticipate what their next move would be. Alongside, Eduardo Diaz was a constant motivator in keeping us moving and connecting with our partner. He would say “If you don’t know their name, ask them” or “Get on the floor.” It was essential to find a connection as it was necessary to be able to dance bachata and salsa effectively.

After we have had formed connections with everyone in the group, we began to partner dance merengue. Truth be told, many of us hadn’t completely nailed down the dance, but it was still a very energetic and creative event. People added their own style and it was enjoyable for everyone.

Bachata originated in the Dominican Republic and it is danced widely around the world but not identically. The basics to the dance are three-step with a Cuban hip motion, followed by a tap. The knees should be slightly bent so the performer can sway the hips easier. The original Dominican bachata is today danced all over the Caribbean and was created by the people over many years for social dancing. It still continues to evolve.  Other types of bachata are traditional, modern, bachatango, bachata sensual, ballroom bachata and many more. Bachata music has some African, European and Indigenous musical elements. José Manuel Calderón recorded the first bachata song “Borracho de Amor” in the 1960s. Throughout most of bachata history, it was disregarded by the Dominican elite and considered vulgar and musically rustic. However, by the 1990s, bachata instrumentation changed from the nylon-string Spanish guitar and maracas of traditional bachata to the electric steel-string and Güira (a metal scraper used as a percussion instrument) of modern bachata. Bachata further transformed the 21st century with the creation of the urban bachata and has become an international phenomenon. In Drake’s song “Hotline Bling,” his dance moves are based on bachata music.

Photo by Leysha Caraballo

Salsa is a social dance that originated in the Caribbean. The dance along with salsa music originated in the mid-1970s in New York. Different regions of Latin America and the United States have distinct salsa styles of their own such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, New York style and many more. The Rumbao Latin Dance company specifically follows a New York style or On2 salsa style. In On2 salsa style, partners face each other most of the time and on the second beat of the first measure of the music, the follower, not the leader, steps forward. New York style is strict about remaining in a close dance space. On2 dancers also perform “shrines,” which is when dancers separate and dance solo with intricate footwork. New York style salsa is different from its Latin American and Caribbean counterparts. New York style emphasizes harmony with percussive instruments in salsa music.

Rumbao Latin Dance Company was founded by five fellow Charlotteans in March 2013. Eduardo Diaz first got into Latin dancing in high school at age 18. He moved here from Puerto Rico and wanted to keep a piece of his Latin culture with him, so he joined a Latin dance club and finally ended up joining Rumbao Latin Dance company in 2015. Jennifer Geyer, one of the founders of the company, first got into Latin dancing in college, where she met the four other founders, two of whom are UNCC Alumni.

This event was a rumba going by how energetic and fun it was. The music played to match the styles of dance we were dancing. This event in honor of Hispanic heritage month brought people together and created a learning space for everyone to learn a little bit of Latin dancing, from the most experienced to the least.