Dancing is a way to celebrate, whether it is a birth, a death, a religious observance, or folklore; dances are a way to celebrate life and express your feelings. Perhaps even more than learning the Spanish language, learning to dance will open countless opportunities.
There are many folklore dances but for your average ex-pat, it’s best to learn the most popular social dances first. Vying for the number one and two spots in popularity are salsa and cumbia.
I’m starting with cumbia as it is more forgiving dance (meaning easier to find the cadence and doesn’t require staying in a line) with the happiest music. Following a quick, quick, slow rhythm cumbia plays at every party and is the life of the party. Do yourself a favor and spend some time listening to Los Angeles Azules, a wildly popular cumbia band featuring a rotating roster of singers each with a complete orchestra. You’ll hear that music again at your next party.
Salsa here is very popular also but a bit harder to learn its quick, quick, slow beat and how to keep yourself, and your partner, in a straight line. Probably what I’m best at now and much fun if you can keep pace with its inherent speed.
Danzon is a style of dance that had a resurgence at the end of the last century among Mexican seniors. Inherently romantic as the man introduces her three times throughout the song asking her to dance from slow, close passes to flamboyant twirls. Also, it is easy for you to spot as she carries a fan for added grace. Danzon is a great style to age into training you to listen closely to the music. Plus the town is filled with danzon classes and groups.
In bachata dancers move side to side in a four-beat pattern: three steps to the side followed by a pause, incorporating pronounced hip movements. Overall, the dance is much more about moving the body with sexuality and style than about the simple back and forth steps.
Cha Cha Cha
The cha cha cha also called the cha-cha, has the basic movement of stepping forwards and backward, or side to side, adding a quick set of three steps. This gives the dance its name since many dancers count out these steps as cha cha cha. Normally pop songs in English are perfect to perform a cha cha cha to.
Merengue is easy peasy to learn just moving one foot then another. The Locos (crazily dressed dancers honoring St. Anthony) do this dance by themselves but a merengue is even more fun in pairs. If you’ve been in San Miguel for more than a moment you’ve heard the merengue song featuring the lyric “Very good, very good, very good”!
The rumba consists of two quick steps and then a third slower step that takes two beats to execute. Dancers use a box-like pattern to guide their movements and are perfect for slow, romantic songs.
The tango is a dance of seduction relying on the stylized sensual moves, staccato footsteps, flexed knees, and the highly focused connection between partners. It is my least favorite style only because I don’t like the music. Like jazz, tango music is non-linear and I enjoy the sequencing of both the instruments and lyrics in a song to tell a love story.
San Miguel is filled with dance teachers, many exceptionally good. My personal favorite is Banda-born Lazaro. Banda is a small village just outside of town and home to our oldest functioning dam where Lazaro spends his free time with his toddler daughter.
Great teachers often spend countless hours learning to teach and others just fall into teaching with a lion’s cat-like reflexes and grace. Lazaro is of the latter ilk and one of the best teachers, of any subject, I’ve met. He takes a group of any size, quickly organizes them into smaller groups by skill set, and moves seamlessly among the groups improving their performances. In private lessons, he has the patience of his namesake waiting to return from the dead (it took Jesus a couple of days to yank Lazaro back from the after-world).
For men, to be a good dance partner a lady needs to view you the way I use to view the rides at Hershey Park as a kid. Namely, something you want to ride for the twists, turns, sudden fear, and laughter. Men dancing are the roller coaster providing the thrills but are not the center of attention. Women are and a lad’s job is to make her shine.
That means it takes a man far longer to learn any of these dance styles as he needs to know his moves, while simultaneously leading her in his reverse direction. Its work that is rapidly rewarded with party invites because if you always focus on making her have fun, no matter her age or talent level, you’ll be the most in-demand ride.
by Joseph Toone
- TripAdvisor’s top tour guide in San Miguel de Allende with History and Culture Walking Tours and Joseph Toone Tours.
- Amazon’s best selling author of the San Miguel de Allende’s Secrets book series on making your adventures around town unique.
- Creator of the Maria Dolls coloring book helping indigenous doll makers.