Social dance and cultural body language

By Leonardo Rosen

You are watching two couples dancing. One couple does all the steps correctly and has good rhythm. However, what they are doing somehow doesn’t look right in relation to the music that’s playing. The other couple also does the steps right and has good rhythm. However, this couple looks wonderful in relation to the music. Why? What’s the difference?

El Danzón y Otros Ritmos Bailables
w/Club Danzón Mecerina
Sun, Jan 12, 1–3pm and 5–7pm
Jardín Principal

In my opinion, this probably has to do with cultural body language. What does that mean? People of different cultures not only speak different languages, they physically move differently. Just as a child learns to talk in early childhood, he also learns to move his body in a certain way. He imitates how he sees the people around him moving. At an early age, this fixes itself and becomes permanent. Then, just as with speech pattern and accent, only with very intensive training might this be changed.

What does this have to do with social (or any) dance? Different cultures in different countries, or even in the same country, may have very, very different types of music that express their way of being and different dances that use the body movement typical of that culture. Thus, a German dancing the polka has a very different body language from a Puerto Rican dancing salsa. These are not interchangeable.

For example, the danzón, an older dance, and salsa, a much younger dance, both have their roots in Cuba. Without going into heavy detail, the basic body movement comes from two cultures, the Spanish and the African. Thanks to Mother Africa, most Cubans from childhood learn to move their bodies with more freedom and sensitivity to syncopated rhythms than most Anglo-Saxons. Here in Mexico, there is a strong dose of Afro-Cuban influence in the southern part of the state of Veracruz that is not found in most other parts of the country. Thus, people there also grow up with that kind of body movement.

Does that mean that if you didn’t grow up in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Veracuz, etc., you cannot learn to dance danzón, bolero, son cubano, mambo, chachachá, etc.? No, it certainly does not mean that! It just means that if a mature adult wants to do these dances well, he will have to work hard at learning the right cultural body language for them. Yes, you can do it. I’m just saying that proper cultural body language is just as important as having good rhythm (cadencia) and more important than learning steps. At least, that is my opinion as a dance instructor. I’d like to write about the method for doing this in a future article.

We received last moment approval for “El Danzón y Otros Ritmos Bailables con Club de Danzón Mercerina.” Many thanks to our wonderful public for coming out in such large numbers on short notice for our first event of the year on Sunday, January 12. We invite you to join us again on Sunday, January 26 in the Jardín Principal of San Miguel, 1–3pm and 5–7pm. The only admission price to dance or watch is your beautiful smile. For information, please call 152-6385 (Educación y Cultura) or 154-5840 (Leonardo Rosen). We appreciate the support of the Dirección de Educación and the Sindicatura Municipal of San Miguel de Allende. ¡Pa’ Bailar y Pa’ Gozar con Ritmo y Sabor!


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