Baila! Latin Dance in the Spanish Classroom

Learning about Latin American history and culture through dance.


Key Staff

Primary teacher with the assistance (if possible) of a dance teacher

Key Skills

Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture


Students demonstrate and learn about the Latin dances of salsa, mambo, merengue, rumba, cha cha, bachata, and samba through oral group presentations on each dance. Students will also research and present information about the countries from which the dances originated.

Using Spanish, students will write written reports on their respective dances and their countries of origin and will provide answers to classmates' questions (in Spanish, English optional) regarding their presentations.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Apply the elements of dance to descriptions of particular Latin dances
  • Create and give oral presentations about a Latin dance and its country of origin
  • Write reports about a Latin country or dance in English or Spanish (optional)
  • Write questions in Spanish about each Latin dance presented by their classmates
  • Answer, in Spanish, questions asked by classmates. (optional)
  • Compare and contrast two Latin dances

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection
  • Research

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
  • Television
Required Plugins
Technology Notes

CD player and speakers needed if no computer available.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

You may wish to first teach the ARTSEDGE lesson, Elements of Dance which explores the elements of dance by demonstrating various simple movements. If every student begins with the basics—regardless of whether they've never danced in their lives or if they've taken dance lessons for years—students will be more comfortable moving their bodies in a classroom setting and won't be as intimidated to try more involved dance steps among peers.

For tips on how to include dance in your classroom, see the ARTSEDGE Tipsheet, "Shall We Dance?"

Prior Student Knowledge

Students may have some general knowledge of Latin American cultures, but this is not necessary. Some knowledge of Spanish is necessary, but this lesson can be adapted to fit different levels of proficiency.

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer Lab
  • Rehearsal Space
  • Gymnasium


Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need to do modified dance movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Introduce students to the genres associated with Latin dance. Tell students that they will be learning about various Latin dances, beginning with the merengue. Pass out the student guide, 'Elements of Dance' located in the ENGAGE slide of the Resource Carousel.

2. Show students a small portion of the video of Bailando Dance Company in the ENGAGE slide of the Resource Carousel above.

3. While looking at the Elements of Dance handout located within the Resource Carousel, ask students to describe merengue using the dance terminology. Depending on your students' level of understanding of Spanish, you may choose to prompt students by asking the following questions in Spanish.

  • Which movements are involved in merengue?
    SPANISH—¿Cuáles moviemientos están enredados en el meringue?
  • Does it consist of mostly locomotor or non-locomotor movements?
    SPANISH—¿Consiste, por mayor parte, en moviemientos locomotors o nonlocomotores?
  • Does there appear to be leading and following?
    SPANISH—¿Parece que hay dirigir y seguir?
  • How would you describe the tempo or pace? - fast, medium, or slow?
    SPANISH—¿Cómo se describa el tiempo - rápido, medio, o lento?
  • Are the dancers at a low (on the ground), medium (kneeling), or high, level (on one or two legs, full body)?
    SPANISH—¿A qué nivel son los bailadores, bajos (en el suelo), medios (arrodillados), o altos (en uno o dos pies, o todo cuerpo)?

Build Knowledge

1. Explain the geography behind the dance. The merengue is a lively, festive dance originating from the island of Santo Domingo, which is located north of the Caribbean Sea. Show Santo Domingo to students on a map. Explain that people from both Haiti and the Dominican Republic have claimed that the dance originated in their countries. Point out these countries on the map. Point out to the students that these two countries share the same island of Santo Domingo.

2. Explain the history behind the dance. Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic have legends that trace merengue dance steps to a war hero with a limp who danced in a stepping motion. In the 1930s, merengue was promoted by then-president of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, and it became the country's national music and dance.

Tell the class that they'll be hearing more about Haiti and the Dominican Republic from their fellow classmates.

3. Have students learn to dance the merengue. Have students pair up and start the Bailando Video, also located in the BUILD slide of the Resource Carousel above. Point out that the steps have a limping appearance. Clap and count with the music, counting "1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4..." Note that the tempo and rhythm is similar to marching music, and all steps are on one beat.

4. Play the rest of the Bailando video and have students follow along. Point out that up-and-out, down-and-in, motion of the hip is an important part of the dance. When a knee bends, the hip on that same leg should drop.


1. Explain to the class that they will prepare oral presentations about a particular Latin dance and its country of origin and will teach the dance to the rest of the class. Divide the class into groups of four. You may wish to ensure that there are male and female students in each group. Refer to the Latin Dance Research Guide located within the Resource Carousel and go over the students' individual roles in the group. Explain the expectations as outlined in the 'Latin Dance Research Guide'.

Explain to the class that they will be writing individual reports as specified on the 'Latin Dance Research Guide' and although they will be reading their reports in English for their oral presentations, they must turn in reports that they have translated into Spanish. If students are highly proficient in Spanish, the entire assignment could be done in Spanish. Inform students that you will be grading them on both their oral presentations and their written reports.

2. Assign one of the following Latin dances to each group: salsa (from Cuba), mambo (from Haiti), rumba (from Cuba), cha cha (from Cuba), samba (from Brazil), and bachata (from the Dominican Republic). (Note: Since three of the dances originate in Cuba, you may wish to alter the 'Latin Dance Research Guide' so that students learn different aspects about Cuba from each group. For instance, one group can focus on culture and geography, another on people and lifestyle, and a third on economy and government.)

3. Give students class time to coordinate with their groups and research their respective dances in the school library or online. Encourage them to be creative in their presentations. They may wish to make posters, PowerPoint presentations, food from the country of origin, appropriate costumes, etc. Presentations can be in English or Spanish, depending on the students’ proficiency level.

4. One or two days before the class presentations, pass out five index cards or sticky notes to each student. Tell students to write down one question in Spanish that they would like each group to answer. Make sure they write down their names. Pass these questions to the appropriate groups and have each group pick out four questions. Each person in the group must answer one question in Spanish at the end of their oral presentations.


1. Have students present their research. Set up your CD player or computer so students can play music they have found while they demonstrate dance steps (iTunes is a good resource, or perhaps you can lend them music from your collection). Have each group present their dance to the class and read the English versions of their reports. As each group gives their presentations, the rest of the class should take notes. Inform them that they will be asked to write about the material presented. Collect all Spanish versions of the reports and index cards or sticky notes.

2. The day after all the presentations have been given, have students complete a writing assignment about the different dances. Have them compare and contrast two of the dances they learned about, making sure to include information about the dance's country of origin.

3. Debriefing/Discussion. After students have completed this informal writing assignment, use it as a basis for a class discussion (in English or Spanish). The informal writing assignment will not be graded.


Assess the student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.

Extend the Learning

Use this activity as a jumping off point for another cultural unit on one of the countries or areas discussed.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 9-12 Dance Standard 1: Identifying and demonstrating movement elements and skills in performing dance


Grade 9-12 Dance Standard 3: Understanding dance as a way to create and communicate meaning


Grade 9-12 Dance Standard 5: Demonstrating and understanding dance in various cultures and historical periods

National Standards in Other Subjects
Foreign Language

Foreign Language Standard 1: Uses the target language to engage in conversations, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions and information

Foreign Language Standard 2: Understands and interprets written and spoken language on diverse topics from diverse media

Foreign Language Standard 4: Understands traditional ideas and perspectives, institutions, professions, literary and artistic expressions, and other components of the target culture


Geography Standard 6: Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions



Theresa Sotto
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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