Five(ish) Minute Dance Lessons

Latin Dance Level 2

More Latin Dance with Ricardo and Elba


Latin Dance 2 Podcast

Good for: 10-18 year olds.

Estimated Time: Give yourself some time! You'll probably want to take time to practice.

Key Technology: You can watch these videos here, or subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

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Mastered Level 1? Time to move to Level 2!

Latin dance Level 1 taught the basic steps, and if you’ve mastered those, get ready for more. Level 2 is full of new moves that are as fun as they are challenging.

Lesson One: Merengue (pronounced muh-RENG-gey)

Ricardo and Elba introduce three new moves that will make you feel like a dancing pro—just as long as you keep bending your knees to the beat.

The Pretzel, the Cuddle, and the Sombrero all involve complex arm movements, as indicated by their names. To keep your arms from tangling with your partner’s remember to:

  • let the leader initiate the moves--followers, try not to jump ahead
  • keep your arms relaxed but not stiff
  • not rush and take time to figure out the sequence of steps--You’ll be able to speed up with practice

Lesson Two: Salsa

This lesson incorporates the basic Salsa steps we learned before—forward/back, side step, and cumbia (or ½ swing)—but adds a new sequence of three steps that combine to form the cross-body lead with a follower’s turn, ending with a leader’s turn.

Notice that in the last move—the follower’s turn—the leader switches hands while turning, keeping contact with the follower’s right hand the whole time. “Wepa!”

Lesson Three: Bachata (BAH-cha-tah)

Need a reminder of Bachata basics? Just remember 1, 2, 3, tap and 1, 2, 3, tap. The tap on beat 4 and 8 gives a rhythmic accent to the dance steps.

Master the following three new moves:

  • The Outside/Inside Turn:  Leaders, you get to turn first for a change, so enjoy
  • The Cuddle: Different than the Merengue move of the same name. You turn to get into and out of this cuddle
  • The Paseo: Watch how Elba keeps her left arm behind her out of the way as she passes by Ricardo before joining hands again

Lesson Four: Cha Cha Cha

Now that you know how to listen for the Cha Cha Cha beat, and can do the basic, sidestep and the open break, it’s time to step it up!

Level 2 incorporates three new moves:

  • Leader and Follower Turn:  It’s a simple flourish on the basic step
  • The Chasse: “Chase” your partner across the dance floor
  • Cross Body Lead with Break: This is a simple way to turn yourself and your partner around

Note - Cha Cha Cha is available in both English and Spanish in the Resource Carousel above.

It may take a bit more practice, but soon you’ll be using your new Level 2 Latin moves.

Think About

Keeping Contact

No Death Grip Needed

Latin Dance Level 2 involves complicated turns and movements that require maintaining contact with your partner, even when standing back to back or with arms crossed in front. These moves look great, but how do you execute them without twisting an arm uncomfortably, or tying your partner into a human knot?

The secret lies in the way you hold your partner’s hand. Don’t go for a death grip when a lighter touch is much better. Notice the way Ricardo and Elba maintain contact when doing moves like the Pretzel. Sometimes Elba holds on to only one of Ricardo’s fingers allowing her to do a 360° turn more easily. Other times, Ricardo turns her by lightly touching just the tips of her fingers.

Lesson 2 moves will be much easier when the point of contact between you and your partner allows easy turning.

Don’t Flap like a Birdie

During those moments when your partner is turning and you aren’t in a closed hold, you can rest your free hand flat on the front of your hip, or keep your arm at waist height with elbow bent, ready, but relaxed. As soon as your partner’s turn is done, re-establish contact.

Learn More

Rhythmic Roots

Latin dance and music are a blend of European and African elements due to the importation of Africans to Latin America as part of the slave trade.

In the Salsa lesson, a strong rhythm is played with a stick on a cowbell. This is called the clave (KLAH-vey), or “key” in Spanish. The clave is the basic rhythmic pattern the other musicians respond to and is central to Salsa music. Typically, the clave has two parts that sound like a question and answer, or call and response. The clave rhythm is frequently played with two sticks or with a conga drum.

The complex combination of rhythms coming from all of the instruments reflects Salsa’s African roots.


As you are listening to the polyrhythmic music, notice the following instruments: 

  •  the cowbell played with a wooden stick
  • the güira (GEER-ah), a perforated piece of metal that is played with a stiff brush
  • the tambora (TAHM-baw-rah) drum, a two-sided instrument used in Merengue music that is often struck with a hand on one end and a stick on the other
  • the tall, narrow conga (KONG-guh) drum

Not all instruments are used in each lesson. Instead, the ensemble chooses instruments that reflect the style of music they are performing.

For The Educator

Did You Do Your Homework?

In Level 1, we explained the origin of Merengue’s small steps as resulting from African slaves who were chained together and could only drag their feet as they cut sugarcane to the drum beat.

We suggested your students find other theories how Merengue began. Any interesting research results? Perhaps your students discovered the following:

Where the Merengue Comes From
The Merengue was popularized in the Dominican Republic. One story about its origin states that a great hero was wounded in one of the many revolutions that took place there. When he returned home to his village for a victory celebration, everyone felt obliged to limp and drag one foot like their wounded hero.

Latin Music in the United States
Latin music has greatly influenced American popular music and culture and continues to do so today. Here are some interesting facts to know:

During Prohibition (1919–1933), interest in Cuba peaked as the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages became illegal in America. A less “restrictive” Havana, Cuba suddenly became a desirable place where wealthy Americans could travel. When they returned home, they carried back a new fondness for Latin music and dance. In turn, Big Band musical directors responded to this heightened interest in Cuban music.

Granted U.S. citizenship in 1917 by President Wilson, Puerto Ricans began moving to America settling predominantly in New York City. Once here, they contributed to the cultural mix, and were exposed to American music styles, like jazz. Prized for their musicianship, many Puerto Ricans played with famous bands at New York’s crowded music clubs.

Even after America cut off political relations with Cuba in 1960, Puerto Ricans helped popularize Cuban rhythms, fusing them with native Puerto Rican elements, jazz, and rock and roll. Later, Dominican Republicans added to New York’s cultural melting pot and the promotion of Latin music. As a result, popular music today has many elements of Latin music including Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, and Cha Cha Cha rhythms.

You may want to listen to the following musicians and groups that incorporate Latin rhythms in their music:

Johnny Pacheco
Celia Cruz
Rubén Blades

Juan Luis Guerra
Los Tigres del Norte

Antony Santos
Luis Vargas

Resources to Explore
Austerlitz, Paul (1996). Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Temple University Press. ISBN 1566394848.

Web sites:
This site explains the influence Latin music has had on popular American music and culture.

An explanation of different types of clave rhythms

An overview of Salsa, with popular musicians and audio clips

Great history of both Merengue and Salsa

Site where you can pick music genres and listen to current artists



Kirsten Bodensteiner

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources



Austerlitz, Paul (1996). Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Temple University Press. ISBN 1566394848.

Web sites:






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