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Duet Dance Studio

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2412 W North Ave., #201, Chicago, IL 60647

312.823.8199 | info@duetdancestudio.com

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2412 West North Avenue, Suite 201
Chicago, IL, 60647
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312.823.8199

Duet Dance Studio Chicago offers ballroom dance lessons and wedding dance classes. We teach salsa, swing, tango and waltz dance lessons. Privately and in groups, for adults and kids.

Differences Between Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha and Merengue

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Get useful tips on ballroom dancing and wedding dance preparation and watch tutorial videos created by Szewai Lee, founder of Duet Dance Studio.

Differences Between Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha and Merengue

Szewai Lee

Many beginning students have asked me the differences between some of the popular Latin dances. So, I'm writing this post to help you understand the general differences between Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha and Merengue. All of these styles are danced in Latin dance clubs these days and are intimate dances usually performed to upbeat Latin music. Exotic, hot, sexy and sensual are words that often used to describe these dances. And, of course, there is a lot of hip motion in all of these dances!

What is Salsa

Origin: The exact origin is unknown but many believe that Salsa dancing began in New York in the mid-1970s. It has its roots in the earlier Latin dance styles, such as Cha-Cha and Mambo and was also influenced by other swing dance styles. Salsa dance is a combination of different dance styles, just like the sauce, "salsa," which is a delicious mixture of various ingredients. Salsa is considered the king of Latin dances and is being danced throughout the world.

Music: Salsa is in 4/4 time and sounds more intricate than Merengue and Bachata because of its syncopated rhythm, known as the "Clave" rhythm. For those of you who are interested in learning more about the "Clave" rhythm. Here is a video demonstrating the "Son Clave," which is often used in Salsa music.

Steps: Salsa basic consists of 3 steps (2 quicks and 1 slow or a pause). You could dance the Salsa "On1" (LA style) or "On2" (NY style); in other words, you can start your first step (breaking step) on the first beat (the strong beat) or the second beat. Footwork in both styles are generally the same however the feelings are quite different. Dancing "On1" appears to be more exciting and flashier while dancing "On2" feels more relaxed and smooth. Below are my tutorials on Salsa Basic and Simple Right Turn in "On1" style. 

Characteristics: Intricate music, fast-paced, sharp and exciting turns

Salsa Basic

Simple Salsa Right Turn

What is Bachata

Origin: Bachata originated in the rural neighborhoods of Dominican Republic. It has become one of the most popular Latin dances in recent years. 

Music: Bachata is also in 4/4 time but has its own distinctive sound. In the early days, it was a guitar music played by peasants and were often slow, sad and romantic. These days, Bachata has gotten more upbeat and incorporated electronic sounds. Some contemporary Bachata Artists and groups include Luis Vargas, Aventura, Prince Royce, Juan Luis Guerra and Xtreme.

Steps: Bachata basics consist of 3 steps and a tap. The chasse basic goes "side-together-side-tap" and can be spiced up with a hip motion or a lift of the leg at the "tap" step. Dancers keep their knees bent throughout to promote hip motion. Bachata can be danced in two-hand hold, open embrace but is often danced in close embrace at nightclubs. 

Characteristics: Sensual, intimate, relaxed, hip motion

A presentation of Bachata being danced in different styles by local Dominicans.

Social dancers in a Bachata competition.

What is Cha Cha

Origin: Also known as Cha-Cha-Cha, it is a dance style originated in Cuba and became popular in the U.S. in the 50s. Cha-Cha is also a competitive Latin dance style in both American and International ballroom dance competitions.

Music: Cha-Cha is danced in 4/4 time as well. It is often counted as "1-2-3-cha-cha" (a cha is 1/2 beat) or 1-2-3-4-&. This dance style can be danced to authentic Cuban music as well as Latin Pop and Latin Rock.

Steps: The basic consists of a rock step and a chasse step, which is a triple step pattern that goes step-together-step. The chasse step in Cha-Cha makes the dance look more intricate, sharp and stylish. Similar to other Latin dances, in Cha-Cha, dancers keep their feet close to the floor and let their hips move freely throughout.  

Characteristics: Intricate footwork, sharp action, quick spins, flashy, staccato music

A fun video of Bruce Lee dancing the social Cha-Cha-Cha (dancing starts at 0:33)!

Professional dancers demonstrating the competitive Cha-Cha-Cha at the Blackpool.

What is Merengue

Origin: Merengue is a traditional folk dance originated in Dominican Republic and was brought to the U.S. by Dominican musicians in the early 1900s. 

Music: Merengue is in 2/4 time (1-2-1-2), which gives a marching feel to it. These days, Merengue has been influenced by Hip Hop, R&B and other pop music. Some well known Merengue artists include Juan Luis Guerra, Elvis Crespo, Wilfrido Vargas, Eddy Herrera and Los Vecinos. 

Steps: The basic dance step (similar to marching) is quite simple in Merengue. Dancers keep their knees slightly bent and feet in contact with the floor throughout. It's a wonderful dance for beginners and a great way to practice the Cuban motion (hip motion).

Characteristics: Lighthearted, festive, casual, social, hip motion

A demonstration of the traditional Merengue dance.

Merengue being danced at a casual social setting.

What's your favorite Latin dance? And why? Please leave a comment below! 

Wanna learn how to dance?


The Duet Team is a group of friendly dancers who are passionate about helping people and sharing the joy of ballroom dance. And we love to make new friends and have fun at work! Our studio, Duet Dance Studio, is a boutique studio located in Chicago West Bucktown. We offer ballroom dance lessonswedding dance instruction and kids dance classesSkype dance lessons are also available! Dances we teach include Salsa, Swing, Tango, Bachata, Merengue, Waltz and Foxtrot. Sign up for an introductory dance lesson now to get started!