Colombian Music and Dances
Latin America is known for its rich and vibrant history, culture, art, and music. One of the best places to soak in everything is none other than Colombia, and its capital – a UNESCO City of Music since 2012 – Bogotá.
Music is a big deal in Bogotá, with more than 60 music festivals and 400 different music venues hosting live music all throughout the year. Even the largest free rock festival in South America can be found right here. The first Rock al Parque started in 1995, and it’s still going strong today.
One of the many reasons why Bogota’s got such a vibrant music scene is because of the diversity of its people. While many Bogotanos are of European or European-mixed descent, many of the city’s residents also include people from 68 indigenous groups, afro Colombians, and even a gypsy population. Some of the most popular musical genres in the city are rock, jazz, hip hop, salsa, opera, and of course, traditional Colombian music.
Cities of Music have to meet a number of criteria set by UNESCO. Some of these requirements are hosting music festivals and events at a national and international level, having a lot of cultural spaces for practicing and listening to music, promoting the music industry in all its forms, and having schools, conservatories, academies, and other higher education institutions that specialize in music that are easily accessible to its people. If you’re a musician, or you love music, then you certainly won’t be disappointed here.
All in all, there are only 47 Cities of Music all over the world. Let’s dive deeper into all the amazing types of music that make Bogotá one of the best places to visit and even live in!
What is it?
Salsa is a blend of different influences, styles, and rhythms of Latin music, evolving from different dance forms like the Chachachá and Mambo. Different regions would have various distinctive styles of salsa, like Colombian salsa, Cuban salsa, Puerto Rican salsa, and so on.
How do you dance to it?
If you’re new to Bogotá, you might not feel confident about dancing to salsa on your first night out. But don’t worry – many Bogotanos dancing the salsa in nightclubs aren’t formally trained, and likely only learned from observing this dance style that’s prevalent in Latin American culture.
Most salsa songs range from 160 beats per minute, or bpm, to 220 bpm. Each dance sequence is made up of 8 beats, and you can follow basic salsa rhythm by taking 3 steps for every 4 beats, typically reversing these steps until you’ve reached one dance sequence at 8 beats.
One of the most straightforward salsa styles is the LA style and would be enough to ensure you look like you know what you’re doing in the nightclub.
- 1st beat – step forward with your left foot
- 2nd beat – step in place with your right foot
- 3rd beat – step back with your left foot
- 4th beat – pause
- 5th beat – step back with your right foot
- 6th beat – step in place with your left foot
- 7th beat – step forward with your right foot
- 8th beat – pause
You and your dance partner can move forward, backward, or change directions repeating this one dance sequence over and over. Most of the movements are taken care of by your lower body, while your upper body remains level and nearly unaffected, though of course, you’ll have to incorporate movements from your hips, arms, and shoulders as you dance.
Check out one of the most beloved salsa songs in the country, Cali Pachanguero by Grupo Niche, below.
World Salsa Festival is held in Cali every September and is one of the biggest festivals in the country with over 5.000 salsa dancers participating annually.
Cumbia originated in Colombia and is also one of the most well-known music genres in the country. It has African roots, and you can immediately recognize its Caribbean and African origins with its heavy use of percussion instruments. Cumbia music has a simple yet catchy tune and is quite easy to dance to, making it enjoyable for locals and foreigners alike.
What is it?
It’s a broad genre of popular music that is Colombian in origin, with African roots. It initially became popular with the Afro-Colombian populations in the Caribbean of Colombia, and later on, evolved into different slightly different variations as it spread to other regions.
How do you dance to it?
Like salsa, it’s a partner dance where the woman makes shuffling steps, while the man moves in a sort of zig-zag around her. Traditionally, women would hold candles wrapped in colored handkerchiefs, while of course, nowadays, people dancing it at nightclubs made do without candles and handkerchiefs.
You can dance the cumbia by taking simple short, sliding steps, but a basic and more formalized version would involve a simple 4-count dance sequence with a two-step forward and backward motion.
Traditionally, women wearing skirts would hold the skirt with one hand, or both hands, and wave it. Without the skirt, you can just bend both arms at the elbows, with your hands in the space between your shoulders and hips, and sort of rolling them inward in a circling motion as you go through the steps.
Start with both feet next to each other. Listen for the 1-2-3 beat and take steps with each beat
- 1st beat – take a step back with your right foot, and pivot your left foot so that your right foot curls slightly behind the left foot
- 2nd beat – take a small step in place with your left foot
- 3rd beat – bring your right foot forward back to its starting position
Repeat the dance sequence for the other side, so then you’d be stepping back with your left foot. Once you’re comfortable with these steps, add hip bumps and spins, and move with your partner in a circular pattern.
One of the best cumbia songs, Yo me llamo cumbia by Mario Gareña.
One of the most relevant cumbia festivals in Colombia is the Festival Nacional de la Cumbia. It is celebrated every year in El Banco, Magdalena, and declared the cultural heritage of the nation by the Congress of Colombia in 2013.
Some sources state that reggaeton originated in Panama in the 1970s, while other sources say it originated in Puerto Rico in the 1990s. Whichever the case, it’s certainly one of the most popular music genres in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and recently, reggaeton songs have topped in music charts the world over. As a music genre, it may be less popular in Colombia than the Cumbia and Salsa, but it’s especially popular in a lot of clubs and crossover bars.
What is it?
Reggaeton is basically an urban, hip hop genre of music with a mixture of Jamaican and Latin American influences, blended with the hop and electronica beats. Reggaeton songs range from sensitive and romantic, to aggressive and sexual, and popular reggaeton songs are typically interspersed with rap lines in Spanish or English.
How do you dance to it?
It’s a fun and sexy dance that is free-spirited in style, and it’s particularly popular in nightclubs. There is no formalized way of dancing to reggaeton, but you can do so with moves like body waves, shoulder pops, and lower body isolations.
There is no formal way to dance to this music genre, but you can incorporate moves mentioned earlier like body waves and body isolation movements. The key is dancing in a sexy way, so expect to bust out plenty of hips and grinding action. You can also dance solo, or with a partner.
For dancing solo:
One of the more popular moves you can do to dance to reggaeton is a body wave.
- Stand with feet just a little further apart than shoulder-width
- Angle upper body slightly to one side from your hips
- Slowly push your chest outward, then ribcage, to hips, in a smooth, rolling way
- Slowly roll it all back in so that it looks like a wave movement
For dancing with a partner:
One of the most popular moves you’ll see when people are dancing to reggaeton is a perreo.
- One partner faces the back of the other (usually male behind female)
- Both partner’s hips and shoulders move in time to the music
- Incorporate grinding action
As it is a free-spirited style of dance, you can move freely in time to the music in a way that is sexy to you – think rolling, grinding movements – and you’ll fit right in in the club.
One of the biggest reggaeton songs that you’ve undoubtedly heard of in the last few years is Despacito by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee.
One of the biggest festivals in the country, Hip Hop al Parque is a two-day celebration typically in late October every year. It’s held at the Simón Bolívar Park and attracts around 50,000 annually.
Vallenato is a well-loved genre of music in Colombia, and particularly popular in Colombia’s Caribbean region.
The name Vallenato means “born in the valley”, with the referenced valley being between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Serrania de Perijá in north-east Colombia. The name also applies to the people that originated from Valledupar. It’s here, and its surrounding areas, where this type of music is thought to have originated from – farmers, traveling the region with their cattle in search of pasture, or traveling to cattle fairs to sell their cattle, entertained themselves with this type of music. They also served as messengers, and would often deliver messages or news in the form of a song.
What is it?
Traditionally, Vallenato music is played from 3 instruments: the caja vallenata (small conical drum held between the legs and played with bare hands), the guacharaca (a wooden percussion instrument), and an accordion. Now, Vallenato songs may include the use of guitar, reed flute, and other musical instruments.
How do you dance to it?
It’s free-spirited in style similar to reggaeton, so there is no formalized way of dancing to Vallenato music.
If the music is slow, dancers typically dance with slow movements close to their partner’s body. If the music is fast, then dancers move apart so they have more space for faster movements.
As mentioned, there is no formalized way to dance to Vallenato, but generally, the footwork goes like this:
- Take two steps to one side
- Take two steps back to the other side
- Take two steps forward
- Take two steps back
If you’re dancing with a partner, then they simply do the inverse of the dance sequence above. Incorporate hip, shoulders, and arm movements to the sway of the music.
Another way you can dance to Vallenato is this:
- Take two steps on one side
- Take one step back to the direction you came from
- Take two steps more to that side
- Take one step back to the center, or direction you were coming from
- Turn around between partners
One of the most beloved Vallenato songs is La Gota Fría, and its most popular version is from singer Carlos Vives (this version is as considered “new wave”).
The Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata, or the Vallenato Legend Festival, is celebrated every year in the city of Valledupar in April. It’s one of the most important musical festivals in Colombia and features contests for the best interpreter of the accordion, the caja vallenata, and the guacharaca. There’s also the best song, and the piqueria or the battle of lyrics, which is a musical showdown where participants demonstrate their ability to improvise verses that one-up their opponent, similar to a rap battle.
While merengue may have started in the Dominican Republic, it’s been widely embraced by Colombians and is a music genre enjoyed by many in Latin America and the world over.
It is thought that the first merengue song was written as early as 1844, though this is disputed. In any case, the oldest forms of merengue music were typically played on stringed instruments in the 1800s.
What is it?
Merengue music is based on a repeating, a five-beat rhythmic pattern called a quintillo, and traditionally can be played with an accordion, guitar, tambora (two-sided drum held on the lap), guira (percussion instrument), and marimba (a deep-toned xylophone of African origin). Now, other instruments such as a horn or saxophone are also incorporated into the music.
How do you dance to it?
Merengue is typically danced in pairs, with one dancer holding their partner’s waist with the right hand, with their left hand grasping their partner’s right hand at eye level (their partner mirrors this position).
The dance steps are a sort of marching movement, and both partners can gently rotate, or perform twisting turns, all without letting go of each other. Dancers can switch to an open position, and dance side-by-side, without letting their partner go.
The merengue is fairly easy to dance to, and is all about feeling the beat and working your hips to the rhythm.
- Slowly lift your feet in a slight marching movement to every beat – you don’t have to lift your foot very far, only about an inch or two from the ground
- Bend knees slightly as you lift your feet, so that your hips are also moving smoothly
- Let your hips naturally fall down in time with your feet as you place your foot down
Shakira is one of the biggest names to come out of Colombia – so this list just wouldn’t be complete without one of her songs. You’ll hear a mix of merengue and Latin pop in her song Loca (the Spanish version also features the Dominican rapper El Cata).
Not a traditional festival, but rather a restaurant with a festival experience! You’ll find the Andrés Carne de Res in Chia and in Bogota, and you can spend the night dancing away to merengue and other music genres.
Bachata is a popular music genre in Colombia known for its highly romantic lyrics that often depict stories of love. Like the merengue, it originated in the Dominican Republic but is now known as one of the most popular styles of Latin music.
An interesting part of its history was that it was commonly associated with rural underdevelopment and crime, and so was shunned by the Dominican elite. But in the 1990s, its instrumentation changed from nylon string Spanish guitar and maracas (traditional Bachata) to electric steel string and guira (Modern Bachata). And with the creation of Urban Bachata styles by popular artists and bands, it has found its way to the top of Latin music styles along with the other genres on this list.
What is it?
Bachata originated in the Dominican Republic and is influenced by the Cuban Bolero, the Merengue, Salsa, and Cumbia.
It is typically played by the requinto or lead guitar, segunda or rhythm guitar, bass guitar, guira, and bongos or tambora drums.
How do you dance to it?
Unlike some of the other genres in this list, there is less of a formalized way of dancing to bachata music. Step embellishments and dance moves vary depending on the music, with dancers often embellishing a part of the dance depending on the mood of the music and their interpretation to it.
Because bachata is often highly romantic, it is encouraged that one partner should dance with the other as if they’re conveying their feelings for that person.
The dancer takes three steps to every four beats of music. Similar to dancing salsa, you take 3 steps, and then pause on the 4th beat.
- 1st beat – step to one direction
- 2nd beat – move other foot to close the gap
- 3rd beat – take another step in the same direction as the 1st beat
- 4th beat – slightly raise your other foot in a tap or touch motion
Then continue and repeat the same dance sequence but for the other direction. Keep your knees slightly bent so you have a slight, rhythmic swaying motion in your hips. You can either hold your partner in a closed, or open position, and they simply mirror your steps.
One of the most popular bachata style songs, from one of the biggest names in urban bachata, Mi Corazoncito by Aventura.
You’ll be able to enjoy bachata music at two of the country’s most popular festivals, the Festival Salsa al Parque celebrated right in Bogota every year in November, and the Festival Colombia al Parque, also celebrated right in Bogota every September. Both festivals are free!
There are also smaller music festivals dedicated to Bachata, one of which is the Bogota Bachata FEST, held around April.
Bogotá is proud to be a City of Music, and you’ll find many free music festivals held throughout the year.
The Colombia al Parque, Rock al Parque, Jazz al Parque, Hip Hop al Parque, and the Salsa al Parque are some of the biggest festivals in Bogotá, with hundreds of thousands of people attending every year – and they’re all free, so be sure to mark your calendar!
If you want to learn to dance, Bogota is the perfect place to take lessons. While many people learned to dance naturally at parties, not all are not with this skill. Dancing is a fun and effective tool to meet other people, strengthen self-confidence, and get closer to the Latin culture.
Below, we list the 5 best academies where you can learn or improve your dancing skills:
Punta y Taco – Escuela de baile
In this dance school you learn to dance salsa, bachata, kizmba and tango in different levels in a personalized process that is flexible to your time and specific needs. It offers private and group classes.
From Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. And Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
1 person: $100.000 Colombian pesos, adapts to the student’s level and schedule.
2 people: $120.000 Colombian pesos, adapts to the student’s level and schedule.
For 4, 8, or 12 people: $200.000 Colombian pesos per person. 1 Month lesson, consists of 4 classes and is complemented by 4 practices and tutorials.
Go out dancing
Take a class with this academy and then go out dancing and practicing with your classmates and teachers.
Calle 85 No. 19a-25, Oficina 201 B
+57 (300) 2187199 y +57 (300) 5674307
This space is ideal for those who use dance as a form of exercise, offers ballet classes, contemporary dance, stretching, pilates, functional training, hip hop, Zumba, and African rhythms.
The value of the trial class is $10.000 Colombian pesos, you can also book a full week for $55.000 Colombian pesos and choose 7 classes of your choice.
Carrera 7 No. 64-50
+57 (316) 5202624
Dance in Motion
This academy offers group and individual classes in salsa, bachata, ballet, contemporary dance, and hip-hop.
Bachata basic level: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 p.m.
Bachata basic level 2: Wednesday at 8:00 p.m.
Bachata dominical: Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
Bachata female style: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.
Salsa basic level: Tuesday and Thursday at 6:00 p.m.
Salsa basic level (Colombiana): Friday at 7:00 p.m.
Salsa Level 1: Monday at 7:00 p.m.
Salsa female style: Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Salsa basic level 2 (Colombiana): Tuesday at 8:00 p.m.
Salsa basic level 2: Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.
Stretching: Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
Kizomba: Monday and Friday at 9:00 p.m.
Chachachá: Thursday at 8:00 p.m.
From 1 to 5 hours $10.000 Colombian pesos per hour
9 hours onwards $7.000 Colombian pesos per hour
From 1 to 5 hours $50.000 Colombian pesos per hour
6 hours onwards $40.000 Colombian pesos per hour
Calle 142 No. 18a-44
+57 (320) 2332984
Academia Paso Latino
In this space, Latin rhythms, but especially salsa, are danced at the professional level. With renowned and award-winning teachers, you can learn different techniques through group or personalized stage performances, shows, and dance classes.
From Monday to Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. And Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Carrera 14 No. 46-91, Piso 2
La Suculenta – Escuela de Baile
With 24 years of experience, this school is a space where people have an incredible time while learning to dance different musical genres. In addition to taking classes and practicing, they can also go out to parties! Have an amazing time, learn a new dance, and relax.
Private lessons: from Monday to Friday from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. And Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Each class lasts an hour.
Solo salsa: Monday at 7:00 p.m. And Thursday at 8:00 p.m.
Women style: Monday at 8:00 p.m.
Bachata basic level: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.
Bachata intermediate level: Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
Rumba suculenta: Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. and at 8:00 p.m. Thursday at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday at 10:00 a.m.
Salsa caleña: Friday at 7:00 p.m.
Danza Urbana: Saturday at 11:00 m.m.
First time: $20.000 Colombian pesos
1 class: $40.000 Colombian pesos
4 classes: $140.000 Colombian pesos
8 classes: $230.000 Colombian pesos
12 classes: $320.000 Colombian pesos
1 class: $100.000 Colombian pesos
4 classes: $360.000 Colombian pesos
6 classes: $480.000 Colombian pesos
1 class: $120.000 Colombian pesos
4 classes: $440.000 Colombian pesos
6 classes: $600.000 Colombian pesos
Carrera 16 No. 82-26
+57 (301) 3705319