Arizona Daily Star

The roots of hot latin dance and cumbia music are days of slavery in the late 17th century. The name is derived from the African word cumbe, which means dance.

Cumbia was brought Colombia around the time it became a Spanish colony and it was influenced by the instruments of native tribes, such as the gaita flutes and the guacharacas, said Eduardo Diaz, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center, on NPR in 2013. "Its shuffle spread throughout Latin America and into Mexico was cultivated as part of the Mexican identity."

Cumbia "brings together three cultures — African, Indigenous and European,” says “The African influence gives the rhythm of the drums while the Indigenous based flute blends in the melody. The European influence provides some variations in the melodies, choreography and costumes of the dancers.”

One of the theories about why cumbia is so popular is that it straightforward dance step — as opposed to salsa music, which is more intricate and difficult to master, said Diaz on NPR. Diaz said that the basic cumbia step originated because when the music was born, slaves had their legs shackled and very minimal movement was possible.

Cumbia is derived from two musical categories — percussion and wind, according to

“The moves are wonderfully simple,” said Jessica Santiago, a professional dancer and teacher in San Antonio, Texas, in the Texas Monthly magazine in 2010. Here is her tips get started:

  • Crank up Selena’s “Baila Esta Cumbia,” stand with both feet together, and listen for the one-two-three beat.
  • Then, on each beat, (1) shift your right foot behind the left at an angle;
  • (2) take a small step in place with your left foot;
  • (3) move your right foot back to the starting position.
  • Repeat the sequence on the other side, starting with your left foot. (Men complete the steps on the opposite feet.)

Can’t quite imagine it? We’ve posted a how-to video and video of cumbia champions and, of course, Selena’s “Baila Esta Cumbia.”