How To Salsa Dance: The Cumbia Step

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How To Salsa Dance: The Cumbia Step


Cumbia is a musical style that originated in Colombia, probably around the 1820’s during Colombia’s struggle for independence. It started as the musical expression of the national resistance, and was sung and danced in the streets.In its original form, cumbia was played with tambor drums and large gaita flutes. In the 1920’s Colombian dance bands in Barranquilla and other coastal cities began playing cumbia while adding horns, brass and other instruments to the traditional drum and flutes. In fact, in the 1930s when Colombian bandleaders wanted to perform in New York City, the ensembles had become so large that they couldn’t afford to send all their musicians abroad and had to use local Puerto Rican groups to perform.

Cumbia Today: 
While cumbia never caught on as well in the U.S. as other Latin musical forms, today it is very popular in South America (with the exception of Brazil), Central America and Mexico.If you’d like to hear a good introduction to cumbia, I’d recommend Cumbia Cumbia , Vol. 1 and 2 released by World Circuit Records (1983, 1989). 
Los Kumbia Kings, a group from Texas that performs cumbia / rap fusion, has been gaining in popularity and will give you an idea of how cumbia is being transformed by today's urban groups. 

How to Dance Traditional Cumbia Colombiana

  1. Start off with a “pollera” (a traditional Colombian skirt). 

  2. With your left hand hold up your skirt to your side. 

  3. Move your left foot back just a little bit but keep it next to your right foot. 

  4. Keep your left foot back, lift your heel up a just little bit.

  5. Move your right foot back to back or side to side (which ever is easier for you). Do this while moving your hips side to side. 

  6. Move your “pollera” back and forth, back and forth. Kind of forming an 8 to from the side.


  • You can buy a “pollera” at Latin American store. 

  • If you get tired easily with your heel you can keep you foot in the back flat but moving in the same way. 

  • Don’t worry too much about your feet movement because the movement in all in your hips. 

  • If you’re a beginner you might want to exaggerate moving your hips 

  • When you’re moving your skirt, so your arm won’t get to tired, just move your wrist in and out. 

  • When your dancing with the guy look up, be stuck up this is a flirtatious dance.

When you’re going to dance this try to wear flat shoes or no shoes at all! You’ll get tired too fast and your legs will really hurt. 

Cumbia Colombiana

Cumbia con Sabor


Cumbia Con La Tropa Colombiana

Cumbia Couple

How to Dance Cumbia?

  1. Check out your local area listings for Cumbia classes. Places that offer salsa instruction often will teach Cumbia as well. Taking a class doesn't usually require a partner and can be a great way to meet other people interested in Latin American dances.

  2. Order a dance video. If your area hasn't caught onto the Latin dance craze yet, a video is one way you can learn the steps without leaving home. You may need to recruit a dance partner, so invite over some friends and have a "learn to dance Cumbia" night.

  3. Go out. Visit Latino dance clubs in your area. Often, people dance Cumbia to salsa music even though you can't salsa to Cumbia. Look for dances that have long pauses between their first and last three steps. Cumbia tends to involve back steps that keep the dance moving in a circular fashion.

  4. Ask a friend or family member who knows Latin dance. Many people learn Cumbia because their parents and grandparents danced it. Cumbia, called "El Swing" in Costa Rica, wasn't taught formally for decades. Most picked it up along the way like any other traditional folk dance or new dance craze.

  5. Encourage dance schools, community colleges, universities and public schools in your community to offer Latin dance instruction or invite dancers to perform. Not only will this help you learn Cumbia, it will also create interest in Latin dances.

Tips & Warnings
You may see some of the more traditional Cumbia dances practiced at festivals or recitals. These usually require the woman to wear a flouncy skirt and the men often carry handkerchiefs. Sometimes the dancers use candles

Cumbia Colombiana- La Zenaida- Armando Hernandez

Yiri Yiri Boum - Gnonnas Pedro

Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at slotMusic, Florida 


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