Dancing in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s central geographical location and colonial history have resulted in a varied musical culture that incorporates elements from North and South America and the Caribbean islands. Popular dance music includes tropical Latin rhythms such as salsa, merengue, bolero, and cumbia. Cumbia is perhaps the most commonly heard dance rhythm and Costa Ricans have their own way of dancing it. It originated in Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region and Panama and began as a courtship dance practiced among the African population and was later mixed with Amerindian steps and European and African instruments and musical characteristics. Drums and other percussion instruments create the beat, which plays out in a 4/4 rhythm structure of long-short-short-long.


Making the most of down time
Dance lesson #1 while we were rained in for a little while

Costa Ricans make this dance all their own and call how they dance it swing criollo. This swing mixes elements of the Lindy hop and jive to create bouncy steps and small kicks that are danced in a circle of complex footwork and fancy spins. This dance style is very Costa Rican and a source of national pride.

Dance is very much a part of Costa Rican culture, as it is basically throughout Latin America. Any party, however small, will include dancing. Children learn the basic steps of many different rhythms from a very young age. Even the final celebration of volunteers at the high school where we serve often includes a bit of dancing. It wouldn’t be a party without it!

Here’s a short video of Costa Rican swing criollo! Wow!

There’s no better way to learn to dance than to be in the midst of naturals who are more than happy to share what they can do!

The students at our last celebration were more than happy to teach our volunteers, who had never tried to dance a single step of salsa in their lives, how to do it. These were the results:


Dancing at final celebration


Karen teaching Justin the basic salsa step


And then there’s Maggie, the avid salsa dancer who needed no instruction

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