How to tell the difference between popular types of latino music and dance

Food, music and dancing are the basic ingredients for a good fiesta. Latinos love to dance, and often at fiestas people dance for hours on the beats of reggaeton, merengue, salsa or bachata. These are definitely the most popular types of latino music. However, if you are not used to this music it can be hard to distinguish the different types and know how to dance on it. So, here is how to tell the difference and know the salsa from merengue moves.


Who hasn’t heard of the reggaeton classic Dáme mas gasolina by Daddy Yankee? Listen to the chorus: it is the perfect example of the specific beat, the riddim, which is used in nearly all reggaeton songs. Reggaeton is a mixture of dancehall, other Latin American music such as salsa, and electronic music.

The first time when you are in a bar in Latin America and you see people dancing on reggaeton it can be quite intimidating. In general the way latinos dance is more sexual than we are used to in Europe, and it becomes especially clear when they dance on reggaeton. It is all about loose hips, sexy movements and following the rhythm. No wonder reggaeton is famous for couples to perrear or to dance closely on.

Origin: Puerto Rico
Other famous artists: Don Omar, Wisin y Yandel, Calle 13


A classic that is also well-known in Europe is Suavemente by Elvis Crespo. Merengue music has a 4 beat. Often the güira, a metal percussion instrument, is used. It is brushed steadily on the downbeat. It sounds a bit like maracas, the rumba shakers, and it indicates the rhythm of the merengue song.

For a fiesta in Latin America learning to dance merengue is essential. Everybody knows how to dance it. Luckily it is easy to learn. It’s just step step with your feet to the beat alternating your left and right foot. Sounds like a piece of cake, doesn’t it?

Origin: Dominican Republic
Other famous artists: Juan Luis Guerra, Eddy Herrera


Salsa can easily be confused with merengue. It doesn’t help that some salsa songs start with an intro that looks like merengue, like Celia Cruz’ song La Vida es un Carnaval. But salsa music follows the 8 count beat. Also salsa music has a very recognizable instruments that sets the rhythm: the cowbell.

Learning to dance salsa is more complicated than learning to dance merengue. Although the salsa beat exists of 8 counts, the rhythm is quick (1), quick (2), slow (3, 4), quick (5), quick (6), slow (7, 8). It requires more practice and a careful listening to the cowbell to keep on salsa rhythm. There are also many different styles to dance salsa, such as dancing in a circle or in a line or using different foot patterns.

Origin: Cuba
Other famous artists: Marc Anthony, Luis Enrique, Africando


The exaggerated emotional singing style of bachata musicians make it easy to recognize this type of music. Especially the group Aventura used this way of singing bachata music like in their song Obsessión. It definitely suits the lyrics as most songs are stories of heartbreak. Bachata consists of a 4 beat rhythm.

Dancing bachata is all about the lower body and the hip movement. Bend the knees a bit so you can move your hips, and then it’s: step (1), step (2), step (3) and move your hip (4). Easier said than done, I know! I love dancing bachata, but without flexible hips it’s quite hard.

Origin: Dominican Republic
Other famous artists: Prince Royce, Frank Reyes

In the beginning all the different types of music look the same, but the more you listen (and dance), the more differences you distinguish. In this case it is about practicing and going to as many fiestas as possible to be able to tell the difference between reggaeton, merengue, salsa and bachata, and dance the night away in latino style.

On what music do you like to dance the night away in latino style?