How to Dance Cumbia

Illustration by QUICKHONEY

Before waltzing into a Tejano nightclub—or into any big party in South Texas, for that matter—you should know how to dance cumbia. Originally a folk dance from Colombia, the cumbia shuffled across Latin America, picking up small changes along the way, and has comfortably settled here with a distinct Tejano flair. “The dance found at weddings and clubs in Texas isn’t something you’ll usually see in competition or that is formally taught,” says Jessica Santiago, who has been grooving professionally for ten years and co-owns Calle Ocho, a studio in San Antonio. So where does one learn it? “By watching friends and family,” she says. If your inner circle isn’t hip to the steps, don’t worry: The moves are wonderfully simple. 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.) Once you master these basics, add some hip bumps and a spin, and you’ll soon look as though a practiced prima taught you everything you know.

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