Learn to Talk While You Tango: Learn Spanish Dance Vocabulary

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What Dance?

The social dance situations in which you are most likely to encounter Spanish speakers — or find in Spanish-speaking countries — include tango, salsa, merengue, cumbia and bachata. Go to the right places in Spanish-speaking countries, though, and you will find every sort of dance, not just the “classics.” This Spanish dance vocabulary will help you in any dance situation, whether you’re getting down to reggaeton or classic rock.

Just the Basics

Dance is a form of communication in and of itself. Some would argue that where there is dance, words are superfluous. However, dance, of necessity, takes place in a social setting: Understanding a few basic words will help you navigate the sometimes-murky waters of intercultural social interaction to, from, during and between dances.

You may be surprised at who does — or doesn’t — speak English at a dance. You may even find yourself getting your salsa on in a country like Japan where your dance partner speaks neither Spanish nor English. In that case, sign language and patience go a long way toward building understanding. If you are dealing with a Spanish speaker, here are the essentials with which to supplement your sign language:

  • ¿Quieres bailar? Would you like to dance?
  • Sí. Yes.
  • No. No.
  • él he/him
  • ella she/her (As in “Who? Oh–her, over there,” not a possessive as in “Those are her shoes.")
  • you
  • baile dance; el baile is “the dance”
  • aquí here
  • allí there

Body Parts and Other Nouns

Here are the names of body parts you will be moving — or not moving, depending on what kind of dancing you’re doing. Memorizing this list will make interpreting the essentials of verbal instructions a lot easier.

  • la mano the hand
  • el pie the foot (Note that while this word looks just like the word “pie” as in dessert in English, it’s pronounced differently in Spanish.)
  • la pierna the leg
  • el brazo the arm
  • los hombros the shoulders
  • la espalda the back
  • el pecho the chest
  • la/las cadera/caderas the hip/hips
  • la cintura the waist
  • el codo the elbow
  • la rodilla the knee
  • el tobillo the ankle

You are likely to encounter a few other nouns in the dance world. The two most critical are un paso which means “step” (as in a step forward, a step back, or additionally in this context, a dance step) and el ritmo, “rhythm,” which is what drives all dance.

Movements and Other Verbs

If you are trying to follow spoken directions — or to communicate with your dance partner in Spanish — these more specific Spanish dance words will come in handy. Note that the verbs are given in the infinitive.

  • girar/dar la vuelta to spin/turn (as in turning in place or “turn to the left/right”)
  • dar un paso to take a step
  • venir to come (as in “Come here”)
  • ir to go
  • relajar to relax
  • bailar to dance

Of course, if you are going to be spinning, turning and dancing, you might want to know which way you’re going:

  • adelante forward
  • atrás back
  • la izquierda the left
  • la derecha the right