People dancing and having a great time at a nightlife spot in Santurce.

Music & Dance

Dance and music are essential when describing the energy and vibrancy of Puerto Rico. They are the epitome of traditional expressions of the island’s culture and heritage.

Most of the dance steps are synced to a specific rhythm and genre, and the music usually shares the same name. With many different styles performed, like bomba and plena, salsa, pop music, and urban sounds, here’s a quick guide to the beats you’ll hear as you explore the island.

Bomba

One of the most breathtaking demonstrations of the heritage Puerto Ricans carry is the bomba, an Afro-Caribbean rhythm played by two or more drums guided by the feet of the dancer. It is best described as a dialogue between a dancer and a drummer where the dancer approaches the musicians with steps called piquetes that shape a rhythmic discourse. The dance and song can go on for as long as the dancer continues to move.

The dance originally served as a catalyst for the oppressed so the lyrics that accompany the beat derive from a spiritual evocation reflecting the anger and sadness a performer felt about their social condition. The respect and emotional weight with which it is performed is captivating for spectators. 

Plena

Despite the fact that plena is often associated with Christmas time and parrandas, this genre is heard throughout the island year-round. The beat of the plena is played in a 2/4 time with differently sized and tuned hand-held drums called panderos. Just like the corrido in Mexico, the narrative of the songs details the struggles and burdens of the coastal regions of Puerto Rico.

Unlike the bomba, the steps become secondary to the lyrics and melody in the plena. And, although you can dance solo, plena is usually choreographed in pairs to a more blistering pace than bomba, with couples facing each other.

Décima

With a lot of European influence, the décima is traditional Holiday music in Puerto Rico. This style is accompanied by a cuatro, güiro, and guitar, and dates to the 17th century. Known to be the music from the countryside, the singers are called trovadores and the lyrics are often compared to poetry, given the very specific rules of composition.

This genre is divided in different styles, such as aguinaldos, seis chorreaos or bombeao, and danza. The choreography does not have a name per-se, but it is danced in pairs where the men and women would separate into lines, facing and crossing each other several times. 

Salsa

One of the most flavorful and spicy styles of music is the salsa. This genre – which names literally translates into “sauce” – was originated by the Puerto Rican community of New York and is a fusion of different rhythms and dances around the Caribbean. The music can be played fast or mellow, with bands and orchestras combined in a tight ensemble.

Like mambo and cumbia, salsa dancing incorporates fast footwork, turns and hip swaying over an eight-count time. Places with an active nightlife like La Placita de Santurce or Calle Loíza have many hot-spots where you can dance to this contagious rhythm every night.

Reggaetón

Another genre that was born in the island is reggaetón. Influenced by hip-hop, Latin American and Caribbean music, this style originated in the clubs of San Juan in the late 1990s and quickly went global. Its heavy percussive beat, marked by the bass, is called dembow and the commonly rapped lyrics have a hook which is repeated throughout the song.

The dance associated to this “underground” or urban movement is called perreo, meaning “doggie”, and its very sensual moves center on grinding with a partner facing the back of the other. With many artists like Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Wisin y Yandel, and Nicky Jam, the driving bass that marks the beat will have you swinging your hips and losing yourself to the music.

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