Puerto rico culture dance: Learning the Dances of Puerto Rico

Music & Dance | Discover Puerto Rico

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 Boricua culture and heritage, a unique mix of Taíno, Spanish, and African traditions. Most 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.

Learn the Dances of Puerto Rico

Make our «Bomba» dance and music your own, as we share with you the history behind this traditional genre from Puerto Rico.

La Bomba is a unique and typical genre of music from Puerto Rico


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 dancer’s feet. 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. 

Discover more about Bomba 


The plena is a genre of traditional music from Puerto Rico.


Even though plena is often associated with Christmas time and parrandas, this genre is heard throughout the Island year-round. The plena’s beat 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.

A Guide to Music in Puerto Rico

The cuatro is a musical instrument native to Puerto Rico and is considered a national symbol.


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 particular rules of composition.

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


Around the Island, you can find many hot spots where you can dance salsa all night. 


One of the most flavorful and spicy styles of music is 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. 



Another genre that was born on 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 repeated throughout the song.

The dance associated with this “underground” or urban movement is called perreo, meaning “doggie,” and its 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.


Puerto Rican Cultural Center — Music, Dance, and Culture of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican Cultural Center — Music, Dance, and Culture of Puerto Rico

Bailes de las Montaas (Seis)

Cultural History of Puerto Rican Music & Dance

Puerto Rico has a rich culture whose origin is based in
native Taino, Spanish and West African roots.
As we teach the traditional music and dances of the Puerto Rico,
we also teach the history and cultural significance behind them.
You can’t truly know a people, unless you understand their history!

Please enjoy these short articles our Founding Director,
Dr. Ana Mara Tekina-eir Maynard
has written to help students and the www community get to know
the richness of our Puerto Rican heritage.
Trained in oral history and traditions by Island masters,
our Director is a recognized resource on the mainland for Puerto Rico’s
cultural arts history and traditions.


    Taino Heritage

    • Taino History & Tainos Today
    • Taino Areyto (Areito)
    • Our Father/Padre Nuestro in Taino
    • A Journey back to our Primera Raiz
    • PRFDance Taino Research Project
    • Taino Language & Dictionaries
    • Videos
    • Additional Taino Resources — news, research, and more
    • El Concilio Taino Guatu-Ma-cu A Boriken

    Bailes de las Montaas

    • History behind Bailes de las Montaas
    • Seis Chorreao
    • Seis De Los Palitos
    • Videos



    • History behind Bomba
    • Santiago and the Vejigante
    • Yoruba Culture — West African Roots
    • Videos


    • History behind Plena
    • Videos


    Bailes de Salon

    • History behind Bailes de Salon
    • Danza
    • Lanceros
    • Videos

    More Traditions

    • Peleas De Gallos
    • Parrandas
    • The Baquine (Loiza)

Bailes de Salon (Danza)

    More History

    • The Pirate Cofresi
    • 16th to Early 19th Century
    • British Invasion of 1797
    • Santiago Apostol
    • On Coffee, Abolition of Slavery, Birth of Flag
    • Hurricanes History & Coffee History in Puerto Rico
    • Celestina Cordero, defender of the children
    • Baseball History in Puerto Rico
    • Early Migration History & Operation Boostrap (1940s)
    • The 1950s Great Migration & Garment Industry in NYC
    • Puerto Rican Migration to Hawaii (1900)
    • Taino & African Slave Rebellion in Puerto Rico

    Historic Photos

    • Library of Congress — Puerto Rico/All Collections
    • Library of Congress — Puerto Rico/Farm Security Admin Collection (B&W Photos)
    • Library of Congress — Puerto Rico/Farm Security Admin Collection (Color Photos)
    • Rural Puerto Rico — 1890s-1950s
    • Puerto Rico de Ayer — 1940s-1950s
    • Old Puerto Rico
    • Old Puerto Rico photos on Flicker

PRFD Newsletters «Ritmo Y Cultura» Archives (2000-2012)

References and Resources

**Original Quote,
«Puerto Rico nacio bailando con el Areyto indio.

..y siempre ha vivido danzando.»
From Cesareo Rosa-Nieves,
«Apuntes sobre los bailes in Puerto Rico,» Historia 1/2 (October 1951), p. 191 and
Cesareo Rosa-Nieves, «Voz Folklorica de Puerto Rico», Troutman Press 1967,
p. 83.

We hold the banner high for Puerto Rico everyday!

Thank you in advance for your donation of any size!!

For more information:

Dr. Ana Mara Tekina-eir Maynard

Puerto Rican Cultural Center

Cultural Center Address: 701 Tillery Street #13,
Austin TX 78702-3738 (Map & Directions)

Mailing Address: 15228 Quiet Pond Court, Austin TX 78728-4555

Phone: +1.512.251.8122
Email: [email protected]
Web: www.prfdance.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/prfdance

Copyright ©1997-2022 Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance, Inc. All rights
reserved. Terms of use.

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Puerto Rico dances

Another group of Latin American dances is Puerto Rican dances, which also have their own history and development.

The Spanish Seguidillas, Fandangos and Contradanzas helped shape the early folk forms of Puerto Rican rural dance or the so-called jíbaro, a culture that developed in the central highlands of the island. In the south of the country in Ponce in the second half of the 19th century, an elegant form of Danza dance was born.

Puerto Rican dance Danza

Danza was Puerto Rico’s first national music and dance genre, and like the Cuban danzón, it represented a subtle form of opposition to Spanish rule. The close contact of the couple in Latin American ballroom dancing opposed the Spanish traditions of female chastity and proper etiquette. Also often the lyrics in Danza were used to arouse nationalistic feelings in the population.

Danza begins with a paseo, or slow movement of a couple holding hands. In the Danza of colonial times, women carried fans, which they gracefully fanned themselves while dancing. Also, with the help of a fan, non-verbal contact with a partner took place, many gestures were invented using a fan.

Puerto Rico’s cultural identity revolved around the country’s main occupation, agriculture based on sugar cane, coffee, and tobacco. The black workers, both slave and free, who worked on these plantations created the bomba in the 18th century, a social dance that spread throughout the island among various sections of the population. The bomba is reminiscent of the Cuban rumba — the dancers create a circle in which at least two drummers, maracas players and singers participate.
There are various varieties of bomba such as yuba, sika and holandes. Different styles of bomba developed in different parts of the island: Ponce in the south, Mayagues in the west, Losiza in the north and Santurce.

Puerto Rican dance Bomba

Bomba is a traditional musical and dance style of Puerto Rico, which was formed as a result of mixing the traditions of several cultures (Icelandic, Spanish, West African and Taino people of the Antilles). During the long history of the existence of this dance, several styles of bomba dance were developed, and they differed depending on the region of the country: ponce in the south, mayagesh in the west, loiza in the north, and santerns between Loiza and San Juan.

Ponce style mixes Spanish and African elements. Ponce dancers wear long skirts and high-heeled shoes reminiscent of the European style of dress, but their heads are wrapped in scarves, a traditional African decoration. Dancers dress in slacks and a long-sleeved shirt.

Santurcet style is similar to ponce. Men constantly maintain a strict posture and practically do not make movements with their hands. The emphasis in the dance is on footwork. The woman in centure wears headscarves and wide flowing skirts worn over a starched white skirt.

Loisa style has more African moves, dancers use separate hips and shoulders (i.e., movements of only those parts of the body), twists of the torso, and uses more improvised steps than other styles.

The bomb dance is the main attraction during the Loiza festival in Santiago in mid-July. Whole processions go through the streets, carrying images of three saints, they are accompanied by open trucks with orchestras playing waltzes and dances. As the procession moves through the streets, anyone can join it and dance with the drummers. These dances always involve people depicting the four traditional festival images: the vegigante (a disguised deceiver, a symbol of Africa), a caballero (a horseman, a symbol of Spain), a viejo (one who wears rags, a symbol of an ordinary person), and a loca (men dressed as women who traditionally clean the streets of dirt).


Dancing Puerto Rico

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Dance Encyclopedia: Mambo

Dance Encyclopedia: Lambada

Bachata Dance

Reggaeton Dance

Puerto Rican Culture ✈️ Tour Log Book

There are festivals almost every weekend. Whether it’s a street parade, a neighborhood party, or a citywide festival. The country is known for hosting countless celebrations. Art is an expression of cultural nationalism. The government contributed by establishing the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. It sponsors and funds artistic activities and programs. The Institute played an important role in the restoration of the artistic past and the production of new art forms. Local artists have access to support from US institutions. The island has museums in Ponce and San Juan, as well as art galleries. The performing arts center in Santurce has facilities for theatre, concerts, opera and dance.


US occupation brought Protestant missions to a predominantly Catholic community. An estimated 30 percent of the population is now Protestant. All major denominations are represented. San Juan has a synagogue but no mosque. The Catholic Church had great power in Spain. But Catholics tend towards populist religion. The latter is wary of the established church and its hierarchy. Many people consider themselves devout and treat others with compassion. African slaves introduced brucheria (witchcraft).

European spiritualism became popular in the nineteenth century. This is the most important alternative practice. It coexists with established religions. Many people consider these practices equally legal. Spiritualist mediums are predominantly women. They conduct divination and seances at home. Many have become successful and even rich. Cuban immigrants brought santeria. It is a mixture of Yoruba and the Catholic religion. Spiritualism and santeria merged into santerismo. They all worship a hierarchy of presiding saints and deities and practice divination.

Music and dance

Dance and music are important in describing the energy and vibrancy of Puerto Rico. They are the embodiment of the traditional expressions of the culture and heritage of the island. Most dance steps are synchronized to a specific rhythm and genre. And music usually goes by the same name. One of the most exciting displays of Puerto Rican heritage is the bomb. An Afro-Caribbean rhythm played with two or more drums controlled by the dancer’s feet. This is best described as a dialogue between a dancer and a drummer. The dancer approaches the musicians with steps called pickets that form a rhythmic discourse. The dance and song can continue as long as the dancer keeps moving. Initially, dance served as a catalyst for the oppressed. Therefore, the lyrics accompanying the beat are based on a spiritual resurrection, reflecting anger and sadness.

Décima is a traditional holiday music in Puerto Rico with a great influence in Europe. This style is accompanied by the cuatro, guiro and guitar and dates back to the 17th century. The singers are called trovadores. And lyrics are often compared to poetry, given the special rules of composition. This genre is divided into different styles such as aguinaldos, seis chorreaos or bombeao and danza. The choreography has no name, but is performed by couples. Men and women separate into lines, facing each other and crossing several times. One of the most piquant musical styles is salsa. The genre originated in the Puerto Rican community of New York. Salsa is a fusion of different rhythms and dances from the Caribbean. Music can be played quickly or quietly, with an orchestra. The salsa dance includes fast footwork, twists and hip swings for eight counts.

Other musical styles

Plena is a musical genre that originated in Puerto Rico with African, Spanish and Caribbean influences. Traditional instruments of this style include pandero (hand drums of different sizes), guitar, cuatro (small guitar). As well as the accordion and often brass instruments such as trumpet and saxophone. For decades it was considered folk music. And in rural communities it was called the «song newspaper». Because the songs were about the latest news or gossip in the city. Like the bomb, this style almost disappeared in the middle of the twentieth century. But it continued to be played by folklore musical groups that performed during the holidays. Bomba and plena have recently made a resurgence. There are even modern plena bands that can often be heard at city festivals and events.

Another genre that originated on the island is reggaeton. It was influenced by hip-hop, Latin American and Caribbean music. This style originated in the clubs of San Juan in the late 1990s and quickly spread around the world. His bass-marked heavy percussive beat is called a debow. And the commonly read lyrics have a hook that repeats throughout the song. The songs include both rapping and singing in a fast-paced, pulsating rhythm. Famous reggaeton artists include Daddy Yankee, Wisin and Yandel, Don Omar, Nicky Jam, Tego Calderon, Alexis and Fido, Luny Tunes and many others. Reggaeton has also influenced the development of Latin Trap music spearheaded by Bad Bunny, Ozuna, De la Ghetto and Anuel AA which fuses mainstream trap with reggaeton beats and Spanish-language lyrics.


Puerto Rican writers have made significant contributions to journalism. And also — other literary genres in the second half of the 1800s. The authors created works that have become part of the national cultural heritage of the island. They especially cultivated poetry, the novel, political, economic and historical essays. El Gibaro by Manuel Alonso (1849) and Charca by Manuel Zeno Gandia (1894) are among the most important novels published in Puerto Rico in the nineteenth century. Other important contributions of the nineteenth century were made by writers such as Alejandro Tapia i Rivera (1862–1882), José Gauthier Benítez (1851–1880), Lola Rodríguez de Tio (1843–1924), Jose Julian Acosta. (1825-1892) and Salvador Brau (1842-1912).

The work of Acosta and Brau appeared in Puerto Rico at the dawn of the modern era. The collection includes an annotated edition of Acosta and Fray Íñigo Abbad’s 1782 Historia Geográfica, Civil y Natural de la Isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico. Brau, led the liberal political party in the 1890s. The author is best known for his political essays, which he published in local newspapers. However, Brau’s book, Puerto Rico y Su Historia, made a major contribution to history. The collection also includes Brau’s classic historical study, The Colonization of Puerto Rico (1907) and Acosta’s 1875 work «Los Partidos Políticos».


The most impressive of the island’s crafts are Santos. These carved religious figures have been produced since the 1500s. The artisans who make them are called santeros. From clay, gold, stone or cedar they carve figures of saints. Usually 8 to 20 inches tall. Art historians consider the carving of the santos to be Puerto Rico’s greatest contribution to the visual arts. The earliest figures were in the Baroque style, indicating a strong Spanish influence. When carving santos, craftsmen often used handmade tools. Sometimes vegetable dyes and even human hair were used. Perhaps the most popular group of santos is the Three Kings. Some of the figures on the island can be seen at Capilla del Cristo in Old San Juan.

Another Puerto Rican craft has experienced a great revival. Mundillos (woven fabrics) originated in Spain. They are the product of bobbin lace. This type of lace is five centuries old. The first lace made in Puerto Rico was called torchon («beggar’s lace»). Early examples of beggarly lace were considered to be of poor quality. But today, craftsmen have turned fabric into an exquisite art form. Lace ribbons, called entrados, have two straight borders. Whereas another traditional style, the pentilla, has both a straight and scalloped border. The best place to see the craft of the mundillo is the Folk Arts Center at the Dominican Monastery in Old San Juan.

Perhaps the most popular of all Puerto Rican crafts are scary papier-mâché masks. A tangle of menacing horns, a vicious expression and bulging eyes of half-demons — half-animals. During carnival, they are worn by costumed revelers called vejigantes. The Vejigants represented the Devil in the sacred battle between good and evil. The vejigante were originally demons. They appeared at the Spanish patronal festival of Santiago (St. James). Since the representatives of the Moors fought with the Spanish knights. Puerto Rico connected this Spanish procession with a marked tradition brought by slaves from Africa. Some historians believe that the Taino were also skilled mask makers.

Fine Arts

Puerto Rican authors work in all genres and styles. Printing production is varied and fruitful. Painting traditions date back to the eighteenth century with José Campeche. The artist specialized in religious and portrait painting. Campeche is recognized as the island’s first artist. The works of the Impressionists Francisco Oller are kept in the museums of Paris. Twentieth century artists were especially successful in print media.

But the art of Puerto Rico goes far beyond museums. Visitors will stumble upon art wherever they go. Hundreds of square feet of murals pasted on bridges, buildings and even parking spaces. These urban pieces tell the story of Puerto Rico from different (and colorful) perspectives, touching on socio-political themes.

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