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What is the Conga?

The conga was particularly popular in Cuba.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2014
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If you attended a party in the 1950s that included dancing, chances are you would have been asked to join a conga line, a simple march of three steps and a kick done to a Latin beat. The dance conga is Latin American in origin, and initially was performed as a part of Carnivale celebrations. The strong rhythm is marked out by the conga drum, an African drum played with the hands.

A conga line is merely a group of dancers that stand in back of each other, gently holding on to the person in front’s waist. Music for the conga is normally 2/4 or 4/4 time and unless you’ve got a room full of good dancers, you’ll likely have the line fall apart in a few minutes. Still that irresistible beat of the African-inspired drum during Carnivale celebrations got most people to their feet to have a couple of minutes of fun.

The dance was particularly popular in Cuba, where it is today called the comparsa. In America, the dance became almost instantly popular after Desi Arnaz performed it in the 1930s. For the next 20 years, conga lines would be standard at most dance parties. You may still find the occasion line form at a wedding or party, but popularity of the dance and knowledge of the steps has declined.

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If you are called upon to dance in a conga, it’s really not hard. Take small steps, one for each beat, and make sure your kick is to the side, not in front of you or in back. You don’t want to kick the other people in the line. Keeping the movements small can help hold the integrity of the line.

If you happen to want to lead the line, get a good sense of the layout of the room before you start. It doesn’t help to lead your line into a row of chairs or a romantically entwined bride and groom. At a wedding, the bride or groom usually gets the option of leading the line. Brides wearing a long train or a very full skirt might want to avoid being in the lead if they’re concerned about keeping their dress intact.

Don’t expect the dance to last for long. Unless you’re attending a party with a group of dedicated dancers, you probably will only hold the line in place for about a third of a song, maybe a minute or two at most. If you’re attending a party where you’d like to form a conga line, you might want to the let the DJ or musicians know. They can announce a line forming, which can lead to a big line, and more fun for the participants.

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