St. Louis International Salsa Bachata Congress | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis International Salsa Bachata Congress

Batá drums are a percussion instrument native to Nigeria, but now also heavily used in Latino countires.
Eric Panser | Flickr

Since 1996, Club Viva in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood has been the spot for locals to get their international music fix. It’s been a home to dance enthusiasts and partygoers alike, who attend themed nights for Latin music and reggae.

This music of the Caribbean and Latin America draws heavily on African roots. The layers of Latino identity reflect Latin America’s long, oppressive colonial history, when indigenous Americans, Europeans, Africans and Asians intermixed. 

More African slaves were sent to Spanish and Portuguese colonies — particularly those in the Caribbean — than to North America. Their music infused the culture around them, providing the building blocks for styles such as salsa, rumba, merengue and bachata, as well as serving as a major influence on jazz and pop.

Juliana Paiva (left) and Hugo Trejo (right) dance at Convergence Dance and Body Center. October 19, 2019
Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

Carmen Guynn has been dancing to Latin music for more than 20 years, and in recent years, she's had a lot more company on the dance floor.

But even though the number of St. Louisans dancing to the music of Latin America is growing, Guynn often finds herself explaining and teaching the different styles of music she focuses on — salsa, merengue and bachata of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Sometimes she compares the music to North American styles. 

“Bachata is a dance from the Dominican Republic,” Guynn said. “When people ask me, it’s almost like the blues. It’s kind of sad and lonely, so bachata kind of tells that story.”