Around the World: The Rhythms that Make us Move

One of the things that makes Zumba® a unique workout is the trip around the world we get to take during classes. You can probably easily recognize the four core rhythms typically heard in class – salsa, merengue, cumbia, and reggaeton – but do you know the difference between a kuduro and kwela? Between Bollywood and Bhangra? Today, we’re sharing some of our favorite world rhythms.


The continent of Africa is extremely diverse, of course, representing over 50 countries and territories. It’s also the birthplace of sounds found in many popular music genres, including Samba, Blues, Jazz, Reggae, Hip Hop, and Rock. African rhythms that you might hear in a Zumba® class include Kwela, which appropriately means “Get up!” in Zulu, a jazzy street genre known for use of the tin whistle. Another popular African rhythm is Kuduro, originating in Angola in the 1980s. Though the music gained popularity as a way to celebrate life during wartime, it can now widely be heard at parties and clubs and is known for blending African percussion with Caribbean calypso beats.


India is known for having many types of music, each with its own movements, costumes, hand gestures, and even facial expressions! Perhaps the most popular Indian dance form is Bollywood, which is also a type of movie originating in Mumbai in the 1970s. Bollywood dances merge traditional Indian moves with Western influences, and tend to mirror the feelings in the lyrics of each song. Another genre, Bhangra, is a far older and more traditional dance originally performed to celebrate harvest season. Today, Bhangra can be found at all sorts of celebrations, such as weddings and parties.


Though Brazilian dance is known best for its hip-shaking samba moves, there are many rhythms born in this South American country. One of the most popular, Axé, sounds a bit like reggae with Brazilian beats mixed in. The rhythm uses deep percussion, born from bands that would bring their drums into the streets to perform for their communities. Another beautiful sound from Brazil is Frevo. It has an interesting history, emerging in the 1800s out of the Brazilian army! Frevo is upbeat and typically played by brass bands, with moves that include jumps, squats, and flips.


Jamaican music has taken over clubs and dance parties all over the world. It’s hard to go to a party and not hear at least a few Dancehall songs, especially those from popular artists like Sean Paul and Mr. Vegas. This genre is similar to reggae but has distinct features – a faster rhythm, more rapping, and patterns that follow patois, a Jamaican dialect. Before dancehall and reggae was Ska, a blend of jazz, R&B, Calypso, and other rhythms. It became popular in the 1950s as music that gets people dancing. Fun fact: Ska not only paved the way for reggae and Dancehall, but it also provided the foundation for the music that dominated American airwaves in the mid-90s (think No Doubt and Reel Big Fish).

If you’re a licensed Zumba Instructor and member of the Zumba Instructor Network™ and would like to learn more about incorporating these rhythms into your classes, check out our e-learning courses here!


Jennifer Lauren

Jennifer Lauren is a Zumba® instructor from New York. She blogs about teaching Zumba® classes and all things fitness at



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