3 Charts Explain How Our Latin Dance Community is Changing

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As a salsa dancer, this chart from Google Trends scares the shit out of me:

 

Salsa chart on google trends

 

Let me explain. Google Trends analyzes Google search volume (duh) for every word. The above chart analyzes the search term “salsa” (the dance, not the delicious condiment or musical genre).

The total search volume is unknown but we do know that since 2004, peak search volume was in July 2005. And we know that today, search volume is 62% lower than at it’s peak. This is a troubling trend.

The trend is not consistent across all Latin dances. Check out the Bachata chart over the same period:

 

Bachata Google Trends chart

 

Today’s Bachata popularity is only 1% down from it’s peak in April 2014. Search volume has risen since 2004 by a wopping 86%! Kizomba also shows growth over the past 12 years:

 

Kizomba Google Trend chart

 

Salsa dancing still has way more total search volume than either Bachata or Kizomba:

 

salsa, bachata, kizomba google trend chart

 

But why the huge drop in salsa dancing interest? Beyond data, this trending down of salsa proves out anecdotally in real life. I just moved to San Francisco last month. Guess which long running congress just got canceled? Yep, the San Francisco Salsa Congress.

Now put on your big boy/girl face and cover the baby’s ears. You’re not going to like what I’m about to say:

Salsa dancing will not be around forever.

I know, it’s unthinkable. But salsa as I know it (NY/LA style) has only been around since the 1980’s when Eddie Torres codified it. Plenty of extinct dance styles were around for way longer before going the way of the dodo.

There is no call to action in this post. But I will call you to awareness. We should all be aware of how our Latin dance community is growing and changing. I hope you found this post informative. As always, I appreciate your feedback!

17 Comments

  • David Sander says:

    Since I started in Salsa dance in 2005 in Pittsburgh, the numbers have dropped off here and one of the long time local promoters has noticed numbers also dropped off in Florida. Part of this may be that the big Salsa music hits are no longer as big and attracting the attention of young people. Some Salsa dancers have left for other genres of dance, bachata or even Argentine Tango which is a difficulty increment up from Salsa.
    One thing that has to happen for our growth is that Salsa as a social dance has to be fun and welcoming in order to have return attendance by newbies. While I always try to be reassuring and patient with them since a new dancer will be exciting to dance with in two years, I’m not sure this is always the case with other leads. If Salsa dancing becomes too impressive, it may become less accessible to starters who normally would find a new home at Salsa dances. So part of the problem is in keeping Salsa a true social experience and being humble enough to learn from those new souls who try it for an evening. Part of this is the other values that dance brings, I initially found a place where healthy active people meet, cultural background is not a problem, and I enjoyed the mental challenge of learning something utterly new after the age of 50.
    One of the development problems for the Salsa community is that while we need good promoters, often the competitiveness of fiscal interests leads the promoters to think of taking students and dancers from other venues as opposed to the objective of growing the dance community overall.
    One of the local Pittsburgh events, Salsa Fuego that has matured impressively over the past five years and has changed totally in the character of its organization. While hopefully conceived as a totally fair sharing of what the professional talents had in Pittsburgh, it lost these participants until we have under ten people who run the event basically in a collaborative manner. We may need more collaborative work like this and an infusion of new blood to keep Salsa young and fun.

    • Rob Castellucci says:

      All good points, David. Making an environment that is ‘sticky’ for first time dancers is critical. Without new blood, things deteriorate quickly.

      From my own experience, clubs within universities are a great way of building the community up. But it can also create friction if they don’t charge for classes and local studios do.

  • DancerInLearning says:

    You google what you don’t know. In my home town, everyone knows that salsa is a dance, but when I say I dance bachata or, worse, kizomba, the reply is “I have never heard of that dance”.

    I would guess that this is the biggest factor to the trend.

    But sure, another big trend is that salsa dancers that only danced salsa because it was the only thing the clubs played and the schools taught have gotten interested in bachata and/or kizomba and some have switched in part or fully to that dance instead. Will this lead to the demise of salsa? No. But a slight decline, most certainly unless we can recruit MORE people to the dance community. Any community not getting an influx of new members and becoming to elitist will decline, without a doubt.

    I always say that we get the dance community we deserve. Unless we, as a community, work to welcome new dancers and give support and inspiration to each other the community will never grow. If we complain that everyone is dancing Sensual bachata/Urban Kiz/On1 and nor give classes in (Dominican) bachata/(Traditional) Kizomba/Cuban salsa nor play that kind of music we will see that flavor being passed over in favor of the one that is more exposed.

    Also, I think the dance community as a whole will benefit more of more diverse dancers, not only purists that only do one dance. It is ok to have a prefered dance, but those that speak down at other dances/flavors than the one they see as the only one, only give an air of elitism that scares many beginners away and eventually damages the dance community as a whole.

    My recipe is: Be open, be inclusive, be curious, and, most of all, dance.

    • Rob Castellucci says:

      That’s the thing about quantitative data. It tells you what, not why. There are a few possible reasons you would search ‘salsa dancing’. 1)You have never heard of it and want to understand what it is 2)You have heard of it and want to understand what it is 3)You have heard of it and are thinking about picking it up. If you are native to the U.S. (similar data trends exist for U.S. only) then I would rule out #1 for a meaningful portion because it’s deeply ingrained in our cultural history. That leaves #2 and #3. Both of these lead to the path of people dancing and the fact that the trend has gone down significantly tells me that there is less interest in dancing it, not that there is complete awareness. This is just my opinion, but I can see the reasoning on your side as well 🙂

      Good recipe!

  • Daniel says:

    Hi Rob! Your post inspired me and I decided to sit down and study the trends for myself. What interesting is that if you search salsa, bachata, kizomba, blues, swing, tango, and even ceroc, ALL these terms have been either declining or plateauing slowly but surely over the past couple of years.

    • Rob Castellucci says:

      I do see this decline in the past year with Kizomba, but bachata seems to be going consistent over the past 2 years?

      Haven’t checked the others but if it were true, I’d say this could be a sign of our times. People are less active and screen time makes up a greater part of our day. Now somebody has to develop a Pokemon Go for dancers 😉

  • Ruud says:

    It keeps getting easier to find party information online on Facebook events. That used to be harder in the past so I find myself Googling less.

    I haven’t seen a real big decline in parties over here in Europe. Seems relatively stable for years and parties only seem to get busier and busier… Also huge amounts of festivals, and yes, sometimes they get cancelled, but we have a big festival here every month or so so I don’t really see a big decline over here. Also kizomba is growing massively over here, bachata sensual too, however zouk parties are harder to find.

    So there could be other explanations?

    • Rob Castellucci says:

      Absolutely, lots of other explanations are possible. However the best control that I can find for some explanations is the other dance styles. That is, we see a big dip in salsa and we don’t see a big dip in bachata. Assuming the two populations use Facebook equally as much and in the same way, I think we can rule out the increased prevalence of Facebook events as a factor in reducing Google searches for salsa.

      That’s comforting to hear that the European scene is doing well. Where are you at?

      One possibility another commenter gave was that each dance style rides the wave of the music. Bachata music has hit mainstream and salsa remains more of a niche musical genre (though a very large niche at that). Put another way, salsa doesn’t pass the “car test”. How often are you walking down the street and hear a car roll by blasting salsa music? Never. How often do you hear them blasting bachata music? I can recollect 6 times over the past year. Horribly anecdotal test, but the qualitative data can give a hint on where to snoop around with quantitative research.

  • Kerry Zhang says:

    I recreated the graph since I thought that it was quite interesting that kizomba was so much more popular compared to bachata according to your graph, which does not at all correspond to what I’ve experienced here in Sweden or in Asia.

    In your graph, you’re comparing “kizomba” as a music genre against “bachata” and “salsa” of the dance category.
    I agree that “salsa” has to be within the category of dance, since the term is ambiguous and can also refer to the sauce. However, for “bachata” and “kizomba”, there is no ambiguity and hence I think using the raw search term is better. Using these settings, I obtain the following result: https://db.tt/fctiyaHy

    We now see that bachata is searched for about 2.5 times as often as kizomba, which is more in line with my experience. Keep in mind though that in this graph, salsa is restricted to the category of dance and Google’s classification algorithm probably does not manage to capture all dance related “salsa”-searches, so the blue line should probably be shifted up when compared to the raw search terms of “bachata” and “kizomba”.

    Regardless, the downwards trend of salsa is still there, although as a bachatero, I still have hope for the future!

    • Rob Castellucci says:

      You are correct, I was using the music genre for kizomba because there was no dance style category. I think bachata and kizomba are less ambiguous than salsa, but still technically ambiguous since both have a dance style and a musical genre associated with their name.

      Thinking on it, you’re right the search methodology should be tweaked. To compare apples to apples, at least with bachata and kizomba, both should be the raw search term.

      But your recreation serves the purpose of understanding bachata vs. kizomba more objectively. I guess that goes to show that you can get data to say whatever you want it to!

      I wonder how symbiotic the bachata-salsa relationship is. Can bachata continue trending up while salsa continues trending down or do the two rely on one another for mutual growth at some point? I’m sure there is a fancy economics graph that can be drawn here to represent this relationship, calling all economists 🙂

  • Melissa West-Koistila says:

    Great article, Rob. This is a topic my friends and I talk about frequently. I believe that salsa is becoming less popular because it takes a lot of time to learn how to do well, and there is a lack of new “Salsa” music being produced. In my local community, attendance in Salsa classes is low, but attendance in Bachata, Kizomba, and Casino, aka “Cuban Salsa” classes is rising. New Bachata, Kizomba, and Timba music, (for Casino dancing), seems to be produced daily, giving a fresh musical edge to the above-mentioned dances. While Casino partner dancing, (not Rueda de Casino), is quite difficult to master, I think that people can pick up Bachata and Kizomba much more easily than Salsa or Mambo. Also — I think the “sexy” factor of Bachata and Kizomba appeals to young people and attracts them to these styles over Salsa or Mambo.

  • Interesting article Rob. I think another thing to consider is that Facebook has dramatically transformed the way people search for information. Back in 2004 Facebook was not a thing and it has been creeping its way up to becoming a source of information and taking away market share from Google for a while now. Salsa seems to have lost some of its popularity overall but I think this trend will be cyclical. Bachata and Kizomba are quite intimidating dances and Salsa is still far more approachable for beginner dancers. DancerInLearning made a good point about Googling what you don’t know. Salsa has become a fairly mainstream term these days and most people would probably know what it means. Hopefully Salsa will live on for its positive energy and the happiness it brings so many.

    • Rob Castellucci says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Scott. I remember the good ‘ol days before Facebook and a lot has changed. While Facebook has definitely changed how we search for information, Google has grown in search volume from 86 billion queries in 2004 to 1.2 trillion queries in 2012! I will give you that the number would be higher without Facebook, but their core business is doing just fine 🙂

      Interesting you feel that way about bachata and kizomba. It seems they all have aspects that can be intimidating depending on what you care about. For bachata and kizomba, I sometimes find it intimidating to be in such a sensual position with my partner. However, I don’t think the skill required is as intimidating as salsa.

  • Scott Fuhrmeister says:

    The amount of internet users also exploded between those years from well under a billion to 3 – 4 billion, they could have just stayed in the game at the same level and have a 4x gain with no other changes.

    I think there’s a few more things at play here also, Google has over time gotten much better at classifying one thing from another, Salsa can be a sauce or a dance and early on I’m sure they would have had a really hard time in classifying the two which would have led to a much higher result of false positives in the earlier days. The category for kizomba is the music genre and not specific for dance so is hard to compare it against bachata dancing.

    I think that Google has it’s place for certain things and would have gained a huge uptick from all the younger audience that suddenly got online with the introduction of smart phones and cheap computers. It would be interesting to take the trend graph for something similar to the search term salsa that has clearly been going up in popularity and compare the results (I just can’t think of any terms off the top of my head).

    I was referring to the closeness of Kizomba and Bachata. I have met a lot of girls (and guys) who outright refuse to dance it with someone they don’t know. It’s a very sensual position and some people require a level of trust because they’ve had bad experiences or just feel uncomfortable being that close to anyone let alone a stranger. To me the skill involved to dancing any of the three is pretty similar, just different.

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