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Round Dance Tips by Tim Eum—

Latin Motion and Technique

Latin dances such as rumba, cha, mambo, and salsa are characterized by a sensual, undulating motion that occurs mostly in the lower body (i.e. hips) and legs. This latin hip/leg motion and other techniques are a titillating part of the dance, but takes some knowledge and practice to do correctly. The tips in this article can help.

Tip 1: SETTLE all your weight onto one leg.

Start by standing with your weight on both feet. Now shift all your weight onto one leg keeping the leg straight and "settling." Note how your hip will "bulge" out when you settle. Note also that you did not "push" the hip out nor did your shoulders tip but instead stayed level. A common mistake by dancers is to try to do latin hip motion by pushing the hip out which leads to their upper body "leaning." Alternately pushing first one hip out and then the other leads to the upper body "waving" back and forth in an unattractive way. Simply "settling" your weight into the hip will cause the "bulge" while keeping the shoulders level.

Tip 2: One leg STRAIGHT the other leg bent.

The leg that you settle your weight on should remain absolutely straight. The other "free" leg should bend at the knee.

Tip 3: Have FORWARD poise.

From a standing position, keep your back straight and move your upper body slightly over your toes. This forward poise is a characteristic of latin dancing and if done well will help you keep on your toes.

Tip 4: Take most steps with the inside edge of the BALL of foot.

Take almost all latin steps by contacting the floor first with the inside edge of the ball of the foot taking the step. If you have forward poise and all your weight is on one leg, the other "bent" leg will naturally be able to move in such a way that the ball of the foot of that leg will contact the floor first. If you angle the foot out diagonally instead of keeping it pointed straight ahead, it will enable you to contact the floor first with the inside edge of the ball of the foot. This will help you to get a "roll" motion onto your foot helping smooth the settling action of the body and thus making the latin hip motion easier.

Tip 5: Stay LEVEL.

You are settled on one leg when you begin moving. Stay level! When taking the next step do not rise up. Simply take the next step and as you straighten that leg, settle into it. The settling into the leg will allow you to stay level even as you are straightening the leg and "rolling" onto it.

Tip 6: Use FIGURE EIGHT motion in the hips.

Doing the first five tips above will give you a good latin motion but it will be limited to side "bulges" as you settle. To get a truly exciting latin motion, make it two-dimensional by adding a "figure eight" motion to the hips. As you roll onto the leg and take weight, allow the hip to rotate first forward, then around (toward left when stepping onto left leg or toward right when stepping onto right leg), and back again. Doing one circle with one hip and then one circle with the other hip on two consecutive steps will make a "figure eight" motion.

Tip 7: Lead with UPPER BODY when going sideways.

All of the tips above have concentrated on what happens with the lower body -- the hips, the legs, and the feet. Those are most important for a latin feel. However, you can add even more by leading each step with the upper body. Keeping the shoulders level (remember tip 1), move the chest area of the upper body toward the direction of step when going sideways.

Tip 8: Use "Train Coupling" HANDHOLD and firm lead arms.

Much of time the only contact you have with your partner in latin dancing is with the lead hands (man's left and woman's right). Leading and following is not possible unless movement can be definitively felt through the lead hands. The best way to make this happen is to use a "train coupling" type of handhold and to keep the lead arms firm. The man holds his hand with fingers together and "cupped," i.e., curved toward the palm. The man holds this cupped hand toward partner with the thumb side up. The woman also forms a "cup" with her right hand and places her fingers over the top of the man's hand with her thumb side toward the left. If the man and woman keep their lead arms firm then the man can "push" forward with his lead hand and the woman will correspondingly move backwards by the same amount that the man moves. If the man "pulls" with his lead hand the woman will correspondingly move forward. Keeping the arm "firm" means that the entire arm (i.e., especially the elbow) remains in the same position relative to the body. If the man "pushes" and the woman's elbow goes behind her, the arm is not firm.

Tip 9: Lead with the HEEL of the foot when doing a crossing step.

Some latin figures involve crossing steps. These steps are still done on the ball of the foot, but when moving the foot in a crossing step, the foot should be angled such that the heel crosses first. Doing this will help the dancer keep their body and shoulders more parallel toward their partner. If the foot is turned so that the toe crosses thru first, there is a tendency also to turn the body the same way which turns the dancer away from their partner.

Tip 10: Use the FREE ARM to accentuate movements.

In most figures, only one hand/arm is connected to the partner. The other is free and should be used to accentuate your dancing. In general, if the free arm/hand is away from partner then extend it out. If the free arm/hand is close to partner then wrap it in toward you or "comb your hair" or "caress partner" or do something else with it that adds to the fun and feeling of the dance.



Tim Eum originally prepared these Tips for Calls 'n' Cues, (WASCA). This series on Latin Motion was presented on-line, May, 2011. Reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September, 2011.




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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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