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Bolero — "The Other Rumba"

by Jack & Judy DeChenne 

Many consider the modern Bolero to be one of the most beautiful, graceful, and romantic dances ever created. The original Spanish Bolero was invented by Sebastian Cerézo in about 1780, who used the Spanish folk Boléro as a basis for his French ballet. It was then popularized in the 1930's at the same time that one of the most famous examples of Bolero music was written, by French composer Maurice Ravel—Bolero, 1928—which was danced by Bronislava Nijinska. In round dancing, we use many of the names and movements from this modern Bolero but have "normalized" others to be more in line with other Latin rhythm movements used in round dancing. The current Bolero done in our hobby started from three dances that were released at approximately the same time in 1996 by three different major choreographers. It is a unique amalgamation of Mambo (in its basic footwork pattern), Rumba (in its arm styling, and flowing movement), Tango (lots of CBMP), Waltz (having rise & fall), and finally it is like a Smooth rhythm in that we dance it in closed dance position with firm body contact. In addition, unlike other Latin rhythms in round dancing, there is almost no Cuban motion used, except in specialized movements like Hip Rocks. The Bolero in round dancing uses a strong rising action in the first half measure, followed by a quick return to the starting level for the rocking steps. All of these factors combine to create a very sensuous and powerful dancing experience. 

Some Of the Standard Bolero Figures — 

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BASIC:  Starting in the Bolero closed position, with the men's left and the ladies' right feet free and a lowered or starting level, the movement consists of a placing of the free foot to the side for the men and to the side and slightly forward for the ladies. The body is moved over the foot and then both rise to make this become a slow timing action. Second, place the men's right foot slightly back and the ladies' slightly forward to take weight and lower back to the starting height in a quick timing. Third, step forward for the men and back for the ladies for the second quick. This is a strong step with lots of modern feeling. We feel this should be a heel/flat for the men in the first measure and the same for the ladies in the second measure. In the second measure, the men and ladies reverse footwork. 

FORWARD BREAK:  Similar to the second measure of the Basic, the movement starts in either closed position or in left open facing, with the men's right and the ladies' left feet free in the starting, lowered level. The movement consists of a placing of the men's right foot to the side and forward and to the side for the ladies. The body is moved over the foot, and then both rise to make this become a slow, smooth motion. A lowering action before the men do their forward checking step allows a stronger traveling motion than in the Basic and helps develop the characteristic breaking apart of the upper bodies in the first quick. The ladies are lead into a strong back action. Men then recover back and ladies recover forward in the second quick. 

CROSS BODY (or Whip):  This action normally starts in the Bolero closed position or in open facing, with the men's left and the ladies' right feet free and in the lowered or starting level. During the slow action, the men place the left foot back and side and move the body over the foot, and then rise while turning 1/8 to 1/4 left-face. The ladies follow the men's body and place the right foot side and forward moving the body over the foot and then rising. The men place the right foot slightly back in a slipping action and lower to the starting level in a quick with strong left-face turn. The ladies take a second forward step with a strong lowering to turn left-face to face the men. Finally, a forward step for the men and back for the ladies for the second quick. This is again a strong step with lots of modern feeling. 

HALF MOON:  This movement starts facing the partner with right hands joined and the men's right and ladies' left feet free. We are again starting in the lowered level as with the previous Bolero moves. Starting with the slow action, the men place the right foot to the side and slightly forward and move the body over the foot, then rise while turning 1/4 right-face. The ladies place the left foot side and then move the body over the foot. Ladies then rise while turning 1/4 left-face to a left shadow position. Men and ladies both place the free foot forward and lower back to the starting level in a quick. The second quick is a strong back step for both with the men turning 1/4 left-face and bringing the joined right hands thru. The ladies follow the men's lead and turn 1/4 right-face on her strong back step to end facing partner. In the slow to start the second measure, the men place the left foot back and side and then move the body over the foot and turn the body left-face 1/8. During this slow, the ladies place the right foot side and forward and then move the body over the foot to then rise with a slight right-face turn. The men then place the right foot slightly back in a slipping action and lower to the starting level in a quick with a 3/8 left-face turn. In this quick for the ladies, she takes a forward step with a strong lowering to turn left-face to face partner. The last quick is a strong forward step for the men and back for the ladies, remembering the modern feeling of this step. 

UNDERARM TURN (or Alemana):  Starting in either open facing or closed position, with the men's left and the ladies' right feet free, and in a lowered or starting level, the men place the left foot to the side and move the body over the foot to rise and complete the slow. The ladies place their right foot side and slightly forward, taking the body over the foot, and rise. In the first quick, the men place the right foot back, leading the ladies to cross in front and then, as both lower, the men lead the ladies to turn right-face 5/8 under joined lead hands. The men step forward left in the second quick while the ladies step forward right and turn right-face 3/8 to face partner. 

TURNING BASIC:  As the name implies, this move uses the Basic action described above. The turning action starts with the first slow. As the men place the left foot to the side and moves the body over the foot, he uses a right-face body rotation as he rises. When he places the right foot back, he turns strongly left-face using strong contra body action and lowers. The ladies step forward left following the men's rotation and lower. The third is a forward step for the men and back for the ladies for the second quick to complete the 1/4 to 1/2 turn. The second measure is the same as the normal Basic. 

OPEN BREAK:  This figure starts in either closed position or in left open facing, with the men's right and the ladies' left feet free, in the starting lowered level. The movement consists of a placing of the men's right foot to the side and forward and to the side for the ladies. The body is moved over the foot and then both rise to make this a slow timing action. The men place the left foot back and the ladies place the right foot back and both lower in the first quick. Men and ladies then step forward in the second quick. 

RIGHT PASS:  This movement starts with the men placing the left foot forward and side, leading the ladies past the men's right side, as the men move the body over the foot and rise in the first slow, with about 1/4 right-face body rotation. The ladies place the right foot forward and side to move the body over the foot with slight right-face rotation. The men place the right foot back and lower, completing the total 1/2 rotation. The ladies place the left foot forward and turn 1/2 left-face under joined lead hands as she lowers. The second quick has the men stepping forward left as ladies step back right. 

LEFT PASS:  As another passing action, this movement starts with the men placing the left foot forward and side, leading the ladies to the men's left side, as the men move the body over the foot and rise in the first slow, with about 1/8 right-face body rotation. The ladies place the right foot forward and side to move the body over the foot with strong right-face rotation. Men place the right foot back and lower, turning about 5/8 left-face. Ladies place the left forward and turn left-face, as she lowers. The second quick has the men stepping forward left as ladies step back right. 

NEW YORKER:  This is one of the Bolero movements that has a "normalized" round dancing name. It may be started with either foot free and from almost any position. The move starts with both placing the free foot to the side and slightly forward for the person with the right foot free. The body is moved over the foot and both rise with a 1/4 turn to the direction of the side step. The next step is forward and both lower during the first quick. Both then step back strongly with a 1/4 turn to face partner. 

AIDA to AIDA LINE with HIP ROCKS:  A movement that also uses a "normalized" name, this is a movement that takes 1 1/2 measures to complete. Because of this, the second measure is normally completed by another action, such as Hip Rocks or a Switch Lunge. Again, this movement may be started with either foot free and from almost any position. The move starts with both placing the free foot to the side and slightly forward for the person with the right foot free. The body is moved over the foot and both rise with a 1/4 turn to the direction of the side step to complete the first slow. The next step is forward, and both lower while turning back to face for the first quick. Continuing the turning action into the second quick, both step side and back in the original travel direction. The slow of the second measure has both placing the free foot back and side to an Aida position. The body is moved over the foot and both rise to complete the "Aida" movement. It is common to complete the measure with a hip rocking action in two quicks. These are both done at the lowered level.


This article is adapted from clinic notes prepared for a
2002 URDC Teachers Seminar. It was published in the
Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, July/August 2009



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Past DRDC Educational Articles by
Jim & Barbara German, ca. 2000-2001
Chris & Terri Cantrell, 2001-2005
Harold & Meredith Sears, 2005-present

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Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid


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