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Differences Between Latin and Modern Rhythms

by Rod & Sue Anderson

When thinking about the differences between Latin and Modern (Smooth) rhythms, some differences are very apparent, such as: rhythm, terminology, body flow, rise and fall, dance position, etc. Other differences are not as apparent. They are more subtle, such as: lead, poise, foot position, etc.

Here, we will talk about the differences between Latin and Modern rhythms using the basic Box as an example. We will use waltz as our example of a Modern rhythm and rumba as our Latin rhythm.


In the waltz Box (Modern), in closed position, the couple will be offset with the woman slightly to the man's right side. The man's physical lead comes from his right wrist connecting with the woman where her left arm meets her back. The woman's left arm will rest lightly on the man's right arm with her hand slightly off his shoulder. The lead hands are joined and extended to the side at about the woman's eye level. The couple should be close or touching at the man's right side. The man should have a strong wide frame that does not vary. In Modern closed position, both should be looking to their left, over the partner's right shoulder. The head should be over the left hip most of the time.

As we begin to take a step in Modern, the man should initiate the step by lowering slightly before stepping forward. The first step (forward L for the M) is therefore taken with a heel lead rolling forward to the toe. As all weight is taken to the supporting foot the free foot will brush close to the supporting foot before step two (side R). After taking the third step (close L to R), you will lower to begin to step back. The heel to toe steps will create rise and fall in the Modern rhythms.

The attitude is one of grace, with the woman dancing lightly in the man's arms as the man confidently directs her around the dance floor. Most of the time, the couple is in closed dance position. It is a more dreamy attitude (think Fred & Ginger).


In the rumba Box (Latin), in closed position, the couple will be more directly in front of each other. The hold is more rounded with the partners being slightly apart. The woman's left hand will be higher on the man's arm or up on his right shoulder. The lead hands would be in slightly and raised slightly higher. In Latin, the man should be looking at the woman and the woman has the option to look at the man or to the left as in Modern dance position. Both should have a forward poise with weight more to the ball of the foot.

As we take the first step (side L for the M), the supporting leg will straighten, the non-supporting leg will bend and the great toe will be placed to the side. As weight is taken, we roll sideways to a flat foot. We then place the great toe of the free foot next to the supporting foot for the second step (close R to L). The knee will be bent and veered inward. As weight is taken to a flat foot, that leg will straighten and the free leg will bend and veer inward. The third step (forward L), is also taken with the great toe touching first. Take weight and bend the non-supporting leg, veering the knee inward, therefore leaving it where it was when the weight was released. As the fourth step is taken, it should go diagonally across the box and not brush the supporting foot. Always place the great toe first and repeat as in the first part of the Box. There is no rise and fall in Latin but much hip action with the rolling from toe to flat foot.

In Latin, the attitude is one of romance, flirtation, alluring. The lead is often done with the body shape and physical (arm leads), as much of the time in Latin you are not in closed dance position. In Latin, the man is showing off the lady. The man will basically stay stationary while the lady does spins, turns, twirls, etc.

From clinic notes prepared for the URDC Convention, 1995, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2013.


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