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
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
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
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
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"
Tip 7: Lead with UPPER BODY when going
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
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.