Changes Are A-Coming
& Dan Finch
It is “standards” time in our round dance activity, the time when
committees are recommending changes to the Manual of Standards
maintained by Roundalab. The changes will affect how and sometimes when
you do figures. This year’s proposals will be submitted to Roundalab
members for comment in February, then will go to a vote at the national
convention in June.
This annual updating is done to improve the figures you dance.
Sometimes that means correcting an error that sneaked into the manual.
Sometimes it is an evolution based on how we’ve learned to do it better.
We aren’t alone in this. The ballroom world has been doing it for more
than a century. One of the
biggest changes in ballroom in recent years will be echoed in this
year’s Roundalab proposals—the evolving technique for doing Latins.
Latin American figures come from the 1940s and 1950s, from a book
published by the late Doris Lavelle of England and her partner, a
Frenchman known simply as Pierre. They had traveled to Cuba and Brazil,
documenting what they called the Rumba, Cha Cha, and Samba that they
saw there. Their book also included the Paso Doble, the dance of the
Spanish bullfighter that had been developed by the French for
exhibition, and the Jive as danced by American GIs based in England
during World War II.
The Lavelle-Pierre book remained the standard for testing and
competition into the 1960s when the late Walter Laird wrote a more
detailed syllabus on technique and characteristics of each of the Latin
rhythms. Both his book and the Lavelle-Pierre work, which was
translated into the manuals of the Imperial Society of Teachers of
Dancing, have been updated regularly.
Most recently a new book, “A Technique of Advanced Latin-American
Figures,” was published in 2012 by the late Geoffrey Hearn to include
figures not in the original material and to reflect how dancers like
Laird have changed the original technique and continue to do so.
You will see a hint of that change this year in the round dance form of
Rumba. The Roundalab phase V manual committee is proposing to change
the Rumba closed hip twist. The current description suggests the woman
turns away half on the first step back then swivels a half back to face
on the second step, before the actual hip twist action. As proposed,
she would turn away half on the first step but recover swiveling up to
more than half.
The proposed change is the result in part of correcting an error and
recognizing how our most talented dancers do it. An error in the man’s
second action started it, and in the process, a better documentation of
what a woman can do was added, along with a note to give more
description to how the hip twist part of it occurs.
Thank Walter Laird for hip action being considered at all. The early
Latins were danced with staccato foot placement and little if any hip
action, Hearn said. In fact, the Rumba manuals before Laird’s time said
the hips should not be emphasized.
Many teachers, Hearn added, “thought European dancers would consider it
wrong to use the hips in such a way in public.”
Walter Laird was world Latin champion three times, and later coached
most of those who became world champions after him. His success and his
legacy came from his own study of films of Cubans dancing. He saw hip
action and incorporated it in his dancing. When Laird became a coach,
Hearn said, he insisted on hip rhythm on every walking movement in
Rumba and Cha Cha, and created Latin turns based on swiveling over a
standing foot, now called forward walk turning.
The Americans, going to England to compete, took with them their style
that moved the rib cage to create rhythm, which Laird analyzed and
incorporated. His book, first published in 1961, is based on the
physics of body movement, identifying exactly where one’s center of
gravity needs to be to create the most hip and body sensuous movement.
The new body rhythm required certain changes in body balance. Our
concept of settling shoulder weight over a standing leg to move comes
from this era.
Finding your center starts with good posture, as important for Latins
as smooth rhythms, according to Hearn. To find your best posture--the
vertical line through the center of the body--a simple exercise is run
in place quickly, then stop. You should be lined up, Hearn said. He
also suggested an exercise to get a relaxed topline--to avoid a stiff
back and restricted movement. Standing facing a mirror, studying your
centerline with head and sternum lined up, see that the shoulders
remain square to the mirror while doing hip and rib cage rotations.
If you think you know an improvement that can be made in the material
you dance, tell Roundalab. That’s how changes start.
From a club
newsletter, January 2023,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, February, 2023. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.