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The Character Of Bolero

by Brent & Judy Moore

Bolero as a dance is actually a marriage of many influences -- Smooth ballroom (waltz), Rhythm (rumba), and ballet -- but it is not dominated by any of these root rhythms. It does have a strong rise and fall action in the basic figures like waltz, with the maximum elevation occurring on the slow; however, the elevation is achieved with the leg and body and not with the ankle and foot as in the smooth dances. Footwork is very Latin in character and is primarily a ball-flat action as in rumba -- no heel leads! In some figures, especially syncopated ones, the elevation is constant and can be up or down. Unlike the rumba, there is no Cuban motion of the hips in the fundamental figures. Hip rolling action is used occasionally as an accent or for contrast. Likewise, the hold is not the same as in Latin dances but is a slightly modified waltz dance hold with the partner offset to the right.

All that basically means is that bolero dances with a waltz hold in closed position, Latin feet in all figures, and rise and fall like waltz (but the rise is early rather than late as in waltz).

The tempos of bolero are among the slowest in dancing -- as slow as 22 measures per minute (waltz is 28-30). As such, it requires significant patience and a strong commitment to sustaining the movement. Much of the color and flavor of the dance lies in the contrast of strong and soft lines and quick and slow movements. Capturing the romance of the dance lies in good execution of these contrasting actions.

As with most rhythms, bolero has a few defining figures that exemplify its fundamental actions and character. The ones that we think of as the essentials are the basic, the three or four fundamental breaks, and the passes. With these as nuclei, figures from other dances or individual creative balletic actions are woven together to create distinctive choreography.

Even though we are now beginning to "mature" in the rhythm (more syncopations, more use of smooth base figures, more balletic movements) the key to maintaining competency is to not lose touch with these fundamentals. As with most American Rhythm dances, there are several approaches to fundamental action that can be used and the approach a couple uses will depend on their training and individual preferences. We mix and blend about three approaches in our dancing to hopefully add color and individuality. In most respects, they are the same but they emphasize differences in leg speed or stepping distance to give a unique feel and appearance to particular movements. We also will break the prohibition about foot rise to achieve some effects or extra drama in an action.

We find that using a variety of styles creates very distinctive differences in the appearance of a dance. We also find that not all figures and movements look and feel as good or as right using just one style. We choose the style we think best fits the figure or amalgamation and/or our physical skills. We occasionally alternate styles on some figures for the contrast that this offers, as well.

Having such a rich source for material and style, bolero is one of the most enjoyable rhythms to perform. Great pleasure can be gained by developing and utilizing a style that works for you, by paying attention to the details, and by using variations in action that add occasional drama.

From clinic notes  for a URDC/ICBDA convention, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, April 2018.


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