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Bolero -- Beyond the Basics

by Kristine & Bruce Nelson

Bolero is the most romantic of the Latin dance rhythms. And it is also the slowest (between 21 and 26 mpm). The music is lyrical and generally has a Latin flavor (often with a vocal) with underlying rhythmic syncopations. Dancing bolero requires controlled execution with strong expression. The bodies move together fluidly and even intimately.

Rhythm The basic rhythm is slow, quick, quick, (1, -, 3, 4;) which is similar to both foxtrot and slow two-step rhythms. Some figures may be danced with 2 slows or 4 quicks, and syncopations may be incorporated, particularly at Phases 4-6.

Dance Position Closed dance position is similar to the smooth rhythms with the woman on the man’s right side, slightly at an angle, and held slightly looser than in the smooth rhythms. The joined man’s left and woman’s right hands may be held up in standard closed position or held low next to the man’s left leg. The body is relaxed with soft knees but dancers maintain strength and control in the thighs. Both dancers maintain good balance and a ‘flat’ back. When in an open facing position, the partners maintain tone in the connected arms to facilitate leading and following. While dancing bolero the partners often make eye contact, which enhances the romantic expression. The free arms are an extension of the body and may be held to the side, side and slightly back, or raised, following the movement and the body line.

Movement Body weight is centered over the weighted foot. While maintaining good balance, the body moves to the side, forward, or back through the legs. There is the feeling of a controlled push or drive from the weighted foot to the free foot. The turning and break figures may utilize left and right sways. There is definite shaping to the partner. Because of the smooth leg movement, hip action is minimal but may occasionally be used to accent a figure.

Footwork Bolero utilizes more rise and fall than in foxtrot. The action is developed in the leg and body, not the foot and ankle. The basic figures start with a side step (S), pushing off from the weighted foot and staying low until weight is transferred, where there is significant body rise (allowing the dancers to achieve strong balance and enabling the next step to be taken in any direction). The second (short) step (Q) is a taken on the ball of the foot quickly and smoothly lowering. The third step (Q) is usually taken in the opposite direction of the second step with the body staying low and well into soft knees. This is not a recover step. It is a longer step than the second, pushing off and driving from the weighted foot, and remaining low so one is ready for the next figure (which starts low and ends with body rise at the end of the first step, etc.). In general, we do not collect the free leg directly under the body on the third step as it will tend to cause an early or premature rise. It is important to emphasize the SLOW (Slo-ohhh) step which allows dancers to attain a good rise. A teacher may suggest to dancers that they visualize an ocean wave as it starts low, rises to a crest (step 1 - S), and then quickly falls down (step 2 Q) before receding to begin the cycle again (step 3 Q).


Commitment to active leading and following is particularly important because of the slow bolero tempo. It will assist the dancers to maintain good control and develop continuity and fluidity. The lady must not anticipate the man’s timing. As the man initiates movement, the lady responds and blends her actions to his. The result is the feeling of moving as one person.

The man’s body is the primary lead. The man points his body where he wants the lady to go. Her role as follower is to move when the man moves and travel to where the man’s body is pointing.

The joined hand(s) are an important secondary lead, especially through turns and passes. Both dancers must maintain tone in the joined arms to have a connection through which the lead can be communicated and received.

Practice some bolero figures --

Basic: SQQ; SQQ;

Emphasize the initial pushing action to step side with strong body rise, the slip action (forward or back) lowering and the forward or back step staying low in soft knees. Practice the Basic in butterfly or open facing position to develop a strong lead/follow connection through the joined hands. In addition, practice the forward and open breaks.

Aida: SQQ; S

Note that the Aida, defined by Roundalab, is 4 steps (1 ½ measures) and is cued Aida (not Aida preparation). Side L (R), -, through R (L), side L (R); turning RF back R with rise (turning LF back L) in a V shape (Aida Line position), -. The figure may be danced in the opposite direction with opposite feet. When the dancers are in an Aida Line position, the remaining QQ is often danced hip rock 2. The next slow may be forward or back to face the partner and begins the next figure.

Practice sequence:

[CP] Basic;; Aida; Line w/hip rks; Swtch X; Hip Lift;

Turning Basic: SQQ; SQQ;

First measure: [CP Wall] Man side L with slight RF upper body turn [the L foot ends pointing DRW] (W side & forward R keeping body position and head to left), -, rotate turning to face LOD and slip back on R toe then lower to heel (turn & slip forward on L toe lowering), drive forward L staying low with soft knees turning ¼ LF (back R). Optionally on first side step the man may have a slight L sway [R side stretch] to open lady’s head. The lady must maintain body position and only turn her face to R.

Second measure: Man side R (side L), -, developing contra body movement on the second step with the right side leading [L side back] forward L lowering (back R), stay in knees back R (forward L). Maintain normal bolero rise and fall, staying into the knees (no rise) at the finish of the figure.

Practice sequences:

[CP] Basic;; Turning basic;;

[BFLY] ½ Basic; Hip lift; Turning basic;;

Left Pass: SQQ;

Although some of the action is similar the Left Pass is not a Cross Body. The man’s action is similar to the turning basic but the lady’s action is more like a hip twist with a wrap. Man steps side and forward L and leads the lady forward to wrap into his L arm (forward R swiveling on R foot), -, lower and slip R back turning LF leading the lady across keeping the L hand in front of the body (forward L across in front of M turning at the end of the step to face M), forward L (back R). The lady must have tone in her R arm to allow her to follow the lead. She should not turn herself but follow the man’s hand.

Practice sequence:

[BFLY] ½ Basic; Forward break; Left side pass; Forward break;

Right Pass: SQQ;

Man turn 1/8 RF and step strong side L leading the lady forward and raising the joined lead hands high and to his left causing the lady to shape to him (forward R), -, small back R turning as needed for ending alignment [from ¼ to ½] leading lady forward (forward L turning LF), stay in knees forward L (continue turn back R).

Practice sequences:

[BFLY] ½ Basic; Forward break; Right side pass; Forward break;

[BFLY] ½ Basic; Forward break; Right side pass; Forward break; Left side pass; Forward break;

From clinic notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB Convention, 2009, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September 2015.


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