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Bolero -- Rumba with a BIG Difference!

By Kristine & Bruce Nelson

Viva La Difference”! Bolero is not just another rumba. Bolero is a smooth rhythm danced with significant rise and fall and use of contra body movement. The figures are similar to those found in rumba, but each figure is commenced with a preceding slow side step with rise.

Character/Flavor The bolero is certainly the most romantic of the Latin-style dances -- it is more passionate than rumba. Bolero is also the slowest (between 21 and 26 measures per minute) of the dance rhythms. 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. The flavor is that of lovers (Yes, even passionately!) dancing as one.

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 two slows or four quicks, and syncopations may be used (more frequently in Phases V & VI).

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 their own upright 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 back, or raised, following the movement or sway 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.

Action Bolero utilizes more rise and fall than we find 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, sliding the free foot on the inside edge of the ball before taking weight on the flat of the foot, and staying low until weight is transferred, where there is significant body rise. (The body rise has the effect of changing the sideways momentum to vertical, thereby allowing one to achieve strong balance and enabling the next step to be taken in any direction.) The second step (Q) is a taken on the ball of the foot quickly and smoothly lowering. It is the shortest step of the three. 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 onto the ball of the foot. This is not a recover step. It is a slightly 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, the free leg is not collected directly under the body on the third step as that would tend to cause an early or premature rise. It is important to emphasize the SLOW (Slo-ohhh) step which helps to attain a good rise. You may 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). This is a picture of the rise and fall that is used in bolero.


Commitment to active leading and following is particularly important because of the slow bolero tempo. It aids in maintaining good control and helps 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 shapes his body and/or arm to indicate 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 for yourself the following important Phase IV and V figures. As you do, try to incorporate proper rise and fall, good bolero action, and toned lead and follow.

Note: Basic timing is SQQ unless indicated.

Phase III

  • Basic [SQQ; SQQ]
  • Fenceline
  • Forward Break
  • Lunge Break

Phase IV

  • Turning Basic [SQQ; SQQ]
  • Hip Rocks
  • Aida [SQQ; S]
  • Cross Body
  • Left Pass
  • Right Pass

Phase V

  • Half Moon [SQQ; SQQ]
  • Riff Turn [QQQQ]
  • Horseshoe Turn [SQQ; SQQ]

This article is taken from clinic notes, ICBDA Convention, San Antonio TX, July 2010 and was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, February 2011.

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