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Latin Motion

by Chris & Terri Cantrell

First, the Latin Body Frame & Hold

The Latin dance hold is more compact than in the smooth rhythms (waltz, foxtrot, quickstep . . . ). Stand 6”-12” apart with the body and head upright. A simple rule of thumb for the distance between the couple -- if the woman is much shorter than you, stand farther away from her. If she is much taller than you, stand closer. Maintain a slight forward poise with your body toward one another, centered over the balls of the feet, not back on the heels. The man’s arms and upper body should create a firm frame in which the woman is gently held. Both partners need to keep some tension (pressure) in the arms.

Each part of the body (toes, legs, knees, tush, tummy, hips, chest, shoulders, arms, fingers, head) has a role to play in figure execution and musicality. Some of these roles may include being as still as possible or moving independently for effect (isolation type movements) -- the shoulders, chest, and the head. Other roles work at tensing muscles -- tightening the tummy and tush muscles. Body parts can also linger -- feet, toes, and legs. Some parts are almost forcefully dragged into action -- toes. Other parts are influenced by another body part -- weight change affecting the hips.

Four Points of Contact in the Latin Closed Position:

  1. Man's left and Woman's right hands: The man's left arm should be held up with the elbow bent fairly sharply somewhat towards the floor. His left wrist should bend slightly to the left side with his palm facing the woman and thumb up. This will cause his fingers to be parallel to the floor. The woman should approach the man with her palm facing his and her fingers up and her elbow relaxed. Her hand should contact the man's at the fleshy part below their thumbs. She should then gently fold/cup her fingers over the man's hand between his thumb and forefinger. The man should gently wrap his fingers around the woman's hand. Partners should gently fold their thumbs over each others hand, being very careful not to clamp down on their partner's hand. The man’s left hand is held between the woman’s cheek and eye level if she is shorter than him and the reverse if she is taller (hand is held between the man’s cheek and eye level).

  2. Man’s right forearm and Woman’s side: Women, hold your left arm out to the side and slightly forward. The man then places his right lower forearm under the woman's upper arm near her armpit. He should apply slight upward pressure to her upper arm and the woman in response should apply slight downward pressure. The man's right hand is not yet touching the woman's back, but his fingers and thumb should be together and his wrist should bend slightly downward. The woman should stand slightly to the man's right side.

  3. Folding of Man’s right hand: The man folds his right hand around to gently touch the woman's left shoulder blade. Be careful not to use this point to squeeze the woman, but it should be a gentle point of contact. Remember, both of you need to be able to breathe freely and be on your own feet, not leaning on or dragging your partner.

  4. Woman’s left hand: The woman places her left forearm and hand on top of the man's right arm. She gently holds his biceps with her thumb and middle finger, being careful not to clamp down. Her hand should be turned slightly outward from the wrist. If points 2, 3, & 4 have been made properly and if the partners are holding their arms up, then no light will be seen between the man's right arm and woman's left arm, excluding elbow overlap due to height differences of the partners.

Latin Foot & Leg Work

On your next visit to the zoo or a farm, check out the deer, camel, and/or horse -- they have a nice Latin walk. For humans though it is not natural and our knees hopefully do not bend like theirs:

  • Tranquil the upper body

  • Tuck in the tummy

  • Tighten the tush, make it burn

  • Tend to have a forward poise (okay, we are pushing it but we ran out of “T” words)

  • Turn out your toes

  • Tiny steps

  • Track your feet

  • Toes hug the floor

Imagine yourself barefooted on a dirt path full of potholes and strewn with many rocks of all sizes. Your job is to carry a bucket of water balanced on the top of your head down this path. Got the picture, now here's the drill:

Since the bucket is on our head, we cannot look down. However, with the threat of stumbling into a pothole or tripping over a rock, we cannot confidently take a step. For this exercise put all your weight on the right foot/leg. To move, first bend the left knee. Slide the pointed left toe forward in front of the right leg to feel the path and the place where you want to step, no weight. Once you have determined that the path is clear, test the ground to ensure it will support your weight by applying slight pressure to the left toe. Slowly lower the left foot, with toes pointed slightly out for balance, until the heel touches the ground, but still with only minimal pressure to ensure the ground is solid. Begin the transfer of weight from the standing/supporting right leg forward onto the stepping left foot and straighten the left knee. Then let the hip "settle" to a relaxed position (like ‘waiting for a bus’ type of stance). As the hip settles, the knee of the free leg should be allowed to naturally bend and the heel of the right foot should slightly leave the ground. Repeat with the right foot - first drag and place the toe (knee bent), press your heel to the floor (still bent knee), stand up on the foot (straighten the leg), and finally let your hip settle.

We do this subconsciously when walking backwards. We feel for the first back step with our toe, roll onto the ball of our foot, lower into the heel, and then place our weight onto the leg. Now that you have mastered that, let us work on ‘fast feet’. Allow the unweighted foot to linger and remain in the ending position of the previous step for as long as possible. At the beginning of the next step the foot moves quickly into position, ready to begin testing the ground. This does not mean that the entire body comes to a complete stop/freeze between each step and/or figure. There is continual motion of the knees and hips. The "freeze frame" makes a nice picture, but only when it is used occasionally.

Latin Hips

Yes men, this includes your hips also. While the ‘party line’ states that the movement of the hips is only a result of the foot and leg action, the dancer can act to direct this action to make it less chaotic, feel better, and make it more pleasing to the eye.

There are mainly two types of hip movement that are not associated with the rotation of the body in the course of a figure: Settling into the hip at the end of a measure or figure and the Figure Eight hip motion. The hip movement in cha and the faster rhythms is generally less pronounced than in rumba due to the speed of the dance, but the hips still do move.

Settling Into the Hip: At the end of the measure or the figure, settle the supported/weighted hip gently towards the floor. It is like allowing the weighted hip to take a deep breath and then relax down on top of the supporting leg and foot.

Figure Eight: Gently guide your hip motion into a figure eight. For each step taken, the same hip does a circular motion as weight it taken onto that foot, the left hip moves in a counterclockwise direction and the right hip will move in a clockwise direction. As an example, in more detail: Step forward with your left foot while moving the left hip forward as weight is transferred onto the left foot, the left hip continues to move in a counterclockwise direction. Recover back onto the right foot and the right hip moves forward as weight is transferred onto the right foot, the right hip continues to move in a clockwise direction.

Isolation Exercise: Practice separating the body above from the body below the waist. The following exercise works the abdominals, diaphragm, and hip muscles. Begin by planting your feet firmly on the floor a hip distance apart. Tighten your tush (buttocks) muscles slightly, place your hands lightly on the hips, and then slide your rib cage to the left and then to the right. There should be no sagging or tilting of the shoulders. You should feel a pulling sensation of the muscles around the waist while keeping your hips and legs in place, immobile. Practice 1-10+ minutes/day will also have the added benefit of improving your muscle tone, strength, and trimming your waistline.

Copyright 2004©, 2005© Chris & Terri Cantrell


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