Meredith & Harold



MAJOR SECTIONS: Figures | Articles | Links | Alph. Index | Search | Home

Figures in the Smooth Rhythms
Viennese Waltz
International Tango
American Tango
Two Step
Five Count
One Step
Figures in the Latin Rhythms
Cha Cha
Single Swing
West Coast Swing
Slow Two Step
Argentine Tango
Paso Doble
Dance Articles
Articles Home

Dance Figures

Dance Rhythms
Lead and Follow
Dance Styling
Fred Astaire Album
Other Sections
Dance Links
Music Clips For Each Rhythm
Search Site/Web
Contact Me

Changes Are A-Coming

by Sandi & 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, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, February, 2023. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.


Alphabetical Index to
and Technique
Online since 2001 İHarold and Meredith Sears, Boulder, CO, All rights reserved.