Rumba and the Latin Hip
by Harold & Meredith Sears
Both two step and rumba are danced
quick, quick, slow. Does that mean we should dance these rhythms the
same? As we dance a rumba, should we look the same as when we do a
two step? Should we feel the same?
Oh, we hope not. Two step is an
up-beat, playful, skipping kind of dance, and rumba is a down,
into-the-floor, smoldering, and passionate dance. Rumba is the
quintessential Latin rhythm. Think "Latin Attitude"
or even "Latin Lover." "Latin" means that the
dance doesn't travel around the floor much. We stay more in one spot,
maybe better to focus on our partner rather than on some distant
destination. It also means that we give our lower bodies more
freedom; we almost disconnect the lower body from the upper. In the
Smooth rhythms, our body moves as one unit. Our body parts, from head
to toe, are connected. We speak of our "frame," and it is
well toned, and it moves as one, with uniform, still smoothness. A
Latin body is quiet above but active below. We loosen the hips from
the spine and let them move.
Let's look at some features that
give Latin character to our rumba steps, and for a context, we can
picture Rumba Walks: fwd, fwd, fwd; or Side Walks: sd, cl, sd; or the
rumba Basic: fwd, rec, sd; bk, rec, sd (QQS; QQS). First, let's take
our steps ball/flat, rolling from the inside edge of the big toe to
the ball of the foot to the flat of the foot. Second, we step to a
straight leg; the supporting leg is straight, the free leg is flexed.
The third feature is the Latin Hip, the rotation of the hips over the
supporting foot, back, and through a figure-8 over each pair of
steps. Of course, these are not separate efforts to be added
individually to our dancing. They very much happen together to create
a Latin look.
ball-flat -- A normal walking step (and many steps in the
Smooth Rhythms) are taken heel-to-toe. We can really reach with a
heel lead, and the effect is to carry the body over the foot, from
back to front, and on to the next step. The effect is to carry us
toward our destination. But initial pressure on the ball of the foot,
with the knee flexed, and then lowering to the heel, and only then
straightening the knee does not particularly encourage progress.
These are small steps, almost in place. This is not locomotion; this
is forward poise and moving your body in time with the music and in
sympathy with your partner.
the hips move -- Now, allow the hips naturally to follow
these Latin stepping actions. As the weighted left foot is released
for a step, the right hip rotates up and back, and the left hip
rotates forward and down. We step forward to the inside edge of the
big toe/ball/flat and then straighten the left knee. The left hip
shifts left, it rises, and it rotates back, describing a small
counter-clockwise arc. As the left knee straightens, the right knee
flexes, releasing the right heel from the floor. The right leg comes
forward, and the right knee crosses in front of the left. Again, we
step forward R, edge/ball/flat/straighten. The right hip shifts right
in a clock-wise arc, up and back.
With each step, the hip shifts
straight leg. We step ball/flat/straighten/hip; bring the free leg
forward and in front of the supporting leg; and we step
ball/flat/straighten/hip, for a rhythmic, rolling, figure-8 Cuban or
Latin hip action. Notice that you are not "wiggling your
hips." The hip movement is not independent but comes from
the feet and knees. As you boil all this down to what you actually
need to do, it pretty much comes to straightening the supporting
knee, relaxing the free knee, and allowing your hips to move
Latin Hip -- No steps are being taken here, in the image to the right, but notice that the supporting leg (right) is straight and the free leg is flexed. The right hip is up (line B) and back (line C). The shoulders are level (line A); therefore the right side is compressed and the left side stretched. (graphic from ballroomdancers.com)
Stepping to the inside edge of the
toe is not required, but it does help to emphasize our Latin hip
rotation. The flexed left knee will bend inward a little and allow
the left hip to move farther forward and the supporting right hip
farther back. Then we take weight, and the left hip can rotate back a
little more dramatically.
Again, the Latin Hip is active
relatively still upper body -- like a pendulum under quiet support;
like a bell ringing under its quiet handle. Especially the
up-and-down hip movement should not disturb your upper frame. Don't
raise one or the other shoulder or otherwise tilt your shoulder line.
Instead, slightly stretch one side of the body and compress the
other. Don't rotate your torso in time to your rotating hips. Your
upper frame should remain toned and steady, allowing your hips to
shift under that frame.
Try it. Stand up straight, feet
together. Bend your left knee forward and inward, keeping your right
knee straight. Your hips should shift right with no additional action
on your part. Now step side left, inside edge/ball/flat/straighten.
Recover with the same inside edge/ball/flat/straighten. Rock left;
your right knee is flexed inward, toward your body's center line. Now
rock right; your left knee is flexed inward. Allow the hips to rotate
left with the left foot and right with the right foot. Let that
figure-8 happen. Can you put this Latin Hip into your rumba?
article was originally published in Round Notes, CRDA,
If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.
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