Welcome to
StreetDance Australia 's
Dance Survival Guides
  • Main Menu . . . . .

  • The Yambus . . . . . .

  • General Technique .

  • Tips and Tricks . . . . .

  • Feeling the music . . . .

  • Dancing with the Clave

  • Dance Survial Guides...

    Latin Dance Technique

    There is no intentional hip movement in any of the Latin dances. The hip motion is a natural consequence of changing weight from one foot to the other. Sub-consciously we do this when walking backwards. We feel for the first back step with our toe, roll onto the small of our foot and place our weight onto the leg, as we lower the heel.

    The Roll of the foot

    Unless the music is really slow (Bolero/Rumba) always take small steps. If the music is really fast (Salsa/Cumbia), max it at just a half foot length!

    When you step, whether forward, backward or side, step onto the inside ball of your foot (big toe), roll your foot onto the small ball (little toe) and imaging you are squashing a grape under your heel, place the foot flatly onto the floor, straightening the leg. If you have done this correctly, your body weight is now on the foot you have lowered and you should be able to stand on one leg without falling over.

    Knee Bends

    You shouldn't need to consciously bend your knee. Relax! As you change weight onto one leg the other leg should naturally bend at the knee and the heel of the foot raise. In the Latin dances whenever one leg is straight (bearing weight), the other should be bent. If this hasn't happened then your weight is probably centered. Simply shift your weight onto the appropriate leg. It may take a bit of practice to co-ordinate your movements. Try not to think about the isometrics, just let your body do what comes naturally.

    Hip Isolation

    Your weight should be focused into the middle of the foot. Sorry about the analogy but if you are in the correct position and I drove a pike through the middle of your skull, it would come down your spine, come out at the base, then penetrate the mid thigh, follow the leg skeleton down and come out the middle of your foot. If your weight was centered (incorrect position) the pike would come out between your legs. Simple fact of physics, center your weight and you won't be able to move either foot. To help isolate the hips and increase hip roll, turn your feet out in a V shape (heels closest together) and as you straighten your leg (change weight) bend the other leg toward the straightened leg. The hip roll looks more exaggerated if you keep the upper body steady (don't bounce around or sway the upper body about - it looks nerdy). There shouldn't be any perceivable rise and fall in the body. If there is, you are raising on the ball of the foot, instead of rolling the foot and lowering the heel - probably means you are not changing weight fully onto the leg. If you are swaying the upper body, it will throw both your timing and leads out (or in the case of the girl the acceptance of a lead), not to mention, probably annoy your partner. Girls seem to think they look sexy if they sway about but it looks really bad and is a mega turnoff for the guy. So don't do it!

    Leading and Following

    Its helpful to think of the Latin Dances as being sexual pantomimes. Even though the man leads the whole dance, the idea is that the man is trying to seduce the lady, he is pushing forward and she is pushing him away. So maintain a slight forward pressure with your body. If you are in hand to hand position the man keeps his hands/arms at the lady's hip height. If you are in closed dance position - the man's right hand should be just below the shoulder blade (thumb on the back bra strap), and his left hand gently takes hers in his - the lady must never place her right hand above the man's shoulder, if he is short she places her thumb on the intersection of the muscles just below the shoulder (he should have a little slot where it fits naturally), if he is tall then the lady positions her hand lower down the arm. Her aim is to have her elbow slightly above his. That way he can lead her. A simple rule for the man: if the girl is much shorter than you, stand further away from her. If she is much taller than you, stand closer. The cardinal rule is hold each other comfortably. Under no circumstances should you stretch to reach your partner.

    Arms and Elbows

    Try not to thrash your arms and elbows about. You'll look silly and probably cause an accident on the dance floor. The man should use his arms to tell the girl when to go back or come forward or whatever. Both need to keep some tension (pressure) in the arms, so the man can lead. A common problem is girls complain that guys can't lead. These girls should consider that maybe they aren't allowing the guy to lead. Typically, they, are the ones that sway their body about too much, flap their arms, bounce around, fake their hip movements and do not sustain hand/arm pressure when dancing. A guy can't lead dead fish, seagulls or bowls of jelly. Guys, even if you are a beginner, you can dance effectively, if you stand erect and keep a firm forward pressure on your partner.

    Stand Erect

    Although its useful to imagine the Latin dances as sexual pantomimes, that doesn't mean the man should be sexually aggressive. The dances should be performed with a hint of sexuality but remember, children maybe watching. Guys keep your upper body erect (that means from the waist up) and be gently aggressive. Girls and Guys, stand up straight, look at your partner. Enjoy yourselves!

    Dance Survial Guides...

    Dance Tricks & Tips

    If you lose the beat and find yourself out of step with the music don't try to catch up. It will make things worse and confuse your partner. Instead just close your feet to return to the start position (do nothing). Wait for the second beat of the next bar of music and start again (step forward or back).

    Guys be considerate of your partner. You might want to perform some fancy move but she might be on the wrong foot, not ready or someone has got in the road making it hard or even dangerous for her to do the move. Be aware of what is around you and always lead the girl into an open space before you do a move and most importantly, before you do a move, wait until you are both obviously in the correct position. She'll appreciate it and consider you an above average dancer.

    Girls you can't both lead! So let the guy lead. After all it is his job! If he is having trouble be considerate and show him what you are expecting but be warned, he might be leading you into a move you haven't learnt yet, so before getting too helpful, see what he has to offer.

    Guys and Girls: a lot of moves have been invented from people making mistakes. If either of you does something the other didn't expect and it felt or looked good - assume it's a new move. If you started to do a standard move and something happens where you have to modify the steps (eg: you forgot what to do) - fake it (innovate), you might have just invented a new move!

    Dance is about partnership and team work - a marriage of two minds, if not bodies. Guys you might be leading but you are not the center of attention (nor are you girls). Co-operate with each other! Your partner doesn't have eyes in the back of their head. So if your partner is stepping backwards, and something will obstruct their step, its your responsibility to prevent them from stepping back. Guys, be prepared to accept a lead from the girl, it might save you from injury!

    Press Ctrl-D to Bookmark this page!

    Something new will appear
    at StreetDance most months.
    Stay up-to-date! Sign up
    for our free newsletter!
    Email us!

    If you enjoyed StreetDance's
    articles. Tell your friends
    about this site!
    Email them!

    If you found something
    lacking, tell us and it
    will be fixed!

    Tell us what you
    would like to read

    So talk to us! Feedback.

    Got a question? Click here!

    Want to know something more about Latin StreetDance
    click on one of the followng

    Dance History
    Mambo, Cha Cha & Salsa | Merengue | Samba

    Latin Dance Technique
    Feeling | Technique | Tricks & Tips | The Yambus | The Clave

    Basic Timing and Steps
    Mambo | Cha Cha | Salsa | Merengue | Samba

    Basic Choreography
    Mambo, Cha Cha & Salsa | Merengue | Samba

    Other Stuff
    Articles | Gig Guides | Dance Videos | Classifieds | Links | Home

    This page was last updated November 2000
    copyright Paul F Clifford (2000)