International Latin Technique

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This is wikibook detailing generally accepted international latin dance technique. A resource for newcomers to the dance style and as a reference guide for the more experienced dancer who just needs to look up footwork, placement, shaping, timing or styling on a certain figure.

Introduction[edit]

Choosing a dance school[edit]

There is two different styles of ballroom and latin dancing. Depending on which style you choose your progressing and variations that you learn will be different.

The major sub division to start with is American Style vs International style. So to differentiate this we generally talk about Latin American (International Style Latin) , Standard (International Style Ballroom), Rhythm (American Style Latin), Smooth (American Style Ballroom)

In the ballroom category Standard and Smooth borrow heavily from each other, the styling is the similar but Smooth allows for a wider range of variations because of slacker rules in terms of hold. When starting out the dances seem completely different but as you progress you will find that the different styles and dances borrow heavily from each other.

Another major differentiation in Ballroom and Latin dancing is Social dancing vs Competitive dancing.

Dancing schools that present social dancing concentrate on variations. (Teaching you new steps). Moving to the beat and getting the basic step right is more important than having the step look beautiful. In general these schools will not work on routines but allow you to combine steps as you feel. Most of these schools concentrate on the entry level dancers and as such will skip on basic technique that will make the more advanced steps possible.

Competitive studios on the other hand concentrate on dancing competitions. In many cases they will have a large number of social students as well but the style of teaching competitors is completely different than social dancers. Where a social dancer will spend 10 minutes learning a waltz Natural Turn it is quite common for competitors to learn that step and practice it for hours making sure that the timing, direction, foot position, foot work, rise and fall, shaping, posture, head and hold is as close to perfect as you can get it.

I will always suggest that a dancer join a studio with competitive students in it. The reason is simply that the knowledge needed to teach these students are considerably more and if you, at some stage, wish to progress or become more serious about your dancing, you can!

Competition dancing[edit]

The reason that I touch on what competitive dancing is, is to encourage you to start competing. The fact that you are reading this book already means that you are interested in improving your dancing. Doing medal tests if you do not have a partner or competing if you do is the perfect way to do this as it gives you a goal to work towards.

The important thing to remember is that you have to start at the beginning and work you way up. The competition systems is designed to allow you to start at the beginning and progress through the levels at your own pace and competency level.

So if you do decide to join competitions this is how this strange new world is organized.

Competitions are divided into a syllabus section and an open section.

Syllabus sections is the part where you still learn what the top dancers calls basic work. So if they where to refer to a basic Waltz it would mean a waltz consisting of syllabus steps. This would mean the variations indicated in this book as Bronze, Silver and Gold.

The open sections are the advanced work. Dancers are not limited in what steps they can use as long as it falls into the generally accepted style of the dance. Dances and indeed dancers will borrow from each other and fashion plays a big role in the actual dancing and styling.

Syllabus Sections[edit]

To order the variations presented in the dance sections of this book I have ordered them into sections called. Beginner, Bronze, Silver and Gold. This is the designation I am used to but is somewhat arbitrary as every dance organization differs in what they place in each category. Also some organization use a different level structure.

Although the variations are relatively easy to learn. The technique is not and it takes time to get used to the way of doing them with confidence, poise, style. I suggest not trying to move up a level to fast. Most organization actually limit the amount of exams you are allowed to take at the same time. Allowing you to ingrain the variations and the technique before attempting more difficult work.

As such I will try to introduce techniques in a the Beginner, Bronze, Silver, Gold as they are needed. So for example in a cha-cha-cha the inside foot is moved and placed in the cha-cha part of the basic allowing the hips to make an 8 movement. This is not strictly necessary in the beginner level but a Silver dancer should know this and put it into practice.

  • Beginner - This is the level that we all started from. Advanced dancers will be well advised to join beginner group classes. It is not only a great way to practice but you will pick up small nuances and statements from your teacher that you missed the first time around.
  • Bronze - This is about the level you should be at if you have been receiving continues instructions for a year.
  • Silver - Continues instruction for two years.
  • Gold - Instruction for three years.


Although each person learns at their own pace, you will probably master the variations faster than indicated above. Most organizations will not allow you to advance faster. Keeping this in mind if you learn the steps quicker practice the technique. If you are comfortable with the technique read the comments for the next level and start practicing this. It will be applicable to your level as well.

If you are interested in competing you will probably have to put more hours in as you advance. The syllabus sections can generally be divided into Bronze, Silver, Gold, some dancing organizations have renamed these sections but the basic requirements are the same.

Open Sections[edit]

After you have completed the syllabus work mentioned in this book you will advance to the dress sections or the open sections. Here what you dance is open to you. There is no variation that is out of bounds and you can start wearing extravagant outfit. Like the syllabus section you accumulate points to move up each level. But unlike the syllabus section you fall under the same rules, does not matter in which of open levels you are dancing. In the open section there is no restriction in syllabus so any legal variation can be danced. It is also quite common that the Championship sections can be danced by any dancers that is in the open sections. The open sections are:

  • Novice
  • Pre-championship
  • Championship

Age groups[edit]

Depending on the dancing organization. For purposes of this book it is not important but make sure that you know what the age divisions are for your organization. Your age group will influence you choice of partner.

Here is an example of age categories.

  • Juvenile I: reach 9th birthday or less in the calendar year
  • Juvenile II: reach 10th and 11th birthday in the calendar year
  • Junior I: reach 12th and 13th birthday in the calendar year
  • Junior II: reach 14th and 15th birthday in the calendar year
  • Youth: reach 16th , 17th and 18th birthday in the calendar year
  • Adult: reach 19th birthday or more in the calendar year
  • Senior I: reach 35th birthday or more in the calendar year
  • Senior II: reach 45th birthday or more in the calendar year

Competition points vs exams[edit]

Again depending on you're organization the exact method of promotion might differ but in general there are two systems that are used, either independently or together.

Test promotion systems[edit]

The test promotion system is basically a system where you have to dance a test or exam. This exam then entitles you to move onto the next level.

In general for each exam the criteria are simply the variations and techniques that you can perform at a high enough level.

This system works very well for both social dancers and competitive dancers and ensures that basic techniques are mastered before a dancer can move onto the next level. It also gives a student something to work toward. The weakness of this system is that like everything in dancing the marking is subjective. Also the bar for promotion is really very low and it is very easy to pass onto the next level even with rudimentary dancing skill.

Points promotion system[edit]

This system is generally used in competition latin dancing. The system work on the principle that for each competition you compete in, you earn points. This is based on you placing in the competition size of the competition etc. Once you have earned enough points you will be advanced to the next level.

The advantages in this system include that a dancer must compete and gain enough experience in each level to get promoted to the next level. It forces a dancers to compete and is a great motivator to keep competing. Because the competitions are adjudicated by several judges the promotion is less subjective and is measured on you ability against other dancers with approximately the same proficiency level. The major disadvantage is that the bigger the sections are the longer promotion from one level to another can take. Couples can be promoted purely based on the fact that there are no good couples in the sections they are competing in. This is mitigated somewhat by the way the points systems are structured.


General Dancing Technique

This section describes hints and techniques that is applicable to all dancing. They will be explained as it relates to latin dancing though.

Dancing Etiquette[edit]

Although this book mostly describes International Latin Technique related to competition dancing. It is important to have a basic understanding of Dancing Etiquette. This will help you interact when you do get a chance to practice in a social setting or simply want to go and have some fun.

Dance etiquette can largely be summarized by the word "politeness". Partners must keep a good connection and counter-balance one another in fast-moving partner dancing such as the Latin dances; yet still grant the other dancer his or her personal space where appropriate within the choreography. Although many of the standard dancing Etiquette rules apply to social situations it should be considered when doing competitions as well. As even competitive dancing was born out of the social dancing scene.

Social Etiquette[edit]

There are certain etiquette rules off and on the dance floor. Here are some of the general rules for both ladies and men that will make your evening more enjoyable.

For Ladies[edit]

1. Do not refuse a gentleman when he asks you to dance. - Most men take offence when you refuse to dance with them and will ask their friend not to dance with you. It can cause you to sit the whole evening without dancing. If you have to refuse for what ever reason, be as polite as you can, smile and if the refusal does not preclude you dancing with the gentleman, ask him to ask you again at a later time. There are certain situations where it is acceptable to refuse. Most notably when the person asking you to dance with him is drunk, you can politely refuse. If you are refusing because you are tired do not dance with another gentlemen on the same dance. Please remember ladies that when a man asks you to dance with him it took some courage and that he will certainly spread the word if he enjoyed dancing with you. The same goes for when you refused. If a lady refused to dance with a gentlemen without providing a valid reason she can be assured of not being asked to dance again by that gentlemen for the rest of the evening.

2. Close body contact is not required - Although certain latin dances lends itself to dancing very closely you are definitely not required to dance closely with a partner that you do not know. It is acceptable to move away from your partner to a more comfortable distance in the hold or to politely ask to be excused if the gentlemen are insistent.

3. Follow the lead - Follow your partners lead. If you are unsure of the what to do, do what you feel is the right movement. It is important to realize that when leading a lady a man will interpret not only the music and choreograph the dance as you go along but also constantly scan your environment and decide which steps will work there. It is the man's responsibility to read the lady's ability and choreograph the dance appropriately. Don't be discouraged if you cannot feel a gentleman's lead immediately - there are some differences in the ability of the gentlemen to lead. If a gentleman has been dancing with a partner for a long time the lead becomes very soft and subtle and it takes some time to get used to leading a bit more strongly for a new partner.

4. Leave the dance floor at the end of the dance - It is impolite to leave the dance floor before the song is complete. It is general practice to ask a lady to dance about halfway through a song and then continue onto the new dance. If for some reason the lady does not enjoy the dance she can politely thank the gentleman while the music is changing. It is generally considered an indication that a lady does not want to dance with you if she only dances one song.

5. Do not teach - Do not try to teach your partner on the social dance floor. It is considered impolite.

For the gentlemen[edit]

1. Ask politely - Say please and thank you when asking a lady to dance. It not only makes a good impression but makes the lady feel more comfortable that she is in good hands when dancing with you.

2. Strong lead - Like asking a lady with confidence, you also have to lead with confidence. Do not guess what needs to be done - lead the lady strongly and early so she can react appropriately.

3. Do not force yourself on a lady - Most ladies will dictate the dance position when you offer your arm; do not pull her closer than she is comfortable and the same rule applies you are allowed to make more distance to make it more comfortable for you.

4. Floor craft - Try and steer clear of trouble where ever possible. In terms of floor craft it is important to remember that the less experienced the other dancers on the floor, the more space you need to leave. There are dance floors that are filled with experienced couples with no incident the whole evening, while others with three inexperienced couples constantly crashing into each other. It is not considered good practice to break another persons feet or jaw on the dance floor. If you do crash into another couple ask their forgiveness and continue to dance.

Dress[edit]

As with the non-dancing world, dress in Latin dancing is subject to fashion and changes gradually over time, but can be split into three categories, The basic principle is to dress appropriately to the type of dancing you are going to do.

Lady[edit]

General Rules[edit]

If dancing socially it is generally accepted that you can wear almost anything.

Keep in mind that the latin dance styling is done with a short above the knee skirt in mind so wearing a long dress or jeans does not show off the movements as well. Wearing the wrong pants can subtract from the dancing so test your skirt and outfit doing some basic latin movements in front of the mirror. You will see that most dancers that have been dancing for a couple of years have very specific skirts that they dance with specifically for this reason.

As a general rule it is a good idea to wear a short skirt. Keep in mind that the skirt will lift and you have to wear appropriate undergarments or a skirt that will not lift when turning rapidly. As far as shoes go, a medium heel sandal is recommended with straps to hold the foot in place, paying special attention that the straps hold the ankle in place.

Practice Wear[edit]

If you are practicing the best shoes are the shoes you'll be wearing when competing; unfortunately you will be spending many hours practicing and this will use up your shoes quite quickly. A good practice is to have a pair of practice shoes with the same fit and balance as the shoes you will be wearing on the competition floor. Most couples migrate their old competition shoes to the practice floor as they buy new shoes.

There are some practice shoes available that are softer. This is not a good idea if you are still competing but they are very useful when you have sustained some injury or are just quickly rehearsing your routines. If you are actually practicing try to use shoes as close to the competition floor as possible. In lessons always wear competition shoes.

As far as skirt goes please wear one especially to class. It is important to see the legs move to get the right movement. As the ladies' legs are showing when competing, the leg should be showing when practicing as well. The skirt is also important as this can be used to enhance the dance and the lady needs to get used to the feel of a skirt and what it does in certain movements.

Again follow the general rule of keeping in mind that your skirt will be lifting. If you are comfortable with you body a leotard with a dancing skirt is the best outfit to practice in as you can see the body movement properly. If you are uncomfortable with your body come in a tight fitting top. Also keep in mind that you have to wear the leotard at some stage in class so your teacher can help you with the correct body movement.

Hair preferably in a bun or similar; in practice you can loosen it and tighten it as necessary. The idea is to see the neck so hair up is always better. Depending on what you are working on this is not always necessary but do it if at all possible.

The general rule when practicing is come as a dancer.

Lounge/Party Dress[edit]

If you plan on dancing again a medium to high heel sandal or shoe that holds the foot firmly is preferred. Obviously if your dancing shoes are of an appropriate type you are welcome to wear them. Do not wear heavy shoes, shoes with high base or boots.

Keep in mind when choosing your footwear that this is one of the criteria gentlemen use to choose a lady to dance. Foot wear appropriate to dancing indicates a willingness of the lady to dance. It also indicates an ability and some knowledge of dancing.

I personally prefer a skirt or short dress as it shows of the movement of the body much better. Also most ladies look good in dresses. Obviously you have to dress appropriately for the situation but avoid denim and non stretching outfits that restrict your movement. It looks and is uncomfortable to dance in especially if you move around the floor.

As far as the top goes avoid strapless dresses or tops. Make sure that the top will not move easily when a hand moves on your back. Loose tops only work if you have appropriate undergarments as they will move while dancing. Keep in mind that you will be perspiring at some stage and both your dress and top must be chosen appropriately if this might embarrass you.

Undergarments are very important for the lady, especially when wearing a dress. Keep in mind that you will be moving quite a lot and you need to plan for your skirt and top to move. So expect glimpses of your undergarment to show. Make the assumption that your dress will lift and that your top will move. Therefore dress with what you are comfortable having other people see.

I have danced with some really brilliant ladies that simply would not go to a club after being embarrassed by tops moving more than expected and skirts lifting higher than expected. Try and avoid this from the beginning.

Competition dress[edit]

Here things become a bit different and we will dress according to the regulations of the dancing body that we have joined.

The general principles guiding you are:

1. Try to emphasize your good physical attributes - show off a beautiful stomach or back if you have it.

2. Try to deemphasize your bad physical attributes - if you are a tad overweight do not show the hips.

3. Make sure that your outfit attracts attention. Judges want to see you and if your outfit does not stand out it automatically puts you at a disadvantage.

4. Make sure the outfit moves as expected, dance a dress rehearsal and make sure any items that can come off are secure.

The Dances[edit]

Because latin dance is a visual and emotional medium it is very hard to describe the actual movements. It is much easier to understand and copy a step when it is presented in a DVD, video or instruction. There are a couple of drawbacks to this though.

Instruction depends on the experience of your teacher and although most teachers will mention everything, as dancers we tend to forget and often a small thing mentioned years ago makes a big impact when you dance the more advanced work.

The drawback of DVDs and videos is that as an unexperienced dancer you miss the actual movement. You will see a huge hip movement and try to emulate it although the movement is a result of balance point changes on the feet. Videos also tend to be short on details.

So in books we describe in diagram form all these little nuances. But we miss out on the visual and emotional aspects as these can only be expressed in a medium like video.

Describing Variations[edit]

The standard way to describe latin and ballroom dances is to build a diagram with each beat of a step defined in terms of different aspects eg. foot placement, heel foot, weight distribution etc. Unfortunately for beginner dancers, it is almost impossible to keep all this in your head and not feel overwhelmed. It also frequently happens that beginner dancers would focus on the wrong aspect of the movement, not developing the most important points first. So in describing the figures later in this book we will also use a diagram system but we will attempt to modernize it firstly. Secondly we might in the Bronze (Beginner) section only mention the feet placement and mostly leave out the hip movement that we will describe in later chapters more fully.


Bronze[edit]

1. Basic balance 2. Foot placement and action 3. Partner relationship and direction 4. Posture 5. Basic timing 6. Musicality 7. Rhythm

Silver[edit]

1. Basic hip movement developed from feet 2. Partner contact 3. Suggested basic arm movements 4. Stretch and feel of variations 5. Basic leg movement 6. Timing

Gold[edit]

1. Development of hip movement 2. Upper body movement 3. Interpretation of dance music and performance 4. Advanced timing 5. Head movement


Cha Cha Cha[edit]

Cha Cha is often the first dance a beginner will learn when they take up Latin dancing. The "two-three-cha-cha-cha" rhythm and 'chasse' (often called by instructors as side-close-side, though technically, the second step is only a partial close {This depends on the technique book used}) characterize this dance. It is danced in 4/4 time, usually at a 30-32 bars per minute tempo. The tempo, coupled with the character of the music leads to a dance that is often characterized as "cheeky" with the woman adopting a flirtatious manner, teasing the man.

Rumba[edit]

Rumba is often danced as a "cha cha without the cha chas", and whilst this may appear correct, there are major differences, largely in the presentation of the dance. It is known as the dance of love, danced to sexy, sultry 4/4 music at a tempo of 26/27 measures per minute (105 bpm).

Samba[edit]

Originally a carnival dance from Rio de Janeiro, Samba is one of only two traveling dances in this genre. Like most traveling dances the dancers travel counter-clockwise around the floor.

Jive[edit]

Fastest of all the Latin dances and the least Latin as well. Jive and swing are similar in patterns but the Jive basic starts with a back rock instead of a triple step. Jive is know for the quick, pulsating leg action with a calm, steady upper-body. As with most Latin dances, the upper body remains at a fairly steady level.

Paso Doble[edit]

A dance based on the Spanish bullfights but actually originating in French nightclubs. Not at all like the "Two Step" American country dance, Paso focuses on pageantry and flamboyance.