International Latin Technique/General Dancing Technique
All dance can be interpreted as being a language or expression of yourself therefore it is similar to a language. There is certain words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and even books that can be written. That will be interpreted by each audience member in a different way yet keeping you're interpretation in mind and following you're every move.
If it's ballet, modern, contemporary, ballroom or latin dance there is certain basic steps and variations that build up the dance to the form you would see and enjoy on stage or on the dance floor.
Here is a few tips to bring you're messages accross better:
Poise is To hang in equilibrium; to be balanced or suspended; hence, to be in suspense or doubt. [Websters 1913]
Poise is a dignified and self-confident manner; graceful composure and tact in handling difficult social situations. [PJC]
This is important in latin dancing to have an erect manner and a composure and an air of confidence. This translates into how assertive you are in bringing over you're message and how believable it will be. Also it makes you're dancing more beautiful.
Here are some things you can look at to improve your poise.
Head up straight not looking down at the floor. In most latin dances you will be looking at your partner in the basic figures. There is specific places you have to look to make your story come over more convincing. The human is very used to looking at faces and eyes. When you are looking down at your feet or where you are not supposed to look it will be picked up immediately by the bystanders.
The second part of this equation is that your head is heavy and as such when looking down it not only looks ugly it also throws you off balance when you try to make turns. This make the steps more difficult to dance.
Another less important part of this is that especially, beginner ladies, look at the feet and try to follow, this is not only next to impossible to do but also causes the lady to be a bit out of time. This also causes the lady to miss the lead on her back or the body lead from the man. Look only at the feet when learning the step and the moment you can do the step look up at you're partner. Remember habits you learn while practicing is habits you will use on the dance floor later on.
Learn to spot - Spotting is when you keep your head stationary looking at a spot and when you can not look at that spot anymore move your head in a fast and controlled way around or to a new position. This is primarily used in turn where the lady would for example look at a man for as long as possible while turning and at the last possible moment move her head around and look at him again. Except for the obvious benefits in balance, it allows you to do many turns without getting disoriented. It looks better and make you're movements look sharper. A turn done at exactly the same speed looks considerably faster when the person is spotting than when they are just turning.
Back, neck and shoulders
In latin dancing the back and neck is straight as possible with the pelvis tilted. When standing against a wall you're back should be touching all the way down. This causes you're abdominal muscles to contract this is exactly what should happen. The whole upper body should be kept upright without pushing out the chest. The arms are round like holding a barrel and the is some distance between the partners even in the closed hold. The shoulders must be kept relaxed at all times not sagging but not pulled up either. A easy way to remember is the same feeling when you put on jacket over the shoulders.
An easy thing for beginners to remember is that when you feel that you are pulling up you are probably pushing back instead of up. Make sure your ears are above your ankles when standing up straight. The wall exercise above is a good way to get the feeling. I myself choose a spot above my head on the ceiling and then extend my head towards that bringing my back with it.
A good exercise to try is:
- Place your left hand on your bum and your right hand just below your belly button.
- Now push your bum forward while at the same time tilting your pelvis forward and pushing your right hand to the back.
- Now release the left hand on your bum and place it just above your belly button. Push your hands together contracting your abdominal muscles.
- Now release your right hand and place it above your left hand; move your hands apart.
You should feel that your abdominal muscles are contracted and your back is straight. Not extending your neck upwards and you have the correct position for latin dancing.
Arms and hands
The arms and hands help interpret the character of the dance. The man and the womans arms and hand differ slightly basically the mans arms and hands are generally straighter and less complex while the woman would use a more feminine round and complex hand.
The arms are generally used to complete a variation and make it look bigger. A big thing to remember even if there is no space think about what you would do with your arms. Just having the arms flopping about looks pretty bad. Each dance have a definite character and arms can be used in different ways to help interpret the dance.
Feet and legs
Like the arms the legs and feet are used differently in the different dances. The most important thing to remember is that the movement of the hips and body starts at the feet. The foot is placed in the inside of the ball of the foot when move sideways or forward and back for Jive, Cha-cha-cha and Rumba. In the paso there is quite a few variations where this rules does not apply.
Another general principle in latin dancing is that quick steps are generally smaller than slow steps so for example the cha-cha is small while the 123 of the cha-cha is quite large steps.
Dress and shoes
Although there is a difference of opinion on this I suggest you dress appropriately for your dancing lesson. When you dress sexy you feel sexy when you wear latin dancing shoes you feel and move like a latin dancer. If you plan to dance more than a couple of months. (Hopefully for the rest of you're life). Invest in a good pair of latin shoes both for the man and the lady but as a beginner the following guidelines will help.
For Men I suggest a light formal or semi formal shoe. Heavy boots do not lend themselves to latin dancing. Rubber soled sports shoes do not turn easily on a well maintained dance floor.
For the Lady I suggest a high healed sandal of shoe that holds the ankle. A loose fitting shoe do not allow proper movement and balance. Rubber soled sports shoes do not turn easily on well maintained dance floors.