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The Rhythm/Latin ‘Look of a Dancer’

Whether it’s salsa and bachata in the nightclub or rumba and samba in the dance hall, there’s always someone who’s just got that natural groove. How do they do it?

Develop your core.

Your abdominals stabilize your centre, your obliques and back muscles allow you to turn your hips and execute sharp turns, your stabilizer muscles keep the movement compact and safe from injury… The core is the engine for all movement, but Latin/rhythm dancers use it more than most.

You can build awareness of your abdomen by imagining your belly button pulling up towards your chin, without slouching your lower back. Strengthen your turning muscles by dancing tango swivels with your hands on a wall to stabilize your shoulders (make sure your core muscles are turning you, not your arms).

As you apply this new awareness to figures in your dancing, you’ll find your balance improving, and a new snappiness emerging in your turns. Pro dancers spend a lifetime strengthening their core muscles, so be patient with your progress.

Connect… With the Floor

Try this: Without leaning forward even a little, try to take a step forward. If you succeeded, it’s because you pushed off the floor with the feet to get there. Exceptional dancers use this floor connection to drive themselves more strongly through every movement, never losing their poise.

Start by dancing a basic step with tissue paper underneath the balls of your feet. Practice until you can dance a whole song without loosing either tissue. Then practice harder patterns, faster patterns. Imagine you’re trying to point your toes through the floor with every step. If your instep is sore afterwards, you’ve got the right idea.

Connect… With your partner

Latin/rhythm dances are characterized by leads through a single hand connection, so maintaining the right level of tone and pressure is absolutely vital. When done right, you can lead and follow as effortlessly with one hand as you would in closed position.

Imagine there are garden hoses running through the inside of your arms, with water flowing through and shooting out your palms. This should create a sense of tone and energy, while still allowing some movement. For more information on connecting with your partner, click here.

Hips don’t lie

What Latin/rhythm dance is complete without hips? While new dancers focus exclusively on the hips for movement, dancers with ‘the look’, move from the core muscles, allowing the movement to naturally complement their existing steps.

I’ve already written about the basics of Latin hip action here (use a straight leg Latin dancers!). Take these techniques to the next level by using the natural rotation of the hips to drive turning actions. For example, when your hip rolls to the R just before a turn to the right, let that hip ‘pull’ you into the turn by twisting it more strongly.

Play with the Music

Capturing the look of a Latin/rhythm dancer means putting more emphasis on hips and snappy and/or intricate arm styling. Read the previous article for reminders on how to improve your musicality. Also, try watching videos of the pros to see which movements you want to emulate.

By now, you’re well on your way to developing your personal ‘look’ that will turn heads and line up dance partners. Let’s wrap up the technical talk next week with some final tips.

About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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