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Latin American Salsa Dancing

By: Sarah Chamberlain - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Salsa Latin American Rumba Mambo Cha-cha

The word ‘Salsa’ meaning ‘sauce’ certainly sums up this sensual dance style of Latin American origin, which includes dances such as the Rumba, Mambo, Cha-Cha, Salsa, Merengue, Samba, Pachanga and Paso Doble. Inspired by Afro-Cuban rhythms, Latin dancing revolves around the seductive and passionate exchange between man and woman, making it still one of the hottest styles around.

Each particular dance pays careful attention to the rhythm and tempo of the music. Some start on the first beat- ‘the one’ and others on ‘two’. Partners face each other and are positioned closely to enable the man to lead the woman and move together as one, so if he steps forward with left foot, she steps back with the right, and so on. Mambo and the Salsa are both based on the Rumba, with a faster tempo and a few variations. They usually begin on count two, although this does vary depending on your teacher or partner.

Weight transfer is the key to all the Latin style dances, which creates movement through hips. Transferring weight fully over the correct leg on each count ensures that the hips move naturally and freely, and shouldn’t ever be forced. There is no deliberate movement of the hips in Latin dancing, contrary to popular belief. Hip movement is a natural result of transferring weight onto different legs. When stepping in any direction, the foot rolls from the inner ball to the outer, before the heel is placed down. The faster the tempo, the smaller the steps become in order to stay on top of the music. Whenever the weight is transferred onto one leg, the other leg should bend naturally to create smoothness and flow.

Lead the Way
The man always leads the woman in Latin dancing, which adds to its sensual nature. If in a closed position, the man places his hand just under the woman’s shoulder blade, and takes her hand in the other. The woman should never place her hand above the man’s shoulder- for shorter partners she places her hand just under the shoulder, and if he is tall, further down the arm, resting it between the V-shape of her thumb and forefinger. The idea is for her elbow to be slightly above his. Some tension must be maintained in the frame to assist leading, i.e. no “spaghetti arms!” The male uses his arms to communicate the movement with his partner, whether they are moving forwards, backwards or turning. Both dancers should remain strong and composed through the upper body, although generally the man is slightly more aggressive in his body positioning, as though coming towards the woman.

Whilst it’s necessary to master the timing and steps, feeling the music and the sensuality of the dance is paramount. It’s all about attitude! Latin is not overtly showy in style, but the steps should always be performed with respect for the passionate nature of the dance. Don’t worry too much about the steps; relax and let the music dictate the rhythm - perfect technique is not as essential as individual energy and style.

So whether you are a social dancer or professional, prefer a sizzling salsa or a cheeky Cha-Cha, Latin dancing has a spicy flavour to suit everyone’s taste.

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