Latin Basic Mechanics

Posture and Hold


    • Basic position of body:

      • Head, shoulders, ribcage, hip, leg, stacked up and connected, not tight, legs moves like scissors.

      • Tummy muscle pulled in. Tall spine. Lengthen neck.

      • Shoulder is lowered: Really settle both shoulders down. ("Squeeze" shoulder blades down back center.)

      • Chest is release down to floor, lower chest muscle, no blown up chest, feeling of exhaling, let all air out

      • Look straight ahead

    • Hold your own frame up

      • The body (center) should be very "lifted" and "up", otherwise Lady is heavy on Man.

      • Upper body: light; feet: heavy, sticky. This is like stepping in water. Arms above water, light. Feet below water, heavy.

      • No drop-dead elbows. Imagine a balloon under arms, but also don't stick elbow horizontal out to the side either, which tends to lift the shoulder up.

      • Try to create a large volume between Man and Lady, connected with partner with tone in arms.

    • Never break body in order to get more hip action. Have to keep basic fundamentals clear and then do as much hip action as you can.

    • In Latin dances, weight is held more forward on balls of the feet. This allows more free movement in the hips.

The hold in Latin dances are closer than that of Standard dances.

    • Closed hold:

      • Man's L forearm to Lady's R forearm. Lady's L hand is higher on Man's R arm, around Man's R shoulder, rest on shoulder blade.

      • It's ok for forearms to touch (perpendicular to ground) or leave some space (forearm is forward), but never bend arm 'backward'. Keep tone in arm.

      • Fingers of man's left hand closed around lady's right hand.

      • Stand about 6in apart from partner.

    • Open hold:

      • Stand at about arms length from partner.

      • (Lady) keep tone in the arm, elbow "out" or "down" - different instructors have different preferences. Some find arms on the side with elbow down is more natural. The important part is to keep tone in arm and don't lift shoulder up.

      • Man should hold the lady's hand with thumb on the back of her hand, the first two fingers on the palm of her hand, with just tight enough a grip to clearly lead and communicate his position.

    • Lead at lady's waist level.

    • Keep low connection, flat wrist. Appropriate tension, not artificially stiff and hard.

Getting into position in Latin dances (basic way):

    • Man raises his energy and offers his left hand.

    • Lady: pause, see, and sense. Respond with right hand.

Foot Positions

3 foot positions:

    1. Whole foot (or Flat foot): feet lined up with knees (do not turn out foot, turn out is from hip socket). rooted into ground, solid, no wobble.

    2. Ball of the Foot (or demi-pointe position, arch) - common mistake is missing this step and go directly to pointe position. Foot is placed so that from toe to ball of foot is pressing into floor, with the arch flexed. also rooted into ground. need this position to be very defined, try to arch and extend as much as possible working toward 90 degree.

    3. Toe (Pointe): Feet are causing spine to move more. Foot is placed so that only tips of toes are pressing into floor, with the foot straight, feeling of the heel being drawn into the leg. It can be placed to the side, front, back or underneath body (high toe right next to standing foot)

** In Latin dances, Inside Edge of Foot is often used. Outside Edge of foot is not usually used.

Foot Turn Out:

  • Foot is naturally turned out on backward and side steps.

  • On forward step, tracking of moving foot is straighter. As weight is taken on to the front foot, the back foot will turn out naturally, gradually. Back foot does not turn out before weight is on front of the front foot. (This helps stability.)

    • Back foot starts with slightly turned out position (does not start from maximum turn out position), and then gradually roll (which pushes body/spine forward as well, think about turning thigh outward) and it ends in max turned out position..

  • Turn out is also on forward step when it's checked and followed by weight change to back foot.

  • Amount of turn out: 1/16 to 1/8, depending on physique.

Foot finishing position: Free foot/leg should always finish with high foot position

    • When stepping to side, pay attention to the stepping foot position, use inside edge.

      • In 2nd position, the free leg to the side, thigh should be turned out, making foot turned out

    • When collecting to feet together, collect with inside edge of big toe into high toe position (or heel together)

    • When stepping back, finish front free foot pointed with straight leg.

    • When stepping forward, finish back foot turn out maximum with high hip.

Foot Movement:

    • Keep energy from feet at all times. For basic movements, feet should not leave ground. Feet should maintain the energy you feel when you stand on balls of the feet. Pressure on the ground is what creates the grounded, solid look (as opposed to light). Feet should not be "loose" without tone.

    • When feet are in side by side position, the pressure is not to push out, the feeling is squeezing to inside thigh of both legs.

    • Hold the foot on floor as long as possible, then move foot quickly without missing stepping on beat. (Except for Jive). This may initially look robotic, but is a very necessary foundation. Later, add in body movement.

      • Faster foot gives it more time for body actions. Chest and foot arrives and then body/hip.

    • Footwork: mostly ball flat in Latin dances, a little more pressure on inside edge of ball of foot.

      • Part of foot is in contact with floor at all times. Practice by placing a piece of paper under each foot. For every move, the feet should be taking the paper with it.

      • Trailing foot: very important for the trailing foot to be turned out, also need to "wing the ankle" - there is downward pressure from inside of ball of foot. Create nice leg line.

      • When stepping forward or to side, the heel of the other foot is released with IE of ball of foot in contact with floor.

    • Track feet under body.

      • Moving foot from one position to another, the leg must track under the body.

      • All forward/backward open turns: start with step passing under body and then ending to front or back.

    • "Working from floor on and up" - it's the feet causing the spine to move (when doing demi-pointe and pointe, it will cause spine to move). Common mistake: gravity causing spine to move.

Terms used:

    • Transfer weight: foot has remained with pressure on the floor at the end of preceding step. (i.e. moving partial weight)

    • Replace weight: pressure is released from floor at the end of preceding step. (i.e. moving full weight)

Spine positions

With one foot in front of another:

    1. Spine split between 2 feet. (Both feet flat.)

    2. Spine stacked over whole foot. (The other foot is "demi-pointe" position.)

    3. Spine over front of foot. (The other foot is in "pointe" position.)

A typical Latin movement will go through these spine positions.

Leg Actions

    1. Horizontal action: release back leg, track (drawling a straight line through), move to front horizontally, front ankle directly below knee.

    2. Vertical action: Contract thighs, pushing knee down and backwards to create lengthening of the leg. Common mistakes: reach from knee outwards.

Use thighs:

    • Think about turning the thighs out, that will help turning the foot out more.

    • To create a lot of sitting positions: e.g. weight on R leg, L leg diagonal forward to the side. both legs bent, turning R thigh inward (to left, closing), turn L thigh outward (to left, opening), keep turning both thighs to maximum, that will create the right sitting position.

    • In Samba cruzado walk or Botofogo, turn back leg thigh outward, continue turning front leg thigh inward, the more thigh turns, front leg will bend more, chest will be more forward, back hip high, compressed side, this will create the right line and more power.

    • Ladies: strive to keep legs together, minimize space between thighs.

Body isolation and Figure 8

Whole body is working in figure 8 (not just hips). It creates the characteristics of the dance. It is about the internal state of the body. Anytime an external part is moved, think about how it's created using internal part of body. Core movements are connected to all external movements.

3 different isolation used in Figure 8:

    1. Twisting (Practice with feet together. Straight knees.) Twist left and right. This action is most important. A lot of power. Really stretch (on 41). Get deeper in the action.

      • Twisting is when turn commences in hips only.

      • Rotational: hip rotates around spine.

      • Twisting in Latin dances is often associated with leg movement.

      • This is also the action for "settling" which happens on straight leg, on "&" beat. It commences hip movement, it often causes the other foot to move horizontally.

    2. Compression: (Practice with feet together.) Hip moves laterally. For this exercise, do not allow hip to twist and move back. Squeeze, compress sides.

      • You could isolate hips without bending knees. Or, you could allow knees to bend.

      • Compression creates a high hip on the compressed side. Compression is used when "settling" on the standing leg, doing figure 8, when doing swivel/hip twist turns.

      • When compressing one side, that side's energy should be going up (not down), think about "opposition".

      • Lateral: Hips move to left and right with minimal rotation. Some dancers dance ChaCha Chasse using lateral movement. 4&: the 2 steps have equal weight distribution.

    3. Pendulum swing action: proper compression will create the pendulum action.

      • In practice, allow knee to bend, it creates more space.

      • In Latin dances, pendulum action is associated with weight/spinal transfer.

"Cuban motion is the result of bending and straightening the knees" - a simple way of describing it in some studios when teaching beginners. Use muscle in the core to develop proper figure 8 action as described in details below.

Figure 8 - Both Hip and Rib Cage

The figure 8 action should be going on through out the dance. Body needs to be active at all times. It could be slowed down, but not stopped. Both hips and upper body (rib cage) has figure 8 actions. Rib cage figure 8 is layered with the hip figure 8 action. Upper body should feel more free, not constrained, stiff.

Hip Figure 8 Action

    • Start with feet apart, straight legs. Compress on the left side, which creates L hip high, R hip low.

    • Twisting: Keep the compression, then twist, still has L hip high, R hip low. Hips are on diagonal. This creates internal space. Do not allow rib cage to rotation with hip. When you twist and take left hip back, take left shoulder forward (not back) in opposition.

    • Pendulum diagonally forward to right. Fill the internal space with body action. Now, R hip is high, L hip is low. Don't clip this short and start twisting early. To make action full with more power, finish pendulum action to create more circumference.

      • The default movement is to not do ribcage displacement, pendulum and transfer weight at the same time, the spine and hip arrive on right foot together.

      • As a choice and for effect, one could choose to do ribcage displacement (moving ribcage first to right and delay pendulum action) - but do not use this as default movement.

    • Compress on the right side, just having R hip even higher. Transfer full weight on RF.

    • Twist to right and back.

    • Pendulum diagonally forward to left. (When there is a partner, the partners are working "in" toward each other. Keep body weight forward.) [Repeat]

Upper Body (Rib Cage, Torso) Figure 8 Action

For this exercise, keep hips still, only move rib cage.

  • Move left rib cage, diagonally forward, then to left side, then back. Then, immediately to the second half on right side next.

  • Move right rib cage, forward, side, back.

Combining Hip and Rib Cage Figure 8

Hip and rib cage figure 8 goes in opposition. Body works in diagonals - diagonal stretch, e.g when R hip to to R side, L rib cage to L side - opposition, diagonal.

    • When R hip rotates back and around, L rib cage expands and stretches forward

    • Then they meet in the middle.

    • Then L hip goes back and around in figure 8, R rib cage stretches forward

    • Repeat.

Apply all this in Rumba Cucarachas. It's important to make sure upper body do not tense up. Upper body is soft.


CBMP is a foot position where the foot steps the center line. Strong CMBP takes the foot strongly across the line. This is also called Latin Cross, Cuban Cross, or 5th position.

    • Closed 5th: back toe right behind front heel

    • Open 5th: there is some space between back toe and front heel

CBM: Movement - taking opposite shoulder toward the moving leg. This is used in Shoulder to Shoulder and Spot Turn.