Over at Ballroom by the Bay, we started working on Latin Waltz this week. It seemed to me that the class had a good bit of fun with it and I hope to build on that over the next two weeks.
Here is the material we covered, which I will recap in Class 2 next week:
- forward and back basic
- side to side basic
- cross-body lead
- open break and underarm turn
In exploring those basic figures, we talked about and practiced the technique. Because you know I am all about the technique.
Disclaimer: I have arrived at this technical interpretation based on my understanding of partner dancing and of music, not from any formal education in this style. For another interpretation of "latin waltz" (one that looks a lot like salsa in 3/4 time), follow this link: https://www.danceforjoy.biz/latinwaltz.html
The first key is the basic foot positions, which involve one directional step and a ball-change. Meaning, e.g. the leader steps forward on his left foot, closes with his right, and then changes weight in place to the left (while the follower does the natural opposite). It is not precisely three distinct "steps," but it is three distinct weight changes. Closing the feet ensures maintenance of the connection and the timing.
The ball-change action is reminiscent of samba, in that the dancer has foot rise on the closing step 2, changing the weight without putting the heel down. Then step 3, the final weight change, is flat. So it's 1 ball-flat, 2 ball, 3 flat. BUT unlike in samba, there is no "preparation" for step one: the dancer does NOT rise onto the balls of both feet before moving directionally; and there is no "sinking" into the moving leg.
What makes Latin Waltz "latin," anyway? It's not just the music; you can do this dance to Tom Jones or vals cruzada or Bob Dylan or chanson or Patsy Cline. What makes it "latin" is two things, primarily: the frame and the footwork.
Latin frame is different from smooth/standard frame. It's tighter and more rounded, with the partners directly in front of each other, as in salsa. The partners should have a forward poise, toward their partner, but the lady must still be careful to keep her back into her partner's right hand when they're in closed position. The lady also must be careful not to fall open into a promenade or "V" shape, looking off to the right. Ladies, remember - if he wants you in promenade, he'll lead you there. Don't just go there by yourself!
Latin footwork is also different from smooth/standard footwork. The dancer moves on the balls of the feet, not striding forward with the heel, nor releasing the heel when moving back.
What are some other characteristics of Latin Waltz?
Latin waltz does not travel. I can only speculate as to its "history" (most social dances are not particularly well documented!), but I imagine it developed as a simple response to the infectious danceability of folk music in 3/4 time. This type of music was not created for high-society ballrooms; it was created for small, intimate gatherings, with no line-of-dance per se. Accordingly, the dance itself is small and intimate.
Note: you can travel with latin waltz: but I don't really recommend it, and the reason why is the frame. If you are traveling, you need to be looking out for traffic, and that is hard to do with a partner right in front of you. It is also hard to avoid stepping on a partner who is right in front of you. Which is why most of our traveling dances use the offset smooth/standard frame.
A Short Sermon
Generally speaking, people who travel a lot in dances other than waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep, Viennese waltz and samba are doing it by completely releasing their frame. It's do-able, but it tends to look sloppy, and it's extremely hard to follow with any kind of integrity because once you are traveling out of frame, you are not doing correct traveling figures.
Now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming.
Latin waltz has minimal rise and fall. Unlike smooth/standard waltz, there is no lowering action into the legs before taking a directional step. In this respect latin waltz is more like Viennese waltz, which also has minimal rise and fall, due to the speed; but of course in Viennese waltz the dancer still drives forward or back from the heel. So that's something to watch out for and avoid in latin waltz.
Latin waltz has a compact action. Imagine that you are doing it in a floor-length, full, ruffled skirt (ladies) or in cowboy boots with spurs (gentlemen). What kind of action would make that possible in a closely-packed dance area? One in which the feet stay directly underneath the body. Accordingly, in latin waltz there is no reaching action such as we have in smooth, standard, or Viennese waltzes. The feet skim forward or back, gathering directly under the body before moving in a new direction.
So from the flat foot of step 3, the dancer will push out of the ball of the standing foot to send the moving foot in a forward or side direction on the next step 1: the moving foot does not, ideally, leave the vertical plane of the chest, nor does it stray outside the width of the leader's shoulders. When moving back, the dancer will push into the floor with the heel of the standing foot, keeping the toe on the floor until that foot also moves, on step 2.
Latin waltz has no Cuban motion. In fact, there is no hip action at all to speak of. That imaginary full, ruffled skirt will sway from side to side only when the lady is actually moving her feet from side to side. Alas! The reason why is that Cuban motion requires alternatively bending and straightening the knees, and latin waltz keeps a soft knee at all times.
In the coming weeks, we'll continue to review the basic figures, add some more advanced figures, and practice them in combination. We will be incorporating some of the "salsa in 3/4 time" that David Wilbur displays in the video linked above.