Salsa > "Cuban Motion": Ballroom vs. Social

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by Joy In Motion, Mar 18, 2008.

  1. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    How would you describe the difference in hip action and technique between ballroom mambo and social salsa dancing?

    I know the technique of how I move my hips when I dance salsa socially, but I do not have an extensive background in ballroom dancing. I know what differences I observe from watching and dancing with people who have a ballroom background, but perhaps some of you can speak on a more technical level of what is happening in ballroom that doesn't or shouldn't happen in social salsa.

    The social Latin dance community that I am apart of (and Latinos in particular) tend to look down on people who dance at the club trying to use ballroom hips instead of dancing with "social hips." Do any other social salseros find this to be the case as well, or no? I personally find that I dislike the ballroom aesthetic in the club as well. I would be interested to know what others think.
  2. Josh

    Josh Active Member

    I guess it would also be good for you to describe what you are talking about in the first sentence of your 2nd paragraph, basically, how do you move your hips when you dance salsa socially; or rather, how would you teach it?

    Then, we can compare it to how it's done by a typical ballroom dancer. There are two ways to achieve hip action in latin ballroom, and the following is how it's done for mambo:

    - put your weight over one leg, and make sure the leg is bent. Next three things happen at the same time:
    1) straighten the leg you're on
    2) allow the same hip to roll around and back
    3) the knee of the other leg will veer in and bend more

    It's called a settling action, where the hip moves around and back, and "settles" back. Just the hip alone will look strange, and just the legs alone will look strange, but if they are allowed to work together, it is a nice smooth motion. This is a simplified view, and there's more to it (for example, that the hip moves forward before it moves around and back), but that's the general idea. So, the hips work with the legs and feet to create action. Due to the fast tempo of salsa/mambo music, a full action on every step would look out of place as a general rule, so due to the speed of the music the hips should not be exaggerated.

    That's a shame that they look down on others, but I suppose that's human nature. I think that a good dancer should be versatile enough to be able to dance in a way appropriate for the situation, whether that's a competition floor, social event, club, or wherever. Hopefully that answers some questions!
  3. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    First, yes, I agree with all of your post, and feel the same. Fortuantely, I was laughed at early by the Latinos, adopted, and trained to know the differences.

    Of course, I am sure that you understand that there is a difference between actual Cuban mambo and salsa, also. I know that in social settings, it is often difficult to tell the diff, and many Latinos even call the dances Salsamambo. Speaking specifically to the BR vs social diff, the biggest is that social salsa is danced with the weight held lightly in the core causing more of an 'up' action, whereas BR is danced with the weight lower in the body causing the familiar 'down' hip action. Though the technical diffs aren't easily explained, the BR action follows the traditional 4 Points of Latin Movement...toe, ankle, knee, hip, and the social is developed more by pressing upward from the inside edge of the foot, and leading, if you will, upward from the rib cage.

    Also, BR typically follows a prescribed set of patterns that usually conform to one particular style; social salsa combines medio, cumbia tropical, mambo, and cumbia de salsa...hence the name...mixture or fusion (the spanish term for sauce).
  4. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    It appears we crossed in posting. Josh's post is a good one.
  5. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    Feeling vs. Analyzing

    Thanks, Josh & Angel HI. Good descriptions of the differences.

    I think the best way for me to really understand the differences would be to get some instruction in ballroom Cuban motion. As clear as your descriptions are, I have a hard time imagining how the motion actually feels. I think that would be the best tool in being able to explain and show the differences for a student. I think the process of learning to do it myself will also solidify the technical aspects that you are describing.

    I am working on writing a short article on how to move the hips for dancing salsa socially. This is probably the biggest question that students ask me, especially women. They see me dancing and immediately try to move their hips to imitate me, but of course we all know what the result will be when they do that.

    I personally find that the hip motion is one of the most enjoyable aspects of social Latin dance, particularly salsa, merengue, and bachata. I can't imagine the dances feeling as fun and fluid and musical if it weren't for the hip motion. Unfortunately, there are too many dancers who focus too much on learning complicated moves but not so much time on learning how to move smoothly, lead clearly, and be musical with their dancing. Occupational hazard I suppose.
  6. Josh

    Josh Active Member

    Joy, note that if you do the above hip motion, added with some nice ribcage action (which I omitted but which must always accompany hip action), and keep it toned down, it will look good on any social dancer who does it well. The above is not just for ballroom dancers, but really looks great when kept 'social' ...
  7. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    I feel that in ballroom there is a deliberate exaggeration of cuban motion all the time. IN social salsa that isn't the case.
  8. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    My impressions

    Here are some of my impressions based on what I have heard from others regarding ballroom technique. Let's see if I'm on the right track with these observations, or if these are just stereotypes.

    From what I understand, in ballroom you are supposed to always fully straighten the leg with each step, which creates the sharper look of a more articulated hip action . . . In salsa, we focus on the bending part, the pushing into the ground that produces the hip action. Straightening the leg, I have been told, stops the hip action (that sharp look/action), preventing the smooth flow of the hips that is desired in "street" salsa. This is my impression based on what I have heard about ballroom technique.

    True or false?
  9. Josh

    Josh Active Member

    Well, compared to social salsa, it is exaggerated. That often depends on the dancer as well. You feel that it is deliberate, but it's no more deliberate than an experienced salsa dancer's basic step--it becomes part of the dancer's body, movement, and experience. In the same way, an experienced ballroom latin dancer's hips just move that way, not because of a deliberate attempt.
  10. Josh

    Josh Active Member

    Let's be sure we're talking about ballroom mambo here--not some other styles, where the leg action will be different; just making that clear.

    Since salsa/mambo is very fast in tempo, how much we straighten on each step varies depending on (a) tempo of the music, (b) skill of the dancer, and (c) the desired look for a particular move/figure/situation, among other things. So, no, we do not always fully straighten the leg with each step. In general, yes, the leg straightens, but always--can't say that. Does the leg lock totally? Well, if we have time, maybe. But for a super fast song, you physically don't have time to fully straighten the leg to a locked position. We're talking about maybe 210+ beats per minute on a really fast song--forget about it! :) I think that maybe you're thinking ballroom mambo dancers will straighten each leg every time, a lot, leading to a scissor-like motion on every step, which is not the case.

    The sharp action you're talking about doesn't come from whether we straighten the leg or not--it's how we straighten it. If I snap it straight, it will look sharp. If I push it and slowly roll it, it will look very soft. Hopefully that makes sense. If you want maybe I can video myself doing this and post it somewhere.

    To be honest Joy, I don't know how a good hip action looks if the leg stays totally bent. I don't know how pushing into the ground alone without letting the leg straighten at least a little will produce any hip action. Maybe there's a video (youtube or something) you can find that shows the type of action in good detail that you're describing. As I took lessons years ago from Edie and as she's a great dancer and phenomenal person, I decided to look up a video of her dancing to watch her leg action. Check out this video, especially from about 0:50 to 1:15, as she's doing cross bodys and such. Notice her legs. Would you say they are straightening and bending, or are they simply bent the whole time? What is your take on her hip/leg action here?
  11. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the PM JOY. I'll be up there next week. It'll be fun to see you again, if I get the chance. Maybe we'll let the student teach her teacher? :)

    Re the leg straightening thing, you might be thinking of a certain style of mambo....

    1 (lady) step back R sitting onto a bent leg while keeping the L leg straight.
    2. Reverse the position on step 2 resembling something of a press line w/ the L now bent and weighted and the R straightened in back.
    3. Standing by straightening the L / bending the R, and bringing the feet together. Quick change of weight.
    4 - 5 - 6. Reverse the steps/positions starting forward.

    This style does use a lot of straight legs, but as Josh said, the degree of such would depend largely on the tempo of the particular song being danced to. I still dance with loosely straight/bent legs except for the L forward which I, often but not always, will straighten in a checking motion (only mambo, mind you...not know how we danced salsa).
  12. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    More thoughts

    I think maybe we are talking about the same thing, but just describing it in different ways. Of course you can't move the hips by bending one leg if you don't straighten the other as well. I guess I was trying to highlight the difference in where the focus is placed. I was under the impression that the goal in ballroom is to completely straighten the leg, which as you informed me must be a misunderstanding on my part. So hard to explain through words without having something common to look at and analyze, which makes me return again to the idea of getting some instruction in ballroom to really understand how it is taught and what it feels like.

    Concerning the video you posted, she is a good dancer, but I would not use this as a good example of good hip action, although it is pretty typical. I find good hip action to actually be very rare, even in very good and very well-known dancers. And I think that it is because there is not an adequate pushing action with the bending and straightening of the legs - as I said before, I think salsa instructors emphasize moves and improvisational choreography more than smooth movement in the upper and lower body. To me, many salseros look more like they are walking through the movements than dancing. I think Tamara ( shows somewhat better hip action. I always have a hard time finding really excellent salsa videos - and especially dancers with excellent hip movement - online, but it may be my personal preferences (I am very picky, if you haven't already noticed!).

    Thanks, Angel HI, for your thoughts as well. I'm glad to hear you'll be coming up to Alaska again. Maybe I'll see you soon!
  13. toothlesstiger

    toothlesstiger Well-Known Member

    Salsa dancers don't put an emphasis on straightening the legs, but just like you can't really walk if you keep your legs perfectly straight, you can't move if you don't adjust the bend in your knees to move. Most salsa dancers I see around here have little hip action at all. But then again, they tend to dance flat-footed.

    In terms of what I have been taught, and seems to work regardless of if I am dancing salsa, rhythm, or latin:

    * shoulders are quiet, no up and down, no turning unless called for by the figure
    * standard footwork has pressure on inside edge of ball of both feet, all the time

    Just doing this will create hip action. Differences in hip motion in different styles are accounted for by
    * whether stepping on a straight leg (latin)
    * specific emphasis on particular hip motion, such as settling to side, settling to back, with associated control of body's core
  14. Br0nze

    Br0nze Active Member

    I am trained in International Latin style, and so when I dance Salsa socially I feel as though the technique comes through in my "hip action." However, when I dance socially I also forget technique and just let go. To me social dancing is neither the time or place to practice my competitive technique.

    I think the main difference between the Cuban hip motion in ballroom and in social situations is that in the social situations, there is no emphasis or deliberate usage of the motion for some specific purpose, and it is rather a byproduct of the, shall we say, natural movement purely to the beat. The ballroom hip motion is broken down and analyzed so that -- and I may be wrong here, but let's put it out there -- the Western teachers can do it. The social hip motion is, for lack of a better word, the natural motion of the [Cuban] dancer.
  15. Bailamosdance

    Bailamosdance Well-Known Member

    Perhaps the difference is that formal training in Latin dance teaches that leading figures comes thru the back and the settling action. Social dance is more about expressing the movement, than using the movement? In social situations, it appears that patterns are led thru arms many times for example, where in Latin leads always come thru the body (just a guess on the social - I probably am one of those dancers that is 'laughed at' altho I must be amongst many kind folks as they never guffaw in my face). The cuban motion a social dancer creates many times is independent of the movement - it shows continuous movement of the hips rather than using the settling action to initiate a lead.

    (ducking head in advance of replies to this lol - putting tin hat on as well)
  16. I agree with Josh's points mostly. Anyone who has studied dance for some time will tell you that any cuban motion or hip action comes from bending and straightening the knees. More specifically, you get the hip action from straightening the leg. You can't really get much hip action if you dance on bent legs..

    And in my view many Salsa dancers don't even do much hip action...and if they do its because they bend and straighten their knees. Any advanced Salsa dancer does this as well.
    And I do agree that as a Ballroom dancer you exaggerate the focus on hips and straightening the knees where as in social Salsa its more about feeling and interpreting the music in the way that you want.
  17. Dream314

    Dream314 New Member

  18. Shaka

    Shaka New Member

    Cuban motion from street dancers is by intention whereas cuban motion from ballroom dancers is a consequence to knees action.

    When you see someone do something there are 2 ways of copying: one is the trivial way to try to copy what you see, the other one is the non-trivial way to try to understand the roots and the consequences. Street dancers are lazy dancers that try to imitate moves. Ballroom dancers are skilled dancers that understand how the body looks by working any part of it.

    A good cuban motion is performed by bending and straightening the knees. Never mind those street dancers who look down at you because they are jealous of not being able to do it the correct way.
  19. waltzgirl

    waltzgirl Active Member

    Welcome to DF, Shaka!

    Since you're new and don't know our ways yet, I wanted to point out that we try very hard not to put down people who dance differently from how we dance. It's fine to prefer the way you dance and extol its benefits, and great to understand the differences between different kinds of dance, but it doesn't help create a good community to be insulting about other dancers of any kind. We've come to this point of view after experiencing some internal wars ourselves (competitive vs. social dancers, amateur vs. pro-am, American vs. International, etc.) and have found that that kind of negativity is bad for the forums. I suspect that some DFers regard the kind of dancing they do as "the best kind," but they graciously keep that opinion off the forums.

    IMO, there's already not enough dancing in the world, so we should celebrate it wherever and however it appears. I do hope you'll stick around and contribute to DF!
  20. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    I'm not really sure what you mean by this. Perhaps you could clarify, although the rest of your post kind of gives me your viewpoint.

    I like what you write about understanding the roots and the consequences, but this can be either informal or formal, social/spiritual/emotional or intellectual/academic.

    I disagree with this completely. Just because someone chooses not to learn or study the dance in an academic way through a studio doesn't mean they are lazy. Latinos who learn the dance through their families and social networks are not lazy. It is simply a mode of transmission, and often the goal is different. And actually, the statement that they "try to imitate moves" seems more characteristic of studio dancers than street dancers. Street dancers are less interested in a codified set of moves than studio dancers are. And "skilled" is very relative. Studio dancers may be skilled in learning specific things that have been agreed upon by the studio, but oftentimes they lack the quality of movement, musicality, and unique personal expression. There are many street dancers who understand how their body works much better than studio dancers do. Don't confuse formal training with effective training, meaningful life experience, and self-awareness and knowledge.

    I don't disagree with this, but it doesn't really say much. How and how much they are bent and straightened, what is happening in the core and in the feet, how is weight being transferred, etc., are all factors for discussion.

    I didn't say they looked down on me but that they looked down on a full-on ballroom technique in a social dancing context - and I am more of a street dancer than a studio dancer, although my style and training reflect both. I tend to get appreciation from both sides.

    Actually, in my first post to start off this thread, I should have chosen my words more carefully. It's an incomplete statement to say that street dancers look down on ballroom-style social dancers or studio dancers (although some do). It would be more accurate to say that they see their (studio dancers') dancing as more often that not being lacking in style, expression, connection, musicality, quality of movement, etc. They see a bunch of moves without the context that would make them truly fit the dance. They also see "learned" techniques that are for the sake of technique only and don't have a direct bearing on the dancer's actual style and smoothness. It would be like a musician that can play notes very fast but can't put together a beautiful piece of music or play well with an orchestra. If it's technique only, what's the point and where's the dance?(There was a really great discussion of this over on Salsa Forums: - I only wish the interview was still available to listen to online, because it was a good one).

    So it is not a matter of jealousy at all. The street dancers' point of view that I am referring to reflects deep love of certain values in the dance. I am sure in the world of ballroom dance there is this riff between those who want true style and musicality and movement and those who just do a bunch of flashy tricks that have no substance to them. Of course you have to be understanding of where people are in their journey, but it doesn't mean you can't exercise good judgment and attempt to educate people who may not fully understand where techniques come from and what their true function is.

    It's also not a matter of doing it correctly. And in fact, that's the whole point. Dancers may become so focused on what is "correct" (determined by a studio or a teacher or whatever) that they lose the whole concept of the dance.

    I should add to this that most Latinos are thrilled when they see a studio or ballroom dancer who is able to combine their formal training in technique with good connection, musicality, and Latin movement. So it is not so much a dislike of the studio/ballroom aesthetic altogether but one that fully embodies those intangible qualities that make the dance(s) so beautiful.

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