Barb's Helpful Tips for Rueda Dancing

DON'T BOUNCE YOUR STEPS WHEN YOU DO LATIN DANCING

You don't want to bounce the steps in Casino Rueda, or any Latin dance. The knees are bent very slightly throughout the steps, and the head stays at the same level.  In Salsa, dancers express their feeling for the pulse of the music with hip and body movement rather than by bouncing from the knees.

KEEP YOUR WEIGHT OVER YOUR FEET, NOT THROWN BACK

Keep your weight over your center; don't lean back on your heels.  Back weighting like that slows you down as you have to shift your weight forward before you can take a step. This in turn, can cause dancers to be slow and off time.

WATCH OTHERS AND TRY TO SYNCHRONIZE YOUR MOVES WITH THEIRS

Remember to watch the other experienced dancers and match their moves so you are in synchrony with them. Mimicking others is a useful technique in this dance, but not everyone remembers to do it.

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE CALLER AND LISTEN FOR THE CALLS

Listen to and watch the caller so you don't miss a call. That is the responsibility of every dancer in the circle.

KEEP THE CIRCLE CIRCULAR AND TIGHT!

Pay attention to keeping the circle tight and circular. That is also everyone's responsibility. Try to stay fairly close to the perimeter of the circle on steps where it's easy to pull away.

STAY CLOSE TO YOUR PARTNER

Both partners generally should keep enough tension in their arms so the elbows stay bent, forcing the couple to stay fairly close. If partners extend their arms fully, they get too far from each other and leading is compromised.


Above: Barb calls a Rueda move

GUYS, DON'T PULL BACK AND TO THE LEFT EARLY ON THE CBL

In every step that ends with a CBL (such as dame una and countless others), guys need to be sure they are right next to the lady until beat 5 which is when the CBL begins.

Many leaders start to turn to their left early----on beat three, or they step back and to the left with their left foot on that beat. They are anticipating their movement to the left....but they shouldn't turn left until beat five.

KEEP YOUR FEET MOVING IN THE QUICK QUICK SLOW RHYTHM, EVEN IF YOU'RE "STAYING IN PLACE"

Ladies, let me tell you what it feels like to be a leader and come to pick up a new partner who is standing still, not moving her feet at all. It feels like the lady has stopped dancing and it's unsatisfying. Followers should keep their feet moving, even if they aren't "going anywhere," so they look and feel like they're actually dancing!

This applies to all steps where either leaders or followers stay in place. The group spirit of a Rueda circle is augmented by having everyone move in the same rhythm. So even if you don't have to take a step to move or turn, keep the feet going. This also helps ensure you'll know which foot to step on when you do need to move!

HOW MUCH LEAD IS TOO MUCH LEAD?---THE ETERNAL QUESTION

There is a lot of variance in how forcefully guys lead. Likewise there is a lot of variance in how much lead ladies prefer. There is no one correct answer to the question of how much lead is too much. People will judge that differently.

Personally, I prefer as much lead as necessary for clarity and no more (a sort of "economy of lead" principle). If you start the lady in motion and her momentum will continue taking her where you want her to go, for example, there is no need to push the entire time she moves along. That doesn't mean you don't provide contact so she can feel some guidance.  But force isn't needed to get her to go somewhere she's going to go anyway!

Or if you are doing a turn or alarde, there is no need to raise the lady's arm very high over her head. You just need to clear her head. To raise the arm high, the lead has to be more forceful. So you can keep the lead gentle by moving the arm only as high as needed. It takes a greater level of sophistication as a dancer to lead effectively but still be gentle. It's much easier to lead with force.

There is one more notable point regarding the stength of the lead. If someone has too little lead, they'll find out. The lady won't know what to do, so it's obvious she needs a firmer hand. But if your lead is extremely strong, you don't get feedback on that as readily. Everyone you dance with will follow just fine; but it may not be comfortable. So if you value a gentle lead, this is something to bear in mind.

FRAME AND TENSION TO MAKE LEADING AND FOLLOWING POSSIBLE

Following a lead properly requires some basic understanding of frame and tension.  This is something people develop over time and experience.  When women who aren't experienced dancers first try a turn, they often let their arm move back but don't move their bodies, as their partner tries to lead them. 

To follow a lead, the lady's arm maintains a shape so that she can be pushed to move where the leader wants her to go.  This shape or frame allows the leader to move the follower.  I have seen a number of interesting ways to explain the concept of frame.  One is that ladies must be able to see their right arm out of the corner of their eye. So the arm never goes behind their head.  THen when the arm is pushed to turn the lady, her body has to go with the arm---and (voila!) she has been led!

Another unique way to explain this was shared with me by a friend, Melinda Turner. She said she was in a class where the teacher passed out tennis balls to the ladies. They were all told to put the ball under their right armpit and dance without letting it fall.  Then when the lady was turned to the right by pressure on her right hand, she had to hold a rigid frame and move her arm and body too, or the ball would fall. 

I've never quite had the nerve to bring tennis balls to class, but this is an outstanding way to convey the concept of frame.  I have found that even just describing this in words from the beginning, and asking the ladies to imagine a ball is under their arm, is enough to get the concept across.

TIPS FOR SPECIFIC RUEDA MOVES

These notes are not intended to be a description of any of the moves.  They are pointers and pitfalls to watch for as you dance.

DAME UNA

To do this step, on beats 5, 6, and 7 leaders go forward on their right foot, then back on their left (as in the basic) and then on beat 7 they step onto their right foot and turn toward the center of the circle.  On beats 1, 2, and 3 leaders move to their new partner stepping left, right, left. Then they initiate a Cross Body Lead on beats 5, 6, and 7. 

Ladies meanwhile step forward with their left foot, back on their right, and face the center on their left foot on beats 5, 6, and 7.  Then they do a very small back rock (but they don't throw their weight back) while the leaders are moving to their new partners (on beats 1, 2, and 3).  They raise their arms so the leader can put his hand on their back. 

And then the ladies are led into the CBL on beats 5, 6, and 7.  Ladies do the CBL by stepping first with their left foot and moving in a straight line across the man's body to get back into the position for the basic step (guapea). Ladies should not turn left until they have put their right foot down on beat 6.  It is also important for ladies not to start their cross body lead until beat five---and wait for the guy's lead, even though they know the move. 

Guys should all move at the same time as they travel to their next partner. If you're not sure of the timing, watch others who are experienced and move when they do.

FLY / HIGH 5 / HIGH 10 / BESITOS / LOW BALL

These steps are simple moves that are great to help teach the rhythm of the dance.   Leaders turn to their right and face the lady behind them; they clap, kiss or do a high 5/10 on beat 1.  Followers turn to their left and face the leader behind her to do this move.  Then everyone comes back to the basic position by turning back on beat two and resuming the usual step pattern on beat 5.

DAME DOS

Dame dos is conceptually and rhythmically identical to Dame una. But Dame dos is an exception to the "take small steps" rule. Leaders move to their new partner with a big step on their left foot (that is almost a lunge) on beat one. Note that guys get most of the way to their partner on that one step. They should be comfortably next to her and facing the center before doing the CBL.

ENCHUFLA

An issue in doing/learning this step is that you need to do the turn in one beat. Beginners often turn slowly instead of sharply in a single beat. That puts them behind for the remainder of the move.

ADIOS

On beat 3, you get into what is essentially a ballroom "back-spot turn" position. Gentlemen should provide a firm but comfortable frame for the ladies on that beat which helps the partners move gracefully through the turn. This is not a common position in Rueda, but it's one that feels very nice when done properly.

PA TI PA MI

This step is conceptually simple---it's just three enchuflas. But it's a surprisingly beautiful move, given its simplicity.

You have to move through each enchufla fairly quickly (turning in one beat) to be ready for the next one. I find that if dancers lower their arms after each enchufla and then they raise their arms again to do the next one, it helps mark the rhythm. And to further help, if anyone is having trouble, I say "down" on the beat when the arms come down. Then everyone has a sense of doing the turn in the four beats allotted, since I am saying "down" every four beats.

I highly recommend this step for demonstrations and performances by the way--it really looks beautiful from outside the circle.

EVELIN AND FLAMENCO

These steps start like adios.  But almost as soon as the adios turn is initiated, the leader must start to break the lady's movement.  It is unusual to start a move and stop it so quickly, but if that isn't done, the lady may turn too far.  So be ready to lead a turn and put the brakes on almost as soon as it was begun! 

In Flamenco, the guy also leads the lady in an exhibe.  To lead an exhibe, the man should face the lady squarely while she faces the center of the circle.  So they are at a 90 degree angle to each other.

Sometimes ladies make the mistake on an exhibe of turning in place.  Instead, they should step forward on their left (heading right toward the center of the circle) but leave the right foot in place.  Ladies pivot on the left foot, turning 180 degrees so they face outside the circle. They step on their right foot which was left at the perimeter of the circle, and pivot 180 degrees on that foot as well.  So they are now facing the center of the circle again. Then a CBL ends the move.

KENTUCKY

In Kentucky, guys need to make sure that they turn all the way around to face the center. They often don't quite get that far around when first learning the move.

EL UNO AND/OR EL DOS

On uno and dos, remember that both partners are doing diagonal back rocks (like cumbia steps). No one is doing a forward rock.

Also, I think it's best for beginners to face the center on those steps, and for their steps to be small.  Also, if the guy takes large, enthusiastic steps, it can tug on the lady's arms. So it's best for the leader not to rock too far side to side. A lady's arms are most comfortable relatively low and by her side.

VARIOUS STEPS THAT BEGIN WITH THE TAP ON THE 8TH BEAT

That one little tap really throws a lot of people. Sometimes, it especially throws experienced Salsa dancers because they've spent so much time stepping only on beats 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7. If you've done something countless times a certain way, it can be hard to change even if it's a simple change. Practice will cure that problem, of course.

But here are a few pointers on the tap itself. Your knee should be bent. It takes too long and is awkward to straighten the knee out and then tap. It will be hard to get to the next step in time. And don't put a lot of weight on the tapped foot. It has a little weight, but you step onto that foot with your full weight on the next beat, beat one. 

What is important is stepping right on the beats, and this requires good technique or it's hard to do that quickly.  That is why the knee bend and foot placement are important!  If you are off on the timing of the "5, 6, 7, tap," then it tends to throw the rest of the step off.

SIETE / SIETE MODERNO / SIETE LOCO

On siete, how far the lady turns in is a matter of taste or preference. But if you are first learning, I suggest a shallow turn of 180 degrees, from facing into the circle to facing out of it. If you roll further than that, unrolling from such a tight pose can be strained in the time you have.

As you go on with other steps that "stem" from siete, it is important for ladies to leave their hands up around mid-chest level.  In Siete Moderno for example, the leaders need to switch hands quickly and they need to be able to find the lady's hand easily.  So when you do any of the sietes, ladies should make a special effort to leave their hands where the leader can easily find them.  This is good general advice for other steps as well by the way.

CANDADO

When Rueda dancers do Candado, there is a tendency to stomp the steps once they complete that "Kentucky-like" turn and the ladies are facing the leaders' backs.  The noise of this stomping makes the music hard to hear. Because of this, I've seen dancers either speed up or go too slowly. So keep a close ear out for the music whenever you do this step.

DAME ARRIBA

This is a dame step, but you move "upstream" or clockwise to get to the next partner instead of going in the usual counter-clockwise direction.  The trick in this step is that the steps preceding the beats on which men travel to their partner are also altered slightly from the usual dame.  On a standard dame, on beats 5, 6, and 7 leaders go forward on their right foot, then back on their left (as in the basic) and then on beat 7 they step onto their right foot and turn to face the center of the circle.  Then on beats 1, 2, and 3 they move to their new partner stepping on left, right, left.   To do Dame Arriba, after the call, leaders do not step to face the center of the circle on beat 7. Instead they are stepping on that beat in the direction of the "upstream" partner that they are moving too.  Essentially, they are getting a little jump on the movement to their next partner. 

VACILA

A common mistake that I see in executing this step is for the ladies to spin the turn. The vacila turns are supposed to be made evenly, so they are ending as you come to the leader's right side.  You step or walk through these turns rather than spinning them, in other words.

VACILENSE LOS DOS

This step is identical to Vacila for the ladies.  But the guys also turn in Vacilense Los Dos.  Guys can turn in the same direction as the ladies (to the right), or they can turn the opposite direction (to the left).  The latter essentially uses the momentum of the lead to initiate the turn and looks quite nice.   And I've seen guys do either one or two turns. 

BLENDING MOVES

Blending steps means that the next step is called 8 beats before the end of the previous step, so you go right from one step into the next with no basic in between.  Some dancers consider a goal of a good, sophisticated rueda circle to have a minimum number of basic steps so that the movement really clips along.  This certainly makes it exciting for the dancers in the circle. 

 

 

Copyright Barbara Bernstein of DanceInTime.com, 2005