11 Ways to Latin Dance Better

In honor of Dancing with the Stars Latin Night tonight (my favorite of the whole season!), here are my tips for letting go, having more fun, and becoming a better Latin dancer in general–whether for fitness dance like Zumba or partner dancing.

Look how easy it is… 😉

1. Dress the Part. You do not have to wear anything at all in the realm of a Vegas showgirl to channel a feisty persona. Wear something colorful that hugs your body. I’m serious! It’s all about shaking it, I don’t care what size you are. Shaking it looks better when one can see things being shaken. Which takes us to…

2. Define Your Audience. Who are you shaking it for? If you’re in Zumba, it’s likely you are dancing with strangers. Do you really care what they think? I know we all care about what others think, but give yourself an hour off! You’re dancing for YOURSELF.

3. Get a Spot Close Enough to the Mirror. How are you going to dance for yourself if you can’t see yourself?

Actually, I’m an advocate of going to the back as much as you go to the front…let other people have a chance close to the mirror and instructor. Fitness dance is still fun if you can’t see yourself, but watching yourself in the mirror keeps you accountable to explore ways of making it look like dance! As opposed to you just flopping through the motions to lose weight or something.

4. Engage the Brain. You should feel a mental scramble in a fitness dance class. It’s a mental, visual, and kinesthetic puzzle.

The instructor doesn’t have the same puzzle. She or he has figured out the choreography ahead of time. They are not trying to watch and do in real-time, so don’t compare yourself to the instructor because you’re playing different games.

That said, once you go to enough classes, fitness dance can be a time to both engage and zone out a bit mentally. It has become such a positive stress-buster in my life.

5. First Things First. Although you have to let go and shake it in Latin dance, you can’t always start there. We all are differently-coordinated. What I’ve seen work for most people is a sequence of learning the steps, then the arms, then the hips. Sometimes Latin moves can look magically complex, but it is an illusion. It all breaks down to those three things.

And now a little mid-list inspiration. Here’s one of my favorite paso doble’s from DWTS:

6. A Little How to On Hips. I probably need to write a whole post on this one, but hips can feel tricky at first. I learned ballet before Latin, so I was pretty stiff myself.

Hips are activated from the legs as much as the core. When you salsa forward, you can activate the hips by merely bending your legs more rather than just stepping forward. But actually lifting or lowering each hip from your abs is important as well, and your torso, shoulders, everything should eventually get involved. That’s one of my favorite things about dance! Full body integration.

7. Speed it Up. Once you get the basic elements of steps, arms, and hips down, you may still feel like you’re just not quite hitting the overall look. You’ll be amazed what a speed change can do for this. It takes practice, so be patient, but some moves look entirely different if you make your brain think of doing them almost in double time or ahead of the beat and with more attack. Try it next time you’re frustrated. (But not if it makes you more frustrated!)

8. Simplify. If that doesn’t work, try turning things down! By this, I mean that some of your movements may be larger than what the instructor is doing. So much of Latin dance is dramatic. You see it and think you need to sweep that arm at a wide radius, but the drama is usually an illusion.

I find this fascinating, and it’s another reason to stand near the mirror. You can compare what the instructor is actually doing. Cut out any extra flailing or movement that may be getting in the way.

9. Think Core! Think of Latin dance as your excuse to not do sit-ups. I’ve always loathed sit-ups but never so much as when my back and neck were newly-injured. Dance was one of the things that allowed me to keep moving, which was important for my recovery.

All that hip action is a way to connect with your core, and I consider it a much more natural way than sit-ups. Your core should be tired after Zumba. Thinking of using it during steps you are struggling with can help you get through the fast sequencing.

10. Experiment with Shaking. Maybe you can’t shake your hips right now for some reason. It seriously will come even if it takes some time. Some students I’ve worked with tried shaking something else at those parts of a Latin dance. Shake your shoulders. Shake your arms. Who cares?! Just wiggle around, it’s super liberating.

11. You Define Sassy or Sexy. The instructors and star pupils may be sassing it out to the stratosphere…and my opinion is you should try that! It’s more fun! But don’t let their interpretation of sassy or sexy intimidate you from dancing according to your own.

Latin dance is about passion and confidence–those attributes you already have…or want! A fitness dance class is an awesome place to try those qualities on, in whatever degree you choose. Special bonus. Practicing those qualities and celebrating that kind of energy spills over to other parts of your life.

What other tips have helped you in Zumba or other fitness dance? Feel free to share in a comment.

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