Devotion To The Motion Suggest E-Motion

This article was originally published on Dance Archives.

One of the pitfalls in Latin American competitive dancing is the tendency to emphasize the “narrative” element of a couple dancing together. Thus, the “male part” tends to become increasingly macho, exceedingly heterosexual. 

We create this image by the overt gestures in the choreography, the exagge­rated facial expression, and the exaggerated costumes. Furthermore, the clichéd commercial music accompanies all of the above. Also, we exagerate the “woman’s” part in the same way by presenting an unsubtle image of a stereotypical sexy female.

All too often we teach dancers to be more sexy, feminine, butch, macho, masculine. Sometimes, we use even words as “high-class prostitu­tes” to explain the characterization. I believe that those words are insulting to the dancer as a human being. Even more, it suggests that we are ourselves we are not a man or a woman enough. For example, a dog may walk on his hind legs, but he cannot lose his “dogginess”. In the same way a dancer who is a human being can never lose his “humanness”.

A dancer is a person he or she can never be wholly abstract. A male person is a man dancing, a female person is a woman dancing. They make the statement together. Nothing more is necessary to create man and woman, one does not have to “act” man or woman.

The notion of abstraction can be useful in rela­tion to this problem for the choreographer and the dancers themselves. They have a joint res­ponsi­bility. 

“To abstract is to draw out the essence of the matter. To abstract in art is to separate certain fundamentals from the irrelevant material which surrounds them”.

We can draw out the essence of a moment in a dance by atten­ding to one or two of the movement structures. We are already man or woman so we can diminish the “acting out” of our “male­ness” of “femaleness”. Concentrate on the fundamental structure which gives that particular moment its “life” in the dance.

To do this it is essential to understand how the flexible torso move­ments, the zig-zag parading floor patterns and the alternating impulse/impact rhythms of the Samba are its very essence. These are the fundamentals of the dance. They need to be created by the dancer. They do not exist outside of the moving dancer’s body. 

When the dancer changes the emphasis from torso to hips spending time sinking into transferences of weight, sliding past and circling around their partner, merging im­pact/impulse rhythms to create a continuity of movement we no longer see the Samba. These movements collectively create the Rumba. 

Devotion to the motion will more economi­cally, more clearly, more accurately, more exci­tingly, more subtly create the essen­ce of the dance.

Martin confirms this about western ballroom dancing: 

“…that in dances of this character the curved line is predominant in design. Sometimes this is for the sake of emphasizing the natural curves of the body and sometimes it is to keep the eye of the onlooker constantly returning to the body.” 

So abstraction in Latin American dancing might be a commitment to twisting actions, changes of weight, staying on the spot, and qualities of weightiness. To add irrelevant extras rein­forces stereotypical and behavioral gestu­res that have not­hing to do with the dances. The painter Wassily Kandinsky neatly reinforces the necessity to keep the unnecessary out of art:

“I could never employ forms bij proceeding from logical pro­cesses, only those born within me by an inner necessi­ty. The form of a horse becomes more magical the further I depart from an actual horse.”

In Latin it has to do with the degree of abstraction from the subject matter, the male/female relationship. When the empha­sis is too much on telling a “story”, there is nothing left to the imagination of the spectator. Over-abstracting might create a feeling of being too far removed from the dancers and the dance giving a cooler impression with the emphasis on design, form, or space.

A male/female relationship in Latin Dance should sustain the illusion and leave something to the spectators’ imagination. It contains a semblance of reality that we can identify but not so clearly presented that we can only put it into words.

Choreographers have the most influ­ence on the dancers’ performance. They need to understand abstraction as an aspect of the creative act.

When an idea is to represent a cape, one first has to learn to lift the abstracted qualities, the lines shapes, and rhythms from the source of motivation. 

Secondly, we need to remove  the abstracted quali­ties from their everyday setting. In the Paso-Doble the “cape” is not in the bullfight arena and is not a “real” cape. The female dancer simbolizes it. She remains female and is not in the arena. She creates the illusion of a cape. 

Thirdly, the choreographer has to organize those lines, shapes, and rhythms into a form that holds the original concept in an abstracted way. When the woman tries to “represent” the cape as literally as possi­ble, it can become comical rather than illusionary. Although this example is obvious, the same applies in more subtle repre­sentations like the flirting behavior of the male/female or the creation of the characterization of each dance.

The dance should sustain an illusion, and not endeavor to represent the idea literally. The illusion contains and is created by the abstracted elements manifest through the shape and form of a moving human being. Therefore it embodies fee­ling which is symbolic.

From his book Latin Thinking and Sensing.

Read a similar article here.

Photography: Tomasz Reindl

Ruud Vermeij is the first dance instructor in the world to hold a doctoral degree in ballroom dancing. He is a dance educationist and psychotherapist and a co-founder of the Dutch Dance Lab. In 1996 he published "Thinking, Sensing, and Doing in Latina American Dancing". His writings are timeless and a powerful resource for both professional dancers and teachers. You can find him on

Tags: masculinity symbol

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