Don’t get me wrong, proper ballroom dance technique is essential for Cuban motion. Once you have the dancing basics down however, you might be asking yourself: How can I do more to capture the look of a Latin dancer? And a big part of that comes from increasing your dance hip flexibility, which gives you more range of motion on the dance floor. Here’s 6 ways to do that.
1. Keep a neutral spine.
Many dancers, due to an imbalance in their core and back muscles, end up sticking their butt out while dancing. This is like stretching an elastic band to it’s limit before twisting it. If you then try to twist your hips, at best you’ll find your hip flexibility is lower than usual – at worst you risk tearing something.
2. Make sure the core is working.
Many muscles can play a roll in the rotation of the hips, but the ringleaders are the core muscles (your abs and lower back muscles). If you find it hard to use the core muscles while dancing, stand 2-footed with legs straight, and imagine you have bungee cords crossing from your hip to the opposite lower ribs. Practice dance tightening the muscles in the latter to pull to opposite hip forward (it won’t move much).
3. Add the knees and feet.
Engaging your legs won’t actually increase hip flexibility, but it can certainly make the dance action bigger! Think of how you climb a flight of stairs: you bend your knee to step onto the stair, shift your weight over the leg, then straighten to push yourself up. We use these same muscles when Latin dancing to move our hips. Turning the toes outwards also helps open the hips for bigger rotation.
4. Stretch the hip rotator muscles.
If you’ve tried the above three tips and the dancing movement still feels tight, you might need to increase hip flexibility through stretching. I’ve talked about some great stretches in the past, but here’s one specific to the hip rotators:
A. Sitting on a chair, place the LF on top of the right thigh, so the knee points out to the side.
B. Push gently down on the left thigh until you feel resistance.
C. Tilt slightly forward at the hip as you exhale, and hold for 30 seconds.
D. You can get a different stretch by starting with step A and pulling the left knee towards the right shoulder.
5. Stretch the IT band.
Another common area that dancers need to stretch regularly isn’t a muscle at all; it’s a thin, sheath of connective tissue that runs from the hip down to the knee. This is the iliotibial (IT) band. IT bands are notoriously difficult to stretch, although I suggest one here that works for some. However, the only method I’ve found that works for almost everybody is (*wince*) foam rolling.
Consider picking up a yoga matt along with your roller so you have something to rest on during this stretch:
A. Buy a foam roller and lie sideways on it, so it rests just below the hip bone.
B. Slowly walk yourself upward, rolling the length of your leg down to just above the knee. Feel free to scream loudly while doing so.
It’s definitely not comfortable, but it feels great once you’re done!
6. Drill it!
Sometimes, the best way to improve hip flexibility is simply by practicing the Cuban motion you learned in class. Try it to a Rumba or Cha Cha beat, 20 minutes and 3 times a week, making sure you are pushing yourself to go a little further each time. Flexibility and dance practice in one exercise!
North Shore Ballroom Dance Society
by Ian Crewe