By Joe Donato,
I’ve seen aspiring students spend hundreds of dollars taking lessons to learn how to do proper Cuban motion. They want to look like the Cubans. But it’s not about looking that way: it’s about feeling that way. Looking good is a by-product of feeling good. And your body wants to feel good. Did you know that your body actually wants to do Cuban motion? It’s true! Because of the laws of physics, your body actually is already inclined to do proper Cuban motion, but your brain keeps getting in the way. How do I know this? And how can you "get out of my body’s way?”
First off, I know this, because every single woman I’ve ever danced Merengue or Rumba with, with proper frame, has automatically emulated proper Cuban motion within a minute or two of dancing with them, without consciously trying to make their hips and legs and ribcage move any particular way. They just went along with the ride. My body told her body what to do, and it did it. If they tried to override any natural instinct with any particular dogma that they’ve ingrained into their head, it would hinder the dance. If they tried to consciously attempt to simulate what they thought it might try to be, it didn’t work: they’d waddle, they’d wiggle weird, they’d throw their weight too far to the left or right, they wouldn’t shift their weight to the other foot half the time, their heads would rock back and forth, etc.
Cuban motion in the simplest definition is traditionally “proper hip movement”. But I’d like to present my own definition: Cuban Motion is what the body does naturally to maintain balance and control when shifting weight from one leg to the other. Our bodies can figure out how to do this on an unconscious level with the proper stimulus. Now this does not mean that you should not formerly learn proper technique. But what I am saying is that you don’t have to go through the complicated isolation process simply to experience proper technique.
I believe that before you have the motivation to learn Cuban Motion, you first need to have an experience that makes you think “wow, yes, I want it to always feel like that”. Here are three different exercises you can practice in the privacy of your home to start your body experiencing proper hip movement and weight shifting that makes all latin dances feel comfortable, confident, and easy.
Exercise 1: Balance a book on your head and walk across the room without letting it fall. I’m not going to tell you how to keep it from falling. Your body will figure that out on its own, and it doesn’t require duct tape. You will walk across the room fundamentally different than if the book was not on your head. This is an old exercise used with models to teach them how to walk sexy. (Think of Ginger from Gilligans Island. She walked like this anytime she wanted something from one of the guys on the island). I’m guessing that a few things will happen. For one, your head will not bob up and down or rock side to side. The rest of your body will instead twist and contort at the right times to make sure your head stays balanced. Your weight will shifting from foot to foot through your hips. And by the way, men use the same exact muscles as women to do their Cuban motion. It’s just that the women have larger hips and a smaller waist, so it doesn’t take being stranded on a desert island with six other castaways to notice them.
Exercise 2: Push a full shopping cart down the aisle in a supermarket, while pretending that you are on a balance beam, and can only walk by putting one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. This will particularly force you to keep your weight forward, off of your heels. In order to do that, you may also discover that your knees will, for some strange reason, start locking and unlocking alternately as you walk. You will also travel slowly. You can’t Foxtrot or Waltz down the aisle in Cuban motion. Also, you may discover how much upper body motion there is; how much muscle tension/resistance there is in your arms. Try pushing a shopping cart with limp arms. It can’t be done. Neither can good partner dancing and/or Cuban motion.
This next one reads more complicated than it actually is. But if you’ve done the other two exercises, you’re already primed.
Exercise 3: Walk up to a wall. Put your hands on the wall, about chest high, and centered, with your hands in a diamond formation, touching index finger to index finger and thumb to thumb. This should make your elbows point away from each other. Now make sure you are leaning into the wall so you are supporting your weight with your arms. Now make sure your feet are completely together so that your ankles are just about touching. By this time all your weight should be on the balls of your feet with your heels slightly off the floor and knees slightly bent. OK, now try shifting your weight from one foot to another. Don’t think about which parts of your body you are using to do this and you will be more successful. Just lift one foot off the floor at a time while trying to keep your head from traveling side to side at all. When your right leg is on the floor, your right hand will be the one supporting you against the wall. When your weight is on your left leg, it’ll be your left arm that will get the workout.
Remember, these exercises are primers, to get you prepped in two ways: starting to isolate and strengthen different parts of your body that haven’t been used, and also prepping your mind to become conscious of those new muscles and abilities. At first, you may feel like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy first meets him, frozen in the wilderness, crying out “Oil Can, Oil Can!”. But in due time, your body will get those hinges moving, starting with your ankles and moving up through the knees, into the hips, the pelvis, and all the way through your pectorals, chest, neck and shoulders. The entire body will be engaged! It no longer has to be just about foot positions and timing!
Still want more? Check out “Cuban Motion Demystified, part 2!”