In schools around the world, Latin dance for children is a source of exercise, social development, and just plain fun. Whether a simple part of a physical education program in a school or a featured part of Dancing with the Stars, children respond to the fast rhythms and exciting choreography.
Choosing Latin Dance for Children
Not all Latin dance is appropriate for children for a variety of reasons. The first lies in motor control. As children grow, their reflexes are not always able to keep up with the size and weight of their bodies. For this reason, highly stylized or complex Latin dances like the bolero, paso doble, or even the tango may not be appropriate. Luckily, this leaves many fun dances to choose from.
This dance is perhaps the best dance to introduce to children because of its simplicity. The dance has a basic step that is simply moving the feet side-together-side-together while facing the partner. Adding to the fun of the dance is the fact that it can be performed with the dancers in two long lines, with pairs moving down the center of the group adding as much or as little embellishment to the merengue as they choose.
The Cha Cha
While some teachers might feel the cha cha is too complicated for most children, if taught in slow, easy steps it can be a great way to build confidence and prepare for more advanced dances.
One easy way to teach the pattern is to hold the index fingers pointing towards each other but the thumbs pointing in opposite directions - for the lead, the left thumb should point towards the dancer, for the follow it should be the right. The right-angle lines formed by the thumbs and finger show the path the student's feet should follow. The ubiquitous "cha-cha-cha" step is represented by the joined index fingers. When teaching the step children will enjoy the sibilant nature of saying "cha-cha-cha" as they move, and adding "step back" or "step forward" to the teaching helps to create a mnemonic trigger.
Certainly the most common dance taught to children is the salsa. With an easy basic step and fast, exciting music, children can quickly pick up the moves. For a lead, this involves the following for the basic:
- Step forward on the left, letting the weight shift completely to that foot with a forward rocking of the hips.
- Bring the left foot back to the right, shifting weight to that foot only long enough to place the left and put weight back on it.
- Step back with the right foot, rocking the weight back onto it again with a swing to the hips.
- Return the right foot next to the left.
The simplicity of the step-by-step description belies the actual speed and twisty nature of the dance. The follow's role in this is to simply reverse the moves, stepping back with the right foot.
The Samba Line
Not solely the province of Country music, the samba can be turned into a very enjoyable line dance for children. The steps to this dance (which can be accompanied by any samba beat) are as follows:
- Beginning with the left foot, step forward one-two-three and tap the right foot.
- Reversing direction, walk back one-two-three steps and tap the left foot.
- Cross the left foot in front of the right, shifting weight to it and pointing the right to the side. This is repeated to the left, and then again to the right.
- " Cross, dig pull, dig pull, dig pull" - this step is basically planting one foot down and shuffling the other to the side, sort of like a chasse. However, children may catch on more quickly if the analogy of a "pirate with a peg leg" is used to help them visualize.
An integral part of any Latin dance is "Cuban motion," and Latin dances for children are no exception. This is the characteristic swinging of the hips in exaggerated motion, and is actually a quite difficult technique to master. To exclude it from the curriculum of Latin dance would be like trying to teach ballet without teaching the plie. It should be remembered that this is simply a dance move, and contains only as much puerile meaning as the teacher chooses to give it.
Variations and other Latin dances can also be used, such as the rumba, and while Latin music is certainly a good start, any song with a strong beat can be used with these dances. Providing children with a strong foundation in these dance forms can help promote a healthy and enjoyable hobby for a lifetime.