I mentioned “hippiness” yesterday. I am sure that most, if not all, of us have heard someone or other mention “salsa hips”, probably with a little sneer. I have definitely seen salsa dancers try out tango and bring a lot of sway to their movement. I tried leading a follower like this, and I think the combination of my inexperience and her swaying steps made it hard for me to feel her weight and keep us moving in a straight line.
But not all hip movement is swaying like that. I adore the way that Michelle moves, and part of that is the way she moves her hips. Sometimes as I do an ocho cortado, my hips get into it a little bit more. It definitely helps me do certain moves when I allow my hips to release a little bit. So when is it okay to get a little hip action?
During a festival class where I was practicing front ochos, a teacher corrected my hip release. It was at a point where my left leg was extended back, my torso was rotated to the right, and I was ready to collect and pivot to the right on my right foot. At the time, my left hip was released – it was dropped toward the floor. The teacher came up and leveled my hips. Ballet-trained, I accepted this correction – in ballet it’s very important to keep your hips level, and I had heard similar things about not getting to “hippy” in tango, too. But I noticed that I felt very awkward and stiff. Soon I gave up on that particular correction and went back to releasing my hip when doing ochos.
Michelle and Murat confirmed the general guideline I have been using for hip movement: Stylized, side-to-side hip movements are generally distracting and troublesome; vertical hip releases that allow movements to flow smoothly are generally useful. Their idea was that anything that makes you smooth and comfortable rather than stiff and awkward will make you a better social dancer (although perhaps performers will go for something different, for the looks). I agree with this idea, and it is allowing me to explore those gorgeous hip movements that I love so much!