How to have Fast Feet

18 March 2016

A special thanks to Tamten Tanečník for proposing this idea on Twitter.

If you've ever watched videos of top Latin couples dancing followed by videos of you and your partner dancing, you've probably noticed there were slight differences. One of the biggest differences is usually the extreme speed in their feet, something beginners often struggle with and try to fix in the wrong way. It can be daunting at times, seeing great dancers whose foot speed rivals that of swift-footed Mercury, but having fast feet is not difficult. It just requires attention and rigorous practice if you want to incorporate it into your dancing. This post will include a few methods for achieving faster feet in Latin.

Above Michael Malitowski and Joanna Leunis, former Professional Latin World Champions

Method 1: Leave Late - Arrive on Time

Have you ever missed your alarm on an important day? The night before you did something that displeased the alarm clock gods, and the next morning they decided to teach you a lesson, and you over slept. You wake up, you realize it's late, and with extensive execrations and profanity, you rush to your car and pray you don't get a speeding ticket in your all out attempt to make it on time. The same thing is true of Latin Dancing: if you want to be fast, you have to leave as late as possible while still making it just barely on time.

Practice your Rumba Walks, Cruzados Walks, or what have you, and pay attention to the back foot. Don't take the step until the last possible moment, and then quickly move it to the next step just as the beat occurs.

Method 2: Be Still

Imagine a Ferrari that accelerates hard until it reaches high speeds, then finally brakes quickly. Now compare that that image to Yulia Zagoruychenko's feet when she tries to be fast. The Ferrari Enzo's top speed is 363 km/h (225 mph), and yet it doesn't seem as quick as Yulia's feet, which don't come close to that speed. It all happens within the blink of an eye, which should make you realize it isn't about the speed of the feet, but rather about the appearance of speed. Yulia's feet don't move, then move quickly, then don't move again, while the Ferrari gradually gets faster and faster.

To make your feet display this phenomenon, don't allow your feet to move until you're ready. This is slightly different from Method 1, in that this method requires the back foot remain still, almost glued to the floor, while you can still dance Method 1 if your step is so large your back foot has to drag slightly on the floor. While you should always be employing Method 1, Method 2 is a stylistic choice. Many great dancers, including Yulia, choose not to use Method 2 when they aren't trying to display extreme speed of the feet, such as when they want to show smooth and slow Rumba Walks.

Method 3: Train those Muscles

Dancers who have been at it for a long time forget that their bodies are different than the average person's, but make no mistake, the better the dancer, the more rigorously his body has been trained, but there is no shortcut to a good dancer's body. The best way to train your legs to work faster is to practice stepping as quickly as you can. While weight training has many proven benefits for both men and women, squatting 500 kgs probably isn't going to make your legs any faster on the dance floor (although it might help some other things, such as explosive power, stamina, and your pro wrestling career). Practicing your Rumba Walks with ankle weights can have an adverse effect - studies in other sports have suggested that this sort of practice will train your legs to move weight well, but it will actually slow down your un-weighted movements (Tamiki, Masafumi, and Hiroshi 2002; Wolf 2011).

Method 3 is really the least important. If you want to see the largest results, you can see them today by practicing Methods 1 and 2. Your leg muscles will develop over time through disciplined practice. There isn't really much you can do to speed them up, and even if there were, that time would be better spent practicing other elements of dancing, so don't sweat it!

Citations

"After Effects of Using a Weighted Bat on Subsequent Swing Velocity and Batters' Perceptions of Swing Velocity and Heaviness," Tamiki, Masafumi, and Hiroshi (2002)

"Baseball's Weight Problem, Wolf (2011)