Dance Lexicon

This dance lexicon has short descriptions of the history, music and steps of many dance styles. The written information is free to be used by dancers, in any format.

We divided the dances into 4 categories (click for more information):

Please note that all the International and Latin ‘Night Club’ dances could be danced as Social, Competitive, or showcase. Furthermore, we do not refer to the American style, since we do not deal with any local style. The International style is used worldwide, and will be the style used in the Olympics in the future. For more explanations please refer to Terminology of Couple Dancing.

Table terms:
RF – Right foot
LF – Left foot
FWD – Forward
CW – Clockwise
CCW – Counter Clockwise
DC – Diagonally to Centre
DW – Diagonally to Wall
OP – Outside Partner
LOD – Line Of Dance

The Line of Dance

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General terms:

Music beat – the core ‘rhythm atom’ of the music. For example, the 1 or 2 or 3 in a Waltz.

Music bar – a whole beat structure. For example 1, 2, 3 in Waltz is one bar.

Tempo – The speed of the music.

Bars per minute – the tempo measured by counting the number of bars per minute.

Beats per minute – the tempo measured by counting the number of beats per minute. (Note:ð If one wants to calculate the beats per minute, the calculation is simple – Beats per Minute = (Bars per minute) x (the number of the beats in one bar). For example, in English Waltz there are 30 bars per minute and 3 beats to a bar. Therefore the tempo is 30 bars per minute or 180 beats per minute.

Syncopation – Music beat in between the core beats. It could be referred to as ‘&’ or ‘a’ when counting. For example: 4 & 1, which is used in Cha Cha Cha.

Emphasis (in music) – the strongest beat. For example, the 1 in Cha Cha Cha or 4 in Rumba.

Pelvis Action – Any separated/isolated motion of the pelvis. This action could be a side shift, a relaxation of the hip, rotation, contraction and release, a figure eight, a pressure step with rotation, and more.
Swing – An action related to a shift of weight combined with a pelvis action. Latin dances contain swing actions.

Sway – An action related to a shift of the whole body, usually stretching one side. The Sway is used in English Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep.

International Latin Dances

Cha Cha Cha | Rumba | Samba | Jive | Pasodoble

The Latin dances have a strong connection between the strong beat of the music and the pelvis actions. This creates a synergy with the typical pelvis separation of all Latin dances. For example: In Cha Cha Cha the strong beat is 1, which leads to a strong pelvis action to the right or left. In Rumba it is the 4th beat, which leads to a relaxation of the hips, thus creating a ‘curvy’ look. In the following text you will find a brief summary of these dances.

The Latin dances are divided into two categories: Progressive (Samba and Paso Doble) and Stationary (Cha Cha Cha, Rumba and Jive). The hold is an open one, meaning there is no body contact except for the shoulder, arm, and hands. This makes an ‘open’ look and allows different body actions for the follower and leader.

Cha Cha Cha

Originally a Cuban dance that developed out of the Mambo, it was first called ‘Triple Mambo,’ meaning, the mambo plus three steps. The three extra steps were entitled ‘cha cha cha’ and are syncopated on beats 1 and 4. The dance expresses happiness and mischievousness, and contains elements of reciprocated seduction. The music contains a rich rhythm, marked with percussion instruments. The emphasized hip movements in this dance are a direct effect of the leg work.

Tempo: 29-31 bars a minute

Count: 4/4 with the emphasis on the first beat (Count: 1,2,3,4 & 1 …)

Preparation Step:

  • Simple preparation step: On the first beat, the man steps right and the lady steps left
  • Advanced preparation step: FWD lockstep for the man BWD lockstep for the lady on 4 & 1 (Cha Cha Cha)

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 2 LF FWD RF BWD An 1/8 to a 1/4 turn CCW is optional
2 3 Weight back to RF Weight back to LF
3 4 LF to the left RF to the right
4 & RF almost closing LF almost closing
5 1 LF to the left RF to the right
6 2 RF BWD LF FWD</td> An 1/8 to a 1/4 turn CCW is optional
7 3 Weight back to LF Weight back to RF
8 4 RF to the right LF to the left
9 & LF almost closing RF almost closing
10 1 RF to the right LF to the left

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Listen to the music: 

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Rumba

A Cuban love dance, this dance forms the basis for many other Latin dances. The dance incorporates hip, waist and pelvis movements that express sensuality (especially by the lady), and contains elements of seduction and love. The music is relatively slow and allows much room for self-expression and individual style.

Tempo: 24-28 bars a minute

Count: 4/4 with the emphasis on the 4th beat

Preparation step: On the 4th beat, the man steps right and the lady, left. On the 1st beat the hip and waist go down on the leg with the weight.

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 2 LF FWD RF BWD An 1/8 to a 1/4 turn CCW is optional
2 3 Weight back to RF Weight back to LF
3 4 LF to the left RF to the right
4 1 Left hip relaxes Right hip relaxes
5 2 RF BWD LF FWD An 1/8 to a 1/4 turn CCW is optional
6 3 Weight back to LF Weight back to RF
7 4 RF to the right LF to the left
8 1 Right hip relaxes Left hip relaxes

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Samba

The samba originated in Brazil, of course, but the modern Ballroom technique is utterly different from the carnival. The samba as a couples’ dance is characterized by up and down, greatly energetic movements that match the rhythmic coursing music. The movement is composed both of steps that move forward and steps that don’t, and is accompanied by bending and straightening knee movements (‘Bounce Action’).

Tempo: 50-52 bars per minute

Count: 2/4 with an emphasis on the second beat

Preparation step: From a low stance on two feet, the man steps forward with his right and the lady steps back with her left.

Basic Step:

Step # Count >Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 RF FWD LF BWD
2 & Close LF Close RF Bounce action
3 2 RF in place LF in place
4 3 LF BWD RF FWD $nbsp;
5 & Close RF Close LF Bounce Action
6 4 LF in place RF in place

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Jive

This is the most modern, inclusive and rich dance in the family of Rock and Roll dances. The movement is composed of eight steps instead of six, making the dance look lively and animated. The dance expresses gaiety, happiness and sometimes even mischievous play between the partners. There are a few systems of counting for jive; we use the method of counting eight steps in a bar and a half.

Tempo: Competitive – 43-44 bars per minute, Social – 38-42 bars per minute.

Count: 4/4 with emphasis on the second and fourth beats. 1 and ½ bar structure: 1, 2, 3&4, 5&6.

Preparation step: On the count of one, the man steps back with left, and the lady steps back with right. On the count of two, put the weight back on the other foot.

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 LF BWD RF BWD
2 2 Weight back to RF Weight back to LF
3 3 LF to the centre and slightly to left RF to the centre and slightly to right Pelvis stays
4 & RF pushing to left LF pushing to right
5 4 LF to the left RF to the right Pelvis moves
6 5 RF to the centre and slightly to right LF to the centre and slightly to left Pelvis stays
7 & LF pushing to right RF pushing to left
8 6 RF to the right LF to the left Pelvis moves

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Pasodoble

This dance represents a Bull Fight – the man is the matador and the lady his airy cape. The dance originated in Spain and is somewhat reminiscent of Flamenco dancing. The name Paso Doble comes from the words for step (Paso) and double Doble). The man’s role is conspicuous in its leading and in the movements which suggest a bull fighter in the arena. At times the man stamps his right foot before going into the next step, just like the movements of a matador to arouse the bull. The role of the lady is to represent the matador’s cape – to be light and to respond quickly and swiftly to the man’s leading.

Tempo: 59-61 bars per minute

Count: 2/4 with an emphasis on the first beat (usually count 1 to 4, 8 or 16, combining a few bars of music together)

Preparation step: On the first beat, the man steps in place (or stamps) with his right, and the lady steps in place with her left.

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 RF in place LF in place Steps could also be a march to the side or FWD / BWD
2 2 LF in place RF in place
3 3 RF in place LF in place
4 4 LF in place RF in place

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International Standard Dances

The Standard dances got their name from the phrase ‘Standard European Dances’ because these dances were part of the curriculum in high schools in Europe for many years. Today they are also called ‘Modern Ballroom Dances’. The American style dancers call them smooth (hardly a good description for Tango and Quickstep…).

The standard dances incorporate a whole body motion. The hold is a closed hold that incorporates body contact at the right side of the upper part of the pelvis. The added contact point is very useful for many aspects of the dances, such as powerful leading, sway, energy transfer and more. The strong beats are used for thrust, emphasis of motion and change of sway. In the Standards, there is no separation of lower and upper body (no ‘pelvis actions’).

All the Standards are progressive dances, danced on the line of dance (the perimeter of the dance floor), counter clockwise. Each dance has its own ‘solution’ for the question: “How should a man and a lady move on the line of dance, to the beat, while maintaining a closed hold?” The ‘answers’ are:

Note: It takes much longer to master the Standards, because they contain a lot of details necessary for dancing properly. It is like building an arch – it is solid only when the last stone is in place.

English Waltz

The English Waltz is also known as the slow waltz (mainly because it is half the speed of Viennese waltz). The steps are large, with a downward emphasis on the first beat and an upward emphasis on two and three. This creates a rise and fall ‘wavy’ action, which is combined with a sway to create a beautiful flow. Just like in all standard dances, it is danced counterclockwise around the Line of dance. The couple can complete 3/4 of a turn every 2 bars. The turning action could be clockwise and counter clockwise. The English Waltz has many variations, which could be related to: right turn, left turn, promenades, counter promenades, pauses and more.

Tempo: 30 bars a minute

Count: 3/ 4 with an emphasis on the first beat

Preparation step: The man stepping forward on his right.

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 RF FWD LF BWD Start DW<
3/8 turn CW
End on LOD
2 2 LF to the side RF to the side
3 3 RF Close LF Close
4 1 LF BWD RF FWD 3/8 turn CW
End DC
5 2 RF to the side LF to the side
6 3 LF Close RF Close
7 1 RF FWD LF FWD Change
No turn
8 2 LF to the side RF to the side
9 3 RF Close LF Close
10 1 LF FWD RF FWD 3/8 turn CCW
End on LOD
11 2 >RF to the side LF to the side
12 3 LF Close RF Close
13 1 RF BWD LF FWD 3/8 turn CCW
End DW
14 2 LF to the side RF to the side
15 3 RF Close LF Close
16 1 LF FWD RF FWD Change
No turn
17 2 RF to the side LF to the side
18 3 LF Close RF Close
* Back to Step #1

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Tango

History:

The tango known today is divided into two main styles, both in music and in technique: Modern tango and Argentinean tango. The tango originates in a dance called the Habanera (named after the city of Havana) which was imported by immigrants to Argentina around the year 1880. In Argentina the dance took on the features of sensual seduction and the club ambience of the time. The tango returned to Europe as a ballroom dance, with different music and technique but with its dramatic quality unaltered. In every form of tango the steps go by counts of ‘slow’ and ‘quick,’ knees slightly bent in order to stay at the same height and to allow catlike movements.

Differentiating Argentinean tango from International Tango:

  • Argentinean Tangos have no percussion rhythm, while the International has strong percussion.
  • Argentinean tangos may have changing beats, thrust and energy.

Basics of International Tango:

The tango differs from other ballroom dances in the hold, technique and a movement which combines advancing with stopping. Correct use of music and a feel for the music are especially important in tango.

The hold is a lower and left shifted standard hold, creating a 3-line foot alignment (compared to the regular 4-line alignment of the other standards), thus creating a motion of stepping into the follower’s space. Because of this unique way of dancing, the follower must send the moving foot backwards before the leader moves. Other unique differences are the lack of sways and the staccato nature of the dance.

The basic step is a forward motion for the leader (Left Right Left Right) with a heel toe action. The basic step is a forward motion for the follower is a Backward advanced step (Right Left Right Left) with a toe heel action. The basic step has the rhythm of Slow, Slow, Quick, and Quick. A slow has 2 counts and a quick 1 count. The 4/4 music structure can lead to a Q, Q, Q, Q or S, S or any combination. A good dancer will use the 8 bar structure of the music to dramatize the variations and steps.

Tempo: 33-34 bars a minute

Count: 4/4 with emphasis on the first beat

Preparation step: Left foot forward, body moves first starts with a straight basic step

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 S RF FWD LF BWD Steps could also be done
in a curve around the LOD
2 S LF FWD RF BWD
3 Q RF FWD LF BWD
4 Q LF FWD RF BWD

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Viennese Waltz

The Viennese waltz is the oldest of the Standard ballroom dances. The Viennese waltz is always danced counterclockwise around the Line Of Dance. Couples are supposed to complete half a turn every music bar (1, 2, 3). Since a strict tempo Viennese Waltz is 60 bars per minute, the dancers are turning at a rate of 30 turns a minute; therefore, the waltz is danced right and left – 8 to 16 bars in each direction. The change of direction prevents dizziness even when dancing for a long time. The foot which steps forward is used as an axis, while the forward action is danced on the line of dance. This allows for the center of gravity to fall between the couple and to move as one body, like a top, which leans a bit towards the center of the dance floor.

Tempo: 58 to 60 bars per minute

Count: 3/ 4 with an emphasis on the first beat

Preparation step: Man dances forward on his right foot, into a basic step turning clockwise

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 RF FWD LF BWD Start DC
1/2 turn CW
2 2 LF to the side RF to the side
3 3 RF Close LF Close
4 1 LF BWD RF FWD 1/2 turn CW
End DC
5 2 RF to the side LF to the side
6 3 LF Close RF Close
7 1 RF FWD LF FWD Change
No turn
8 2 LF to the side RF to the side
9 3 RF Close LF Close
10 1 LF FWDRF FWD 1/2 turn CCW
11 2 RF to the side LF to the side
12 3 LF Close RF Close
13 1 RF BWD LF FWD 1/2 turn CCW
End DC
14 2 LF to the side RF to the side
15 3 RF Close LF Close
16 1 LF FWD RF FWD Change
No turn
17 2 RF to the side LF to the side
18 3 LF Close RF Close
* Back to Step #1

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Slow Foxtrot

A slow Standard dance which is thought to be the most elaborate and detailed dance of all standard dances. The distinct thing about the dance is that there are three steps in the basic step while the music count is 4/4, which requires special precision and punctuality. The basic step has 2 different parts: a 3-step and a feather-step. There is an inside partner action as well as outside partner action on each basic step. Each half basic step starts with a strong change of sway, on the first step, which has a ‘Slow’ count. The following 2 steps have no change of sway and therefore can be danced to a ‘Quick’ count. This creates a wavelike movement, reminiscent of soaring, and is full of charm.

Tempo: 29-30 bars per minute

Count: 4/4 with a strong emphasis on the first and a medium emphasis on the third beat

Preparation step: A basic step non-turning step, man steps forward on his right

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 S RF FWD LF BWD Sway Change
2 Q LF FWD, OP RF BWD
3 Q RF FWD, OP LF BWD
4 S RF FWD RF BWD Sway Change
5 Q LF FWD LF BWD
6 Q RF FWD RF BWD

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Quickstep

A fast standard dance, which combines elements of jazz dancing (Charleston, tap, swing, etc.) with highly stylized technique. The quickstep requires the use of a large dance floor and watching one’s dance space, especially because of the variations which are composed of quick chasing (or hovering) steps. The Basic rhythm is S, S, Q, Q but any combination of Slows and Quick steps will do, as long as the music bar structure is followed.

The basic step has an outside partner part followed by an inside partner part. There is a medium sway incorporated with the basic step and some of the variations.

Tempo: 48 to 51 bars per minute

Count: 4/4 with a strong emphasis on the first beat and a weak emphasis on the third

Preparation step: a basic step non-turning step, man steps forward on right

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 S LF FWD RF BWD DW
2 S RF FWD, OP LF BWD
3 Q LF to the side RF to the side ¼ turn CW
4 Q RF close LF close
5 S LF BWD RF FWD Backing DC
6 S RF BWD LF FWD
7 Q LF to the side RF to the side ¼ Turn CCW
8 Q RF close LF close

Note – preparation steps in North America:

Some dancers in North America will always start on the left foot, as a strict rule. This is because of the influence of the American style on the International style. In other parts of the world each dance has its own preparation step, which is related to logic of the dance and not to a strict rule. For example, in English Waltz, a left foot forward is useless in starting a right turn, forcing a forward step instead of a turning step. A dancer should be aware of these differences.

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Latin ‘Night Club’ Dances

These dances are also called ‘Salsa Club Dances’, or ‘Latin Dances’. The mainstream styles of these dances are:

Some clubs and bands play also Cumbia, Cha Cha Cha and Rumba.

These dances are danced in a sensual way and they are very energetic. Salsa clubs are usually very packed, a fact that causes the dance styles to be less spacious and more flowing and ‘curling’. An experienced dancer will also take care of his partner in order to avoid colliding with other dancers.

The main difference between these dances and Ballroom dancing is in the less structured way they are danced. Even when it is the same dance (i.e. Cha Cha Cha), in a Salsa club, it will be danced in a compact way, incorporating Salsa Variations into the Cha Cha Cha.

Salsa

Salsa is a Cuban dance, which spun off the Mambo (Cha Cha Cha is another spin-off). While the Mambo was danced on the 2nd beat, the Salsa is danced usually on the first one. Some dancers will choose to dance on the 2nd or 3rd beat, which is perfectly acceptable, as long as they maintain it throughout the dance.

There are two kinds of salsa music: ‘Romantica’ (romantic) – slow and sensual; and ‘Caliente’ (hot) – quicker and more rhythmic. In Salsa one can see differences related to the country the dance style originated in (for example: Cuba, Columbia, and North America). Today’s Salsa is a mix, which is also the meaning of the word Salsa. An experienced dancer can spot and use techniques and variations (‘moves’) from other dances, assimilated into the Salsa.

Tempo: 40-47 bars per minute

Count: 4/4 with an emphasis on the second and fourth beat

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 LF FWD RF BWD An 1/8 to a 1/4 turn
is optional
2 2 Weight back to RF Weight back to LF
3 3 LF to the left RF to the right
4 4 Left hip relaxes / tap Right hip relaxes / tap
5 1 RF BWD LF FWD An 1/8 to a 1/4 turn
is optional
6 2 Weight back to LF Weight back to RF
7 3 RF to the right LF to the left
8 4 Right hip relaxes / tap Left hip relaxes / tap

Note:
Some dancers do not count the 4 and 8, because there is no step on these beats. Since the 4 and 8 beats exist, music wise, they must be counted. A hip action or a tap is used on these beats.

Merengue

The Merengue is a Latin nightclub dance, which is also used in Ballroom parties and social dance events, mainly because it is the easiest dance to perform. It originated in the Dominican Republic, and it is very diverse regarding its musicality and speed. It is danced using small steps and delayed hip movements after each step. The upper part has very little action, which supports the extended actions done by the lower part. The variations are also done with small steps taken with great sensuality, especially by the lady. The Merengue can be danced in place, while turning, or while advancing.

Tempo: 60-120 bars a minute (30-60 bars a minute for a count of 4/4)

Count: 2/4

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 LF in place RF in place Steps could also be danced
to the side or FWD / BWD
2 2 RF in place LF in place
3 3 LF in place RF in place
4 4 RF in place LF in place

Informative Link: Wikipedia on the Merengue

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Bachata

Bachata is one of the newest Latin nightclub dances, originating in the Dominican Republic. The rhythm has a 4/4 structure and it is relatively slow. There is a unique emphasis on the 4th beat, inviting the typical wiggling pelvis action done on that beat. The wiggling action on the 4th beat is nice to have, but is not a must. A dancer can also choose to use this beat for other pelvis actions.

Some dancers will choose a close hold (the lady almost sitting on her partner’s leg) which will create a very sensual dance style. Other dancers will choose an open hold (resembles Merengue or Cha Cha Cha) and more open and turning variations. Both ways of dancing are used and dancers can choose one or both, while dancing.

Tempo: 28-40 bars per minute.

Count: 4/4, with unique emphasis on the 4th beat.

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 LF to the side RF to the side
2 2 RF half closed LF half closed
3 3 LF to the side RF to the side
Wiggle 4 Wiggle right hip Wiggle left hip No weight change
5 1 RF to the side LF to the side
6 2 LF half closed RF half closed
7 3 RF to the side LF to the side
Wiggle 4 Wiggle left hip Wiggle right hip No weight change

Social Dances

These dances are also used in a variety of events, from weddings to parties and from formal practices to clubs. Usually these types of dances are danced to popular music (new and old). There are many types of these dances that are currently used and the following list contains some of them.

SwingThe swing is the earliest dance version from the Rock and Roll family. The music of swing dancing is rhythm and blues. The dance is composed of swing action to the left and to the right and swing action forward and backward (hence the name, ‘swing’).
Swing has three main styles: West coast, East coast and Lindy Hop. Another version of swing is the triple swing, which is somewhat like the jive. There are many swing clubs that specialise in this style.Count: 4/4 with strong 2nd and 4th beats.Tempo: 24 to 44 bars per minute.Basic Triple Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 LF BWD RF BWD
2 2 Weight back to RF Weight back to LF
3 3 LF to the centre
and slightly to left
RF to the centre
and slightly to right
Pelvis Stays
4 & RF pushing to left LF pushing to right
5 4 LF to the left RF to the right Pelvis moves
6 5 RF to the centre
and slightly to right
LF to the centre
and slightly to left
Pelvis Stays
7 & LF pushing to right RF pushing to left
8 6 RF to the right LF to the left Pelvis moves

Basic Double Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 LF BWD RF BWD
2 2 Weight back to RF Weight back to LF
3 3 LF to the side -
no weight (point)
RF to the side -
no weight (point)
4 4 Weight on LF, moving
the pelvis to the left
Weight on RF, moving
the pelvis to the right
5 4 RF to the side -
no weight (point)
LF to the side -
no weight (point)
6 5 Weight on RF, moving
the pelvis to the right
Weight on LF, moving
the pelvis to the left

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Slow Rock / Blues

Slow Rock developed out of the Blues, similar to the development of Rock and Roll out of R&B. As in Swing, in Slow Rock there’s a shifting of weight from right to left, but the space between the partners remains constant. In addition, this dance is usually danced closely, as in ballroom dancing, and hip movements from Latin dancing may be added. The pace can be slowed down or doubled, by counting the beats differently. Because singers sometimes stretch out parts of the song during a pause in the rhythm, it is customary to incorporate pressure turns or turns by the lady, and ‘dips’. The sensuality and romance attributed to this dance can be increased sevenfold by adding variations, leading in response to changes in the music, and animated movement.

Count: 4/4 with emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beats, or 2/4 emphasis on the 2nd beat

Tempo: 60 to 80 bars per minute.

Basic Step:

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 1 RF in place or
to the side
LF in place or
to the side
Steps could also
be a danced to the side,
FWD, BWD or in a circle.
2 2 LF in place
or to the side
RF in place
or to the side
3 3 RF in place
or to the side
LF in place
or to the side
4 4 LF in place
or to the side
RF in place
or to the side

Hustle

A version of disco danced as a couple. The origin of the hustle is in the 70′s, when Disco was very popular. There is an influence of the Jive / Swing on the Hustle. For example, the 3rd and 4th steps resemble the ‘Back Replace’ steps in the Jive. Both partners dance with the same footwork, in a circle, turning clockwise.

Count: 4/4

Tempo: 26 to 40 bars per minute.

Basic Step (turned clockwise):

Step # Count Man’s step Lady’s step Notes
1 S RF fwd and
diagonally OP
RF fwd and
diagonally OP
Slight turn CW
2 S LF to the side LF to the side Slight turn CW
3 Q RF Back RF Back Pull back action
4 Q Weight back to LF Weight back to LF Slight turn CW