The Latin Hustle

14 Mar
The Latin Hustle

What I love most about partner dancing is that you can go anywhere around the world and have a conversation with a complete stranger… Not verbally but physically. Dancing unites people of all ages, nationalities, ethnicities and race. Take the history of the Hustle for example. The Latin hustle was born at a time when violence, drugs, gangs and poverty were the norm in the South Bronx. Tenants were unable to pay rent so landlords paid gang members to burn down buildings in order to collect millions in fire insurance policies. Often times the properties were still occupied by tenants or squatters who received little to no notice before the buildings were burnt down. “The Bronx Is Burning”

Like any story, there are two sides. A friend of mine born and raised in the South Bronx tells his side while my 86-year-old dance mentor shares his. On one side it all started in 1972 when kids from the south Bronx went to house parties to “grind”. For obvious reasons parents did not approve of that dance. Enter the five step hustle. This was a very simple dance and intended to bring male and females together to social dance appropriately. In 1974 the dance evolved into a six count (tap step triple step – step – step). This version of the Hustle began to incorporate more turns. In West Coast Swing this was called “roping”. At this point in time mambo didn’t have roping either. Mambo was all about footwork and less about turns. The youth rebelled against mambo because mom, dad, tia and abuela danced mambo so it wasn’t cool. The younger generations were more interested in disco, rocking and break dancing. Around 1975 is when the three count hustle and the hustle we know today was established. The South Bronx was full of gangs, but one of the only times you would see gang members in one room without killing each other was at St. Mary’s recreation center on Tuesdays and Thursdays dancing the Latin Hustle. Many kids turned to dance as an outlet to stay away from gangs and drugs. Dance saved many of their lives. Some of the gang members traded in their gang colors for dancing shoes. The best of the best Hustle dancers frequented underground gay discotheques in Manhattan therefore introducing the Latin hustle to the gay community.

On the other side, Latin music producers  Ralph and Lucille Lew gathered up six top New York ballroom instructors, including my mentor, to introduce the five count Latin Hustle. At first sight they said “this is west coast swing” but they called it the Latin hustle. He claims that the gays came up with the three count hustle. At 79 years old my mentor saw me perform with Nelson Flores and approached me about entering Hustle competitions. I’ll never forget his words to me…”Give me three months of your life and I’ll make you a champion!” Without hesitation I said “when do we start?” Thus began my love for the hustle.

disco ball background close up

Enough about the history, let’s talk about the dance. Hustle is considered a stationary dance such as Salsa. Foxtrot and Argentine Tango are examples of traveling dances going counterclockwise around the room, in “line of dance”. If you’ve ever played an instrument you know music is written in 4/4 time. Musicians count 1234 1234 whereas dancers combine two of those measures and count up to 8, 1234 5678.  Hustle is a syncopated three count dance (and 1,2,3). This can be very confusing to the beginner because music is written in 4/4 time and the hustle is a three count. Mathematically this means you have to dance through three sets of eight in order to get back to the beginning of the measure whereas salsa utilizes all eight beats 123(hold 4) 567(hold 8). In intermediate hustle, four count and five count patterns are introduced. If you’re having trouble keeping up ..come to one of my Hustle workshops at the congress … I promise it’ll be fun. Hustle is unique due to the opposition of the basic. For instance, when you dance salsa the leader moves back while the follower moves forward essentially moving in the same direction. It isn’t until the leader does an open break or backstep that you go in opposite directions creating resistance to slingshot your partner to the other side. The Hustle starts in opposition creating resistance and compression from start to finish. Moral of the story DO THE HUSTLE!!

Veronica Castilla

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