Cuban Salsa: Hammerlock and Setenta

The big Setenta family of turn patterns starts with the Hammerlock move, and for that reason the family could just as well have been called the Hammerlock family. The Hammerlock is part of many dance styles, and in Cuban Salsa there are two equally good but very different ways to do it: 1) the right turn way, and 2) the Vacilala way.

1 Hammerlock variations

The basic difference between the two approaches to the Hammerlock is that for the right turn, the Lead prep the move on 1-2-3 and the turn takes place on 5-6-7. When using Vacilala Steps, the Lead opens up on 7 at the end of the previous move, and tap on 8 (optional), and the Follow is lead to step forward on one to start her Vacilala Steps.

The Vacilala approach has many variations, some of them just sloppy. It is very common to prep the Hammerlock more like a right turn than for Vacilala Steps (video examples below), but to use one long Dile Que Si turn from count one to seven. Or to lock the Hammerlock already on 3 or somewhere between 3 and 7 and just walk for the rest of the eight count.

Since the Follow has been exposed to so many different ways to do the Hammerlock and because most Leads are not conscious about the two basic ways, and don’t make an effort of explicitly leading one or the other, the Follow very often just mix it all randomly together, making it very difficult to see if the stepping is a Vuelta right turn or Vacilala Steps.

Even when the Follow uses Vacilala Steps for the Hammerlock, it can be difficult to distinguish them from a Vuelta right turn, when the music is fast and the partner circle small.

2 Hammerlock as a right turn

The right turn done with proper Vuelta steps is for many reasons my preferred way to do the Hammerlock. Before I give you my arguments let us first see a good video with instructions.

In the videos from “dancepapi.com”, they could walk the Hammerlock 360 degrees but they show the move done walking on the spot with a stationary Hammerlock, as is common for beginners:

Same video at YouTube
  1. Doing Hammerlock as a right turn, makes it easy to vary the walking from 0-360 degrees. Vacilala steps demands walking 360 degrees on the partner circle to make sense.
  2. A Hammerlock walking on the spot is easier for beginners, it is easier at advanced level to very fast music, and it is a handy way to start Setenta figures in close quarters on a crowded dance floor or if you for some other reason want to start less dynamic.
  3. When Hammerlock is done like a right turn it is easy to add one more turn making the turn a double right turn.
  4. Since very many moves start with Vacilala steps like the Sombrero family of moves, the A Bayamo family (starts with Medio Sombrero), El Dedo and Dile Que Si family of moves, it is nice for the sake of variation to start the big Setenta family of moves with the right turn.
  5. If 360 degrees of walking is required as is often the case in Rueda de Casino, doing it as a right turn makes it easier to complete the move on time without rushing if the music is fast.

The second video also shows Hammerlock done as a right turn. It features Frank E, one of my Salsa teachers in Copenhagen.

Same Video on YouTube

The third video showing Hammerlock as a right turn is from the French “Avinciia.com”:

Same Video on YouTube

3 Hammerlock done with Vacilala steps

First a beautiful video of Setenta from “Dolce Dance” (Hungary), opening up and tapping like for Vacilala steps:

Same Video on YouTube

Next the Russian “Danceliker” school, featuring Adonis Santiago and Svetlana Ovchinina. They use Vacilala Steps with proper prepping, the Lead opens up on seven but without the tap on eight:

Same Video on YouTube

4 Hammerlock with a strong Follow

The video from Mexican “Salsafición” is extremely interesting. They show us that a Lead doesn’t have to open up on seven and tap on eight (optional) to prep Vacilala steps. Amando clearly pulls the Follow’s right arm forward and it looks like a strong lead, and Anahí steps forward on one and walks the most perfect Vacilala steps.

Same Video on YouTube

5 Hammerlock done with confusing leading

Most salsa dancers have learned both basic ways to do the Hammerlock, without thinking too much about it, and the Hammerlock is so common, we have done it hundreds or thousands of times, and at least once in every dance, that we simply take it for granted, and have it working, it seems. No need to question anything.

Considering that we have two very different ways to step the same move, a Lead is expected to ask for one or the other with very clear and precise leading that will work with any Follow. This is not the case in the next video from the RuedaStandard.com. It looks like the Lead is pulling the Follow’s right arm forward, as he should, that is, we have a lead indicating Vacilala steps. The Follow it not moving forward on one but steps in place, nevertheless the stepping looks like Vacilala steps. To me, it looks like a weak lead that is not going to work unless the Follow is strong or used to be lead into Vacilala this way.

Same Video on YouTube

Best Practice for Hammerlock

I find the “right turn way” to be the most versatile, and often a good choice for variation, since we really use Vacilala Steps as the beginning of so many other moves.

I like the Vacilala way, especially when the Dile Que Si turning is done like one long movement flowing naturally from 1 to 7. But the Vacilala way really only makes sense if one is serious about it, if the Lead prep it like Vacilala and give the Follow room to walk proper Vacilala Steps.

In my opinion a Lead should know, practice and use all three basic versions: 1) Prep on 1-2-3 and a right turn, 2) Dile Que Si and Vacilala Step ending and locking the Hammerlock already after the first half of the move, 3) Dile Que Si and Vacilala Steps ending and locking the Hammerlock as late as on seven.

The more options a Lead has, and the more options the Lead has practiced, the better. What to use should all depend on the situation, the Follow, your mood, the music, and on what you did before and want to do next.

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