Cuban Salsa: How to do Hammerlock in Setenta (70)

The big Setenta family of moves starts with the Hammerlock, the first count of eight. Since Setenta moves are popular, the Hammerlock is likely to take place several times in each and every dance, and for that reason, it is an important basic figure to get right.

We have three options for the Hammerlock:

  1. Vacilala Steps: Turning on 1-2-3, walking on 5-6-7.
  2. Cuban Vuelta (Habanero): Walking on 1-2-3, turning on 5-6-7.
  3. Back-rocking Vuelta (should never be used in Cuban Salsa).

Vacilala Steps

Vacilala Steps, the ability of the Follow to do a right turn on 1-2-3, is the heart and soul of Cuban Salsa, almost unheard of or considered as good as impossible in other Salsa styles, at the beginning of a figure.

For a textbook Vacilala, the Follow steps forward on “1”, turns on “1-2-3”, and continues to walk forward on “5-6-7”. At beginner’s level, the Lead is likely to open up on seven and tap on 8 (optional) as prepping for Vacilala Steps (hand-free, handheld, two handed), and the Follow is lead to step forward on “1”.

At advanced level Vacilala Steps are likely to be initiated out of the blue with very little or only implicit prepping. If the Follow hesitate on “1” for just a fraction of a split second, she is too late for proper Vacilala steps. For that reason it serves the Follow well always to step forward on “1” by default.

For the 360 degree right turn of Vacilala, the Follow has four options:

  1. Two pivot half turns.
  2. The Châné turn also called the Latin Three Steps Turn.
  3. The Latin Spiral Turn.
  4. The Cuban Four Steps Turn.

The first two are equally divided between 1-2 and 2-3. The spiral turn is more explosive between 2-3. For the Cuban Four Steps Turn, the Follow only turns 180 degrees on 1-2-3, and then adds another 180 degrees on “5”. This is a museum curiosity from the early days of Cuban Salsa, and should never be used because it prevents the Follow from learning to turn on 1-2-3 and 5-6-7, left or right, and she will never be able to do double turns.

The Latin Spiral turn is the future of Cuban Salsa: It gives the Follow an additional forward step as preparation making it much more easy to time the right turn, the Follow is forward facing for most of the turn, she comes out of it more stable than in the other turns, and the Spiral turn is more versatile than the other turns.

Video Clip #1 is from “Danceliker”, Moscow, Russia, 2016, featuring Adonis Santiago & Svetlana Ovchinina. Svetlana uses two 180 degree pivot turns for Vacilala.

Original DanceLiker video on YouTube

Whenever a Follow is lead into a turn, it is the Lead’s duty to help the Follow turn as optimised as possible. The Hammerlock should be “locked” already on 3-4. But two handed Vacilala turns, like the Hammerlock, are forgiving, the turning has a tendency to be delayed, even as late as 2-3-4 or 3-4-5. This is a disservice to the Follow: She will never learn to turn properly and will be regarded as “heavy” as “sand in the machinery” by good Leads expecting her to turn on 1-2-3.

How much walking

One can only dance to the same piece of music at one speed, because we step to the beat of the music. But one can vary the length of the steps and move more or less, making it look like dancing faster or slower. The Hammerlock, one count of eight, can easily be walked as a full 360 degree turn, but 270 degree is probably the norm.

In Rueda de Casino, it is important to finish a full move well positioned to go into Dile Que No. As a rule of thumb Vacilala turns take 270 degrees or more, and most other moves like Enchufla 180 degrees. If one is doing more or less, one must compensate in the following counts of eight. Most Leads do it by body memory and instinct and it works most of the time.

The Cuban Vuelta (Habanero)

If we flip the “1-2-3” and “5-6-7” of Vacilala Steps we get the Cuban Vuelta also called the Habanero turn. For a textbook Habanero, the Follow steps forward on “1”, walks on “1-2-3”, and turns, still walking forward, on “5-6-7”. That is there is no “silly” hand-prepping as in the common “salsa” Vuelta right turn. The arm movement culminating in the turn is much more natural.

The Cuban Vuelta (Habanero) should never be used to start Setenta figures. Not that it doesn’t work, on the contrary, it works too well, and Setenta figures often ends up being started with walking on 1-2-3 and the turning on 5-6-7. Many Follows are two weak to turn on 1-2-3. They miss the moment of stepping forward on “1” and turning right a way. The late turning (5-6-7) of the Cuban Vuelta makes it much easier, and it works even if the Follow back-rocks on one.

The Lead should, as a general rule, always use Vacilala steps for Setenta figures. Vacilala is the signature move of Cuban Salsa, it must be the second nature of the Follow. The Lead is doing a disservice to the Follow, if he doesn’t help her to learn proper Vacilala steps.

The Cuban Vuelta (Habanero) should mostly be used as the second half of other moves. Like when doing a handheld Vacilala turn on 1-2-3, it can be continued with a Habanero turn on 5-6-7. Or in the classic Ola (wave) move: After several waves the Lead can continue with the Habanero. And of cause, in many free styling situations, the Cuban Vuelta can start a new sequence of moves.

The back-rocking Vuelta

Many dance schools use the back-rocking Vuelta right turn to start Setenta moves for beginners. Mainly because this method is easy with hand prepping, and it is done stationary or forward-and-back in an rectangular slot much easier than the circular motion of Cuban Salsa.

Video Clip #2 is from “DancePapi”, San Francisco, USA, 2015. It makes me sad that they make the Hammerlock of Setenta exactly as it would have been done in X-Body Salsa on “1”, LA style. Why not dance Cuban Salsa the Cuban way?

Original DancePapi video on YouTube

One should not use the back-rocking Vuelta for Setenta for the same reasons that one should not use the Cuban Vuelta (Habanero). The back-rocking Vuelta is of cause many times worse than the Cuban Vuelta. How is a Follow ever going to learn Vacilala at short notice, the “instant” Vacilala, if she is mostly lead into back-rocking on “1” and when most of her turns first come on 5-6-7?

There is nothing wrong with back-rocking as such, it works well in the rectangular slot of American X-Body Salsa but the whole idea of the circular motion in Cuban Salsa is that it makes it possible for both Lead and Follow to walk forward all the time except for the few moves that have back-step build in.


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