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Banjo and Sidecar -- with a twist of contra

by Warwick & Paula Armstrong

The better dancers seem to make the transitions from different alignments and positions look like they were gliding on air and with little effort. One of the points that was told to us that we try and pass on to our classes is that the less you need to move the head and torso the smoother your dancing will appear. One of the big problems in going from Closed to Banjo and to Sidecar is the way the dancers will frequently move everything to achieve the position. Our activity uses the terms Banjo and Sidecar in order to quickly and easily identify the direction you will be dancing outside your partner as opposed to Closed Position where we dance through our partner.

Banjo & Sidecar are for describing whether we are outside to the left of our partner or outside to the right. It is not to be confused with CBM (contra body movement) or CBMP (contra body movement position). The function of completing CBM or CBMP may result in you being in Banjo or Sidecar, but we mustn’t confuse the two.
  • CBM – the action of moving the opposite side to the moving foot.
  • CBMP – A foot position where the moving foot is placed on or across the line of the supporting foot, either in front or behind, to maintain the body line where the side of the body opposite the moving foot is leading.
  • Side lead – the same side and foot is either forward or back. Usually leading into a CBMP on the next step.
  • Banjo - Maintain upper body in Closed Position with slight left face lower body turn just enough to allow feet to step outside of partner's right side.
  • Sidecar - Maintain upper body in Closed Position with slight right face lower body turn just enough to allow feet to step outside of partner's left side.

Starting with Banjo & Sidecar

Once we have the students understanding the basic position, then we can have them understand the
contrary position that makes our dancing easier.

1. First we start with a good closed position –
a. Emphasize a good frame and maintaining this.
b. Both partners to the left with our feet on their own tracks all running parallel. Right feet between partner’s feet. Usually, but not always, with the man being taller he will be looking directly over the outside of her right shoulder.
c. Both with our heads up as this is where the illusion starts.
2. When you think you are left enough, think a little more left and pick a spot on the far wall from where you are facing. Through the course of this exercise we are not going to take our eye off this spot.
3. Without moving your head (keep your eye on the spot), rotate the feet and torso slightly to your left. The rotation is just enough to allow you to swing the right leg backwards and forwards outside your partner.
4. Now for the challenge. Without moving your head (keep your eye on the same spot), rotate the feet and torso to your right until your left leg is able to swing outside your partner on the other side.
5. Now rotate back to your left until you are in closed position again.

The emphasis right through this exercise is not moving the head. Moving the head usually causes the body to follow and to start going out of position.

WALK TWO TO BJO – This is as simple as it goes. We start by having the man in good frame and position in CP. He is going to keep his eye on an imaginary spot just outside and above his partner’s right shoulder. His first step (L) is straight forward, his second step (R) is also straight forward but he is rotating his torso (RF) and keeping his eye on that imaginary, moving spot. He should offer his left side as a consequence. This is also a good sequence to demonstrate to the more experienced dancer when we are emphasizing CBM. The foot has gone straight forward but the man’s left side has rotated to be over the right foot. We would mention this to the new dancers, but not dwell on it.

SCISSORS SIDECAR, SCISSORS BANJO – From a closed position, both man and lady pick their spot to look at throughout. On all six steps they must keep looking at that point on the opposite wall. This is not so critical in Two Step, but is a good example of the technique being applicable to all levels as it produces the impression of effortless dancing.

CROSS HOVERS – These can be treated the same as the scissors. This is a good movement to demonstrate the difference between CBM & CBMP. We have achieved a contra position, but we have not rotated to achieve it. The relevant foot moving has resulted in a CBM position (CBMP).

OPEN NATURAL – If the man keeps his eye on the imaginary moving spot over her right shoulder throughout the movement he will be in good position to finish. He will be more inclined to keep giving his left side to the lady at the end of the movement. This has the effect of a slimmer looking finish. (We like to ask the dancers, “ Are you a yacht or a barge ?”) Note that this is not CBMP finish as the man’s right side is leading with his right foot back; this is referred to as side lead. Side lead is important in dancing as it is usually setting up a CBMP.

IN & OUT RUNS – The movement may end in SCP but the movement has some moments where you want to be in a good Banjo position demonstrating CBMP. If the man is asked to keep his eye on the spot over the ladies right shoulder he will be inclined to keep the Banjo positions. Since this movement starts with the Open Natural, you can demonstrate the side lead that completes step 3 is turned into CBMP on step 4.

WING – the common practice is to end up with the man pushing the lady across in front of him and him not rotating very far. This makes something like Whisk ; Wing ; Telemark ; difficult to achieve. From the semi-closed position, we tell the man that the lady is not allowed to travel past his nose. To prevent this he is not allowed to stop the lady but must continue to rotate to DLC. This will normally have the effect of more rotation and creating a better alignment for the Telemark.

CROSS PIVOT - If this is worked on after smoothing out the Wing, then it can be demonstrated that the finished position is the same as a Wing. Even from a good semi-closed position the man can line up the outside of the ladies right shoulder although it is more obvious starting this in Banjo. Just like in the Open Natural, he must keep his eye on that spot. From here it is worthwhile showing the Hover Cross ending and how much smoother the movement is by keeping the head still (calm) and allowing the hips & legs to do the “work”.

A sequence like Hover Corte; BK & Chasse to Sidecar; Check Recover Banjo ; can be demonstrated as being smoother looking than if the man’s head is allowed to move back and forward to either side of the lady.

Why is CBM & CBMP important?

The technicalities of the definition are important for us as teachers in understanding what parts of the body are moving to achieve an end result. This is then conveyed back to our classes and teach sessions. A poor execution of Walk 2 to BJO could result in a poor BJO position that is also facing the centre of the hall. In understanding what causes this we can have a better idea of how to fix the problem.

Another benefit that often goes unsaid, is the benefit that can be gained from definitions and directions on cue sheets. FWD left foot, comm Trn is different to Comm Trn, FWD right foot. CBM is being used in the second instance to initiate right face turn. BK left in CBMP on a cue sheet will tell us straight away the foot is placed under the body to finish in a CBMP – how often do we see BK Left written?

From clinic notes prepared for the RAL Convention, 2014, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, April 2021.


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