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Foot Dancing vs. Body Dancing -- What Is the Difference?

by Wayne & Barbara Blackford

BODY DANCING is when we take into account how each part of our body affects the appearance of our dancing. Our head position and the upper body can impact not only our own dancing, but can also have a significant effect on our dance partner.

FOOT DANCING is when we forget to use our body.

There are several "body parts" that affect how we dance.


The proper dance frame will allow each partner to move with ease while dancing. If either partner breaks their frame, by moving the arms independently, for example, their dancing becomes "labored." If the man breaks his frame, the woman can lose his lead. Many times we see men pulling or yanking his partner into a position, when in fact it was his fault that she was out of position.

With a proper dance frame and movement, a man can lead his partner to dance forward, or back, or side. He can lead his partner to cross one foot in front of or behind the other. Maintaining a proper dance frame will allow continuous movement/rotation to complete the figure.

When taking a closed position hold, you need to have balance and a stable frame. A good hold must allow each partner to stay balanced and not interfere with movement down the floor. Leaders, don't hold the lady like you are a vise -- a good hold must have some toned flex/give to allow adjustment inside the hold.


The head weighs about 20 pounds, and can have a large impact on the rest of the body. If you move your head forward, by looking down even by just a little, then the head's weight will be forward of your body's center of gravity. That leads to counter-balancing the head weight by sticking out one's butt or leaning on one's partner, neither of which is considered good dance form. If you put your head slightly to one side, (and think of your head weight on the back side) then the head weight will be more over one foot and therefore less likely to require body or frame distortion to counter-balance the head weight.

Many leaders stress that dancers must keep their heads to the left. This is true. But we must remember that it's not just our head that remains to our own left, but the fact that we must keep our entire left side to our left. When each partner stays on their own left side, they will not interfere with their partner's movement. This is especially true through rotations and pivots.

In a good hold, every partner has his/her own territory. If you enter your partner's territory, you risk war (or at least crushed toes).

Left Side

Actually, it is not only the lady's head position but the man's as well. And it's not just the individual's head but the upper part of the bodies. Wayne likes to think of his body as 4 quarters -- divided at the waist and straight down the middle; and it's the upper left quarter that should be slightly to the left (partner's right side), and it should stay there in every position where the dance calls for a closed body: closed, banjo, sidecar.

In positions where we have to step outside partner, the tops remain in "closed" and the bottom moves to the outside of partner: banjo, sidecar. The shoulders should remain parallel to each partner and remain there; i.e., when a woman dances a Wing, her top line is still to her own left, keeping her shoulders parallel to the man's (and the man rotates to stay with his lady). Her head is closed and her right shoulder should not pass the center of the man's body, but her lower body is outside partner on his left side. If you were driving down a dark road, you would not veer over the center yellow line for fear of a crash -- well, a crash will happen if either partner does veer over the man's center line. No two people can ever dance in the same place at the same time.

Upper Body Poise

Many times we see a male dancer leaning over his partner, which throws her off balance, which then pulls him off balance. Many years ago, we thought of the body as a banana with slight back poise. This is NOT so true today. Rather the woman maintains a slight forward, side, and upward body poise, and the man maintains a slight forward poise.

As we become more aware of how to use our bodies, instead of just our feet, we will better understand the idea of moving on the floor as ONE!

From notes prepared for a RAL Minilab, October 2016, reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, May 2023.


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