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Smooth Dancing — If Fred and Ginger Can Do It, Why Can't You? 

by Ralph & Joan Collipi

Basically, there are two main styles of dancing: Smooth and Rhythm. In the Smooth style (Foxtrot, Waltz, and Tango), the couple will start and then dance “smoothly” around the dance floor, moving in a counter-clockwise direction. While in the Rhythm style (Swing, Cha Cha, Rumba, Mambo), the dancers stay in the same general area in which they started. 

The Hold — 

The hold requires the maintenance of 5 points of contact between the partners while they are dancing. 

These consist of 3 hand contacts: 

  • The man’s left hand holding the lady’s right hand.
  • The lady’s left hand resting on the top of the man’s right upper arm (behind the arm in Tango).
  • The man’s right hand placed on the left shoulder blade on the back of the lady. 

In addition to these 3 hand contacts, there are 2 more areas of contact: 

  • The lady’s left elbow rests on the man’s right elbow.
  • The right area of the chest of each partner touches that of the other. 
Ideally, in this hold, the lady’s upper arms are both held horizontal by a suitable placement of the man’s arms and hands. This not only makes it comfortable for the lady to follow the man’s lead but also gives the couple a deportment of regal appearance. 

Position — 

Dance Position or Stance is an important consideration. In this brief essay, we are using the Closed Hold stance. A good understanding of this position will really help both the leader and follower to maintain their balance and get off to a good start. 

  • Stand Facing Each Other. 

For the Smooth dances, stand approximately 6–8 inches apart, shoulders parallel. For the Rhythm dances, stand approximately 1–2 feet apart. Your body should be offset 1/2 body distance to your own left, so that your right foot is pointed in between your partner’s feet. This principle is known as “AIM.” NEVER dance toe-to-toe. You’ll end up stepping on each other’s feet. 

  • Men: 

Your right arm (your partner’s main support) is placed just below the lady’s shoulder blade, fingers together and hand slightly cupped, allowing you to lead with fingers and heel of the hand. Your right arm is away from your body, elbow pointing slightly to the side. 

  • Women: 

Your left arm is resting gently on the man’s upper arm with your fingers draped over his shoulder. 

Your right hand rests in the palm of the man’s left hand, raised to eye level of the shorter partner. Note that the “free” hands are not used to push or pull a partner. Leading is done primarily through the man’s weight distribution and the pressure of the right hand on the woman’s back. 

  • Resistance: 

Muscle tone is essential for a good dance team and may be defined as keeping the shoulder, wrist, and elbow firm. If the leader has a limp body or arm, the follower will not be able to sense the direction of movement. 

Smooth Shaping — 

Unless the pattern explicitly indicates otherwise, such as in an underarm turn, your frame is always pointing at your partner; i.e., your navel points at your partner. An “Outside Partner” pattern (Banjo, Sidecar) doesn’t mean you go down the floor shoulder to shoulder. It means you have to use Contra Body Movement (CBM), and take the legs through between you. 

Arm position relates to shaping but also applies to turns, free spins, etc. Don’t let your elbow get behind your shoulder. The only time we have come across an exception is when you have an arm in a hammerlock position. 

Here is a little exercise to get a sense of leading and following: A couple stands face-to-face in a 2-hand open hold. The follower closes her (or his) eyes, and the leader walks around. When you have a good connection, the leader and follower will move together around the room. If you don’t have a good connection, the leader will have to avoid stepping on his partner. 

Using the Base To Turn — 

One very common mistake is to use the wrong parts of the body to produce the driving force (also known as the impetus) for the turn. When the wrong parts of the body are used, the body is thrown out of its natural alignment, and is therefore pulled away from the axis of rotation. 

The obvious question to ask then is, “What are the correct parts of the body to use?” The answer is: the lower half of the body, including the feet, legs, and hips. This is also known as your BASE. 

Imagine for a second that your body is represented by a small table with a lamp on top. The lamp represents your upper body; the table with its legs represents your base. If we move the lamp, it will slide around on the table, but the table itself will remain in place. So, by pushing the lamp, we only move the lamp by itself. On the other hand, if we actually move the table, both the table and the lamp move around together as a single unit. When you attempt to turn by swinging your arms or hurling your upper body ahead of your base, you are in effect knocking the lamp right off the table. In other words the turn must be produced from the base. 

With this wealth of information, you now can dance magnificently. 

But our Motto is, have fun dancing: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching. 


Fred and Ginger would be proud of you! 


this article was published in the
Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, November 2008

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