Your Space or Mine?
by Jack & Judy DeChenne
Round Dancing consists of many figures, combinations, and modifications, through many different rhythms. We practice many moves and work hard in order to make them flow better. In the modern rhythms (e.g., waltz, foxtrot), one of the most important things that makes dancing less work and more relaxing is a good frame with space for your partner. This space should remain consistent for both partners. The movement of this space is what leads the lady. Questions that are most frequently asked include --
First, we need to start with our whole body, beginning at the feet, continuing with the legs, then the knees and thighs, next through the torso, and finally the head. They are like building blocks. If we do not stack them correctly, they will fall over. This also applies as dancers. If we don't correctly align our bodies, we have no chance of keeping our balance, which causes us to collapse the lady's space. The first way to lose her space is by not keeping our own balance. Anytime we stand, we start with both our legs and torso balanced over our feet. Our upper body and head must line up with all our remaining lower body to maintain our balance throughout our dancing. But, because our body does not stack like building blocks, we must use rotation to stack our body correctly.
Next, we need to create an upper-body frame in which the arms define the outer limits of the lady's space. To do this, roll the arms into the shoulders rather than lifting them away from the body. When we place the arms into the shoulders, we can use the upper body muscles to hold them, which gives us great strength and allows us to maintain the lady's space. If we lift the arms away from the body, we can only use the strength from our arms, which rarely lasts the length of even one dance. It is therefore the strength of the upper body frame that allows the man to create, maintain, and control the space, rather than allowing it to collapse.
Once we have created this space, it is important to remember that a solid frame starts with the upper torso and carries through to the shoulders and biceps, and stops at the elbows. From our elbows through to our fingertips, our frame should be flexible and used to create movement and grace. Flexibility in the forearms allows the lady the freedom of movement that she needs to maintain her own balance. This also allows her the ability to execute the movements with fluidity and ease. To finish the frame, the man gently slides his right wrist where the lady's left arm and back meet. The man's fingers should be collected and have a slight downward poise. It is very important that the man keep his thumb collected with all the other fingers and that the fingers have minimal contact with the lady's back; if this does not happen, it will cause the woman's center of gravity to be misplaced. The lady rests her left hand on the man's right arm, close to the top of his bicep. This placement will depend on the length of the partners' arms. The arms should appear to be one unit with elbows matching. The lady's fingers should also be collected and rested gently on the man's arm. It is important that the lady keep her thumb collected with the other fingers so she is not tempted to grab and pull the man's arm into her, causing her dance space to collapse. The man's left hand and the lady's right hand should be joined with the man's wrist straight and the lady's wrist slightly bent at about eye-level for the lady.
Now that we have created our dance space, we need to understand how to sustain it once we are in motion. We have all been told that the lady is to fill the space created by the man; this is where the flexible part of our frame comes into play. As we start compressing for forward movement, it is important to release the flexible part of the frame (from the elbows to the finger tips), allowing the lady to start moving back, thus creating room for the man to dance. It is this releasing action that allows the lady to create space for the man, which is used in all forward moving figures that are executed in a closed, banjo, or sidecar position. Figures that have the man traveling backward are executed by allowing the flexible part of the frame (from the elbows to the finger tips) to release, leaving the lady behind only momentarily while the man creates a space for her to dance into; this keeps the man from pulling the lady into him causing the frame to collapse.
The most difficult position to maintain a proper frame in is the semi-closed position. Figures requiring a semi-closed dance position should be entered into by stepping side and forward. The man should leave his right side back, allowing the lady to maintain her dance position. This action will almost feel similar to shifting a child onto your hip to carry it. Through-steps require tucking the trailing hips to prevent the body from moving away from the partner and losing your space.
Last, when we execute figures that turn left-face, whether they are in closed or semi-closed position, it is important for the man to leave the right side of his body back. He should not think of involving his right side in the turn at all, as the right side of the body will follow the left-face turn naturally. When the man executes the left-face turn using this method, it will sustain the lady's dance space, allowing her to follow with ease.
From clinic notes prepared for the URDC Convention, 2005, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September 2014.
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