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It's A Side Show

by Brent & Judy Moore

There are so many different approaches when attempting to address dance technique in the smooth rhythms that it can be quite daunting. Dance technique involves every part of the body, and each part has its own contribution to what we call quality dancing. Our focus here will be the sides of the body and how we use them to enhance our dance technique.

When we use the term sides, we will be speaking of that portion of the trunk of the body from the waist up to the armpits. This area consists of the much talked about abdominals, the back muscles, and the band of muscles that runs from the abs around our waists to the spine. To maintain the tone in the sides, one must use the muscles in the back and extend the energy up through the sides and upper arms. This toned energy will produce a strong frame, which will help the couple to maintain the desirable contact.

Good use of the sides not only improves the appearance of our dancing, but it makes dancing so much more comfortable. However, it takes a good bit of physical and mental discipline to effectively utilize our sides in ways that aid rather than detract from our dancing.

Our first rule of thumb is that both sides should be maintained with good tone. So often, one side or the other is allowed to collapse or become weak in making turns or shapes. Much of what is observed in good dancing is illusionary, and this is especially true in observing display lines. Even though a shape may look as if a side is soft or compressed, rest assured that quality dancers are creating the shape without allowing a side to be soft or compressed. Another problem area is leaning into a turn by again letting the side toward the turn weaken. This creates an appearance of "diving" into the turn and also leads to turning and stepping at the same time, which is not a desired action. So remember -- you can stretch a side and make it stronger, but you should not allow a side to weaken or collapse.

The next concept is always keep the left side to partner. The man should think of keeping the lady on his front by establishing a strong left side with a slight upward feel, and the lady should also have that same upward spiral action in her left side and be aware of staying in front of the man. Our normal body tendency is to allow the hips and shoulders always to be in the same plane; however, really good dancers maintain a slight displacement of these two body parts by maintaining a slight spiral to the right from the ankle up (i.e., taking the left side to the partner). One fairly effective thought process to achieve this position is to think of dancing with a "proud" left side! All the time!

As noted, maintaining strong sides becomes more challenging in alternate (non-closed) positions. In addition to the "proud" left side thought process, a method to achieve this discipline is to think that every step in any one of these positions (semi, banjo, and sidecar) is accompanied by a slight body turn toward the partner. For instance, in semi-closed position, what you actually do is increase the tone or strength in the side away from the partner (man's left, lady's right) so as not to allow it to follow the natural inclination to turn away from each other on such steps. This applies especially to the steps in CBMP (Contra Body Movement Position). To clarify, think of being in semi with the man's right and lady's left foot free; the step taken with the inside foot is in CBMP and we want to use a little extra strength in the man's left and lady's right sides in order to keep from losing position.

Thinking of using the sides in our turns can improve the action of the turn. This added attention to the side helps overcome the natural tendency to drift away from the partner when turning. The emphasis on keeping both sides strong must be maintained so that we don't fall into the trap of allowing the side closest to the turn's center to collapse. What is more, focusing attention on the sides takes our thoughts away from our feet, which results in allowing the body to direct the stepping direction and helps to keep us on the standing foot longer, which in turn aids the overall unity of our dancing. This is especially true when pivoting. If we think of the stepping direction of the feet, our bodies tend to lag behind. However, if we think of keeping the opposite side moving toward the partner (if pivoting to the right, it is the left side that we take to the partner), we will greatly improve the ease and linearity of the pivots.

We also use the sides to initiate shape or, when applied to turning, sway. All turns start with a CBM (Contra Body Movement ) action that occurs on the last step of the previous figure. This is a slight body turn in the turning direction, initiated on the standing foot. We then step straight forward (or back), which should place a fair amount of muscular tension in the body. The idea is to utilize that tension by strengthening the side opposite the stepping foot (as in the maneuver, natural turn, and reverse turn), which will move the leg forward and create the needed shape (sway) that allows the person on the outside of the turn (the forward moving person) to stay in closed position. Again, the thought process is to focus on taking the side to the partner and let the foot placement be our secondary concern.

These are some of the ideas we use when we dance, and, as you may conclude, dancing really is a side show for us. We hope that by developing your own side show, you can improve the appearance, feel, and pleasure of your dancing.

From clinic notes prepared for the URDC annual convention, 2004, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, April 2014.


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