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DANCING -- It's All About Communication & Partnership

by Kristine & Bruce Nelson

CONNECTIONS – It’s How We Communicate.

We begin with the assumption that the goal of dancing is to have two individuals moving “in unison” to music. Unison is best described as harmony, agreement, concord, and is experienced when two people’s action occurs together. So . . . the best dancing happens when two are moving “in agreement.”

Agreement or unison is easily created when one person (the leader) initiates action and one (the follower) responds. Dancing is then harmonious, smooth, and in agreement. When two people move independently, the chance for unison (smooth movement) is diminished and usually lost.

Think about it . . .

When driving a car, there can only be one driver -- one person in charge. Two people trying to drive the same car would likely cause an accident!

When listening to a radio, you need to tune into a single station with a strong clear signal without static so you can hear the music clearly -- you just cannot listen to multiple stations at the same time. It makes it very hard to sing along!

When using a cell phone, you need a single connection without crossed signals so you can have clear communication with the other party. The better the connection, the easier it is to have a conversation -- across the street or around the world!

Leading and following are done through CONNECTION.

Without a clear connection there is no communication. Without communication there is NO PARTNERSHIP. Without partnership, can we ever dance in unison?

Leading & Following Roles

It is important to remember that each dancer has a role in the partnership. We ask the MEN to lead and the WOMEN to follow. What does that mean?

to lead ~ means to initiate, to communicate where and when

to follow ~ means to respond

He initiates movement by moving his body forward/side/back, etc.

She responds to the lead and moves her body back/side/forward, etc.

Okay -- So how do we DO it?

Connection is what happens via physical contact between two dancers that allows the two individuals to communicate, to enable them to dance as one unit. The man can’t lead unless he is connected to the woman. The woman can’t respond unless she is connected to the man.

We each must have and maintain the necessary components of the connection/partnership for all the pieces to work together.

5 Components of Connection

  1. Balance - alignment of the body over the balls of the feet.

  2. Posture - upright position – upright alignment.

  3. Poise - forward towards partner – a meeting of the bodies – the physical connection.

  4. Frame - secures the body connection, allows movement, promotes leading and following. Frame can be defined as the minimum tone required to achieve and maintain the body’s position in the partnership.

  5. Commitment to the PARTNERSHIP - Each has an honest commitment -- no one tries to fool the other – each accepts and takes responsibility for their role

In addition the connection must have TONE, be ACTIVE, and be MUTUAL.

  1. Tone: The connected body parts need to maintain a certain degree of muscle tone. If the connection is weak or limp, the lead and follow signals will not be transmitted clearly.

  2. Active: The connection is alive and is ready to transmit and receive signals. It is also flexible and responsive to the situation.

  3. Mutual: Both dancers must do their part to maintain the connection. If one dancer fails to maintain the connection, the communication dies -- no matter how much the other tries to compensate.


I. Developing a Connection – in Open Facing Position

Facing partner -- M facing LOD W facing RLOD

M extends both hands in front (elbow slightly in front of the hip and slightly to the outside of the body).

W extends both hands in front (elbow slightly in front of the hip and slightly to the outside of the body) touching M’s hands either palm to palm (can cause pushing) or fingertips to fingertips (more difficult).


Use enough muscle tone to maintain the connected hand position but not so much that there is a feeling of pushing. Both dancers use equal pressure – try more – TRY LESS – this should be light and effortless. As a test, one person should try being extra strong and you’ll feel the other dancer respond the same way or collapse.

Both dancers must visualize their body’s center and create a forward poise toward the center. Each must think of movement from the body’s center (sternum), not from the legs or arms or shoulders.

One person takes the Active (leading) role, and one takes the Passive (following) role.

Staying ‘centered’ the leader initiates (creates) movement forward, backward, or sideward MOVING FROM THE BODY. The man should think of leading himself – not leading his partner.

Remember the joined hands do not push forward but remain at the same distance from the body.

The follower will respond to the (lead) movement. The follower may find it easier to sense the movement if their eyes are closed.

Switch the leading/following roles, allowing the other person an opportunity to feel the opposite role.

Practice Man (M) start with Left foot and Woman (W) start with Right foot. Woman performs opposite action of the man.

  • M rock side, recover – lightly rock from side to side. (Must definitely change weight - move your center to the weighted foot.)

  • M rock forward, recover or M rock back, recover.

  • M forward walk 4 or M back walk 4.

  • M forward, close, forward, close (slow the body – feel change of weight).

  • M back, close, back, close.

  • M side, close, side, close.

  • M side, close, side (checking) or M side, close, side.

  • M forward, recover, side, recover or M back, recover, side, recover.

  • M forward, recover, side, close, side, recover.

  • M forward, side, close or M back, side, close (or box).

THEN: Move closer to the partner -- moving the arms out to side, staying centered, create a physical body connection and do the same exercises.

II. Creating the Frame – in Closed Position

When taking a closed position, both dancers need a stable frame. A good frame will allow each partner to stay in balance and will not interfere with movement.

Man’s right wrist (then fold hand)

Woman’s left arm

Man’s left arm and hand

Woman’s right arm and hand

Connect through the body – both dancers move their body (center) toward the partner to establish connection. This does not mean to line up the middles. Each stays in proper closed dance position.

Maintain frame – do not allow any part of your arm(s) to get behind your shoulder(s).

Keep “centered”. There should be NO PRESSURE, no tightening, no inward, upward, or downward pressure on the partner.

Establish a good closed dance position and try the above practice exercises.

III. Turning

Establish closed dance position (stable frame, keep centered, no pressure).

Turn commences with contra body movement (use minimal sway for practice – adding sway early may alter the frame and can lead to pushing or a lot of arm leading).

Do left-face turning waltz or foxtrot box (1/4 turns) with closing steps.

Do left face waltz or foxtrot turns (1/2 turns) with closing steps.

Later, add sway as you are comfortable with maintaining the 5 components of connection.

From clinic notes prepared for the RAL Convention, 2001, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, March/April/May 2015.


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